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


5 responses to “Statement of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy regarding the recent demolition of Tiger Stadium

  1. My sympathies (from New Orleans)…

    I feel you, my friends.

  2. Todd in Boston

    I give up. Detroit is dead to me. The “leadership” that the city has chosen is awful, yet they still get elected. The citizens of the city do not care and they abhor any interference from the ‘burbs, even if it will bring in money and jobs to the city. Though not a citizen of Detroit nor the state of Michigan, I have longed to return to my home as soon as a job opens up. Now, I see no hope. The best thing would be to abandon the city, put a wall around it and let it go. Move the Wings to Auburn Hills or Ann Arbor. I know the Tigers will never leave as their owner has some strange love for the city and if Michigan gets a pro football team, I hope it is out in the ‘burbs. Now there is a vacant lot where there could have been jobs, income, and tax credits. Congratulations Detroit. Would the Conservancy not give you the bribes that you are used to (not like sludge, huh)?

    I am now a man without a city to call home. I despise Boston and Detroit is just an embarrassment. The disease continues on…the fish rots from the head. It is time to cut off the head.


  4. This is an absolute disaster. What is now going to become of the corner? If we are lucky, an historical marker indicating that great professional baseball was played at this spot for many many years…I believe the marker should also state that in the worst economic crisis in decades to this area, a group of motivated individuals fought not only to save the stadium, but create sorely needed revenue to an economically depressed region, only to have their months and months of dedicated, hard work, squashed with the few swoops of the wrecking dozer, many thanks to all who were associated with this effort to save the stadium, I am very grateful to have 2 seats from the park in my backyard, they will be the only evidence left for me from what was a terrific fight to turn the park into a field of dreams

  5. My heart goes out to all of the energetic souls who worked so hard to spare what remained of Tiger Stadium.

    I never had the privilege of going to Tiger Stadium, nor have I ever been to Detroit for that matter. However, as a person who appreciates history, and the attachments people can place on historical places and things, I feel for everyone who lost their “old friend.”

    I watched from afar last year as the initial demolition began, and was relieved when it appeared that the Navin Field portion of the Stadium would be spared. This evening (September 25, 2009), after not following the story for several months, I decided to check YouTube to see if any work had commenced on the proposed revitalization project. To my shock and dissappointment, I found that what had previously been spared, was now gone.

    The City of Detroit really dropped the ball here. It is a sad state of affairs when what clearly was a historical landmark, and a valuable treasure which could have been put to use for the benefit and enjoyment of so many people, as well as turned into a revenue-generating venue for the economically-challenged City, was knocked to the ground for no apparent reason other than spite.

    As a native Los Angeleno, I was similarly troubled when the City of Los Angeles failed to classify the old Ambassador Hotel as a historical landmark (the site where, amongst many other significant events, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968), thus permitting the old hotel to be sold to the Los Angeles Unified School District and razed to the ground. While sad and questionable, at least there were plans to build a school on the large property, and a school was immediately built on the site. Such is clearly not the case in Detroit.

    If the City was so concerned about the “hazards” posed by leaving the ballpark standing, they easily could have made provisions for assigning such “risks” to the group which had been organized to save and preserve the Stadium. With the hundreds of thousands of dollars which had already been raised, the support which was proposed by the federal government, and some insurance on the site paid for out of these funds, this tragic loss of history could have been avoided.

    A sad day, indeed.

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