LCA’s to-do list gets smaller and smaller

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Four days before the planned ribbon-cutting opening of the new arena in downtown Detroit, Little Caesars Arena contractors were putting on the final touches to prepare the complex for its long-awaited debut.

The Little Caesars Arena complex is being touted as the spark for a 50-block development full of new residences, offices, a hotel and stores — creating a dense, vibrant area larger than downtown.

The temporary certificate of occupancy from the city should come over the weekend, city officials said Friday.

That’s just one of the many activities in play before the opening of the $862.9 million sports and entertainment complex in the reinvented downtown area.

As the more than 1,000 construction workers hustle to finish the complex, observers of Friday could see:

■Signs bearing the names of corporate sponsors and restaurants were being hung.

■Trees and grass being planted on the 12-acre grounds that earlier in the week had been bare, brown earth.

■Cass and Woodward avenues around the arena complex were in the final stages of being repaved.

■A QLine rail stop on Woodward Avenue that looks operational; but no exact date for its opening has been announced.

On Tuesday morning, a ribbon-cutting ceremony kicks off a week of sneak previews at Little Caesars Arena.

On Tuesday morning, a ribbon-cutting ceremony kicks off a week of sneak previews at the “LCA.” And the following week, musician Kid Rock officially opens complex with a Sept. 12 concert, the first of six scheduled performances.

The $862.9 million complex will be home to the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons. It is expected to become the top concert venue in the region in the wake of the announced closings of Joe Louis Arena and the Palace of Auburn Hills.

The new complex also is being touted as the spark for a 50-block development chock-full of new residences, offices, a hotel and stores — creating a dense, vibrant area larger than downtown.

It begins a new chapter in the decades-long dream by the billionaire Ilitch family to overhaul a swatch of downtown Detroit. The city-owned facility will be managed by the Ilitch’s Olympia Development of Michigan.

“This type of project comes about once in a lifetime,” Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings. Inc, said in an Associated Press interview this week. “If we do this right and do it well, it has an opportunity to materially impact the trajectory of the community for decades.”

Ilitch Holdings is the parent company of the Detroit-based empire controlled by the Ilitch family. Among its various enterprises include the Little Caesars pizza chain, the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, the MotorCity Casino Hotel, the Fox Theatre downtown and plenty of downtown-area property.

Ilitch Holdings reported $3.4 billion in revenue in 2016. The Ilitch family has a net worth of $5.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

To accumulate the land needed to build the arena, the Ilitches spent nearly $50 million and more than 15 years secretly buying at least 56 properties from dozens of private owners, public records show. They often paid millions for property in a neighborhood, the Cass Corridor, that was among the poorest, most blighted in Detroit.

Beyond the four blocks needed for the arena, the Ilitches have spent millions more on dozens of properties — from empty lots, shabby homes and vacant buildings — in the surrounding 50-block area that will be called District Detroit.

For years, in some cases more than a decade, some of those Ilitch-owned properties have sat empty because they didn’t want to spark a pricing frenzy, Chris Ilitch said in 2014 interview with The Detroit News.

“It’s been painful to not be able to develop some of that property because every time we made a move, the price for other property would shoot way up,” Ilitch said. “But we had to wait and that hurt.”

That wait is over. Now, it’s time for the unveiling of that vision.

“This is planning on such a major scale; it’s aimed at reviving downtown, and also changing how it functions,” said John Mogk, a Wayne State University law professor who closely follows Detroit development. “It is unprecedented. There is really no period of history where major parts of downtown are in the hands of one, two entities.”

It begins with Little Caesars Arena.

The facility was paid for mainly by the Ilitches, but it also includes $344 million in taxpayer-backed construction bonds.

Beyond the LCA, work is underway for the new Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of Business, which will be on Woodward next to arena complex. Also underway is the $150 million Little Caesars Global Resource Center, the next headquarters for the pizza chain founded by Mike and Marian Ilitch and will be on Woodward a block south of the Fox Theatre.

Earlier this year, the Ilitches announced plans to renovate four historic buildings and build two new structures in the district. The six developments add up to 686 residential units, with 139 of those units reserved for “affordable housing.”

The goal is to develop 5,000 residences within the district, with 20 percent of the allotment designated for affordable housing, according to the Ilitches.

But as the arena opens, the 50-block area remains a mix of newly-redeveloped structures alongside empty lots and vacant building.

Among those vacant properties are notable historic buildings such as the former Royal Order of Moose Lodge, on Cass and Elizabeth, and the Detroit Life and Blenhiem buildings on Park. Olympia Development also controls many surface parking lots and empty spaces in the area.

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN

Sneak peek week for Little Caesars Arena

Tuesday: Ribbon-cutting, 11 a.m. Thousands of community members and others involved will be on hand. The invitation-only event will be streamed online at

Friday: Charity premiere: Hard Hats and Helping Hands, a fundraising event for Ilitch Charities. For ticket information, visit

Sunday, Sept. 10: The second annual Hockeytown 5K will take participants throughout Detroit and conclude on Woodward outside Little Caesars Arena. Registration at