The Palace of Auburn Hills, a sports and entertainment organization that presents arena concerts, sports events and outdoor summer music festivals in suburban Detroit, has made public its wish to build a 5,000 seat performing arts center in Oakland County, MI, an affluent area north of Detroit.
The theatre would be privately built and operated by perhaps early 2001, according to Palace spokesman Jeff Corey, and would house concerts, Broadway-style shows, spectacles and perhaps film and convention events. Tom Wilson is Palace president and owner of the Detroit Pistons, which plays at the Palace, a popular sporting and concert venue in Auburn Hills, MI, about 20 miles north of Detroit.
Corey said hoped-for sites include Oakland University property in Auburn Hills or in nearby Troy, MI. There are two other sites. The Palace made overtures to OU in the past month, and Corey said campus events would likely be part of the programming mix.
Insiders told Playbill On-Line OU is a good possibility because the Palace already has a presence there, operating the outdoor, summer Meadow Brook Music Festival. The Palace and OU could likely share customer bases and information.
The Palace also operates the outdoor venue Pine Knob Music Theatre (formerly operated by the Nederlander Organization) in Clarkston, MI, in northern Oakland County. There have been no plans or blueprints drawn yet, said Corey, who did not rule out the possibility of an art gallery, a small 100-seat theatre space, a restaurant or other "extras" in the venue.
It not immediately clear what impact, if any, such a venue would have on OU's resident professional theatre, Meadow Brook Theatre, a 585-seat LORT B house on campus. The news was considered too new for a theatre spokesperson to comment.
The most obvious competition for such a venue is the 5,000-seat Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit, which books mostly concerts and some national tours. The second annual staging of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is the current Fox tenant.
Longtime Detroit theatrical booker Alan F. Lichtenstein, of the Nederlander Organization, said a new suburban venue is not a threat to his spaces, the Fisher and Masonic Temple theatres in Detroit.
"I don't think a 5,000-seat venue lends itself to Broadway; most shows don't work in a 5,000-seat house," Lichtenstein told Playbill On-Line Dec. 11.
Asked if an established tour outfit such as Pace Theatrical Group could book a theatrical season at such a venue, Lichtenstein said, "We've been in business 60 years, and we have a piece of almost every show that goes out..."
Lichtenstein also said that if the stage crew at a new Palace theatre is non-union, as some larger venues and sports arenas are, then union affiliated Broadway tours are eliminated from the programming equation there.
Corey said that a privately built performing arts center (without federal, state or municipality funding) is so uncommon, his staff hasn't been able to locate such a venue in the U.S.
-- By Kenneth Jones