DETROIT (WJBK) - Updated at 7:20pm
Marines salute Mr. Ilitch as he lies in repose for public visitation inside the Fox Theater on Wednesday.
Detroit will say goodbye today to a man who meant so much to so many. Mike Ilitch was known for his countless contributions to the city.
Mr. Ilitch will lie in repose for a public visitation on Wednesday, February 15, from noon - 8 p.m. in the Grand Lobby of the historic Fox Theatre. Community members are invited to the lobby of this national historic site that Mike and his wife Marian fully restored and established as the world headquarters of Little Caesars in 1989.
The marquees on several of the businesses downtown have messages displayed honoring Ilitch. The one outside Fox Theatre reads "a live well lived."
Parking will be free for those attending the visitation in the Fox parking garage and at some of the surface lots near Comerica Park. Long lines are expected at the theater today as so many will come to pay their final respects. Funeral services will be private.
Ilitch passed away on Friday, February 10 at the age of 87. He was the founder of Little Caesar's and the owner of the Red Wings and the Tigers. Ilitch and his wife bought the Fox Theater back in 1987 and restored it.
The son of Macedonian immigrants, Ilitch was born on July 20, 1929. He played baseball at Detroit's Cooley High School and was signed by his hometown Tigers after his four-year stint in the U.S. Marines, spending three years in the team's farm system before a knee injury ended his playing career.
But he found his niche in business.
It started with that first Little Caesars restaurant in Garden City, a working-class suburb west of Detroit. A food service distribution company soon followed to supply ingredients and other products for the growing number of restaurants. Blue Line Foodservice grew into one of the largest program account food service distribution companies in the U.S.
Ilitch Holdings Inc. was established in 1999 to manage the family's interests in food, sports and entertainment, and the company remained family focused. His son, Christopher, is president and CEO, while his wife, Marian, was vice chairwoman as well as sole owner of MotorCity Casino Hotel, one of Detroit's three casinos.
Ilitch broke into sports ownership in 1982, when he paid a reported $8 million for the struggling Red Wings. Once a National Hockey League powerhouse, the team had bottomed out to mediocrity, but it began winning again under Ilitch. The Red Wings took home the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008.
Ilitch was inducted into the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, and into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and Michigan Sports Hall of Fame a year later.
As part of his long-term plan to build a Detroit-based business empire, Ilitch also bought Olympia Entertainment, which manages sports and entertainment venues, in 1982.
Husband and wife bought the downtown Fox Theatre five years later and started a massive, $12 million restoration. It reopened a year later and became a lucrative venue for musicals, plays and other productions. The Little Caesars world headquarters also was moved downtown.
Then, in 1992, the man who once dreamed of playing for the Detroit Tigers bought the team for $85 million. He moved it in 2000 from the storied but fading Tiger Stadium to Comerica Park, across from the Fox Theatre.
Unlike previous owners of both sports franchises, Ilitch opened his checkbook to sign top players - finding solid success in hockey, and a roller coaster in baseball.
The Tigers lost an American League record 119 games in 2003, but advanced to the World Series three years later, losing in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals. Near the end of a disappointing 2008 season, Ilitch said he and the team would review everything done to put the roster together but focusing on the $138 million payroll wasn't the priority.
"I'm not afraid to go out and spend money," Ilitch said. "It's been very costly, but I'm not going to change my ways."
But Ilitch never got the chance to see his team win a World Series as its owner, despite spending millions of dollars on contracts for stars like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez and Prince Fielder.
"I've never seen a man more dedicated to this community and to baseball than Mr. I," Tigers Executive Vice President and General Manager Al Avila said Friday in a statement. "What he has done for this franchise, and for Detroit, is immeasurable. He was always there to give us whatever we needed because he wanted greatness and happiness for all of us - especially the fans."
The Tigers made the American League playoffs in 2011, a return to winning that brought more fans to Comerica Park. The team last made the playoffs in 2014, losing to the Baltimore Orioles.
"We won a lot. I wish we would have won the ultimate world championship for him," former Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski told The Associated Press on Friday. "He loved the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan and its fans."
Christopher Ilitch called his father a "once-in-a-generation entrepreneur, visionary and leader."
"He made such a positive impact in the world of sports, in business and in the community, and we will remember him for his unwavering commitment to his employees, his passion for Detroit, his generosity to others and his devotion to his family and friends," Christopher Ilitch said in a release.
Ilitch is survived by his wife, seven adult children, 22 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be private, but plans are being made for the public to pay their respects to Mike Ilitch and the Ilitch family.
The Associated Press contributed to this report