Will proposed Detroit entertainment district create boom or bust?

Ilitch proposes $650 million downtown entertainment district including new arena for Detroit Red Wings

By Hank Winchester - Reporter

DETROIT - Downtown Detroit is showing new signs of life as investors snatch up buildings and work to revitalize the city's core.

But it's one development in particular that could dramatically change the real estate landscape.

"There exists a gap between where rents are right now and where they really need to be in order for developers to start developing, in order for lenders to start lending those developers in order to get these projects off the ground," said real estate expert Jeff Hillman. "So, an arena will hopefully assist in closing that gap."

The development that has the city buzzing is a new arena for the Detroit Red Wings. The man behind the plan is none other than Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch. Yet, this isn't just any arena. The hope is that it will not only be home for the Red Wings but also an entertainment and residential hub.

Read more: Ilitch's $650M development proposal is more than new arena

The proposed $650 million entertainment district would be home to much more than just hockey. The plan is to include retail space, residential living space and office space.

Here is why:

"If you're going to build a new arena it's going to be state-of-the-art and in order to cover the cost of that arena it's going to have to be more than just hockey," said Hillman.

It will be the Red Wings' home but when the team is not on the ice the arena would become a top spot for big names in entertainment, creating major competition for the Palace of Auburn Hills, which is still considered a top entertainment and sports venue. In fact, millions of dollars recently have been invested on upgrades at the Palace to make sure it remains competitive. But the Ilitch project could be a game changer.

"This being the new, fresh, hot place in Detroit, growing as it is, yes, performers are going to want to come here," said Hillman.

Developers want to see this plan move forward and so do business owners who are already downtown.

Harry Kefalonitis owns Harry's Bar in a part of town that has been neglected but also an area where investors, such as Ilitch, quietly have been buying up land. It is rumored the new arena could go up at Woodward Avenue and Temple Street.

"It looks like a neighborhood that's just waiting for something to happen, that's slowly deteriorating, or has deteriorated completely to just grass," said Kefalonitis. "Someone has to take it over that is going to have a big, large-scale development."

Realtor Margaret Palmer has helped put together many deals in the area recently but the buyer has remained a sort of mystery. Although, most know it's Ilitch.

"We closed at a title company. I'm pretty sure they were aware who the ultimate buyer is, but it was not discussed at all," said Palmer.

Others speculate Ilitch will have the arena built closer to the family's Motor City Casino or possibly behind the Fox Theatre, creating another Ilitch-owned district.

Some are concerned about the cash. Who is picking up the tab?

Here's what Local 4 knows:

The Ilitch Organization promises to put up millions of dollars for this project. However, lawmakers and the Downtown Development Authority also already are working to make sure tax dollars are available. Some say the city of Detroit can't afford it. Others say this development would create up to 5,000 jobs and possibly spark a building boom.

Nothing is expected to happen anytime soon. Local 4 is told just getting the final plans together could take at least a year.

Ilitch recently released a statement about the development proposal:

"It's always been my dream to once again see a vibrant downtown Detroit. 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."

Read more: Ilitch's downtown Detroit plan could be long process

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