The Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center opened in October. (Courtesy Detroit Pistons)

$90 million performance center built to have a ‘meaningful connection’ with Detroit

As NBA teams across the country roll out new training and performance centers, the Detroit Pistons took the approach of embracing the community. 

“Most practice facilities in professional sports are cordoned off from the public, private for the players,” said Arn Tellem, Pistons vice chairman. “I wanted to create a facility that would be connected. I wanted to create something that would contribute to Detroit and make a statement to the city that we were all in on Detroit and wanted to be part of the community.”

The Pistons opened their $90 million Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center in the New Center area downtown in October and in December unveiled Plum Market at the site, a popular Detroit-area food market that will not only cater player meals in the center but also be open to the public. A public-facing fitness center, Blink Fitness, is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2020, and a yet-to-be-announced philanthropic organization will move into additional space within the center later in 2020. 

“In all aspects we started with a vision to make it great of the players, but we really wanted to make it a great experience for our employees and, most importantly, to show and have a meaningful connection with the community and the city,” Tellem said. “That is what we have done, and it has turned out fantastic.” 

A Rossetti rendering shows the Plum Market that opened at the center last month. (Courtesy Detroit Pistons)

The Pistons built on a parcel owned by Henry Ford Health Systems between Wayne State University and Henry Ford Hospital, two miles north of Little Caesars Arena, where the Pistons have played since 2017. The four-story complex includes a player locker room and lounge, full-service kitchen and dining facilities, fitness facility, film study room and meeting rooms, advanced training with hydro pool and cryogenic treatment, green space and a production studio. 

The Pistons’ old practice facility was at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the team’s former arena, which is slated for demolition. When it came time to find a new place, Tellem said the directive from owner Tom Gores was to use the team to create partnerships that could have a lasting effect in the community. 

“This facility is a huge win, for the community, our franchise, our fans and our future,” Gores said. “It’s the best training facility in the league and will give our players and coaches an edge in maximizing their performance.” 

During the investigation into where to build the facility, Tellem said, the team wanted to move downtown and started working with potential partners, focusing on health care facilities as a natural fit. The Pistons also wanted to have enough space to move both basketball operations and business operations into the same facility for the first time.

With Henry Ford as a “natural ally” for the team, the 185,000-square-foot performance center sits next to a new $37 million William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine. A 125-foot enclosed glass walkway connects the building to give the team access to injury diagnosis and rehabilitative treatments. 

Once the site and main partner were established, Tellem said, the search was on for more partners. “I wanted this open to the public,” he said. Plum Market, popular in Detroit suburbs, was looking to get into downtown Detroit, and after meetings with city officials, the Pistons recognized the need for high-quality markets downtown. While searching for a catering partner for the facility, one requirement the organization put on potential partners was that they be willing to open a public market on site. That quickly eliminated a few contenders. 

“Plum Market is known for high-quality, great products and great service and we wanted that kind of association with a top brand,” Tellem said. “Now there is private catering for players and coaching, and a store that serves employees and is open to the public. It has been very well received and is a much-needed component.”

The public health club will serve employees of the Pistons and Henry Ford but also be open to the public on a membership basis. “We wanted to get great tenants to add value for our employees, but also for the community and provide services that are much needed,” Tellem said.

While the Pistons focused on making what they say is the league’s largest practice facility a true home for the players, a place to work out, train, get their meals, relax and be with the team, they also wanted to connect with the public in multiple ways. “In designing the building, it is not just office space but community space to serve the team and gatherings for employees, sponsors and the community,” Tellem said. 

The center includes indoor and outdoor gathering spaces available to local businesses, organizations and civic groups. Already the team has had hundreds of requests to use the center, everything from Christmas parties to CEO dinners where groups can use the basketball facility. The facility can also open for basketball tournaments and Pistons Academy basketball programs. 

To create a constant connection between the team and the community, the Rossetti-led design includes a production studio with views of the court and a connection to the street. “If you are walking on the street, you can look through the studio and see players playing, like a ‘Today Show’ feel,” Tennant said. The Pistons are using the studio to create their own content, but they also let media partners produce from the space. 

An art program fills the building, using art from local and national artists on a rotating basis in an effort to make the space inspiring for employees and players and reinforce the team’s connection to the community. “It makes it interesting for the people who come and visit,” Tellem said, “not just for us, but for the community as well. That has been an important addition.” 

The performance center will include a tie to a new arena opening in 2021 in partnership with Wayne State University, just a quarter-mile from the practice center. The Pistons’ minor league affiliate will play in the new arena and use the performance center for training, practices and offices. 

Having the entire organization’s operations in the same location for the first time will create, Tellem thinks, an environment that shapes a culture of true collaboration. 

“This is our home and a statement of what we believe in,” Tellem said. “Players spend way more time here (than the arena) and how do we design the best home for our players, coaching staff and employees and equally important, how do we be part of this community and contribute to this community to make a mark in a positive way?”

Other professional teams are already taking notice. Over half a dozen NFL teams have toured the facility, along with plenty of NBA teams. “They are making notes and I assume some will implement” the public-facing aspect, Tellem said. “Everyone has said this is the most unique facility in the NBA.”