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Deadline looms for fate of Joe Louis Arena

The Detroit Red Wings have until June 30 to tell the city whether it plans to stay in Joe Louis Arena or plan for a new venue.
Joe Louis Arena is beloved by Detroit Red Wings (NHL) fans, who fill the place nightly despite the presence of cramped concourses, narrow seats and iffy access. It opened in 1979 and is definitely a remnant of different times, lacking suites and the club-level amenities so much the rage in the arena world these days.

Its days may also be dated, as the Red Wings ownership is deciding whether to pursue a new Detroit arena or commit to Joe Louis Arena. The team’s lease is up this summer, and over the past year the Red Wings have made noises about looking at new-arena sites in the downtown area or possibly rebuilding on the same site.

On the one hand, Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch isn’t afraid of making dramatic moves with his sports franchises — witness the abandonment of Tiger Stadium for Comerica Park — and he certainly knows the finances behind luxury suites. But he’s also shown a commitment to downtown Detroit, which bodes well for Red Wings fans used to attending games in the area.

So far, the Red Wings haven’t tipped their hand one way or another. Some argue the Joe Louis Arena land is too valuable for an arena, and that the Detroit River riverfront should be turned into a housing site. Given the state of the economy, that’s a stretch; no one is rushing to build housing at all in Detroit, even the high-end stuff in downtown. It’s a decent site already set up for hockey, but a new arena would mean a two-year move of the team; adjoining Cobo Arena is small (12,191 for hockey), Ford Field may be possible, and the Palace of Auburn Hills too far away.