When it comes to Detroit’s bid for a Major League Soccer team, the ownership team of Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert have decided to change pitches.

Instead of building one at the “fail jail” site at Gratiot and I-75, the new plan according to an announcement today is to move the team into Ford Field, a venue that has hosted soccer for one-off events in the past.

According to press materials, benefits of Ford Field include:

  • Ford Field’s seating produces a fan sightline slope of 17 degrees in the lower level
  • Ford Field’s location inside the central business district and downtown setting bolsters the game-day experience with walkable entertainment and gathering spaces
  • Different seating configurations can support crowd sizes ranging from 26,000 to 64,000
  • Soccer-specific design will maximize usage of premium suite inventory and high-visibility sponsorship activation
  • Ford Field has hosted four USA Soccer international matches (2008, 2011, 2012, 2015)

With this move, the Ford family who owns the Detroit Lions could also take an ownership stake in the new venture down the line.

Detroit doesn’t have an MLS team yet, and is still in the bid process. The stipulations beyond the $150 million fee also prefer a soccer-specific stadium.

So what will happen to the proposed jail site? There has been a lot of controversy, especially in the Arts Center neighborhood (a part of Midtown), about a jail opening across the freeway from an area of the city that’s among the most stable residentially.

To recap, the idea as it stands now would be that the new Wayne County Jail would go at Warren and I-75 where the current bus terminal is. Wayne County has already agreed to swap land with the city for the deal. And then Gilbert’s team would develop both the jail and the new mixed-use development by Greektown.

According to Matt Cullen, Principal at Rock Ventures, plans will move forward to do a swap deal at I-75 and Gratiot.

“From the time we started working on the Gratiot site, we have always been focused on the importance of a great mixed-use development at the gateway to downtown Detroit, soccer was just a potential component of our vision,” said Cullen. “But once we better understood Ford Field’s unique attributes, including the recent renovations and a bowl design that is perfectly suited for soccer, we decided to change course. We have made clear to the County that we are still fully committed to moving forward with our proposal to build out a new criminal justice complex on Warren and I-75.  We are also fully committed to a mixed-use development on the Gratiot site that will be an economic driver for our community.”

For his part, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is supportive of the plan.

“This partnership allows us to bring major league soccer to a first-class facility inside our growing sports and entertainment district and eliminates the potential request for Detroit tax dollars to construct another new stadium,” said Duggan in a statement. “I wholeheartedly support this proposal and thank Tom Gores, Dan Gilbert, and the Ford family for working together to make this happen.”

Quick Take: Let’s be honest. When it comes to billionaires and hundreds of millions of dollars changing hands, it’s amazing how specifications can magically change on a bid or project. If Gilbert and Gores are confident that this doesn’t hurt their bid, they probably have their reasons. Also, a soccer-specific stadium probably would have had a public financing component (they all do nowadays at one point or another).

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