New Downtown Detroit Stadium Scrapped; Ford Field Now Target MLS Facility

Ford Field MLS

Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert have pulled the plug on a new downtown Detroit stadium, and are instead joining forces with the Ford family to place an MLS expansion team in Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions.

The move puts an end to a plan to acquire land for a new MLS stadium by swapping land with Wayne County currently used for a jail — an uncompleted jail that would be relocated elsewhere.

“After careful study and analysis, we concluded that the downtown location of an MLS stadium is paramount to an MLS team’s success,” said Detroit Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem, who is leading the planning on a Detroit MLS team, in a statement. “And no MLS stadium sits in a better downtown location than Ford Field. We also saw additional evidence that multi-use stadiums can be very successful in the right situation, and we believe our new proposal is superior for the city and for MLS in every way.”

The new bid would feature upgrades to Ford Field — which just received some $100 million in renovations — for greater support of MLS soccer. It would also bring the wealthy Ford family into MLS circles, and MLS does put a premium on strong leadership groups of means. Rossetti, which was working on the new-stadium plan, did a study of Ford Field and released renderings of what Ford Field would look like hosting soccer.

The shift in what many had considered a leading bid to land an expansion team is a bombshell, to be sure: MLS officials had stressed the need for a new facility as part of any expansion bid, and it would appear that proposing to use an NFL facility instead of a new stadium would diminish the MLS Detroit bid. “We were recently informed that the partnership between Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert has amended its application to include the William Clay Ford family,” according to an MLS statement. “The amended application also states that Ford Field is the group’s preferred stadium site.

“Although MLS has tremendous respect for the all of the owners involved in the Detroit bid, we have not had an opportunity to evaluate the amended application and it would be premature for MLS to offer a specific comment on it. MLS continues to prioritize soccer-specific stadiums as a criteria for the selection of MLS expansion markets.”

Interestingly, the revised bid doesn’t scrap the land swap, and there still may be plans to move the criminal justice complex to a new location. It would free up the current jail site for other redevelopment.

“The Lions and Ford Field have had active and ongoing discussions with Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores about their vision to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to Detroit,” said Detroit Lions team President Rod Wood via press statement statement. “The result is a compelling plan to present Ford Field as a state-of-the-art soccer stadium; a plan which reflects not just a shared vision to bring MLS to Detroit, but a desire to do so in a way that will both preserve Ford Field as one of the city’s great assets and benefit the broader community.”

Detroit is one of 12 expansion candidates in the mix. The backing of Gores and Gilbert–owners of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively–gives the bid an experienced ownership group, while MLS commissioner Don Garber signaled Detroit out for praise in remarks he made about expansion candidates this summer.

Renderings courtesy Rossetti.

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