With sadness

It was an honor to get to know and work with Ernie Harwell. He was truly a remarkable man and a driving force in our efforts to save Tiger Stadium. “His unbridled love for the Tigers, the city of Detroit and ‘The Corner’ will resonate throughout our community for years to come,” said Thom Linn, President, Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy. “We treasure the time we spent with this Detroit legend.”

OTSC board member Kelli Kavanaugh, former OTSC board member and baseball legend Ernie Harwell and former OTSC director and board member R. Scott Martin in front of Tiger Stadium in 2007.


Statement of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy regarding the recent demolition of Tiger Stadium

We are shocked at the recent demolition of Tiger Stadium. It dishonors the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by the Conservancy, the State of Michigan changes to the historic tax credit laws to enhance this project, the federal appropriation granted by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Obama, and the thousands of volunteer hours contributed by the Conservancy, its consultants and its supporters in advancing this effort. We believe – and the DEGC has said they agree – that we had made substantial progress toward our redevelopment goal with a strong likelihood of ultimate success in the worst economy in decades. Then out of the blue, we received notice that the DEGC was tearing the stadium down. In answer to misleading statements made to the press and the City Council by the DEGC, we offer the following:

The OTSC received no extension of any deadline from the DEGC from the date the city agreed to spare the Navin Field portion of Tiger Stadium in 2008. Prior to that time, extensions were only received following intervention of the City Council. The DEGC never granted any extension of its own accord.

The OTSC raised more than $600,000 in cash from more than 700 contributors – individuals and entities – and secured the $3.8 million federal appropriation in the past nine months.

Experts in tax credits and historic preservation commissioned by the OTSC identified tax credits totaling more than $18 million for which the project was likely eligible. The OTSC made substantial progress in the complicated process to secure these tax credits. Potential buyers for the tax credits had been identified and the sale of the tax credits would have provided $18 million of cash for the project. This is exactly the same financing structure that was used for other projects in the city, including the Book Cadillac Hotel development, so it was not an unfamiliar process to the DEGC.

The OTSC deposited $300,000 in escrow with the DEGC to secure demolition costs and the purchase price of the stadium.

The OTSC paid $93,000 for security and maintenance for the period through June 30, 2009 and was able to pay additional sums required in the future for security and maintenance costs at the Stadium.

The “increased demolition costs” cited by the DEGC as a reason for immediate demolition were a function of the current low steel prices, which will likely turn around with the economy and produce lower demolition costs again in the future.

Demolition now will cost our financially stressed city $250,000 more than the funds deposited in escrow by the OTSC. Is this the highest priority of the city to spend taxpayer’s dollars on demolition at this time?

We had no notice from the DEGC of any meetings of the City Council or the Economic Development Corporation where the fate of the project was considered. In particular, we had no notice of the EDC meeting of June 2, 2009, which was conducted out of public view, and our first notice of the meeting and the demolition decision was from the press. At that meeting, the EDC members received no explanation of the OTSC’s substantial progress to assist its board in making an informed decision. Moreover, though required under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the EDC Board did not make the determinations and findings required to terminate the MOU and authorize the demolition of the stadium, nor did the Board ratify the action taken unilaterally by the DEGC (in the name of the EDC) when it notified the OTSC a day earlier that the MOU was being terminated.

We had been working under the current MOU with the DEGC for less than one year, not since 1999, when the Tigers left for Comerica Park, as DEGC representatives have stated publicly. The OTSC was only incorporated in May, 2007, and the current board has only been in place for the last year.

We were able to obtain a temporary restraining order on Friday, June 5, 2009 at 5 p.m. in an attempt to avoid significant damage to the stadium. At about the time the TRO was granted, the demolition resumed and later intensified until a supporter jumped the fence and gave the TRO order to the demolition operator at about 6:30 p.m. The demolition seemed to be intended to cause the most damage to disparate parts of the stadium in the shortest time. The demolition sacrifices in excess of $12 million of historic tax-credits to the city.

The DEGC provided us no technical, financial or organizational support whatever in our redevelopment efforts, and no other encouragement of any kind. For example, recently, the OTSC’s request to the DEGC for access to the field for press and fundraising purposes was denied.

Though the DEGC has made public statements that neighborhood residents were supportive of demolition, in fact the Corktown neighborhood, the neighborhood that surrounds the stadium, was strongly in support of the efforts of the OTSC. The neighborhood’s own community development organization has two members on the OTSC board, and many residents of the neighborhood contributed both their money and time.

