The First Symbolic Hole

The signs had been in place and it was just a matter of time before the first bulldozer made its mark on Tiger Stadium. Today, the Free Press reported that the bulldozer had begun making a garage-sized hole on the North side of the ballpark. With the Tiger Stadium Conservancy deadline approaching at the end of the month, today’s move demonstrated that the reality of no stadium at Michigan and Trumbull may actually become a reality nine years later.

If you’re not from Detroit you don’t understand what this stadium means to this oft-depressed town. In a city where famous landmarks often stand vacant for decades at a time (see Train Station, Book-Cadillac), and where our brightest future sit in crowded classrooms with little funding, Tiger Stadium has, for some, turned into another reminder of our failures as a community. We all had grand plans to make this revered corner as ground zero to our city’s rebirth and it didn’t pan out. We all thought that minor league teams or community events would help fuel a passion that we all once had. Instead, Tiger Stadium will not be another Maple Leaf Gardens or Pontiac Silverdome – but instead join the ranks of Olympia and Chicago Stadium as mere plaques on the side of the road.

I was fortunate in October of last year to walk through the centerfield entrance onto this once-beautiful lawn. This picture I took of the centerfield wall really demonstrates what has happened to this wonderful place.


3 replies on “The First Symbolic Hole

  • Karen Elizabeth Bush

    As there is a real crime being perpetrated at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, it is urgent that as many people as possible learn that things are NOT necessarily as the city of Detroit would have them believe. Within and adjacent to city government, it is equally important that certain individuals realize that the public as a whole is not — nor has been — in the least fooled by the political posturing and inept attempts at stadium preservation that have characterized the last few years of the drama surrounding the old ball park. The implied malice of punching an eight-foot hole in an outer wall rather than using a ten-foot gate adjacent to the hole has provided an eloquent underscore for the lies and half-truths that that city officials have foisted on the public for the last nine years.

    In truth, the destruction of Tiger Stadium has very little to do with a ball park. It is the final denouement of a story of greed, selfishness, and, on the part of the city of Detroit, blind stupidity. Some weeks ago (before demolition began), I challenged the Detroit City Council to look hard at the stadium issue — not from the standpoint of sentiment, or even educated respect for history, but from the perspective of fiscal responsibility and intelligent city operation. For Council to do this, it would first have had to admit that no fair chance ever was offered to the individuals and corporations that, for the last nine years, sought a more sensible resolution to the stadium issue, and that, in fact, the city was (and continues to be) aggressive in preventing such proposals from being fully developed.

    Council obviously did not rise to the challenge. However, I have appended my letter to them below. I call reader attention in particular to the bullet lists of multi-million dollars of lost opportunity. My hope is that at least one person reading this blog may find something in that letter to cause him or her to say, for whatever reason, “Oh my God! What have we done? What have we let happen?” and thus the loss of one structure may at least help to provide insurance for other landmarks in similar straits.


    Attn.: all members of Council

    We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we
    have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is
    no health in us.

    For the 400-some years that the faithful of the Church of England have uttered those words in general confession, it has been presumed that the two sins were separate – that is: the sin of acting or the sin of failing to act.

    The Detroit City Council has the unique opportunity (if it can be called that) to commit both sins in one fell swoop, and if it succeeds, the public at large may be further convinced that there is no “health” south of Eight Mile Road. Or common sense. Or ability to add and subtract.

    I refer to the June 1 deadline to decide the fate of Tiger Stadium. If Council allows the DEGC to act according to the selfish wishes of the few, the city’s representative body will have failed to exercise fiscal responsibility, and, at the same time, will wield the wrecking ball that demolishes an important piece of not just the city’s, but the nation’s heritage. Please accept this one last plea that the Council exercise what power it has to see that the right thing is done with Tiger Stadium.

    At the very least, it is hoped that Council will recognize the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy’s guarantee to offset the $369,000 kickback money promised the DEGC by contractors preparing for stadium demolition. Saving some part of the original structure is at least better than the utter lunacy of destroying the entire thing – notably doing so without any specific plan for property reuse. (I need not point out to any Detroit resident that, in a city pockmarked with “urban prairies,” razing existing buildings is certainly no guarantee of new construction.) I believe that Council has veto power over total demolition. It should exercise that veto.

    On the other hand, in a city with worse than no mayor and a governmental structure based on cronyism and a frightening tangle of private and public obligation, it is left to Council to recognize and protect the huge profit potential that goes away when Tiger Stadium falls.

    Far from being an albatross around the neck of a struggling Corktown, Tiger Stadium / Briggs Stadium / Navin Field, even as it stands today, represents a significant financial asset for both its local community and the city. The structure’s real value fluctuates wildly with the many plans for its reuse (several admittedly absurd) that have been proposed to date. Ironically, one of the least lucrative solutions is that put forth by the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy. But, with minor modification, the OTSC solution becomes one that can buy the city approximately ten (10) million dollars in federal and state tax credits right off the bat – no pun intended. (This figure is based on preliminary studies done by an expert in the field of historic restoration – name and contact information available on request.)

    Deliberately handcuffed by an edict that limits any ongoing public arena at the corner of Michigan & Trumbull to 3,000 seats, the Conservancy has created an architectural plan that “conserves” very little. But if true historic preservation is attempted – if the wrecking ball stops at natural breaks in the Navin Field core, and if the resulting ballpark consists of the historic playing field and a grandstand (less its outfield components) that represents genuine restoration to a certain period in its history – then all else is possible.

    Obviously, the 3,000 seat limitation is moot if legislation is passed forbidding more than 3,000 seats being sold for any single event. It also is entirely possible that historical commissions would be satisfied with the preservation of a structural outline, with or without the park’s original full complement of seats.

    Look at what a genuine effort at historic preservation brings:
    • Those tax credits – ten million dollars worth of them.
    • Additional jobs and commerce provided by businesses already on record as willing to come downtown on the condition that a significant portion of the park is preserved.
    • Housing for museums that range from the Harwell collection to traveling exhibits from Halls of Fame.
    • Federal recognition and support beyond tax credits, orchestrated by the very influential Senator Carl Levin.
    • A venue suitable for college and amateur competitions (including American Legion Ball) important enough to draw out-state and out-of-state participants and spectators, thus feeding hotel and restaurant business.
    • A venue for vintage base ball and women’s teams and others that perforce must pay the city for use of the park and playing field.
    • A significant historic site and tourist destination which carries a positive image that reflects accordingly on the rest of the city.
    • A picturesque structure to complement neighboring casino, office, and entertainment development.
    • An opportunity to be the first city in America to do what has been done time and again in Europe – i.e.: reuse a valuable historic structure in a way that is practical and protects the heritage of future generations.

    And, for the demolition contractors and developers:

    • Historic preservation status permitting genuine fundraising, including corporate grants that may include collateral development.
    • Significantly lower demolition costs because the stadium is cut at a logical structural point.
    • Significantly lower restoration costs because there is no need to create a costly “end cap” for stands severed at an illogical point.
    • Ample room left along Cochrane and Kaline and part of Trumbull for new construction in the form of shops and housing units.

    I do not need to tell Council that, in nearly ten years, no serious proposal for stadium reuse, particularly no proposal that has shown the potential for success, has been allowed to get off the ground. The chicanery and manipulation that have prevented any serious bidder from presenting a mature, fully developed plan boggle the mind. If nothing else, preservation opponents have been creative.

    But it is June 1, and Council has one last chance to make itself and the city look good. Certainly, there never will be a better moment. In Detroit, we are hungry for something upbeat, something as American as apple pie to offset the embarrassment brought down on us by a megalomaniac mayor. The state, reeling from the black eye given it by its premature presidential primary, needs an alternate reason to be part of national news. The sports world, facing the pending loss of Yankee Stadium, is ripe to celebrate the preservation of a park even older.

    But, most of all, cash in hand from tax credits will do a helluva lot more for the city of Detroit than will the existence of one more vacant city lot – however famous its address.

  • Nick

    Hey there stranger,

    I’ve been sitting here for years… waiting… and alone. I watch as old familiar faces pass by on the way to the new kid in town, but I’m still here.

    I was where so many of you became young men and women. I was where you learned about life or simply went to escape it. I thought I’d always be here for you when life handed you one too many lemons, but now it’s been so long since I’ve seen you… and I hear the talking.

    I was surprised that I was considered good enough to be used for the Super Bowl festivities. I put on my Sunday best for you, but you didn’t give me much to work with. You brought me out to help you shine and to show that you’ve made a comeback. Where will you be in my comeback? Oh, that must be you with the wrecking ball.

    I’m not bitter, I’m a building. I can’t speak for myself. That’s what you’re all here for. I am Detroit. I am Corktown. Preserve me, at least part of me. Make me great again. I’ll be damned if I’m a parking structure or a casino. For 100 years I’ve been Detroit and people will continue to talk about me for 100 more years, whether I’m standing or not.

    I hope this is not the end of the line for me. I still have a lot of life left inside and memories to build, but I fear this is it – I can feel it. What is it that you want from life? To be remembered? Well, it’s what I want, too. Say good things about me. Afterall, I was always good to you. I’ll always be the rafters in your hearts.

    Your old friend,
    Tiger Stadium

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