Written by Royce Yeater
Refrains of “Take me out to the Ball Game” interspersed with chants of “Save Tiger Stadium” rose in the late night air at the corner of Trumbull and Michigan in Detroit last night. About 100 protesters gathered before midnight outside what remains of the famous but long-abandoned historic baseball park. They carried neon-colored handmade posters with the “Save Tiger Stadium” message, along with signs reading “More Vision and Less Demolition” and “This Place Matters.”
The protest was in response to the appearance on the site earlier in the day of demolition equipment poised to do its work. It was apparently ordered into that position by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) after they determined that the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy had failed to meet a $15 million dollar target for fundraising toward their plan to preserve the field itself and the most historic portion of the Stadium (once known as Navin Field) as a venue for youth baseball surrounded by office space.
For nearly 20 years, Tiger Stadium has been the focus of local and nationwide efforts to preserve it as an icon of baseball, after rumors of intentions to build a new stadium surfaced. We listed Tiger Stadium on our annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 1991. After the Tigers relocated to Comerica Park in 1999, the city agreed to continue to maintain the stadium until an appropriate adaptive use of the stadium, or a viable new use for the site, could be identified.
Neither of those things happened, in spite of extensive efforts by preservationists to find an adaptive use, and by the city’s economic development staff to find another productive use of the site. In 2008, with funds for maintenance ever-tightening and the Corktown Neighborhood in which the stadium sits asking for some resolution, a compromise was established in a Memorandum of Agreement between the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (a quasi-governmental economic development agency) and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy (a non-profit advocacy and development group organized to save and reuse the stadium). The agreement accepted demolition of the less historic parts of the stadium seating and that work ensued in July, 2008, demolishing all but the infield corner of the stadium seating. The MOA documented an agreement to preserve that element as retail, hospitality, office and community space, and preserve the playing field itself and the lower deck seating as a venue for youth baseball, all at a cost estimated to be about $27M.
The Conservancy has made great progress, even in these economic times. They have secured significant dollars in private contributions from foundations and individuals and, with the help of Senator Carl Levin, had been granted $3.8M in federal funding to advance the plan. They have confirmed through the State Historic Preservation Office the eligibility of the remaining stadium elements for as much as $18M in state and federal historic tax credits. While they had indeed failed to meet a specific fundraising target by March 1, they were meeting fundraising goals to cover the cost of continued maintenance and security and they felt they were demonstrating sufficient progress to sustain their efforts.
When the DEGC suddenly moved into position to demolish the remaining and most historic parts of the stadium, the Conservancy was shocked -- and issued a statement saying so, stressing the economic benefits of their plan to a city struggling in the face of the current recession and the melt down of the automotive industry.
In contrast, the DEGC and the city have no alternative plan for the site with any real viability, and certainly no developer or use that is at all shovel-ready. So why the sudden rush to spend significant money to tear it all down? Complete demolition at this time will result only in another empty parcel in a city filled with vacant land awaiting new construction.
We believe the city should extend deadlines for the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy and encourage continued progress toward a significant redevelopment of an iconic historic resource that will cost the taxpayers of Detroit little and provide a much needed shot in the arm the cash-strapped city desperately needs in these trying times.
But the city is currently saying no to that logic and demolition could begin next week. The DEGC has indicated only that demolition will begin within the next two weeks. Ironically, demolition is being held up by a film crew shooting a feature length movie in which the stadium will stand in for Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, itself demolished in 1995.
Please check back tomorrow (Friday, June 5, 2009) to learn how to make your voice heard in the fight to save Tiger Stadium.
- Movie crew gives Tiger Stadium a last hurrah before wrecking ball (Detroit Free Press)
- Conservancy asks council to halt demolition of Tiger Stadium (Crane's Detroit Business)
- Preservation Wayne, our Local Partner
- Tiger Stadium on PreservationNation.org
Royce A. Yeater, AIA, is the director of the Midwest office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.