Remembering when Gordie Howe almost built a hockey complex in Brighton

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For a few months back in 1990 and 1991, we thought that Gordie Howe and his wife Colleen were going to move to Brighton and build a huge hockey complex here. And it was glorious.

The Gordie Howe story was the biggest news in Livingston County back then, and memories of the story came flooding back today when we learned that Mr. Hockey had passed away at the age of 88.

So as we remember the best ever to play the game, here’s the story of How Gordie Almost Came to Brighton.

The story broke in December of 1990, when Gordie and some investors announced that they were going to build a $90 million hockey-and-housing complex in Brighton. It was going to be located on a huge parcel of land in the city off Challis Road, right next to Mt. Brighton.

The project was going to include four ice arenas, some shops, a hotel, some condos and apartments, and a huge Gordie Howe Hockey Memorabilia Museum. The best news of all: Gordie himself was going to live there.

When news of the project leaked out in late 1990, everyone in Brighton was understandably giddy. Back then, as it is now, Brighton was a hockey-crazy town. So to think that the NHL’s all-time greatest player was not only going to build a huge hockey complex in town, but that he was actually going to LIVE there, too … well, it made our minds explode.

A week or so after the project was announced, Gordie himself showed up at a Brighton City Council meeting to pitch the plan. Needless to say, the city officials in attendance were more than a little starstruck.

To put into perspective just how big a celebrity Gordie Howe was at that time, in 1990, he had only been retired for 10 years. He was still the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, and he was a beloved figure in all of Michigan. So when he announced he was moving to Brighton and building a huge hockey complex here … well, it was huge.

For the next few months, as his project was supposedly coming together, Gordie was a familiar figure around town. That winter, the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce held a business expo at Brighton High School, and Gordie set up a booth to meet people and sign autographs (yes, I got one). He could not have been nicer, and it was obvious he was going everything he could to ingratiate himself in his new community.

He told everybody how much he loved Brighton, how much he was looking forward to living there, and how great his new hockey complex was going to be.

Alas, you know how the story ends. If you’ve been to Brighton lately, you know that there is no Gordie Howe Hockey Complex there. The project fell apart sometime in late 1991 – some problem with the investors, as I recall – so the Gordie Howe Hockey Complex was never built. Gordie moved on to other projects, leaving a lot of broken hockey hearts behind in Brighton.

But that was our brush with the greatest hockey player of all time. As we mourn his passing, we remember what might have been at that big parcel of land on Challis Road.

Damn, that would have been cool. My heart is still broken.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hockey.

About Buddy Moorehouse 127 Articles
Longtime Livingston County journalist Buddy Moorehouse is director of communications at the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.