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Paul: Little Caesars Arena off to a roaring start

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s pretty amazing, really, that Little Caesars Arena hasn’t even opened its doors yet — heck, it hasn’t even installed all its doors yet — and the new jewel of downtown Detroit already has landed a series of high-profile sporting events.

Little Caesars Arena last week was awarded the 2020 Frozen Four, the 2022 NCAA wrestling championships and first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games in 2021, to go with the 2018 games previously awarded.

The yet-to-be-completed stadium already has landed plenty of marquee sporting events. And it’s only just the beginning.

“Every time there’s a bid cycle, we’re gonna be part of chasing everything,” said Tom Wilson, Olympia Entertainment’s president and CEO.

Starting in the fall, the Red Wings and Pistons will call Little Caesars Arena home.

They’ll share the arena with a jam-packed concert schedule that already is set to include an opening run of shows by Michigan’s own, Kid Rock, as well as shows by Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga and Ed Sheeran. With the future of The Palace in limbo, LCA figures to eventually be the area’s primary concert venue.

It also was announced this week that on Dec. 16, it will host a college-basketball doubleheader, featuring Michigan and Detroit Mercy in the opening game, and Michigan State and Oakland in the second game.

That’s a good start.

Down the road, you can count on the NBA and NHL All-Star Games coming back to Detroit — the NHL’s hasn’t been here since 1980 at Joe Louis Arena, and the NBA’s hasn’t been in the city since 1959 at Olympia Stadium (it was at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1979) — and more NCAA events, like say another Final Four at Ford Field, or maybe the NFL Draft at the Fox Theatre. The Final Four is accounted for through 2021, but the NFL Draft is open next year and beyond.

For either of those events, Olympia would be thrilled to work with the Lions on getting them to Detroit.

“The teams are working together better right now than anytime I can remember in my entire career,” said Wilson, whose career extends decades, including a successful stint as a Palace Sports & Entertainment executive. “Everybody’s pulling for everybody, and that’s a great thing.

“Everything that’s good for anybody is good for everybody.”

With the evolution of Detroit — including the booming business of hotel rooms, bars and restaurants — and the fact the city can be so walkable, from Midtown to Foxtown to Greektown, the city has found its way into the consciousness of big-event movers and shakers.

That’s why the Detroit Sports Commission bid for just about every NCAA championships event this year, and will continue to do so every bid cycle.

Little Caesars Arena, the $650 million jewel of The District Detroit, also will have a plaza outside the arena where thousands of fans can watch what’s going inside on a jumbo screen, while eating and drinking the night away.

The area surrounding the arena, too, will eventually be filled with bars (like just-announced Grand Rapids gem, Founders Brewery) and restaurants.

While Joe Louis Arena and The Palace held its fair share of big events, they just didn’t have a setting like that.

And while there were some wins over the years, that always hurt come bidding time.

“Anytime you have a premier event, whether it’s NCAA or Big Ten tournament, they also look at what you have adjacent to it,” Wilson said. “Do you have the proper hotels? Do you have a convention center? ... Do you even have a plaza out there where we can take the event outside walls?

“And we just never had that at Joe Louis Arena. And we really didn’t have that at The Palace, either — no adjacent hotels, restaurants or anything like that.

“So this is the entire package, all being developed at once, not only by Chris Ilitch and the Ilitch family, but also by everybody else who’s down here — the great work that Dan Gilbert has done, the great work that so many people are doing right not to turn this city around.”