How Sports Changed the Fortunes of Downtown Detroit

After several decades that witnessed many Detroiters fleeing the once vibrant city for the suburban confines of Oakland County and beyond, the Motor City (specifically its downtown and midtown districts) have seen a tremendous resurgence since the dawn of the 21st century, with Detroit sports serving as one of the keys to this surge in both new businesses and residents.

From 1978 through 2000, only the Detroit Red Wings played their home games within the city’s downtown area, calling legendary Joe Louis Arena home beginning in 1979, after spending the previous 52 years at the Detroit Olympia, found 3 miles northwest of downtown. 

The first major piece of the new millennium sports themed transformation occurred when the Detroit Tigers opened Comerica Park, one mile east of iconic Tiger Stadium. The Tigers played a whopping 88 years in the Corktown neighborhood ballpark and another 16 years at the field that previously sat on the Tiger Stadium grounds, before moving to the heart of downtown. The 41,000-seat, $300 million baseball facility represented the first of many dominoes that would soon fall.

In 2002, the Detroit Lions moved back into the city after taking the field the previous 26 seasons at the Pontiac Silverdome, 30 miles north of downtown. The now 19-year-old Ford Field opened its doors immediately next door to Comerica Park, signifying the NFL club playing in the city for the first time since spending 1941 through 1974 at the aforementioned Tiger Stadium. 

With the Tigers and Lions firmly cemented in downtown Detroit, 2017 saw the opening of the spectacular $863 million Little Caesars Arena, with the Red Wings relocating across downtown and the Pistons migrating 30 miles south from Auburn Hills, allowing the three-time NBA championship franchise to take the hardwood in the city (on a full-time basis) for the first time since 1978. 

With all three sports venues now permanently in place, the end result of the adjacent baseball/football complex and the joint hockey/basketball arena (located 0.5 miles apart) is The District Detroit development, which includes a combination of performing arts venues, bars, restaurants and a hotel/casino, split amongst Detroit’s downtown and midtown sections, on the south and north sides of Interstate 75. The area has been completely revitalized. 

The urban core of Detroit has absolutely changed for the better, since the turn of the century, and sports has been a key factor in this much needed and ongoing improvement. The rebirth of this area has now taken on extra importance as the state of Michigan looks to rebound from the co-economic and public health disasters caused by COVID-19. The Wolverine State's sports betting revenue has bounced back from the precipitous decline that hit the industry in 2020, with civic leaders hoping this development serves as a precursor to the state’s crazed sports fans taking full advantage of a return to normalcy and once again heading downtown to enjoy all its many sports and entertainment offerings. 

To paraphrase a certain iconic baseball movie, “if you build it they will come.”