Q&A: Pete Auger on His City, the Pistons and Detroit
In early August, Detroit's beloved Ilitch family announced they would like to buy the Pistons basketball franchise. According to reports, patriarch Mike Ilitch has said he wants to keep the Pistons from moving from Michigan. And then the inevitable rumors started: Would they leave the team in its current home at The Palace of Auburn Hills – or move it to Detroit?
I talked to Auburn Hills City Manager Pete Auger about the potential team purchase, what he thinks of moving the team to Detroit and what's next for this Oakland County City. Some answers were expected; others were not. (More on Time.com: See pictures of Detroit's beautiful, horrible decline)
Background: Pistons owner Karen Davidson has said she's considering a sale of the team by itself or as part of a package with Palace Sports and Entertainment, which includes The Palace of Auburn Hills, DTE Energy Music Theatre and Meadow Brook Music Festival. Mike Ilitch, the Little Caesars pizza mogul, already owns the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings, both of which are in the D.
Those are the facts. Everything else is speculation. But on we go.
Q: What has the Pistons/Palace meant to Auburn Hills?
A: The Palace of Auburn Hills and the Pistons Organization have put Auburn Hills on the map as an entertainment destination and we have enjoyed a wonderful relationship since 1988. The Palace of Auburn Hills and the City of Auburn Hills are mold breakers. The idea of a privately built arena that pays its own way without tax dollars was considered as odd as a small community that wanted to be a new beacon for businesses large and small. The Palace of Auburn Hills is one of the jewels in our community but, like many other businesses in our international city, we know we cannot just rely on what we have done, we have to keep innovating. (More on Time.com: See a video on battery technology in Detroit)
Q: How has the community grown around this entertainment venue?
A: In 1988, Auburn Hills was new (the City was incorporated in 1983) and just beginning to see large amounts of development in the area. We are now a global business address and the Palace of Auburn Hills compliments the many businesses that now call Auburn Hills' home. Do I think that our community has grown as a result of the Palace being located here? Absolutely. When the Palace of Auburn Hills was built and the stories of how we do business and operate got around, that drew other companies here. Many forget the speed that this project was completed in, just a few short years. This was a standard that has now grown into the Auburn Hills Advantage. We know that the sooner a business can get into its facilities the sooner it can make money. It is not rocket science and to this day companies from around the region and around the world are still excited about our process; they are our best sales people. The Palace of Auburn Hills is regarded as one of the finest venues in the world—and we are proud to have them in our community.
Q: What would be the impact of losing this team?
A: Obviously, if the Pistons left, we would lose one of our successful businesses that bring a lot of name recognition to our community; that's one of the reasons the City Council recently passed a resolution in support of keeping the Pistons in Auburn Hills. In the business world we are always challenged to adapt to ever changing markets and events. Maybe, just maybe, this is why after two decades The Palace of Auburn Hills is still state of the art. The private business has adapted to the market and improvised to maintain its status as a leader in the industry. No clunky government apparatus involved. As much as some want it to be, this is not an Auburn Hills vs. Detroit battle. It's about being fiscally responsible and making a business case as to why the Pistons should remain in Auburn Hills - and we will continue making that case. Tax-payer subsidized stadiums have devastating effects on communities. If the purchase is consummated with the Illitch family, this really could be an opportunity for Mr. Illitch to bring his entrepreneurial spirit to Oakland County and spread his legacy of investment in the region. (More on Time.com: See TIME's special report “The Committee To Save Detroit”)
Q: I understand you wouldn't want to lose the Piston's to Detroit…but what else could people do to support the city (both those in Auburn Hills and elsewhere)?
A: I don't believe this is an Auburn Hills versus Detroit issue; it's about being leaders in our communities and not adding unnecessary burdens on already struggling budgets. Auburn Hills has done a great job of collaborating with other communities and we would welcome the opportunity to work with any new ownership like we do with our other businesses. Organizations have to look at the entire package when making business decisions. Bottom line and return on investment are some of these things. Ability to operate and change without governmental strings attached, quality of services provided, and stability are some more.
Q: What else do people need to know about your city and the future?
A: The Palace is important to the City of Auburn Hills, but it is not our only claim to fame. At only twenty-seven years old, Auburn Hills is in its relative infancy, but the City is already Michigan's global business address, with 40 international corporations from 32 countries located and/or headquartered here, including Chrysler Group LLC and Borg Warner. We also have twenty two business and research development parks. Auburn Hills has a reputation for expediting economic development transactions, such as the new US Farathane headquarters being built off of I-75 and University; that deal went from City Council to shovel ready in less than three months. We are just now launching our ‘college town awareness' campaign, and many are surprised to learn the City has five colleges and universities here: Oakland University (it's thankfully getting to be the worst kept secret that approximately half of the OU campus, including the new medical school, is located in Auburn Hills), Baker College, Oakland Community College, a Central Michigan University satellite location and Cooley Law School. People don't think of thirty-five thousand college students coming to Auburn Hills on a daily basis, or the fact that fifty thousand college students live within five miles of out downtown district…but hold on, word is getting out. Great Lakes Crossing, one of the state's largest destination shopping centers, is in Auburn Hills, too. This shopping district boasts over two million square feet of shopping and entertainment. (More on Time.com: Read about the top 10 colleges in the U.S.)
If I had to summarize, I'd say business, education, entertainment, residential and a stable government, that's the future of Auburn Hills.