Joe Louis Arena coming down, but what’s going up?
You know the end is near when lawyers and others are meeting to talk about what to do with your possessions and land. That is the current condition of Joe Louis Arena, the riverfront venue soon to be shuttered and demolished.
Inside The Joe, a crew is figuring out what should be saved, what should be sold and what should perish.
Outside, a small crew is figuring out what to do with the land when The Joe is no more. The arena is headed for the wrecking ball on or before Sept. 17, according to public documents.
There are few answers about its future at this point. The new Little Caesars Arena, the future home of the Detroit Red Wings, opens this fall.
Between now and demolition time, city officials and owners of the Detroit Red Wings are taking inventory of 36 years of memorabilia.
The city owns the building and land. Olympia Entertainment, a branch of the Wings owners’ billion-dollar empire, manages the venue. That means the city owns the building fixtures. The Wings and Olympia own everything else — basically anything that isn’t nailed down.
A public auction for the city-owned fixtures is in the works. That includes the arena’s 20,000 seats. A third-party vendor will likely be hired to help sort out the massive going-away sale. Longtime season ticket holders Cindy and Larry Skillman have asked to buy their seats but the Trenton couple have been told to wait like everyone else.
Beyond the auction, Olympia has hired a curator, Marcel Parent, to comb through its trove of photos, posters, jerseys, etc. The best will end up on display at Little Caesars Arena.
“Besides the (championship) banners, everything’s up in the air,” one Olympia spokeswoman said of what will be displayed at the new arena.
Demolition of The Joe is a virtual certainty because the city-owned land, along with the adjacent parking garage, was the last pawn in the deal to help Detroit escape Chapter 9 bankruptcy in late 2014.
The deal stipulates that the state loan the city $6 million to raze the arena. Then the cleared-arena site and parking garage will be given to bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. The company was a major creditor to the city.
FGIC lost $1.1 billion in the Detroit’s bankruptcy. FGIC still wants its money.
FGIC was to find a partner to build a hotel with a minimum of 300 rooms and be no taller than 30 stories, according to the bankruptcy agreement. Development could also include “office, retail, commercial, recreation, residential.”
In January, Mayor Mike Duggan said a high-rise residential building seems the most likely development.
“There’s enormous pressure for riverfront development, particularly high-rise housing along the riverfront,” he said.
What’s important in Duggan’s statement is what he didn’t say may be built — a big hotel. Two other plans are already in the works for major hotels downtown: one near the new arena and another to go alongside a proposed new soccer stadium in Greektown.
FGIC and the city are just starting talks with nearby land owners, potential developers and others about what to do with the land. Officials for FGIC did not respond to requests for comment.
One challenge in those discussions is the land is described by many as one of the last ugly pieces of a blooming downtown riverfront. The city is making steady progress in overhauling the water’s edge into a popular recreation area, a commercial district and tony neighborhood.
A half-dozen analysts of Detroit’s commercial real estate say the site has significant drawbacks. That’s because the corner lot, which holds the 140,000-square-foot arena, is hemmed in by a parking ramp, an expressway, the Detroit People Mover, and a loading dock area of Cobo Center.
Overhauling the site is part of the early talks, according to three nearby property owners. The Joe sits next to Cobo Center, which recently went through a $279 million renovation. The convention center is run by the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority. Officials have said they would love to see at least some of the land for another expansion.
The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the nonprofit that operates the downtown RiverWalk, is lobbying for ways to preserve open space, but also have told FGIC representatives the arena site would be a good spot for retail and restaurants.
“There is at least recognition that we would have to find a way to open up that space, connect it to downtown again,” said Peter Cummings, a nearby landowner.