Pizza Magnate Explores $650M New Stadium District Option

DETROIT-Little Caesar’s Pizza founder and owner Mike Ilitch recently said he’s exploring plans for a $650 million mixed-use development in the downtown, a new “district” project that would include a new home for the Ilitch-owned Detroit Red Wings team in the National Hockey League.

The Red Wings, currently locked out with the rest of the NHL, normally play in the 33-year-old Joe Louis Arena along the Detroit River, an aging structure compared to many sports stadiums. The Wings pay rent on the facility, but have talked for the past couple of years of moving to a new property.

According to a statement, the new district will be comprised of residential, retail and office facilities and anchored by a new state-of-the-art, multi-purpose events center – though he did not reveal where the district would be located or when he could start. Speculation has raged whether Ilitch will build near Comerica Park, where his 2012 World Series contenders, the Detroit Tigers, have a relatively new ballpark. The also-new Ford Field for the Detroit Lions football team is also there along Woodward Avenue.

Ilitch owns a lot of land in the downtown, and has been sometimes criticized for leaving some of his properties vacant, though it’s also argued there hasn’t been many large-scale deals possible for the struggling Motor City in the past 10 years.

"It's always been my dream to once again see a vibrant downtown Detroit," said Ilitch in the statement. "From the time we bought the Fox Theatre, I could envision a downtown where the streets were bustling and people were energized. It's been a slow process at times, but we're getting there now and a lot of great people are coming together to make it happen. It's going to happen and I want to keep us moving toward that vision."

The announcement came primarily to support supporting House Bill 5463, as amended today, that allows the Downtown Development Authority to continue capturing existing funds that would support a catalytic development in Detroit. Ilitch said his plan incorporates a significant private investment supplemented by existing dollars currently collected by the DDA supporting economic development and requiring no new taxes.

"We have a tremendous opportunity through a large-scale project to make a positive impact on our community," said Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings Inc. and one of Mike’s seven children. "A project of this magnitude requires continued due diligence and a strategic partnership with the public sector. Working together we can ensure this opportunity connects Detroit's existing set of initiatives and assets strengthening the downtown core and enhancing the image of our city, state and region."

George Jackson Jr., president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. said in the statement that the makes good business sense for two reasons. "First, it's not a plan for an isolated, single-use structure,” Jackson said. “Instead, it builds on the clear successes we've already had downtown integrating districts that feature entertainment, and support commercial, retail and residential development around them. Second, it doesn't impose any new tax burdens; it simply continues a program for retiring debt related to economic development. It's hard to argue with that."

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