As owners of the Red Wings and Tigers, Mike and Marian Illitch control a 50-percent share of Detroit’s professional sports teams. Now, the Illitch family is on its way to owning another of Detroit’s big-name teams — the Pistons. Mike Illitch is in negotiations to buy the Pistons. He has also discussed obtaining tax incentives and funding for the construction of a new Pistons venue downtown with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. Though moving the Pistons back to Detroit would certainly aid the local economy, the city’s $85-million budget deficit is a considerable obstacle. If the funding for the transition is handled responsibly, the Pistons should move back to downtown Detroit.
On Tuesday, multiple news outlets reported that current Pistons owner Karen Davidson has decided to exclusively offer Illitch 30 days to make a bid on the team. A purchase by Illitch, in conjunction with the move back to Detroit, has the potential to result in the construction of a joint venue downtown to house the Pistons and the Red Wings. Illitch has worked with Detroit in the past to build sporting venues. In 2000, he was involved in the construction of the Tiger’s Comerica Park, which cost a total of $300 million to build — $115 million of which was publicly funded, according to a 2006 Daily article.
A major roadblock in this new project is whether or not Detroit can afford to import the team. The city would have to fund a large portion of any efforts to build a new stadium, as well as negotiate tax cuts and incentives at the expense of the city’s budget. With the budget’s already significant deficit in mind, Bing has stated that the city may not be in the position to offer Illitch any incentives, according to an Oct. 5 USA Today article.
But the city could certainly use the extra revenue. Detroit’s ailing economy has become an old story. Bringing the Pistons back to the center of the city could help to breathe new life into the struggling metropolis. Building the new venue would also provide employment for contractors and construction companies. The Pistons have led the NBA in attendance five out of the last nine seasons, according to their website. The new venue would create increased revenue for surrounding businesses and provide jobs for local residents. Fans attending games at a downtown arena would patronize area bars, restaurants, gas stations and hotels, among other businesses.
Should the plan for a new Pistons venue downtown come to fruition, Illitch shouldn’t let the Palace become an economic drain on Auburn Hills. Ideally, Illitch would be able to unload the venue to prospective buyers or keep it alive for concerts and other performances.
Detroit would be a winner if all goes as planned. Illitch has a proven track record as a successful businessman and, more importantly, as a successful Detroit sports team owner. The remaining question is whether city’s government could afford the move. But it’s clear that the Detroit Pistons should move back to the city that they are named for.