So long, Palace: Venue to close after Bob Seger concert

The Auburn Hills arena will close next month after more than 29 years as Metro Detroit’s top indoor venue

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

After nearly 30 years of holding the crown as Metro Detroit’s premier arena, next month the Palace of Auburn Hills will close its doors for once and for all.

The writing has been on the wall for some time, and rumors have been abundant about the arena’s imminent closing. On Thursday it was made official: Next month’s Bob Seger concert, on Sept. 23, will be the final event held at 6 Championship Drive, venue reps said in a statement.

The announcement comes not with a bang but with a whimper. The Detroit Pistons said goodbye to the building in April, and will move downtown to Little Caesars Arena when the NBA season starts up in October. Besides the Seger show, there are only two other public events on the Palace docket: a Tim McGraw and Faith Hill concert on Sept. 8 and a bridal show on Sept. 10.

(Caption Information) Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band performs to a sellout crowd as part of his 2014 / 2015 Ride Out Tour at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan March 26, 2015. (John M. Galloway/Special to the News)

Compare that to Joe Louis Arena, which held a year-long “Farewell to the Joe” campaign tied to its closing. The riverfront arena held its final event, a World Wrestling Entertainment show, last month.

Unlike Joe Louis, which outside of beer-soaked nostalgia had run its course as a functioning venue, there is a lot of life left in the Palace. Money has continuously been pumped back into it — more than $40 million in a recent upgrade, which included a new scoreboard and a lower bowl spruce-up — and it was constantly undergoing renovations to keep it state-of-the-art. But when Pistons owner Tom Gores announced plans to bring the Pistons downtown last November, it was clear the Palace’s days were numbered.

Still, the future of the building itself and the property it sits on remain cloudy. No decisions have been made and no timetable has been set, and for the time being the Palace will continue to house business operations for the Pistons and Palace Sports and Entertainment, according to Thursday’s release.

Officials for the city of Auburn Hills said Thursday they are disappointed to hear the venue is closing after its final concert but look forward to working with the arena's owners to find another use for the site if they decide to redevelop the property.

Mayor Kevin McDaniel said in a statement the city has been proactive and recently rezoned the property to technology and research, "should Mr. Gores decide to redevelop the site.”

“We are highly optimistic about what the future holds and we plan to collaborate with our partners for the best possible outcome," he said. "While no final decisions have been made about the future of the building, my colleagues on City Council and I have the utmost confidence in our leadership team to look at new and innovative opportunities for the site.”

He also said it appears the Pistons' practice facility and the executive offices at the arena will remain functioning for at least another season.  ​

The Palace opened its doors on Aug. 13, 1988, ushered in with a concert by Sting, touring on his Nothing Like the Sun tour. (That night, floor tickets cost $20.) Over the following two weeks, the building hosted rock concerts (David Lee Roth, Judas Priest, two shows from Pink Floyd), grapplers (the then-World Wrestling Federation hosted the building’s first of 50-plus pro wrestling events), a basketball event (the U.S. Olympic basketball team squared off against a team of NBA stars) and at least one comedian whose booking, at the time, was in no way controversial (Bill Cosby, on Aug. 27, 1988).

In the ensuing years the Palace — which was named via a public contest that garnered more than 100,000 entries — has hosted hundreds of rock concerts, sporting events and various other public ceremonies. The Pistons won championships their first two seasons in the building (and another in 2004), it was the site of the notorious Malice at the Palace brawl, and the WNBA’s Detroit Shock were crowned champs three times during their tenure at the building. The Detroit Vipers, the Detroit Rockers, the Detroit Fury and the Detroit Safari also called the arena home. (The building’s address is derived from the Pistons’ and Shocks’ combined championship runs while there.)

In concert, the Palace played host to Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie, Frank Sinatra, George Carlin, the Notorious B.I.G. and Luciano Pavarotti. Billy Ray Cyrus played there, and his daughter Miley did, too. Rock legends, pop icons, flavors of the day — they all played the Palace. No artist played there more than Neil Diamond, who earlier this summer performed his 19th concert at the venue, 17 of them sellouts.

When Madonna played only nine North American shows on her 1993 Girlie Show tour, one of them was at the Palace. (She came back for two shows in 2001, one of which was broadcast live on HBO.) Britney Spears played there, as did Barbara Streisand, and so did Bruce Springsteen, as did everyone from the Spice Girls to Radiohead, Justin Bieber to the Rolling Stones, Rage Against the Machine to Roger Waters, Michael Buble to the Beastie Boys.

Mike Tyson fought there, George H.W. Bush held a rally there, Chris Webber was drafted there (during the 1993 NBA Draft) and a “Star Trek” convention was held there. Michael Bolton rang in the New Year there on Dec. 31, 1991.

When it was built, the Palace became the model for modern arenas, due to its innovative design that incorporated tiered suites. At the time, it was the second largest building in the NBA, with a capacity of more than 21,000 which eventually swelled to more than 22,000. The WWF’s Summerslam show in 1993 packed 23,954 screaming fans into the building.

Now those screams are just a memory. Fans have a few more chances to say goodbye — as of this writing, there are still a few tickets left to that Seger show, his 17th at the venue — but the Palace will soon fade as Little Caesars Arena will now handle all of Metro Detroit’s arena business. It’s fitting that Kid Rock, who idolizes Seger and has modeled his career after the hometown rocker, will open the new arena — with six shows, beginning Sept. 12 — while Seger closes the old one.

When the Palace first opened, its name was scoffed at and ridiculed — the Palace? Really? — but over the years, it lived up to its royal title. No reign lasts forever, though. Like Seger himself says, turn the page.

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Detroit News writer Charles E. Ramirez contributed