DETROIT – Lincoln Cavalieri, who was the last general manager of Olympia Stadium, a one-time vice president of the Red Wings, and one of the founders of the Great Lakes Invitational, died Wednesday in Homosassa, Florida. He was 94.
“Linc was a very good people-person,” said Red Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano. “He was right at the top of the line of knowing how to run buildings. Not everybody can take a building and know how to run it, and all the things that go with it like suites and concessions, merchandising, the whole ball of wax. He was the very best at doing those things.”
When the Red Wings weren’t playing at the Olympia – or at Joe Louis Arena in the early 1980s – Cavalieri was responsible for filling the seats for circuses, Ice Capades, championship boxing and concerts, like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Frank Sinatra.
“His contacts throughout the industry to get events were incredible,” Devellano said.
Born in Hamden, Connecticut, Cavalieri enlisted in the U.S. in February 1942, and received combat service medal for is involvement as a corporal in the European-African-Middle Eastern campaign during World War II.
In 1982, Cavalieri helped facilitate the organization’s change of ownership from the Norris family to Mike and Marian Ilitch. The Ilitches retained Cavalieri’s services as a consultant until 1986, Devellano said.
Cavalieri began working for the Norris family in 1951 as a building manager at the Olympia, eventually working his way to general manager of the iconic Detroit facility in 1958, and later adding vice president of the Red Wings to his résumé.
The Great Lakes Invitational was first played in 1965 after the idea for the tournament was conceived and implemented by Cavalieri, along with Michigan Tech coach John MacInnes and former Wings scout Jack Paterson. The tournament, which has been played in late December every year since, has grown into one of the nation’s premier holiday sporting events.
This year will mark the 48th anniversary of the annual hockey tournament.
Al Sobotka, the building manager at Joe Louis Arena, remembered Cavalieri as being very business-oriented.
“He had all of these great ideas,” said Sobotka, who last saw Cavalieri at a Wings’ playoff game in 2009. “He was always willing to take a risk, but a lot of that risk paid off.”
Soon after the NFL’s Detroit Lions moved to Pontiac and the Silverdome, suburban developers approached Cavalieri with plans to build Olympia II, which would be built next to the Silverdome. However, Coleman Young, Detroit's mayor, made another offer Cavalieri and Norris couldn’t refuse. For one third the rent the Wings were to pay in Pontiac, the Original Six club got a new arena on the river and control of neighboring Cobo Hall.
He was also instrumental in bringing the 1980 GOP National Convention to the new downtown arena, where Ronald Reagan was selected as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.
Cavalieri is survived by his wife Margaret, daughter Carol, and sons Robert, Richard and Lincoln, Jr., as well as a number of grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Wilder Home in Homosassa, Florida. Interment will be at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Fla.
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