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Red Wings’ Joe Louis Arena living on borrowed time

After 34 years of life, Joe Louis Arena is now on it’s final legs, after the State of Michigan announced on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 that the arena would be demolished once the Detroit Red Wings moved into their new arena in 2017.

When the news hit Metro Detroiters, there were mixed reactions. Many were happy, others quite sad and upset.

In the 88 years the Red Wings have been around, the Joe has seen some of the franchise’s worst, and best hockey the team has ever played.

From 1967-1982, the “Dead Wings” Era was in full swing, as the team made the playoffs just twice, only winning one series, a complete opposite of what we have seen since 1990.

Although the Joe only saw a part of the Dead Wings Era (1979-1982), it has seen its fair share of accomplishments. It’s played host to six Stanley Cup Finals (1995, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008, 2009), four being won by the Red Wings (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008), two of the four won at the Joe (1997, 2002).

Despite the accomplishments at the Joe, it was very outdated when the building broke ground in 1977, and finished construction in 1979.

With many problems going on in Detroit after the 1967 Riots, and just like the Detroit Lions, Bruce Norris, owner of the Red Wings at the time threatened to move to the team to Pontiac.

The city of Detroit was able to keep them in the city with the construction and promise of Joe Louis Arena right on the riverfront, with one-third of the rent cost.

Once the city finished building the arena, it was clear that it was already out of date. The arena was finished without a press box, which was installed after the builders realized they installed seats where the press box was supposed to go.

There were no railings leading up the stairs to the seats, the small concourse wasn’t fit to hold half of the capacity at the time (19,275), and the seats were so cramped, your knees would hit the back of the person’s head who was sitting in front of you.

Add to that, there was no suites installed on the 100 level, something that any professional sports team values to bring in lots of revenue.

As the fourth-oldest arena in the league, in front of Edmonton’s Rexall Place, the New York Islanders Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, and Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Rangers; the Joe is one of the league’s worst placed arenas.

Although it was built on the riverfront, on a prime piece of real estate, it’s surrounded by Cobo Center, which at the time was a smart move for the team, as they gained control of the arena inside Cobo, and two different freeways.

Of the arenas and stadiums you see today, they are either in the Downtown sector of cities surrounded by offices, restaurants, residential buildings, etc., or on the outer skirts of the city surrounded by a sea of parking lots.

The Joe is just by itself, kind of hidden from the Downtown area, not really in a logical place. It’s a prime piece of real estate for a residential building or a tall office building, or even a hotel connected to Cobo, but not for an arena that serves up hockey, concerts, and other forms of entertainment on a regular basis.

The history of Joe Louis Arena is prominent, and it has a lot more good than bad, but if you really want what is best for the Red Wings, it’s time to make your final memories at the Joe, and keep them forever, because it’s grave has been dug, and now it’s just a waiting game.

What do you think hockey fans? Are you upset about it? Are you excited for the new arena? What do you think should replace Joe Louis when it’s gone?

Chris Zadorozny
Chris is currently a freelance journalist in the Metro Detroit area, writing for both The Detroit News, and MI Prep Zone. Before graduating from the University of Michigan-Dearborn in August of 2013 with a B.A. in Journalism, he was heavily involved with the weekly campus newspaper, The Michigan Journal as the Sports Editor (2012-2013), and as a Sports Reporter (2010-2012). He was the credentialed beat reporter for the University of Michigan Football team for 3 years, and covered other UM-D campus sports, including hockey, during his 4.5 years as a student. As for hockey, Chris has been around hockey his entire life. He began playing at age 7, and officially "retired" at age 17. He was a junior goaltending and defensive coach for a year, before becoming the voice of the University of Michigan-Dearborn hockey team for three years at the campus radio station, WUMD. Recently, Chris has also been a staff writer for Sports Radio Detroit, a startup website meant to focus on sports in the Metro Detroit area. He grew up loving the Red Wings, but loves it when anyone can enjoy the sport of hockey.
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