District Detroit Rising

For the first time, the design and leasing team for District Detroit, a 50-block area spanning downtown and Midtown, reveals how the plan for a new, $627-million arena for the Detroit Red Wings, as well as offices, housing, stores, and restaurants, got its start, and what and where the investment opportunities will be.


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NOW AND THEN: A photo illustration shows the progression of the new Red Wings arena — the center piece of District Detroit — from early construction, far left, to the completed 20,000-seat arena, right, giving fans close proximity to the action, sight lines, amenities, and technology. The exterior of the new arena, inset, will display video and graphics during game days.


The command post for District Detroit, a 50-block area that spans downtown and Midtown and includes a new $627-million, 20,000-seat arena for the Detroit Red Wings, is just around the corner from the main entrance to the Fox Theatre. There are no markings or signage on the entrance door, which is located along the south side of the theater, and the space that door leads to is stark and spare. 

During an exclusive tour, youthful staffers were huddled around a cluster of tables jammed together in the middle of the space, quietly chatting and poring over their laptops. It could be any startup, anywhere. 

Off to the left, though, there’s a smaller room just past a table filled with coffee and water. Inside, a vast conference table dominates most of the room, while the walls are plastered with oversized posters depicting the details of what Mike and Marian Ilitch, co-chairs of Ilitch Holdings Inc., are launching through their real estate company, Olympia Development — a total investment, most of it privately financed, that could reach as much as $1.3 billion by 2020.

The first phase focuses on what will be the new home of the Ilitch-owned Red Wings. The arena is scheduled to open in September 2017 in what is called Woodward Square, connecting Midtown to downtown Detroit. The working name for the arena is the Detroit Events Center, although earlier this year the Ilitchs announced they had trademarked the nicknames “The Baddest Bowl” and “The Baddest Bowl In Hockey.”

For a map of the propose district // click here 

Meanwhile, last summer Olympia Development sold out all 52 of the arena’s full-size suites, which lease for about $300,000 per year and can accommodate 18 to 30 people, and 22 of the smaller, four- to eight-person loge-box suites, which go for around $100,000. 

THE EXTERIOR OF THE NEW ARENA WILL DISPLAY VIDEO AND GRAPHICS DURING GAME DAY

In addition to the arena, more than 200,000 square feet of privately financed mixed-use retail and office development is in the works for Woodward Square, which encompasses sections of Woodward Avenue and Henry Street that have been underutilized for years. One building under construction runs along the eastern side of the arena, parallel to Woodward Avenue. The other is on Henry Street, to the south, running alongside I-75.

Both four-story structures will feature more than 55,000 square feet of retail space and more than 160,000 square feet of office space. Employees of the Red Wings and Olympia Entertainment will occupy some of it, but the majority of the space will house offices, retail stores, and restaurants, both local and national. There are numerous artist renderings of how it’s all going to look and feel in Woodward Square — lively streets teeming with people flocking to and fro, surrounded by bars, boutiques, and restaurants. Color-coded maps and grids show where a smattering of residential buildings is planned, along with three parking decks and a 400-room hotel.

“We’ve had great response on the hotel side,” says Steve Marquardt, vice president of Olympia Development, “and those conversations are ongoing. And Woodward Square is really just our first major initiative. It’s an example of appropriate use of retail, not only recognizing that this is an entertainment district, but that it’s also a place where people will live, work, and play.

“I think it’s a formula that’s time-tested, and certainly we think (it’s) critical, having the mix of uses and the design that supports it, more than anything. And there are four other neighborhoods that are being planned, with (a similar) look, feel, and authenticity for each of those, as well.”

One of those neighborhoods, Columbia Street, is going to sprout up just outside the door of the command post, transforming what is currently little more than a surface parking lot between the Fox and Fillmore theaters into a European-style community with quaint cobblestone walkways — a place Marquardt is confident will be a vibrant urban destination. 

“It’ll be this really cool, intimate, two-sided experience,” he says, “anchored by the Fox and Fillmore and the new Little Caesars Global Resource Center.”

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