Plan: Turn old Tiger Stadium site into public sports complex

Tigers StadiumDetroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who coaches Little League baseball, is aware of a proposal that would transform the old Tiger Stadium site into a public park with the original field, batting cages, soccer fields and concessions, his office told us Tuesday.

Preservationists and fans have been trying to save the 101-year-old stadium site since the Tigers abandoned it in 1999, but money shortfalls and politics have derailed those efforts. Now Orr, who has authority to sell city assets, is raising hopes – at least among preservationists – that the site at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull in Corktown may be saved for public use.

1860s baseball The plan “would pay homage to the stadium’s tradition without putting condos there,” EM spokesman Bill Nowling told us.

But Nowling emphasized that Orr’s office “has no dog in the fight” and at the point is only aware of the proposal, which preservationists hope to get Orr involved.

The project, backed by the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, proposes to use most of a $3.8 million grant secured by Sen. Carl Levin in 2009 to preserve and begin redeveloping the site.

Past preservation attempts have been thwarted by city officials, who have insisted – wrongly, so far – that the site can garner tens of millions of dollars from a major developer. Plenty of ideas, from a bull-fighting ring to an upscale hotel, have been pitched, but none has been backed by serious money.

Trouble is, the funding is now at stake. Just last week, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., requested that the Office of Management and Budget cancel the grant because the project has been a failure.

Tiger Stadium

“It is clear that the nearly $4 million provided generously by taxpayers has not been used for its primary purpose to rehabilitate the stadium,” Coburn wrote in a June 20 letter to the Office of Management and Budget. “During a time of sequestration and budgetary shortfalls, it is appropriate at this time to fully rescind any unspent funds.”

Coburn cited the city’s failure to take advantage of previous offers to preserve the site. Much of that blame falls on George Jackson, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., the city agency that controls the site. Jackson has insisted on landing a major development, which has proved to be a pipe dream in a city with an enormous inventory of vacant property.

“A private company’s offer to maintain the site free-of-charge was rejected by the city’s development cooperative, which claimed the stadium rubble should remain vacant as they continue to look for economic development opportunities,” Coburn wrote.

For now, the old diamond and outfield are still intact, neatly maintained by the Navin Field Ground Crew. When the city abandoned the field after the stadium was demolished, six-foot weeds took over. The city even tried to stop volunteers from maintaining the park.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.