Grand Cards: Deconstructing the Tiger Stadium Demolition Decision

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Deconstructing the Tiger Stadium Demolition Decision

I have to post something about this because it has been tearing away at me for the last two days—since the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation voted on Tuesday to demolish the last remaining portion of Tiger Stadium.

Many people say “good riddance.” Too many in fact:

Detroit Free Press: “Time to let Tiger Stadium rest in Rubble”
"If they can knock down Yankee Stadium and Olympia and the Boston Garden, then they can knock down Tiger Stadium."

Detroit News: “No More Delays, Tear Down Tiger Stadium and Move On”
“After All, Even Yankee Stadium is Coming Down”

Non-local writers are in on it as well:
Craig Calcattera (Shysterball): “Tiger Stadium’s Suffering is Almost Over”
“While it's too late to give that noble building the noble death it deserved, we can end its, and our, misery.”

Big League Stew: “Executioner to play final notes at Tiger Stadium”
So yes, it's a sad thing when a ballpark dies.
But as even Ernie Harwell admits, it's also time to let go

First of all, just because other stadiums are getting torn down, doesn’t mean that all stadiums need to be torn down. In fact, they’re now trying to save parts of old Yankee Stadium while elsewhere in New York City, $800,000 has been committed to a staircase the led to the Polo Grounds. A staircase! Don’t tell me that saving pieces of a stadium are less important than that.

Onto the meat: To all of these people that have never given a legitimate ballpark redevelopment proposal a chance. I ask one simple question: What’s the point of tearing it down right now?

Here’s some context for you: Right now, the state of Michigan is mired in a deep recession and the City of Detroit faces a budget deficit in the range of $250-300 Million. The large footprint of the stadium has no other plans for redevelopment, and no prospects either, as the odds of developing a large-scale property in Detroit in the current economic climate are slim, at best. The City is not paying for security on the site—that $12,000 monthly tab is being charged to the Conservancy. So for everyone who says that it is time to let the past be the past, I respectfully disagree.

It seems to me, that that time has passed. Of all the historic stadiums in this country, few have stood empty for this long. Years ago, when no plans were in place, this would be a reasonable argument, but not anymore. Here’s the thing about the non-profit group trying to save the stadium: They have actually made progress in doing so, despite having what seems to be the whole damn city standing in their way.

Now people will say, “they’ve had multiple extensions and missed multiple deadlines,” all true things. But who cares? Economically, is it making a difference as long as things are moving forward? The opportunity cost here (aka next best use), is a vacant lot—there are no magic beans to plant to put in a major development right now. They are moving forward, by the way. $3.8 Million in federal funds were secured for the site, and the group just passed an enormous hurdle by securing state historical designation for the remaining portion of the site—the first step towards acquiring millions in historic tax credits.

“But the longer it stands, the more it will cost to demolish it.” Bullshit. Michigan is in a recession. Construction companies are dying—until things turn around, it will be cheaper to acquire this type of labor than before. Also, $300,000 towards demolition has already been paid by the Conservancy and is sitting in an escrow account for the day when the wrecking ball must come down.

“But it’s an eyesore.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I drove by the partially demolished stadium when I was back in Michigan for Opening Day and I Loved it. It is open, big but not dominating. It is a really, really cool feature on the landscape, now open to the highway. Something tells me that there are worse eyesores in the city that could be taken down, but maybe that’s just me.

“It will never be what it was, just let it go.” You’re right. It will never be what it once was. That is not the point. The point is taking a beautiful old stadium that is empty and worn down and turning it into something that can actually have a beneficial use. Are you telling me that you, anonymous Tigers fan, wouldn’t love to have your kid play a game down at Tiger Stadium? Sure, it’s not the same, but it’s not supposed to be. This is the evolution of the ballpark, into a smaller, more intimate resource that can be utilized by the entire region.

Seriously, I test anyone to give me a legitimate reason why the stadium needs to be torn down right now. One. I DARE YOU. I don’t know what sort of shenanigans have taken place, but for the DEGC to vote against the proposal and to have demolition equipment on site the next day seems a little peculiar to me. That’s the first time that I’ve ever heard of government moving that quickly, especially in Detroit.

My suggestion: take a breath, everyone. The Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy has one lifeline left: the availability of historical tax credits. It is a slow process, requiring approval on multiple levels and absurd amounts of red tape, but they have made progress. Is there any reason not to wait until their application for those credits is either approved or denied?

That is what we call closure. That way there are no “what ifs” or “could have beens” on this project, no black eyes for this City of Detroit or “Worst Person In the World” statements for the DEGC. This is what Tiger Stadium deserves, a chance to either get on base or strike out once and for all. She’s down to her last strike, but don’t call her out before the pitch is thrown.


  1. I saw that the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame is looking for a new home. Ummm, hello?!? How about at Tiger Stadium? How awesome would that be? You're telling me that wouldn't draw sports fans from all over the region?

    As usual, the city of Detroit has their head so far up their proverbial ass, it';s not even funny. I was at a City Council meeting back in '01 with Peter Riley trying to push a proposal to use the ballpark. The idiots on the city council were rude and were more concerned with process that actually doing something contructive for the city. I realized then that Detroit deserves what it gets for electing those morons.

  2. Hello,
    Based on your recent blog post, I thought you might be interested in hearing what the National Trust for Historic Preservation's President Richard Moe had to say on the issue of tearing down Detroit's Tiger Stadium and what actions you can take to help save it!



  3. Thanks Jake,

    I'm on top of it, although as of 4:00pm today construction crews have begun their final demolition. I'm disgusted with what has gone on in the last couple days.