DETROIT – Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert announced Tuesday that they have submitted an official application to Major League Soccer to bring an expansion franchise to downtown Detroit.
The league recently announced plans to grow to 28 teams and identified Detroit as market of great interest.
"We’ve completed an important first step in bringing Major League Soccer to Detroit, and together, we have the experience needed to make a new team successful," Gilbert and Gores said in a joint statement. "We know firsthand the power that sports can play in uniting communities. Our hope is this team will play an important role in the continued revitalization of the city."
Major League Soccer has experienced a period of unprecedented growth during the last 12 years. MLS commissioner Don Garber visited Detroit last April and received an initial briefing on the Gores/Gilbert expansion plan prior to the Jan. 31 application deadline.
MLS officials expect to announce two expansion teams (#25 and #26) later this year followed by two additional teams (#27 and #28).
The addition of an MLS club would enhance the expanding entertainment district in the heart of the city, Gilbert said. He said the team would serve the local and international soccer fan base of Detroit, while inspiring a new generation of youth soccer throughout the state, whose current numbers exceed 100,000 registered players.
"I’m energized about what this opportunity means for the city and the region, Gores said. "Detroit is rising, reinventing itself. I’m excited to partner with Dan and continue to play a role in Detroit’s resurgence."
"Detroit sports fans are some of the most passionate in the world. No where else can you find as many major league teams in the urban core than in Detroit," Gilbert said. "Since soccer is the most popular global sport, we also hope having an MLS team will put Detroit on the map with new audiences, attracting more visitors and more residents to the city."
Plans for MLS team include Wayne County Jail site
When Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores rolled out their plan to bring a Major League Soccer team to Detroit, they put out a video showing what the stadium would look like.
The video shows the stadium built on the site of the proposed Wayne County Jail, which is property Gilbert doesn't own.
County leaders said they're moving ahead with the jail, but Gilbert said he's ready to make a deal.
Gilbert said he intends to move forward with the soccer stadium concept, and he's doing so without knowing whether he can even get an MLS soccer team.
On Tuesday, Gilbert told Local 4 he believes the property can be a new downtown center.
"We're going to meet the deadline, which is the 10th of February. We think it'll be a pretty strong offer overall," Gilbert said.
Gilbert's drive to replace the rusted-out hulk of a failed jail site with a soccer stadium is unrelenting because he sees Detroit's downtown taking on a vastly different shape.
"You know, the site is a fairly large site, and it also, you know, there is talk of putting I-375 up to grade," Gilbert said. "If that happens, you're going to have a more interesting property over there because it'll be the central part of downtown."
Wayne County waited a long time to try to figure out whether Gilbert's plans are pie in the sky. It has a construction company ready to rebuild the old jail.
For Gilbert and his partner, Gores, there's a larger problem: In order to put professional soccer next door to Gilbert's Greektown Casino, he also needs to find a spot where he can build a jail and a new court building to replace the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.
In previous attempts to settle the jail issue, cost estimates for both buildings were roughly a half-billion dollars.
Gilbert said he isn't concerned.
"Detroit's one of the greatest sports towns in the country, so I think we've got a great site and, I think, two good organizations partnering together," Gilbert said. "We have a good shot at it. Nothing's for sure, but we have a shot."
The county isn't saying much, as it wants to see Gilbert's plans. Gilbert said he won't get specific until the county gets its chance to inspect the offer.
Will there be a soccer stadium at the site in six months? Will crews be building a jail on the site? Detroiters will have to stay tuned.