Despite repeated characterizations by the DEGC and media of the remaining portions of Tiger Stadium as a “stub” or “remnant,” the structure the city is currently demolishing was a viable, historic major league ballpark, circa 1930. It was not an incomplete or unusable remainder.

Before the demolition began, DEGC intimated that they were in talks with outside developers – developers interested in a cleared and vacant site. Since demolition has begun, the DEGC has acknowledged that there are indeed no serious development proposals for this site.

Not only the city, but the state and the entire country have lost the opportunity to redevelop an historic treasure that would have anchored a significant enhancement of the near west side of Detroit and spurred much-needed economic development in the years ahead. Instead, we will have an empty field at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull to further blight the landscape of our city. This historic “corner” will have a new meaning.

We thank our many supporters for their steadfast support and encouragement, as well as their time, money and passion for this project. You gave us the strength to carry this effort forward and we regret that the DEGC, the EDC and the city did not provide us the continued opportunity to achieve this objective.

The recent actions of the city, the EDC and the DEGC raise questions about the city’s priority regarding demolition and the use of the city’s funds. Why the urgency to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of city money to demolish at this time? Why is the DEGC so quick to demolish the Navin Field portion of Tiger Stadium when there are thousands of vacant and abandoned structures throughout the city that are in need of immediate demolition and are clearly a danger to Detroit’s citizens and firefighters? What are the plans for the site that require immediate demolition? The political leaders of our city need to address these issues and take charge of setting the development priorities of the city.

Senator Levin has informed us that the Conservancy remains entitled to utilize the $3.8 million Federal appropriation that the U.S. Congress so generously provided for economic development in or near the stadium site. In conjunction with the southwest Detroit community, we will determine how the money might best be invested and leveraged to have some good come of Senator Levin’s steadfast effort and support. We hope the city will assist us with these efforts for the good of the city and its citizens.

The failure of the DEGC to support the Conservancy is a tragic loss of a unique opportunity for economic development in the City of Detroit. The larger question the people of Detroit and the entire region should ask is why the DEGC is allowed to heavy handedly run roughshod over the efforts of the not-for-profit and preservation communities and the thousands of citizens who are supporters of development efforts. The DEGC should be encouraging and assisting these efforts rather than quashing them at every turn.

Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy
June 19, 2009

Crain’s POV

Read this great article by Mary Kramer, who asks the same questions we have been asking about the DEGC’s rush to demo.

So why the rush? The conservancy has been working on the tedious process of getting historic status, tax credits and investors in a project. They only got the historic status on May 1, and that was required in order to make the rest happen.

The other thing that bothers me is reported in Nancy’s story. Rick Ruffner, who started a greeting card company in downtown Detroit called Avanti (you’ve probably seen their humorous cards, featuring photos and clever messages inside), has 100 employees. He sells cards in 20,000 stores in North America and cards globally in 8 languages.

He’s the kind of company Detroit should want to court and keep. Yet in 2007, he wrote the DEGC and said he’d like to take 100,000 square feet in a project that adapted Tiger Stadium. And he said he had 7 other companies, some of them outside the city of Detroit, that would be interested in reviewing that option, too. He never got a response, formal or otherwise.

Read the whole thing here.

Web Issues

To our many supporters,

Our apologies for the lack of web updating. We have been working on revamping our website, and in the meantime have neglected updating.

Keep up to date at our website

The Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy’s website now has its own blog, located at www.savetigerstadium.org/blog. See you there!

Great TS images available @ Biddle Gallery

Friend of Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy and noted photographer Dave Krieger has great shots of Tiger Stadium taken in the last year available through the end of the year at Biddle Gallery in Wyandotte. $5 from the sale of each print goes to OTSC. A great holiday gift!


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Event Report + What we are up to

Friday night’s event at Baile Corcaigh was wondeful! We raised approximately $1,000 from about 50 supporters, many of whom were Corktown residents. One highlight was a Lego replica of Navin Field that David Korman graciously displayed.

Thanks to Baile Corcaigh, Jessica Pfieffer and Ben Hassenger as well as all of our supporters that turned out!

In other, less fun, news, the Conservancy board held an all-day strategic planning session yesterday at the Detroit Yacht Club along with several of our consultants and key allies. It was a productive meeting, covering fundraising, site plan, programming and political and media strategies.

We have a lot to do before our next deadline of December 1 in those arenas and yesterday will help get us there.

We also held an election of officers and are pleased to announce that Thom Linn, chairman emeritus of Miller Canfield, was elected president and Mike Kirk, an architect with Newmann Smith, was elected vice president. We also welcomed a new board member to his first board meeting: Rick Ruffner, president of Avanti Press.