MLS Detroit group eager to "paint the vision" of downtown stadium concept

DETROIT — Just one week removed from the Cleveland Cavaliers sweeping the Detroit Pistons in the NBA playoffs, the rival owners of those two basketball franchises are coming together in hopes of bringing a Major League Soccer team to Detroit.

At a downtown announcement on Wednesday, Dan Gilbert of the Cavaliers and a representative for Tom Gores of the Pistons unveiled their plans to bring professional soccer back to the Motor City for the first time in more than 35 years.

As part of the announcement, the group also revealed plans for a 20,000-25,000-seat downtown stadium at the heart of a proposed $1 billion development project.

Gilbert said the priority for the project is the site of a downtown prison complex, noting that a soccer stadium is key for Detroit because it would put a sports and entertainment complex at the “gateway” of the city rather than a jail.

“Right now, what we’re trying to do is paint the vision for everybody that this absolutely can be done,” said Gilbert, who owns numerous downtown properties. “We have no doubt that it can be done. We have no doubt that it makes Detroit and downtown Detroit, starting with the front door.”

According to Matt Cullen, the CEO of Rock Ventures LLC, the company headed by Gilbert, it’s too early in the process to know if public financing will be required for the project’s construction. Cullen said the bulk of the bill is expected to be covered with private funds.

Detroit is one of seven cities being considered for the league's next round of expansion, one which will bring MLS to a total of 28 teams.

So why did Detroit make this short list of cities that includes Sacramento, St. Louis, San Diego, San Antonio, Austin and others?

“Part of it is geographic location and our need and desire to expand the geography of Major League Soccer,” Garber said. “More importantly, if you look at the passion and the energy and the millennial-driven and ethnic diversity that exists in [MLS], that’s the kind of dynamic that exists right here in this city.

“This is a city on the rise; we say we are a league on the rise,” he added. “We say we’re a league for a new America, and I think Detroit is a city that is part of a new America. And all of those connections are a very important part of what has gotten us very excited about the possibilities of expanding here.”

The timetable for the project is not set in stone. According to Cullen, entry for the 2020 season is the goal, but with Wayne County officials saying that they currently plan to move forward with the completion of the prison complex, Detroit's pursuit of a centrally located soccer-specific stadium might just be getting underway.