Pistons team with Henry Ford, set sights on New Center

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

The Detroit Pistons are proposing to build a new practice facility and corporate headquarters on what’s now a parking lot between Wayne State University and Henry Ford Health System in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood.

The proposed 100,000-square-foot Henry Ford-Detroit Pistons Performance Center, with an early estimated cost of $50 million, would be built between Second and Third avenues, north of Amsterdam and south of the railroad tracks. It would be a joint venture with the Henry Ford Health System, which is based nearby, and would have a sports medicine and rehabilitation facility managed by the medical institution. Plans also call for community space for youth basketball clinics, fitness and nutrition programming and neighborhood meeting space.

The cost to build such a facility was estimated at $32 million to $55 million in November.

“In every sense, Detroit will be our home,” said Arn Tellem, vice chairman of the National Basketball Association team and its ownership group, Palace Sports & Entertainment, at a Friday afternoon press conference.

It’s not a done deal. The potential new facility is part of the larger plan for the Pistons to play their home games next season in Detroit, moving from The Palace of Auburn Hills in Oakland County. Palace Sports & Entertainment employs about 300, officials said earlier this week.

The New Center facility will proceed only if the Pistons get the approval needed to play at Little Caesars Arena, which will be the home ice of the Detroit Red Wings. The city, state and National Basketball Association all must sign off on the deal. City and Pistons officials said earlier this week the deal could be sealed within 90 days.

The Pistons owners could get tax breaks to help build the new practice facility, according to city officials. That could be a tax abatement for 50 percent for 12 years. A tax abatement reduces the amount of property tax that the Pistons owners would pay. Another option is a tax capture, or tax increment financing, to help pay for a potential parking deck, according to city officials. Tax increment financing is the ability to use increased local tax property revenues from a new development.

Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield praised the potential facility as evidence the Pistons organization is committed to making an impact in the city beyond playing basketball.

“The ‘Bad Boys’ are great corporate citizens,” Sheffield said, referring to the nickname of the team when they were winning championships. She noted that the Pistons agreed to a community benefits plan that spells out a certain percentage of jobs would go to Detroit residents. The Pistons have also agreed to hold neighborhood meetings for input on the design of the proposed facility.

The facility would be a boost for New Center, the neighborhood north of Wayne State University that has struggled to find its niche since General Motors moved its headquarters downtown 20 years ago. Investors lately have purchased empty storefronts and rundown apartment buildings in the neighborhood. Many believe the area will see new life as housing demand outgrows Midtown, downtown and Corktown, and moves north along Woodward.

Henry Ford Health is in the midst of $500 million expansion and neighborhood improvement project spanning 300 acres, officials said Monday. The influential Midtown Detroit Inc. is also investing heavily in empty buildings near West Grand Boulevard and Woodward, which will soon have the QLine trolley line that travels from downtown to New Center.

“New Center will soon no longer be seen as the end of downtown but the start of downtown,” said Peter Cummings, who attended the Friday press conference. Cummings and Dietrich Knoer are partners in the development group that’s investing more than $100 million in New Center. They were part of the group that bought the Fisher and Albert Kahn buildings in public auction for $12.2 million.

The Fisher Building is getting upgrades and maintenance both inside and on the exterior. The West Grand skyscraper has National Historic Landmark status, the highest level of recognition of a building’s importance in the U.S.

Housing is planned for the Albert Kahn building. The building owners are in talks with a national home furnishing store to become the anchor tenant in the Kahn building. The unidentified retailer could take up to 30,000 square feet in the space where a Saks Fifth Avenue store operated for years until it closed in 1980.

In addition, the space from floors 3-11 of the Kahn building will be converted into 162 rental apartments.

“We are seeing a new era emerge,” Cummings said.


Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN