Dennis Mannion, president and CEO of Palace Sports and Entertainment, discusses newly unveiled Palace of Auburn Hills renovations

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Photos in the slideshow courtesy of the Detroit Pistons

Note: This is one of three posts today about facility upgrades at the Palace that were unveiled to media yesterday. See the first story here and check back for the third later this afternoon. – P.H.

Dennis Mannion, president and CEO of Palace Sports and Entertainment, gave a tour of the many facility upgrades at the Palace of Auburn Hills yesterday (see some of the photos of those upgrades in the slideshow above). I had the chance to talk to him for a few minutes and he had plenty of interesting background on the inspiration behind the changes, including the input from Pistons owner Tom Gores.

Some of the improvements include: a remodeled main concourse and 100-level suite concourse; renovation of Club West (formerly Club Caesars) above the West Atrium entrance; 42 renovated suites throughout the building; removal of 16 300-level suites and construction of an open-air lounge; creation of a courtside club multimedia studio; remodeling of the VIP/administration entrance; a new Member Concierge in the West Atrium; updates to both the east and west entrances; a new air-handling system; new furnishings, lighting and sound systems in the hospitality areas; new digital menu boards in the concourse areas; and expanded Wi-Fi capabilities.

What drew my attention first and foremost was the improved color scheme. Over the years, most people who visited the Palace probably realized that there were some funky colors in that building, and Mannion had the same initial reactions. Now, Pistons red and blue is more of a fixture in the building and the art and technological upgrades include more imagery that both celebrates past Pistons players and highlights the current players.

“A lot of the things here were wild colors like purple and red and yellow and teal, then there were things like Club Caesars (which is now Club West) that was darkened down with mustards and browns as well has having the big wood structure,” Mannion said. “We lightened and brightened, took all of the wooden structure down and took all of the Roman armor out and replaced it with championship pictures in all of the big windows.”

This year’s improvements add to some things that were done last year, including removing some of the cluttered feel from the West Atrium entrance. They added video boards, remodeled the ticket office and Palace Locker Room store and made the space more open. Upgrades also included locker room improvements, training room improvements and upgraded facilities for both performers and family members. Under Gores’ leadership, the organization does everything with an eye towards contributing to winning, and those upgrades last year were a particularly important step in that direction.

“We fixed up our locker room and our family room and our training area so that our players have a better chance to compete and win, we fixed up our performance locker room so that the Springsteens of the world would have more expansive places to get ready for a performance and then on court from an entertainment standpoint, we added a million bucks worth of lighting packages and built our entertainment force up to 101 performers,” Mannion said. “We have a cheer team, a dance team, a flight crew, a kids’ dance team and the idea being that there’s a little something for everyone. All of our emphasis is of course on trying to win games, but we want to make sure everyone is having a good time.”

This year’s renovations and upgrades, including new food options, focused even more intensely on improving that fan experience. Mannion heavily discussed the ‘social’ aspect of games — the idea that an arena experience has to offer significantly more in order to court fans who can simply watch from home.

“How do you create a feeling of inside access throughout the building? How are you creating value for everyone? Why come here and not watch it on TV?,” Mannion said. ”

“Social space in arenas, ballparks and stadiums is going to be the biggest thing moving forward,” Mannion said. “People are active, and especially people that are in digitally-based clubs, they want to experience stuff together.”

Part of that ‘social space’ concept is the ‘open-air lounge’ created in the upper level where 16 suites used to be located. Mannion said that, because those suites are so high, most go unused, so they removed 16 of them and put in an open area that can serve a variety of needs.

“This contemplation is an experiment,” he said. “These 80 (upper level) suites largely were not used because they’re so high up, so we thought, ‘let’s go mess with 16 of the 80.’ We opened this thing up and started playing with the room to create something that could accommodate large groups. This was more Tom Gores’ idea. We said, ‘let’s take a shot at using a space like this a number of different ways during the season to see what resonates.'”

When it opened, the Palace was considered the state of the art facility in the NBA and many future arenas were patterned after its model. Now, Mannion says, these upgrades should position the Palace to stay among the leading venues in the league.

“Everything we’re doing is with the thought in mind that it’s set up to progress,” Manion said. “Everything is either going forward or backward. People go in and they build these expansive build-outs, and they’re built for one purpose at one time and they feel great about the technology, but they haven’t built it in a way that they can interchange it or grow onto it. Everything we’re doing — the reason for the clean hallways and the clean video walls and that sort of thing — is so we can load in more technology. We’re positioning ourselves to never stop. I mean, we’re not going to put $15 million a year into renovations, but I have to believe that in two years, this room (the open-air lounge) is going to look very different. It’s going to play itself out into what it is.”

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