And it’s Little Caesars Arena
The first glance you take at the seating bowl of Detroit’s spanking new Little Caesars Arena is one of intimidation. A steep, vertical seat pitch. Many of the seats in the lower bowl and close to the action. And a sea of Red Wings red, not only amongst the fans clad in the home jerseys but ambient red lighting emanating from the steel support structures radiating from the ceiling. Olympia Sports and Entertainment CEO Tom Wilson said it best. “We wanted to make this the most intimidating place you would ever play in.”
But the first time visitor to downtown Detroit’s newest entertainment and sports mecca will be dazzled and impressed long, long before setting foot into the bowl and taking a seat for a game.
Forget about any preconceived notions you might have about Detroit being dead, a bombed out and vacant downtown, neighborhoods and city dwellers emptying the city for other locales. A visit to downtown today will find just about every structure in the central core either renovated, undergoing rehabilitation, or plans for future reuse. Cranes are in the air everywhere on what were once vacant, rubble-strewn empty lots. And in the middle of all this are Detroit’s now three gleaming sports venues – Ford Field, home of the NFL Detroit Lions, Comerica Park, baseball home for the Tigers, and Little Caesars Arena, host to the NHL Detroit Red Wings and NBA Detroit Pistons. All three venues are in close proximity to each other, and anchor the city’s theatre district and close to the Greektown entertainment district.
But there is more. Much, more. Little Caesars Arena is the centerpiece for a $2-billion dollar multi-purpose development called “The District Detroit.” Surrounding the arena are new residential units, retail installations, a light rail spur straddling Woodward Avenue called the Q-Line, pocket parks and outdoor entertainment and gathering areas, and reuse of historically significant structures mixed with all the new builds. “It is not some pie in the sky proposal on paper, it’s happening now”, says Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Red Wings.
Indeed, the first landing in front of the arena will immerse you in construction cranes, earth moving equipment, all scattered amongst projects already completed. Imagine if you will, Buffalo’s Canalside. Subtract the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation’s oceans of port-a-potties, painted chairs, and shipping containers pressed into service as snack shacks. Then add a plethora of condos, shops, parks, walkable neighborhoods, and urban vibe everywhere, with a spectacular sports arena as the centerpiece. There you have The District Detroit. Juxtapose that with Buffalo’s marking ten years in 2019 of a rubble and weed-filled crater where the Aud once stood, with no plan or vision in place.
What is unique to this Populous designed venue, first amongst peer NHL and NBA arenas in North America, is a deconstructed layout. There is actually a separate building straddling Woodward Avenue which houses a number of restaurants, retail outlets, team offices and ticket office. A glass roof was then constructed between this structure and the arena itself, and the resulting space serves as the arena’s main concourse. That public space is open year round, and can be pressed into service for a myriad of uses. Public arts, statues of sports greats, murals, and a wow factor LED light display hugging the arena façade make for an incredible space, even more dazzling on game night.
But it is light and glass that keeps this arena as an interesting space to visit again and again. The ceiling trusses inside the seating bowl can project any color of light, and add to the game night presentation. Outside, the LED boards and lit up exterior façade make a statement.
The Red Wings strove to keep the intimacy and noise level that is so important to the hockey experience. There are no open concourses with views of the seats here. The tight and low ceiling keeps ambient noise in the building.
Even the premium seating configuration is designed to seamlessly blend into the arena. There are two sideline clubs; the one on the bench side offers fans a chance to watch the players walk right through the service level restaurant enroute to the ice. An end zone Legends Club highlights the team’s glorious history, and perhaps the coolest premium experience is to sit in the rooftop gondolas perched high above the ice.
The Ultimate Sports Road Trip scoring results are in, and Little Caesars Arena claimed the top spot amongst NHL arenas, and coming in a respectable third on the list of peer NBA facilities. Top marks were given for architecture, concessions, fan support, locations, concourses, attention to history and banners, and in-game entertainment. Detroit dethrones Edmonton’s Rogers Place, which just last year took the top spot on the list.
What can Buffalo and KeyBank Center learn from the Detroit experience? Our downtown arena is more than two decades old and is showing its age and not in a good way. Buffalo can learn from the Detroit by injecting state of the art technology, attention to lighting which dazzles and impresses, gathering areas to augment the game experience, plenty of dining options. Most importantly, the buildout of an adjoining district which will get patrons to come early and stay afterward for a full night out. Selfies with Shark Girl and a visit to one of the ECHDC’s many portable toilets are not exactly signature events.
Meanwhile, Detroit is a four hour trip from Buffalo straight across southern Ontario. Detroit is an old yet new destination venue with plenty to offer. Catch a Sabres Red Wings game next season and bring your Sabres swag. You’ll thank us later.
Artvoice sports columnists Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell have again completed a visit to all 123 teams in the four major North American sports. Visit their web site for all venue rankings at www.thesportsroadtrip.com.