By @MichaelCaples –
DETROIT – It was just a formality, really.
It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a worthwhile reason for a big celebration.
On a Tuesday morning the day after Labor Day, the Ilitch family welcomed an impressive collection of people to the Chevrolet Plaza outside of Hockeytown’s new home for the official ‘we’re open for business’ ribbon-cutting event at Little Caesars Arena.
Chris Ilitch was joined on stage by Pistons owner Tom Gores, Michigan governor Rick Snyder, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan and city council president Brenda Jones for the celebratory affair; all gave speeches to commemorate the event.
It was the new leader of the Ilitch operations delivering the most substantial speech, of course, with his mother, Marian, sitting close by. After a standing ovation for Mrs. Ilitch and her late husband, the man affectionately known as ‘Mr. I,’ Chris spoke of his parents’ dream to revitalize Detroit.
“They dreamed of a bustling, lively Detroit like the one they experienced as young people. And they took a chance on our city at a time when others were moving out. They invested here nearly 30 years ago, invested here again and again over the course of their careers. It’s an amazing tribute to them to open the doors to this arena today and to launch a new era in Detroit professional sports where four teams play within four blocks of each other in our downtown core, a claim that no other city in America can make.
“I thank my mother, Marian, who is here with us today, for her incredible strength… her strength, her vision and her ongoing guidance. She has been such an instrumental part of everything we are celebrating here today.
“And while my father is no longer with us, he was so excited about this vision and all of these plans. I know that if he was here with us today, he would be doing that signature double fist pump that showed he was overcome with excitement. That’s what he did when he was fired up. He loved to win. He loved to win and the vibrant Detroit we’re now realizing was the win he wanted most for the community he loved.”
A ‘vibrant Detroit’ was on full display for the festivities. The Cass Tech band entertained the crowd prior to the event. Former Channel 4 anchor Carmen Harlan emceed the party. Famed poet Sekou Andrews spoke of the resurgence of his hometown. Thornetta Davis and the Mosaic Youth Theatre singers performed the national anthem.
“This shows you what can happen when you have a 30-year vision, when you have a 50-year vision,” Snyder said. “This is a milestone on building something much bigger and stronger than even this arena. It’s about the great things people can do when they set their minds to working together as a team in a positive way, showing positive results and doing it in a relentless fashion decade after decade. And we owe the Ilitch family a huge vote of gratitude and thank you for helping show us a great direction that the entire city and state should learn from, and we should follow your path.”
Duggan spoke of his appreciation for the Wings staying in Downtown Detroit and the Pistons coming back to the Motor City.
“I was born here and I grew up watching the Wings at Olympia, went over to Cobo Arena to see the Pistons and their star point guard, Dave Bing. I remember the days when the Lions, as well as the Tigers played at Tiger Stadium. Growing up in this town for many years has been an experience of loss. We’ve lost people, we’ve lost businesses and some of the most painful losses were our sports teams. I have such a vivid memory from my childhood riding the bus to the first Lions game played in the Pontiac Silverdome. And I kept saying to my father, ‘How can they call them the Detroit Lions when they play in Pontiac?’ What was the city leadership doing that let a team that meant so much move away? And a couple years later, the Pistons left. And the Red Wings were on their way out of town before mayor Coleman Young stepped in and built Joe Louis Arena to keep them here. Things changed when Mike and Marian Ilitch bought the Red Wings and made a commitment to the city of Detroit, and Marian, it is so great to see you here and I think about what you’ve done for the last 30 years on behalf of all the people in the city of Detroit, thank you so much for your contributions. Just a few years ago, Detroit was on its back, we were in bankruptcy, we were a national embarrassment. Here we are, four years later, with today’s announcement, the city of Detroit is the only city in America where all four major professional sports teams now play in the downtown core.”
And while it was a cause for celebration, the powers-at-be acknowledged that the work needed to rebuild Detroit is not yet complete.
“As we look to the future, I am incredibly excited and driven to build upon my parents’ vision even further as we continue to develop the District Detroit,” Ilitch said. “Opening the doors to Little Caesars Arena today is a massive accomplishment, and yet, we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible within this 50-plus-block development. Several people have commented to me, ‘Aren’t you happy that everything is done?’ Done? We’re just getting started. The opportunities ahead for this community are enormous and incredibly exciting. The interest we’ve seen from retailers, hotel heirs, apartment developers and office tenants has inspired us to expand our vision for The District Detroit and our investment here even further.”