The Making of the District Detroit
In summer 2014, the Ilitch organization, owners of Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Tigers Major League Baseball team, and the Detroit Red Wings National Hockey League team, dropped a public bombshell, unveiling what would become a $1 billion–plus project in downtown and Midtown Detroit. The plan, called the District Detroit, included a new glitzy, state-of-the-art, 20,000-seat hockey arena, along with a massive commercial, residential, and entertainment component spanning a 50-block, 385-acre (156 ha) area.
The District Detroit encompasses old gems like the Fox Theatre performing arts venue, the Fillmore Detroit concert venue, the Tigers’ Comerica Park, and Ford Field, home of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions. The district will include restaurants, bars, retail shops, offices, housing, and the new home for the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University, which is expected to bring 3,500 graduate and undergraduate students to the area.
The District Detroit is connected by sidewalks and streets and will include improved light poles, planters, landscaping, and medians. The district is regarded as an ongoing development effort, and at this time, there is no scheduled completion date.
The urban sports/entertainment district in Detroit is not the first in the country. But the District Detroit, which is being developed in part by Olympia Development, an Ilitch-owned development company, is being billed as one of the largest of its type in the nation, with eight world-class theaters, five mixed-use neighborhoods, a 250- to 300-room hotel, restaurants, bars, and three professional sports venues to host the aforementioned baseball, hockey, and football teams, plus the National Basketball Association’s Detroit Pistons. Two of the stadiums, Ford Field and Comerica Park, were built more than 16 years ago, and some of the entertainment venues to be part of the District Detroit have been around for decades. The new hockey and basketball venue, Little Caesars Arena, opened in September 2017.
The company’s website boasts that the project will link “downtown and Midtown into one contiguous, walkable area, where families, sports fans, entrepreneurs, job seekers, entertainment lovers, and others who crave a vibrant urban setting can connect with each other and the city they love.”
Data from the University of Michigan project that the District Detroit will account for an economic impact of more than $2 billion by 2020, plus create more than 20,000 construction and construction-related jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs. It has already generated more than $700 million in contracts for Michigan companies and created 836 apprentice jobs.
Among the developments under construction are the Mike Ilitch School of Business, for which Marian and Mike Ilitch contributed $40 million toward the $50 million total cost.
In addition, Google will take up nearly 30,000 square feet (2,800 sq m) on the second and third floors of a new mixed-use structure being built next to the Little Caesars Arena, and a new nine-story, 234,000-square-foot (22,000 sq m) headquarters building for Little Caesars Pizza is being built at a cost of $150 million. Little Caesars will be moving to the new building from Fox Office Center, which is connected to the Fox Theatre, a grand entertainment venue. That building will continue to be used for employees of Ilitch Holdings, Olympia Development, and others.
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Allan Lengel, UrbanLand