Almost 20 years ago, Joe Louis Arena was ‘a dump’
The first time I ever stepped into Joe Louis Arena, I looked around and thought, “What a dump.”
The Joe was hopelessly dated, stark, utilitarian and charmless to the core. What can you say about a place whose delicacy is Little Caesars pizza? Still, it was my home. In the years that I covered the Red Wings for the Detroit Free Press, I had a love-hate relationship with the city and that arena. Maybe it was the chill from the wind that came off the Detroit River that nearly buckled me every day. Maybe it was the chill in Scotty Bowman’s heart every night.
They are alike in a way, Detroit and the Joe. Yes, they’re run down. Maligned? They’ve earned it. But what I saw in Detroit is what I saw at the Joe every day I spent there: History. It’s in the cars they build and the music they play and the banners they earned that hang from the rafters. You can feel the collective pride that emanates from all of that. Maybe Detroit doesn’t realize it, but it just isn’t like that in other cities. That was #myDetroit.
So was this: The grand Free Press building when it was still the home of great journalists; Kris Draper, Kenny Holland, Vladimir Konstantinov (Vlad the Impaler!) and the rest of the Red Wings gang; an octopus that could fly. Only in Detroit.
In all my years as a sportswriter, from New England to the Midwest and the South, I have never experienced another sports town quite like Detroit. And although I didn’t stay, the city will always stay with me. … The good and the bad, it should be noted. My Detroit was the blight along East Jefferson I would see every day as I headed north from the city until that magical moment when I passed into Grosse Pointe and the world suddenly turned lush and green. Those few miles explain so much about why Detroit is in such straits. I saw it, too, when I would drive west on 8 Mile, south on 75, back east on 94 and back around again -- the circuit I would make often when I first arrived in town and just wanted to get a sense of the city. So I got to know 8 Mile before it was a movie. And that was #myDetroit, too.
But if ever there is a town that could make it back from the brink, it’s Detroit. Because the people there can weather anything. They can stand beside the Detroit River in the middle of winter and feel that wind blow and survive. Just like the Joe.
So when I heard the news that Detroit was planning to build a new arena for the Red Wings, I couldn’t help but feel that same love-hate all over again. They’re going to replace the Joe? Why now? And are they’re really going to sell off the city’s art collections and cut pensions and yet still spend hundreds of millions on a new arena? It makes no sense. And it makes perfect sense. That’s Detroit.
I have just one suggestion for the next arena: Can you make sure you guys remember to build a press box this time?
Viv Bernstein is a writer for CityBiz and is a NASCAR writer who has covered sports in Detroit, Hartford, Conn., and other metros across the U.S.