Thanks to improved air quality standards and public transportation, many American cities are seeing a rebirth of population. People are moving back from the suburbs to the cities.
The cities best able to handle this population shift are those that have remained true to the urban setting with all of their amenities. One such amenity is sports facilities, and the best cities are those that have all of their pro and college teams playing near the urban locations rather than out in the deep suburbs.
This comes to mind with news that the Detroit Pistons are examining the possibility of moving back downtown after almost 40 years in the deep suburbs of Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Last year, a study was done on the centralization of professional sports stadiums. In cities which host teams in the four major sports – baseball, basketball, football and hockey – Philadelphia and Chicago tied for the most centralized location of its stadiums. It helps in those cities that basketball and hockey share the same facility.
Detroit would actually be at the top of the list if it weren’t for its basketball facility. The baseball and football stadiums are side by side in the renovated downtown area of Motor City, and the new hockey facility, which will also be downtown, is set to replace Joe Louis Arena (also downtown) in 2017.
The Pistons, however, make their home in the Palace of Auburn Hills, which is a 30-minute drive from downtown Detroit.
When it opened in 1988, the Palace of Auburn Hills was indeed a palace. It was what all future basketball arenas would aspire to be. It was clean, it was modern, it had tons of parking, there was no crime around (because there was basically nothing around), and it was not in downtown Detroit.
In 1988, the Pistons were on the verge of their first-ever NBA title. The Palace rocked. Nobody cared how far one had to travel to get there. In fact, the team’s audience was in those northern suburbs for the most part, because ticket prices had basically made games impossible to attend for the urban dwellers.
That suburbanization of sports facilities grew across the country. Dallas, Miami and Phoenix moved away from their undeveloped downtown areas to build giant facilities in the outskirts. Sacramento has absolutely no downtown to speak of, which is why it built the Arco Arena out in San Bernardino (that’s an exaggeration to make a point. Arco Arena is nowhere near whatever one might identify as downtown Sacramento).
But the country is moving back downtown. Detroit, in particular, is trying to save its city by creating a revitalized urban area, and moving the Pistons back to where they originated would be a nice step.
The Pistons’ new owner Tom Gores has hired basketball player agent Arn Tellum to explore the possibilities of moving back downtown. Conversations are ongoing with the Detroit Red Wings about co-habitation of the new stadium, or they can join with the Detroit Tigers ownership, which is working on a huge new business and entertainment district downtown.
Gores has aligned himself with Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who is encouraging a rebirth of Detroit.
“It’s hard to compete not being in an urban corridor,’’ said Gilbert, who successfully moved the Cavaliers from suburban Richfield to downtown many years ago. “You have to sell more than just the game. You have to sell the entire experience and you can’t get that in a field (his description of Auburn Hills). You have got to get that in an urban corridor, where there are restaurants or casinos or other entertainment venues.”
So the Detroit Pistons can help save downtown Detroit, which is probably a good thing. But I have to wonder what will happen to the Palace of Auburn Hills. I hate when Palaces get dusty.