It's been talked about for years now, but never progressed any further than that. But Tom Gores move to hire Arn Tellem and his subsequent comments following the hire seem to be the most tangible steps toward an eventual Pistons move to downtown Detroit so far.
It's part of a plan that Gores has dubbed Project Big Math, a vision that Gores has for Detroit that extends beyond just the Pistons. What exactly "Project Big Math" is is pretty vague, but it seems to have components of economic development and community service - which are vague concepts.
Gores said, "I could not live with myself if I did not do this. I want to deliver. I don't know when it is going to be good enough, but I want to deliver and one way to do that is to bring great people and ideas to the city. We can't do it alone. We have to bring people in that believe in Detroit. And I assure you that I won't let you down."
It's a very earnest sound, but also very abstract.
According to Terry Foster of Detroit News, two options for eventually playing downtown are currently being explored. The first is partnering with Mike Ilitch and playing in the new Detroit Red Wings arena in the sports and entertainment district that is scheduled to open in 2017.
The relationship between Ilitch and the late Pistons owner Bill Davidson was not always smooth, but Gores seems to be focused on bridging the gap between Ilitch - and even beyond. Cleveland Cavaliers and Quickens Loans owner Dan Gilbert has been vocal about his opinion that the Pistons should be playing downtown for quite some time, even prompting a quip from Stan Van Gundy that Gilbert should be worrying about his own team.
Olympia Entertainment, the Ilitch's company that manages the Red Wings and Tigers, has a familiar face at its head with Tom Wilson as the president and CEO. Wilson spent 32 years with the Pistons, 22 as the president and CEO of Palace Sports and Entertainment. He left for Olympia in 2010, as the Pistons ownership situation was up in the air after Davidson's passing.
Currently the Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, and Philadelphia 76ers all share their home arena with their local NHL team. In fact, the Phoenix Suns and Pistons are the only teams (by my count) who have a NHL team in their metro area and don't share an arena. So it makes sense.
The second option Foster suggests is tearing down what has been built so far on the Wayne County Jail and building a new stadium. The jail project has been a financial disaster, halted two years ago after pouring in $150 million and no decision yet for its future. Gilbert has offered to buy the property for $20 million, but the county has balked at eating a $130 million failure.
But such a project would almost certainly require some public financing. With the new Red Wings project costing $285 million in public funding, another downtown arena just for the Pistons would just be unnecessary waste. It's not made sense when explored in the past, and it still doesn't.
Which may be another reason why Gores chose Tellem specifically.
Gores said to Detroit Free Press "Arn knows the Ilitches. We have great respect for the Ilitches, and one of the first conversations we'll have — and have Arn coordinate — will be with the Ilitches on what they're thinking. ... Whatever form that takes, we just think partnering with the Ilitches to help Detroit is just a positive thing."