The new hockey arena at the heart of the Ilitch family’s sports and entertainment district could become a trend-setter for arena design nationwide.
The still-unnamed arena, slated to open in 2017, will be innovative in several key ways:
■ Deconstructed design: Most arenas are built as a big box with the playing surface and seating ringed by concourses, concession stands, team offices and restaurants. But the new arena will be “deconstructed” with the outer-ring functions moved into structures just set off or pulled away from the core inner playing surface and seats. They won’t be separate buildings, but linked by a first-ever interior streetscape.
■ Glass covered streetscape: The area between the seating bowl and the outer buildings will be covered by glass to create a “covered via,” or interior streetscape, filled with trees, retail, dining and other amenities. Bridges and walkways will connect the outer buildings to the seating bowl through this covered interior street.
Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, said the covered via will be open year-round, not just on game or event days, and could play host to a variety of daytime or nighttime events. Like any good urban street, it will be designed to be walkable, with flexible programming, and to be “a very festive area. … The net effect is a very energetic, very exciting space,” Ilitch said.
■ Lighted roof design: The roof of the arena will be fashioned with the most modern programmable lighting so that different images can be produced for a given event. In the rendering provided by Olympia Development, the roof shows the Red Wings logo as it will on hockey nights. But the roof could be green for St. Patrick’s Day or something else for a concert by Kid Rock or Eminem, Ilitch said. He described the desired effect as “classy, not gaudy.”
■ Playing surface: The playing surface will be set about 32 feet below ground level to lower the profile of the building, producing a more human-scale environment in the district where most buildings will rise just two to four stories. That follows the practice at Comerica Park and Ford Field, where the playing surfaces were set below ground level.
Ilitch said the impact will be similar to when Camden Yards opened in 1992 in Baltimore. The fan-friendly retro stadium where Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles play became the standard for new professional baseball stadium construction.
“This is a paradigm shift. … We’re not building an arena the way arenas have been built in America over the last 20, 30 years.” Ilitch said.
This won’t be the first time Detroit potentially creates a new trend in sports design. In 1988, the Palace of Auburn Hills, designed by the Rossetti architectural firm, opened as the new home of the Detroit Pistons. It set a trend by moving the luxury boxes much closer to the playing surface. Prior to that, luxury boxes had been set up high above all the other seating. The innovation quickly caught on nationally.
Ilitch predicted the arena with its innovative roof will become a key landmark for the community.
“When you’re flying over Detroit or if you’re in one of the downtown skyscrapers and you’re looking down on this district, that’s part of the romance of an urban setting. It’s things like this that give you a romance that you can’t find anywhere else,” he said.
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