Shuttered Venues Find New Life

The Palace at Auburn Hills is the latest venue to face an unknown future as the Detroit Pistons move to Little Caesars Arena

  • by Mary Wade Burnside
  • Published: August 30, 2017

The Palace of Auburn Hills will close its doors after 29 years.

When the last notes of Bob Seger’s “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” and “Night Moves” fade into the air in late September, The Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.) will be closing its doors after 29 years of hosting concerts and Detroit Pistons basketball. Whether it will be repurposed into another type of venue remains to be seen.

“No decisions have been made at this time,” said Kevin Grigg, vice president for public relations for the Pistons. However, the building will not be empty or without purpose in the near future. “Business operations will continue to function here and be headquartered here until a new practice facility is constructed that will be in a new center of Detroit.” That will be the Henry Ford-Detroit Pistons Performance Center, which should break ground soon, Grigg added.

How Tom Gores, owner of Palace Sports and Entertainment, which owns both the Pistons and The Palace of Auburn Hills, will proceed with the decision of the venue’s future also is not known. “Discussions on the future path forward will be handled internally,” Grigg said.

A couple of weeks after Seger’s Sept. 23 concert, the Pistons will kick off the 2017-18 season in its new home, the $862.9 million Little Caesars Arena in midtown Detroit. The venue will be shared by the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings.

So how does a company market a 22,000-24,000-seat arena that was built for a very specific purpose, in this case, to host musical concerts and sports events? One unique example of a venue that had to undergo a transition is the Memphis (Tenn.) Pyramid, which already was a one-of-a-kind home for concerts and sports, when it opened in 1991 as the home of the University of Memphis’ men’s basketball team. That team and the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Memphis Grizzlies, a later tenant, both moved to the FedExForum in 2004. In 2007, the Pyramid hosted its last concert, coincidentally performed by Seger.

An adaptive reuse committee reportedly considered several different futures for the 20,000-seat, oddly-shaped venue, supposedly entertaining ideas such as an aquarium, a casino and a theme park. After a long negotiation, Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro Shops converted the venue into a megastore, which opened in April 2015 following a two-and-a-half-year remodeling.

As renovations begin this month on Kemper Arena, Kansas City, Mo., its future will more closely resemble its past. The 43-year-old building has been the home of several sports teams, including the NBA’s Kansas City Kings. Purchased in a deal finalized last week by the Foutch Brothers, Kemper Arena will be transformed into a multiuse space that will include a sports complex that will host basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and other sports.

However, noted Steve Foutch, CEO of Foutch Brothers, to get the bank to underwrite the project, there had to be other uses for the venue. To that end, in addition to the sports courts, there will be office space that has garnered long-term leases.

The purchase and renovations are projected to cost $39 million, Foutch said, and the venue will be called Mosaic Arena as part of a 10-year naming rights deal with Mosaic Life Care.

Workers will push back the retractable seating to fit four basketball courts on the first floor and added a second floor which will hold an additional eight courts. Also, above the second floor, a five-lane, 350-meter running track will be added that “goes around the top of the nosebleed seats,” Foutch said.

There also will be office, retail and food and beverage space, as well as a museum. Those generally will be five-to-10-year leases. The sports courts have been able to command three-to-five-year leases, Foutch added. The businesses are interdependent on one another. “Everything is a key to its success. The second floor really sets the tone for what that building could be. The office people want to be there to interact with the sports things, and the office space was key for the bank to underwrite it.”

A restaurant group, KC Hopps, will create a food court concept and on weekends, vendors will bring in precooked food to sell at kiosks during sports tournaments. “Our weekends will be tournaments with out-of-town people coming in and we want out-of-town people to have a taste of Kansas.”

So far, sports organizations have shown a lot of interest and have booked weekend events at the venue, which will be completed in about a year, Foutch said. He expects many of those to turn into recurring events with signed leases. “For at least the next year, a lot of people are wanting to sign three-to-five-year leases to keep the slots.”

Another reason for the success of the project was to get the venue, built in 1972, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That happened in 2016 because of the building’s modern design created by German-American architect Helmut Jahn.

“That was another key for funding—historic tax credits,” Foutch said. “We think we’re the first in the nation to get it on the register when the architect is still alive and practicing.”

Of the buildings, the 45-year-old Kemper Arena is the old man of the bunch. The Palace of Auburn Hills didn’t make it to its 30th birthday with its original, intended purpose, and the Memphis Pyramid was barely a teenager when its major tenants moved out. Brad Mayne, the president and CEO of the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM), believes that venues that have been built in the last 20 years or so will last longer than the ones constructed during a 1990s building boom.

Mayne uses the American Airlines Center, Dallas, home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, as an example. He was the president and CEO of the company that built the venue, which opened in 2001. “Later in the ‘90s, we learned there needed to be more flexibility built into venues,” he said.

For instance, officials did not know if high-end club suites that were included in the plans could be maintained over time, but the idea was that they could eventually be turned into merchandising space if necessary. And then there was the technology, which builders knew was rapidly changing at the time.

“When we were building the American Airlines Center, everything was still analog,” Mayne said. “But we knew digital was coming. We didn’t have enough information to determine what that meant. But we built the building to accommodate analog with additional closets and raceways and the like for cabling and other technological needs, so that whatever that future would look like, it could be accommodated.”


 

  • by Mary Wade Burnside
  • Published: August 30, 2017