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New Little Caesars Arena is ready to rock downtown Detroit

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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Less than a week before its first big event, Detroit’s new Little Caesars Arena is still a work in progress.

Hard-hatted painters are working in the hallways. Ladders are situated randomly throughout the building. Bannisters are still wrapped up plastic. Random piles of garbage dot the floors. All sorts of tests are being done to the facility.

It’s busy but calm, and certainly looks functional if not complete — with a new-car kind of smell in more than a few areas. And come the first show on Tuesday, Sept. 12 — the first of Kid Rock’s six concerts — Olympia Entertainment President and CEO Tom Wilson promises there will be an “opening night shine” on the place.

Rest assured that LCA is designed to shine. The 20,000-seat, $863 million arena is a gleaming, state-of-the-art home for sports and entertainment, boasting next-level features and amenities meant to redefine the experience for both spectators and participants, whether they be athletes or artists. Replacing both Joe Louis Arena and the Palace of Auburn Hills, LCA — the hub of a $2.1 billion, 650,000-square-foot development known as The District — aims to leave both in the dust and establish a benchmark in the arena industry.

“One of the key things is you can dream bigger,” says Wilson, who was a principal in building The Palace nearly 30 years ago. “Everything we did with The Palace was revolutionary at the time. Now you see where it’s gone on to the next level. It’s taught us to reinvent. It’s taught us to use the best ideas anybody has and ask the questions, not only ‘What’s the best thing you did?’ but what are the things you wish you hadn’t done?’”

LCA will, of course, be the home for the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons — moving back downtown from Auburn Hills — who will fill more than 100 nights a year with games between them. But, Wilson notes, “music is the third tenant, basically,” and LCA already has 25 concerts on the docket — including Ed Sheeran, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Guns N’ Roses, Janet Jackson, Jay-Z and the Eagles’ first show in Detroit since Royal Oak native Glenn Frey died in 2016 — with another 20 or so to be announced. UFC and WWE also have events scheduled.

And, according to Wilson, making it a building that works as well for entertainment as it does for sports was of paramount concern to Olympia and to Ilitch Holdings.

“What we didn’t try and do is cram entertainment into a sports facility,” Wilson explains. “We said, ‘We have three people we have to care about — the Pistons, the Red Wings and concerts. Let’s do everything we can to make it work best for all of them.”

That meant consulting with artists, managers, booking agents and promoters as LCA was designed and even during construction.

“The idea was, ‘What’s going to bring an artist back?’” Wilson notes. On the production side that includes a ceiling grid that makes it easier to construct any kind of production, as well as a loading dock with seven bays for equipment trucks, compared to just one at Joe Louis and three at The Palace. The performers will be hosted in a ‘compound’ of five dedicated dressing rooms rather than sharing a sport team’s locker room, and they’ll also have access to the teams’ opulent family room overlooking the Red Wings’ practice rink.

“There are a lot of little tips we picked up from talking to artists and managers and the like that we incorporated,” Wilson says. “So on a day where Elton (John) comes in or Lady Gaga comes in and they soundcheck at two or three o’clock, they can hang around here and it’s better than any hotel you’ll find. Literally, you have your own world here.”

Dana Warg, Olympia’s Vice-president of entertainment, says reaction has been overwhelmingly positive so far, and he’s already booking events as far out as 12 months from now.

“There is an excitement,” says Warg, who’s been part of opening nine other buildings. “But frankly I think there’ll be even more excitement when they arrive on the scene and go through it. I think world of mouth will travel faster than the speed of light.” Among those giving LCA the thumbs-up was U2 production director Jake Berry, during that band’s recent visit to Ford Field, and Warg says more agents are planning to come see LCA in action during its opening month.

For LCA patrons, there are unobstructed sight lines, wider concourses, four restaurants — including Mike’s Pizza Bar, in homage to the late Mike Ilitch, and Kid Rock’s Made In Detroit — and massive scoreboard and message boards. One of the two outdoor plazas, sponsored by Chevrolet, features a large video screen to broadcast games or concerts outside, and which will also host pre-show entertainment for some events. A Heritage Hall, will showcase 4,500 square feet of exhibits about Detroit sports and entertainment history.

What Wilson calls “the jewel” of LCA, however is a 200-yard textured aluminum “skin” that circles the outside of the upper deck, which will also project everything from game action to concert footage.

“It’s so big it’s inescapable,” Wilson says. “Just the sheer size of it means you’ve got to look at it and take it all in. There’s nothing like it in Vegas or Times Square or anywhere else.”

Olympia’s Warg adds, “I think everything that’s in place is a selling feature. This building has every feature known to mankind. I’ve done a lot of venues in my day, and nothing compares to this.”

• If You Go: Kid Rock and Robert Randolph & the Family Band play Sept. 12-13, 15-16 & 19-20 at Little Caesars Arena, 2645 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Some tickets are still available. Call 313-471-7000 or visit olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

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