DETROIT – For Pistons fans on the suburban fringe or in northern Michigan – or around the world – the impact of their move downtown is confined to the 41 home games plus playoff dates they’ll occupy Little Caesars Arena every season.
For the citizens of the city that put the world on wheels, the impact will be year round.
“There’s a line, ‘You can’t save Detroit; you have to be Detroit,’ ” Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem said at Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony for what will become the team’s new headquarters and training facility – the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center, in partnership with Henry Ford Health System – in the New Center area. “And that’s how we feel. That’s what the Pistons intend to be.”
When it’s completed, the Pistons will not only have a state-of-the-art practice facility drawing on the newest technologies and best industry practices, but also a new home for the team’s 200-plus employees on both the basketball and business sides.
And even that stops well short of what Pistons owner Tom Gores expects to become a catalyst for the revitalization of another neighborhood in the city’s comeback but also a place where the Pistons can extend their philanthropic reach.
“As a training facility, this will give us an edge, providing Stan (Van Gundy) and our players with the most advanced technology available to maximize their performance,” said Gores, who couldn’t attend the groundbreaking ceremony, in a prepared statement. “But when you look at the whole development and the unique partnership with Henry Ford, it’s so much more. We are bringing more jobs into the city and creating another catalyst for additional investment. It will be another cornerstone in the revitalization of the community.”
Tellem recalled an initial meeting with Gores and Mark Barnhill, a partner in Gores’ Platinum Equity firm, more than two years ago – as Gores was recruiting Tellem to lead the Pistons with an emphasis on his vision to utilize their platform to most effectively spur Detroit’s rebirth.
Barnhill began drawing concentric circles – business leaders, facilities, goals –
that painted an ambitious picture of what Gores wanted the Pistons to become.
“It was Tom’s vision of how we would transform the Pistons,” Tellem said, “and make them relevant in the community and win basketball games.”
Tellem shared the ceremony’s stage with the people who helped bring that vision to reality on Monday: Detroit mayor Mike Duggan; Henry Ford Health System president and CEO Wright L. Lassiter III; Sandy Pierce, Henry Ford’s chairwoman; Wayne County executive Warren Evans; and Detroit city councilwoman Mary Sheffield.
“When Arn Tellem showed up and said, ‘I want to bring the Pistons back home’ – there’s 15 players; there’s 200 employees in the Pistons headquarters, which means Detroiters are going to have a chance for internships and getting those jobs,” Duggan said. “We’re bringing those jobs back to this neighborhood.”
The news of the Pistons relocating to Detroit – beyond just playing their games at Little Caesars Arena, announced last winter – might already by spurring growth. Duggan talked of three proposals for residential projects awaiting the vetting process near where he spoke. Tellem has been instrumental in lining up other developments yet to be announced.
“It’s my hope this will be a catalyst for further development and activity in the city and we really hope we’ll be able to attract more business and opportunities for the citizens of Detroit,” he said. “We hope it’s also a center for great community activation and philanthropic initiatives we’re going to undertake. Our goal is to do more and more.”
Sheffield, representing the District 5 home of the Henry Ford Pistons project, lauded the neighborhood outreach to include them in the planning stages to hear their hopes and concerns. Duggan credited Tellem with a lead role in shaping the community benefits guidelines – the first such use in District 5, Sheffield said – that gathered community input.
The performance center will offer fitness, health and nutrition programming through the Detroit Pistons Fit and annual NBA Fit week projects, while youth basketball clinics and Pistons Academy programs will be hosted throughout the year. There will be public access areas within the development where team-hosted and community events will be held.
When it’s completed, expected to be summer 2019, the Pistons’ immersion in Detroit will be complete – but the effects of the benefits will only begin to be felt.
“We’re back. We’re all back and we’re back in every way possible,” Tellem said. “We’re all in on Detroit and we’re going to be Detroit.”