There have been reports on Monday that the Detroit Red Wings have chosen architects for a new 18,000-seat arena for downtown Detroit. According to MLive.com, the Red Wings have hired HKS, an international firm based out of Dallas, which will work with Chan Krieger NBBJ, a Boston architect that specializes in urban developments.
All the Red Wings organization will say is that they have expressed interest in a new downtown arena.
Firstly, let's not get ahead of things here. There have been reports over the past few seasons that have toyed with Red Wings fans' hearts, like when Mike Ilitch was discussing buying the Pistons and building an arena the two teams would share. Or when the stops on the future light rail along Woodward Avenue were announced; one was at Temple Street, a vacant patch of land by some condos, and rumors sprung up that it could be a location for a new arena. Or when Joe Louis Arena's contract expired, wasn't renewed, and rumors spread that the team would temporarily play at the Palace of Auburn Hills (where the Pistons play) while a new arena was built.
None of these have happened, to the dismay of hopeful fans.
In a city that focuses a lot on its sports teams for emotional relief and support, their best team for the past two decades has the worst arena; the Tigers have Comerica Park, the Lions (who are better as of late) have Ford Field. The Red Wings still have Joe Louis Arena.
Of course, there are memories tied to Joe Louis Arena, fans still call it home, and players enjoy the atmosphere. But the building is 33-years old. Even with minor renovations in the off-seasons, there are just some things that cannot be made modern. Not everything can be fixed with a fresh coat of paint or new concession stands.
So what would Red Wings fans want in a new arena?
A Good Name - The Red Wings' arenas have been Olympia and Joe Louis. No "Staples Center." No "Jobing.com Arena." No "Xcel Energy Center." No "Amway Arena." (No "Amway" anything, for that matter.) No corporations should have their name on a place that is considered sacred to Hockeytown.
Fans would want something more traditional. "Olympia II" wouldn't quite cut it. Perhaps "Ilitch Arena." After all, Mike Ilitch seems to already run the city of Detroit - why not have a building named after him?
The truth of the matter is that it will probably end up having a corporation name, but a nickname will surface, much like the San Jose Sharks and the Shark Tank.
Decent Seating Capacity - Joe Louis seats just over 20,000 people for a hockey game. Of course, the new arena cannot be like The Big House in Ann Arbor and seat well over 100,000, nor should it surpass the Bell Centre in Montreal. Somewhere in the same range would be just as good.
More Bathrooms! - It's a very simple request. Joe Louis Arena does not have enough bathrooms. The men's restrooms are not the best quality, and the women's restrooms are so sparse that the lines for them are at least twenty women deep at any given point. Don't even bother trying to go during intermissions - you'll end up missing the first five minutes of the next period.
Decent Seats - This does not mean the quality of the seats (though that does matter some). People still rave about how amazing a game was at Olympia Stadium. How there wasn't a bad seat in the house. How it felt as if you were on top of the ice, no matter if you were in the nosebleed section. You don't get this feeling at a hockey game very often now.
Pavel Datsyuk said that the majority of the new NHL arenas all feel the same - bright lights, wide open area, all of the fans sitting far away - or farther than he's used to at Joe Louis Arena. The design of the new arena needs to have some sort of personalized quirk, like seats stacked similarly to Joe Louis Arena, just to give that cozy feel. While an arena like the Verizon Center in Washington DC is like a palace compared to The Joe, when you sit in the upper bowl, you feel like you're miles away from the action.
Fans won't stand for that. They want good sight lines. No obscured views. They want to be able to see the play develop and not feel as though they are sitting in front of their TV when they are actually present.
Wider Concourses - Joe Louis Arena has only one major concourse. When everyone is arriving or leaving, fans feel a lot like cattle. The concourse is a decent size, but when all 20,000 fans are piling in for a 7:30 puck drop, there's barely room to move.
Other newer NHL arenas have a concourse for every level of seating. So while the Verizon Center's concourses are definitely narrower than the ones at the Joe, there are three different levels of them, and a single donut costs two dollars no matter which level you're on. The new Red Wings arena should definitely have a more accessible concourse with more updated concessions and certainly more room to move.
Better Exits - This one really cannot be helped for Joe Louis Arena; the arena is butted up against the Detroit River, so while there are two exits from the stadium for fans, it's a constant traffic jam, attempting to make it to any sort of expressway in decent time, unless you park a few blocks away.
The new arena won't be in the same location as The Joe, so fans should not have to worry about this.
A Place To Call Home - Red Wings fans are spoiled. For two solid decades now, they have had a solid, consistent team that always seems poised to hoist the Cup, and has four times. There will always be fans who will find something wrong with a new arena, whenever it happens, even if it's about the paint color in the restrooms, just because they are used to the best.
A new arena will not hold memories like the bench-clearing brawl against the Colorado Avalanche in 1997, or the Stanley Cup win in 2002, or Steve Yzerman's banner retirement in January 2007, or the hoisting of the Stanley Cup Champions banner in 2008, or the home and season opener of 2010 when Datsyuk fought Corey Perry.
But it will.
History writes itself. History will follow this team wherever it goes, wherever they play. The name of the building doesn't matter. The seating capacity doesn't matter. The structure of the place doesn't matter.
As long as their team is playing hockey, fans can and will call it home.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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