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Ilitch emerges as qualified buyer for Pistons

Detroit PistonsMike Ilitch, the owner of the Detroit Red Wings (NHL) and the Detroit Tigers (MLB), has been deemed a qualified buyer of the Detroit Pistons and Palace Entertainment by the NBA, giving him another powerful chit in his pursuit of a new downtown arena.

The NBA has its own system for matching buyers with teams: a potential team owner must first be qualified by the league. That part of the process is done, leaving Ilitch to talk numbers with Karen Donaldson and crew. Palace Sports includes the Pistons, the Palace of Auburn Hills and DTE Energy Music Theatre; Ilitch’s downtown venues include Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre and Joe Louis Arena. Combining operations would give him virtual control of the Detroit event and concert industry.

It also gives him a powerful argument toward some sort of public funding of a new downtown arena. He could argue that it’s in his best interests to move the Red Wings to the Palace; the team would surely make more money there anyway. Or, he could agree to move the Pistons back into the city if a new arena is built; the Palace could easily make it as a concert and event facility without a sports tenant.

Of course, Detroit and Michigan have no money, so it will take some sort of special funding mechanism (some sort of targeted sales tax, perhaps) to make a new arena work. Mayor Dave Bing — yes, that Dave Bing — says the city has no money for a new arena. Perhaps. Ilitch has explored a privately financed arena in the past and may conclude he can do it that way. In any case, the arena discussions in the future should be fascinating should Ilitch land the Pistons.

RELATED STORIES: At least three potential buyers emerge for Pistons; Ilitch notifies Pistons of interest in purchase, would move team back downtown

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