Home-Court Advantage

The Detroit Pistons differentiate themselves by incorporating the community in their new practice facility along Second Avenue in Detroit’s Midtown District.
Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center
The Detroit Pistons transformed a surface parking lot in Detroit’s Midtown into a practice facility open to the public. // Photograph by Nick Hagen

Much of Detroit’s rebirth has been driven by a wave of traditional developers, but a snippet of Midtown just south of New Center is being transformed by the Detroit Pistons.

The $90 million, 185,000-square-foot Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center, which opened last October, serves as a model of how new projects in the city are enhanced by working with hometown players.

The Detroit team included Rossetti, which designed the building; The Platform, which served as its developer; and Christman-Brinker, which completed the construction. The Pistons own the building, while Henry Ford Health System owns the land.

Tom Gores, owner of the Pistons, charged Arn Tellem, vice chairman of the team, with creating a facility that included practice areas, business space, and opportunities for the community. Most facilities built around the country contain only practice space and offices for coaches.

“As part of our commitment to Detroit, we wanted to have it as a place for the community to come and participate, and feel a connection with the team,” Tellem says.

parking lot site of Pistons' new practice facility

The first step was incorporating local businesses. Half of the building consists of the $37-million William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine, which serves the team and the public. The other side includes the Pistons’ practice complex, a Plum Market, a yet-to-open Blink Fitness, and event space.

Other hands-on initiatives planned by the Pistons include basketball camps and clinics for area youth. In keeping with its focus on community, the team is refurbishing 60 courts and parks across Detroit and providing community programming such as fitness classes at the courts. It has also partnered with organizations that offer mentoring and activities to Detroit youth. Last summer, the team conducted its first community three-on-three basketball tournament; the event drew 1,100 participants of all ages, including those in wheelchairs. It is scheduled again for this summer.

Although the area surrounding the Performance Center includes Wayne State University, the College for Creative Studies, and TechTown Detroit, there wasn’t much new development before the center was built. In November 2017, Jonna Construction, which years earlier had refurbished an old warehouse and created loft apartments across Second Avenue from the center, moved into its building.

Frank Jonna, a partner in the company, which completed the interior construction of the Plum Market location and its seating area, says the facility has made the area more destination-driven. While he says he has yet to see its effects in warmer weather, buses bring students to visit regularly.

“The neighborhood improved significantly with (the Pistons’) investment,” Jonna says. “I hope they continue to engage the community, to open their doors to the greater Detroit area, and (enable) people to enjoy the experience the Pistons operation brings. It’s a phenomenal facility from both an appearance standpoint and a functional standpoint.”

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