Detroit’s most renowned landmark was handed its death sentence yesterday as a Wayne County judge refused to grant an injunction to prevent the city of Detroit from tearing down the Navin Field portion of Tiger Stadium. Demolition of the remaining structure commenced within 30 minutes of the ruling as hundreds of admirers swarmed around the old ballpark to catch a final glimpse of one of baseball’s most fabled venues.
So why weren’t preservation efforts able to save even a part of Tiger Stadium?
City leaders and the unelected bureaucrats who have been put in charge of “economic development” seemed hell-bent on tearing down the stadium and refused to take any development plans presented to the city seriously. Over the past 10 years, one private developer after another was ignored by the very people whose job it was to find an alternate use for the site.
The Detroit Economic Development Corporation ( DEGC), an organization that is supposed to help facilitate development instead of hinder it, was hell bent on tearing the ballpark down, despite the reported “significant progress” that was made by the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy and U.S. Senator Carl Levin in securing funds and a sound business plan despite a horrible economy.
Were these bureaucrats and city leaders being pressured by special interests in Detroit who wanted Tiger Stadium destroyed as opposed to being preserved? Some believe the Ilitch family may have influenced city officials because they did not want any remnant of the ballpark they chose to abandon to remain. Tiger Stadium has always been a sore spot for the Ilitches because of the resistance and criticism they faced when they decided to leave Tiger Stadium in pursuit of a new ballpark near the Fox Theatre.
It stands to reason that if Mike Ilitch had publicly given his blessing for the preservation effort, other community leaders would have come out of the closet instead of worrying about offending Detroit’s most powerful businessman. Instead, most regional power brokers were afraid to take a public stand for the effort. Even Ernie Harwell was unable to get community leaders off the fence.
Ten years ago in an op-ed I authored for The Detroit News (4/12/99) I advocated for a scaled down Navin Field multi-use facility. At that time, I challenged anyone to come up with a more well-known nationally recognized historic site in Michigan. To this day, I am convinced that such a site does not exist.
The corner of Michigan & Trumbull is a fabled ground where nine World Series, three Major League All-Star Games and two NFL World Championship games were played. More people congregated at the site than any other place in Michigan.
Even the City of Detroit’s Planning Commission, in a near unanimous decision two summers ago, voted against the demolition of the ballpark without a developer and a plan in place. There is a very good chance that the site will remain another vacant lot in a city that is already full of them.
I am extremely dissapointed by the way the city, the region, and its business and cultural leaders failed to support the effort to preserve the remaining structure of Tiger Stadium. I am also outraged at the owners of the Detroit Tigers for their indifference to the preservation of the franchise’s legacy at this site.
Is the demolition of an historic building progress? If it is, God help us all.
—Bill Dow was a Board member of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club.