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Detroit MLS group scraps plan for new stadium, will use Ford Field

The group leading Detroit's MLS expansion bid announced on Wednesday that it is bringing in the Ford family as co-owners, and that it will use NFL venue Ford Field as its home stadium.

The move comes as a surprise given that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores -- who continue to lead the expansion effort -- had pushed for a $1 billion development project that involved building a 23,000-seat stadium.

That deal involved building the venue at Gratiot Avenue, where a half-built jail currently sits, and building the jail at another location. The stadium component of that deal is now off the table, with the proposed team now set to play at the Detroit Lions' Ford Field.

MLS is slated to select its next two expansion teams from a list of 12 candidates in mid-December. They will begin play in 2020. Two more will be chosen at a date to be determined, with those teams set to begin play in 2022.

"Partnering with the Ford family bolsters our powerhouse group and provides a perfect stadium solution in the heart of Detroit's central business and sports and entertainment districts," said Detroit Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem, who is coordinating the ownership group's expansion effort.

"Over the last two years, we have invested significant time, effort and resources into our bid to bring MLS to Detroit. After careful study and analysis, we concluded that the downtown location of an MLS stadium is paramount to an MLS team's success."

The group leading Detroit's MLS expansion bid had previously pushed for a $1 billion development project.

MLS has long stressed that teams needed to be in their own, smaller-sized stadiums in order to capture the different revenue streams that a stadium produces. But the sight of teams like the Seattle Sounders and Atlanta United thriving in NFL stadiums appears to have altered the Detroit ownership group's thinking.

The group said Ford Field could be configured to accommodate crowds between 26,000 and 64,000.

"No MLS stadium sits in a better downtown location than Ford Field," said Tellem. "We also saw additional evidence that multi-use stadiums can be very successful in the right situation and we believe our new proposal is superior for the city and for MLS in every way."

In terms of which cities will be selected in 2020, Detroit was viewed to be in a leading group of four cities that includes Sacramento, Nashville and Cincinnati. The impact that the addition of the Ford family to the ownership group, as well as settling on Ford Field as its home venue, remains to be seen.

MLS appeared to offer a lukewarm response to Detroit's announcement.

Rock Ventures Principal Matt Cullen, who has been leading the stadium plan for the Detroit MLS bid, said that while the original focus was on developing a new stadium on Gratiot Avenue, the analysis of Ford Field led the group to conclude it was a better option.

"From the time we started working on the Gratiot site, we have always been focused on the importance of a great mixed-use development at the gateway to downtown Detroit, soccer was just a potential component of our vision," said Mr. Cullen. "But once we better understood Ford Field's unique attributes, including the recent renovations and a bowl design that is perfectly suited for soccer, we decided to change course.

"We have made clear to the county that we are still fully committed to moving forward with our proposal to build out a new criminal justice complex on Warren and I-75. We are also fully committed to a mixed-use development on the Gratiot site that will be an economic driver for our community."

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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