A public plaza and lots of natural light are among the highlights of the new sports complex. David Guralnick, The Detroit News
Detroit — Get ready for a whole new way of enjoying a sporting event.
That was one of the primary messages delivered by Tom Wilson, Olympia Entertainment president and chief executive officer, Monday in a tour for media members of Little Caesars Arena.
With the first event — a concert by Kid Rock — only 92 days away (Sept. 12), Wilson said the arena is right on schedule.
And when the arena is finally finished, the experience of attending a game will be a different from going to a game at Joe Louis Arena or The Palace.
“In terms in the sense of walking around downtown, in terms of distributed parking and for the example we use, if you’re used to going to The Palace and you know all I have to do is get to that parking lot and find a spot and my night begins,” said Wilson, “that’s going to change.”
Going to a game at Little Caesars will be similar to big city arenas in Boston, Washington, Dallas or Los Angeles, where fans get a taste of the city, and enjoy the atmosphere surrounding the area, before entering the arena.
“If you go to Chicago or Dallas or Washington, just about any place, you find you’re walking two or three or four blocks and people get used to that,” Wilson said. “And it’s actually nice.
“It becomes part of the experience and you tend to come down a little early.”
Little Caesars Arena will have six restaurants associated with the arena, and there are more than 100 eateries have been built in the last two years either downtown or Midtown.
“It’s a different experience than people are used to, but it’s going to be a great experience,” Wilson said. “It’s like everything else. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take season ticket holders time to find their favorite parking spot, but you wake up two or three months into it and say ‘you know, this is unbelievable.’”
The arena will hold approximately 20,000 for hockey and 21,000 for basketball, with anywhere from 15,000-22,000 available for a concert.
About 1,300 workers are at the arena daily putting in seats, sawing, hammering, wiring and installing fixtures inside and outside plaza, where crowds of up to 5,000 will be able to enjoy concerts before going inside for a game or whatever event is taking place inside.
Olympia executives traveled to numerous North American arenas to gauge what worked and what didn’t and melded the positive things into one of the last new arenas in the NBA and NHL.
“(We said) give us your best ideas so we can borrow them,” said Wilson, of taking what was best. “We’ll give them back, but we want to borrow them so this place can be great.
“When Detroiters see this place, they’ll be awestruck. It’s that kind of good.”
Little Caesars Arena is the centerpiece of the approximately 50-block District Detroit, which will have apartments, offices, retail and restaurants.
Wilson credited Chris Ilitch, president and chief executive officer, Ilitch Holdings, Inc., with expanding beyond the arena.
“He stepped back one day and said, ‘You know what, downtown is exploding, Midtown is doing great, you have this huge 50-block area where nothing much has happened over the last number of decades, let’s think bigger,’” Wilson said. “We tore up the plan and started over, and how do we make this transformational area and project for the entire city.”
Kid Rock opens LCA with six shows, from Sept. 12-20, before the Red Wings open their home exhibition schedule Sept. 23 against Boston.
The Pistons will open their exhibition schedule some time in October.
“Every time you look at it, you go ‘Oh my gosh, are we going to make it?” Wilson said. “Then you come back a week later and it’s better than it was before, and you come back a week after and it’s better again.
“We’ll make it and it’s going to be extraordinary.”