Red Wings arena builder ahead of the game

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The new Red Wings arena being built in Detroit, the expansion to the Big House at University of Michigan, the major overhaul of the Daytona International Speedway that debuted last month: All are part of an arms race to build venues that are as much about entertainment as they are about sports.

The $627 million Red Wings arena is set for completion in September 2017. The first roof truss was placed Wednesday.

Helping make this boom a reality is quiet giant Barton Malow, a 90-year-old Southfield construction company that has been the construction manager on all of these projects. Since it completed the Pontiac Silverdome in 1975, Barton Malow has been involved in the building of 60 major sports complexes across the United States. They range from Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, to the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium and the in-progress SunTrust Park for the Atlanta Braves.

The $627 million Red Wings arena will set a standard for sports complexes when it is completed in September 2017, believes Ryan Maibach, CEO of Barton Malow. “I think we’ll see other arenas try to copy it,” he says of the yet-unnamed venue. Barton Malow also oversaw the completion of Joe Louis Arena in 1979.


The 20,000-seat facility just north of downtown will house two rinks — one for Wings games, one beneath that for practice and amateur events. Both are below street level to reduce the building’s visual profile to the surrounding neighborhood. The main rink will feature “gondola seating,” suite-like areas in the upper portion of the arena that will “hover” over the lower sections.

Other enhancements include plenty of dining options, a giant LED screen in an outdoor plaza and a “skin” on the outside of the arena that can display video and graphics. The venue will use a so-called “deconstructed” design with a glass-roofed concourse, offices, retail shops and restaurants in separate buildings outside the arena so that those venues can stay open even when the arena isn’t being used for a projected 150 events per year.

The first roof truss for the new sports complex was placed Wednesday.

Silverdome its big break

Barton Malow is on a short list of big-project construction firms that includes New York’s Turner Construction (which helped build Yankee Stadium) and Oklahoma’s Manhattan (the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium).

Barton’s completion of the Silverdome in 1975 was its big break. One of the first football megaplexes, the Silverdome came on the heels of New Orleans’ Superdome, a project handled by another contractor that had been plagued by cost overruns.

Barton Malow’s efficiency in bringing the Silverdome in on time and budget polished the firm’s reputation in an industry that has to juggle huge capital project expenditures while keeping the cash flowing with ongoing sporting events.

In building the Daytona project, for example, Barton Malow had to work through two Daytona 500s. It had to coordinate construction with NASCAR in order to hit its mark with this year’s opening.

When Barton Malow was selected to build Red Wings arena along with partners White Construction of Detroit and Hunt Construction Group of Indianapolis, Ilitch Holdings CEO Christopher Ilitch said they had built some of the most innovative sports and entertainment venues across the country: “They were selected by Olympia Development over a number of top construction firms because of their sports and entertainment construction experience, construction management leadership and commitment to the local community.

What distinguishes modern sports complexes like the Red Wings arena and the $400 million remake of Daytona’s front-stretch grandstand is a more involving, more luxurious spectator experience. It’s not the diehard fans that sports organizers have been losing — it’s the more casual fans.

“These terrific venues have to compete against the comforts of home and high-definition televisions to get fans to come,” says Maibach. “Hence the investment in food services, scoreboards, Wi-Fi technology and sight lines.”

Aju Fenn, an economics professor at Colorado College who studies the sports industry, sees it this way: “The fan experience has been segmented into different price groups with different amenities so that sports complexes can appeal to fans at different price points. This allows sports firms to garner greater revenues compared to having a single type of seat and a few price categories.”

Daytona’s fans were focus

The re-imagining of Daytona International Speedway’s 3/4-mile-long main grandstand — unveiled at the Daytona 500 last month — was done with casual fans in mind. Every one of the 101,500 seats is within reach by no more than 20 steps. The number of restrooms has doubled to 1,891. There are 40 escalators. The number of concession stands tripled.

Known as Daytona Rising, the complex is billed as America’s first “motorsports stadium” with amenities similar to Comerica Park. (Barton Malow did renovation work on Comerica’s Pepsi Porch a couple of years ago.)

Daytona Rising might also be called “The House That Detroit Built”: Barton Malow is one of three key Metro area players that brought the project to fruition. Detroit-based Rosetti Associates was the lead design firm and Chevrolet is one of four “founding partners” (the others are Toyota, Sunoco and Florida Hospital) that supported the project from the ground up.

“Daytona is the only building project I know of where we had to take into account the curvature of the Earth because it is so long,” Maibach said. Although sports complexes represent only about 12 percent of Barton Malow’s portfolio — the company has more than $1 billion in annual revenue, according to Maibach — they are halo projects that showcase the company’s work.

Fans are welcomed into the Daytona complex through enormous entrances called “injectors,” each sponsored by a partner. Like anchor stores in malls, they give access to the facility as well as display opportunities for companies’ products. And they keep people hanging around and spending money if there are rain delays.

Chevy’s injector is designed to evoke a dealer showroom on steroids: Fronted by a vertical display of vehicles ranging from a Corvette to a Silverado pickup truck, it rises six stories and houses two showroom floors, sprawling concourse hallways, eateries and luxury suites to watch events like the Daytona 500 — or Memorial Day’s Country 500, featuring musical acts like Kid Rock, Willie Nelson and Little Big Town.

“We’ve been around NASCAR for a long time,” says Chevy Racing marketing chief Jeff Chew. “When Daytona came to us with plans for this rebirth, we were just blown away.”

Daytona’s motorsports stadium has generated some excitement since its opening: This year’s Daytona 500 was the first sellout since 2008.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne.