Demolition of Tiger Stadium resumes

Demolition of Tiger Stadium resumes

The fate of Tiger Stadium now is sealed. The effort to preserve it has run out of options.

"We're dead," said baseball author Gary Gillette, a board member of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy.

With Monday's decision by Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards to lift a temporary injunction, demolition of the ballpark resumed Monday. The crew began tearing down parts of the upper deck behind third base soon after the ruling, and it appears the rest of what remains between the dugouts won't be far off.

Waymon Gillebreaux, executive vice president for project management for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, said in a statement Monday afternoon that the city expects to have the site cleared in 60-90 days.

"We are gratified Judge Prentis Edwards confirmed the Economic Development Corporation's determination that, while the plan to preserve a portion of Tiger Stadium may have been desirable, it simply did not have the financial support it needed to proceed," Gillebreaux said.

The EDC, acting for the city of Detroit, voted last Tuesday to resume demolition, which began last summer but halted when the Detroit City Council granted the conservancy a chance to come up with a redevelopment plan for what was left of the park. Tuesday's vote essentially rejected the conservancy's plan, which would have preserved the playing field and converted the lower deck and part of the upper deck into a historic exhibit along with commercial space and event facilities.

Demolition briefly resumed last Friday until the conservancy won the temporary injunction to halt the process over the weekend. Judge Edwards' ruling sided with the DEGC's contention that the conservancy does not have the funding to move forward with the project, which has been estimated at $29 million.

The conservancy submitted a plan March 1 that included a $3.8 million federal budget earmark, plus federal and state tax credits and private donations, such as from the Kresge Foundation in suburban Detroit. Since then, the conservancy had been trying to secure financial commitments and get other organizations involved, including the Tigers.

"I say the same thing I did before the [judge's] decision: It was completely unwarranted and unnecessary," Gillette said.

At this point in the process, however, it appears to be the final decision. Though the conservancy could have appealed the ruling, demolition would go on, which Gillette said would've done enough damage to make preservation difficult at best.

The conservancy tried to appeal to the city council and new mayor Dave Bing, but without success.

Originally called Navin Field and later Briggs Stadium, Tiger Stadium served as the home of the Detroit Tigers from 1912-99. It also hosted the NFL's Detroit Lions until 1974. It remained largely vacant after the Tigers moved to Comerica Park in 2000, while the city and various groups debated on what to do with the facility.

Only in the past year or so has the debate taken concrete steps towards a conclusion. The conservancy, for its part, has worked for the past few years to come up with a plan and then put it into action.

"We recognize the passion of members of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy," Gillebreaux's statement said, "but that does not change the fact that they did not have the funds to complete the project, nor did they have the prospect of doing so."

Gillette called the decision short-sighted and countered that the conservancy was prepared to pay for security and for costs for an extension. He said the DEGC had not approached them with any alternative projects for the site.

"It's the kind of thing that gives the city of Detroit an incredibly bad reputation in the eyes of the media and in the eyes of people around the world," Gillette said.

Gillebreaux said in his statement that the EDC was not allowed to discuss alternatives for the site with potential developers while it was under its agreement with the conservancy.

"That contract has been terminated, and the Economic Development Corporation may now begin the process of reviewing other development proposals for the property," Gillebreaux said.

What kind of marker, if any, the site will have to denote what once stood there remains to be seen. The conservancy is unlikely to be involved in that process.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.