Little Caesars Arena off to rockin’ start

After months of hype and giddy anticipation, the new Little Caesars Arena debuted with Kid Rock as its first live event and early on, the reviews were already in.

An aerial view of Little Caesars Arena lit up against a night sky on its opening night, Sept. 12, 2017

“It’s almost like a mall atmosphere,” said Ria Rich of Auburn Hills, who was among the visitors soaking it all in before the show. “It’s worth the wait.”

The excitement was palpable Tuesday night as thousands quickly crossed the security gates into the downtown Detroit venue.

After having tickets scanned at the door, concertgoers were greeted with a “Welcome to Little Caesars Arena” and handed a miniature American flag while Michigan State Police and Wayne County Sheriff’s deputies stood guard.

Rich, who donned a gray shirt emblazoned with Kid Rock’s image, said she loved the bars, food selection, Detroit memorabilia and Wi-Fi access that will help in photo sharing.

The sheer size and orderliness of the 20,000-seat arena impressed Diana Tremain and her daughter-in-law Stephanie Tremain, who traveled more than three hours from Beaverton, Michigan, for the show. Neither was surprised by the crowd swarming around them.

“The mass of humanity is like wow,” Diana Tremain said. “This is going to be beautiful.”

Stephanie Tremain, who was sampling Little Caesars cheese bread, agreed. “It’s great. Everything you need is here.”

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Others seemed overwhelmed as they stepped inside, asking “Where do I go?” and consulted a large map near Mike Pizza’s Bar with the arena layout. Others snapped photos of the lighted Olympia sign nearby.

Kid Rock’s Tuesday performance is the first of a six-show run for the rocker at the $862.9 million complex on Woodward, which last week held a ribbon cutting, a charity event and public tour.

Concertgoers made their way through a 61,000-square-foot covered pedestrian concourse, known as The Via, which includes several shops and restaurants.

Many milled about the concourse with food from restaurants such as 313 Grill Co., Detroit House and Little Caesars.

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Once in the arena bowl, fans took their place among the red-cushioned seats with cup holders.

They also get firsthand experience with views from 45 LED displays featuring 16.5 million LEDs in and around the arena.

Dozens of patrons lined up at Kid Rock’s restaurant, joined diners at District Market, or snapped up merchandise such as T-shirts, jerseys and tank tops. Some also stopped to snap selfies near a statue of hockey great Gordie Howe.

Ron and Darlene Jeb of Rochester had only been inside a few minutes before they headed to grab a bite to eat from 313 Grill Co.

Darlene, 67, ordered a sausage and Ron, 75, got a hot dog. Both topped their dogs with jalapeños. Darlene Jeb said she was impressed with her snack and the arena.

“I like how airy it is,” she said, referring to the skylight roof in the concourse area. “You don’t feel closed in.”

The Jebs stood in the concourse while they ate their meals. “I wish there were more sit-down restaurants,” Ron Jeb remarked.

Darlene pointed out the long lines for beer.

“I’m sure it’s worth it,” she said.

Westland resident Tammie Menci was among those who grabbed a beer before heading into the arena bowl. Overall, the arena gained her approval.

“There’s a lot to do,” said Menci, 38, who had a main-floor seat for the concert. “There’s a big selection of food and drink.”

Fans filtered in Tuesday night amid a rowdy, yet peaceful, protest on Woodward spearheaded by a the state chapter of a national civil rights group opposed to Kid Rock’s invitation to open the new venue.

The singer sparked interest and controversy when he hinted at a 2018 run for U.S. Senate. In recent days, he’s lashed out at detractors on social media, saying his track record in Detroit and Michigan “speaks for itself, and I would dare anyone talking trash to put theirs up against mine.”

The arena will be home to the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons and is expected to become the top concert venue in the area following the closures of Joe Louis Arena and the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Construction began in spring 2015 on what was mostly vacant land along Woodward near the Cass Corridor. The arena anchors 50-block area officials have branded the District Detroit.The facility was mostly funded through the Ilitch family of the Little Caesars Pizza chain.

It also includes $344 million in taxpayer-backed construction bonds. Hours after it opened, the lines were short for a few of the arena’s 48 restrooms, while others had no waiting.

“It’s nice, clean,” said Amy Wood, 47, of Holly. “There are attendants in there. That moves things along.”Some customers noted spilled drinks in spots that were quickly cleaned. A steady stream carried beverages, nachos and snacks while walking around both levels.

Julie and Terry Miller of Horton took pictures with a giant Kid Rock cutout as well as a mannequin swathed in a Pistons jersey.

For them, absorbing the sights and sounds with their son Hunter, the preteen joined the couple on his first concert, was worth the two and a half hour journey.

“It’s awesome,” Julie Miller said while taking pictures with her phone. “I love it.”