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The return of the Pistons to downtown Detroit is a solid affirmation of the city’s rebuilding progress. The Pistons, like the Detroit Lions, who returned from Pontiac in 2002, have decided that downtown is where the action and their fans are.

Both teams left for the suburbs when the city was close to hitting bottom. The Pistons are coming back with Detroit on a solid upswing.

In joining the Red Wings next year at the new Little Caesars Arena on Woodward, the Pistons will help assure the success of that critical piece of Detroit’s redevelopment.

Their joint presence means more dates will be filled on the arena’s calendar. And businesses that are considering an investment in the neighborhood can be more confident there will be enough activity to provide a steady customer base.

Detroit’s gain is Oakland County’s loss, and that can’t be overlooked.

The Pistons and their Palace home are an important entertainment anchor in the county. Their departure from Auburn Hills will leave a hole in both the landscape and the tax base.

The future of The Palace is uncertain. But if it is not going to remain an entertainment facility, the land should be put back to gainful use.

The facility is owned by billionaire Pistons owner Tom Gores, and he has a responsibility to assure that it is not left to rot, as the Silverdome did after the Lions departed.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson made a smart decision not to purchase The Palace earlier this year when it was offered to the county. The expensive experience with the Silverdome provided a valuable lesson.

Fortunately, the Auburn Hills site is attractive and well located. It should find a second life.

Whatever happens to that site, and whatever the final deal is between Gores and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, taxpayers must be held harmless.

Detroit residents are already backing $285 million in construction bonds, which will be repaid with up to $15 million a year in property taxes captured from the Downtown Development Authority district.

That’s a big investment, but one that should prove worthwhile if the Ilitch family delivers on its promise to build a sprawling district of housing, commercial and retail space around the arena in the Cass Corridor neighborhood.

As for The Palace, as noted, it belongs to Gores. If it’s to be torn down, he should be the one who pays for its demolition. Patterson has firmly said Oakland County won’t pick up the redevelopment tab. Neither should the state of Michigan.

Still, these are exciting times in downtown Detroit, and this latest development should make them more so.

Basketball is a game meant to be played downtown. It’s been a long time since that’s happened in Detroit. But next year, Detroit Pistons fans will add to downtown’s fast-growing entertainment scene.

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