With no public input, city sells historic Tiger Stadium field for just $1

The field at the site of former Tiger Stadium. Photos by Steve Neavling

The field at the site of former Tiger Stadium. Photos by Steve Neavling

By Michael Betzold and Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

For the past 16 years, the city of Detroit has rejected numerous proposals to restore or reuse the historic baseball field of Tiger Stadium.

Then last month, with little to no public input, the city agreed to sell the field – one of the city’s most storied sites – for $1 to the Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL), which has stirred controversy over its plan to cover the dirt and grass with artificial turf.

In November, the Detroit City Council agreed that the city’s Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) would lease the land – not sell it – to PAL for youth sports at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.

Because the public is generally unaware of DEGC meetings, the decision to sell was made last month without input from people who have long opposed PAL’s plan. The DEGC approved the new arrangement to unscramble a zoning snafu the city created by dividing up the site into separate parcels.

Rendering of the new headquarters and youth sports facility at the site of former Tiger Stadium.

Rendering of the new headquarters and youth sports facility at the site of former Tiger Stadium.

The unexpected move also allowed PAL to proceed with today’s groundbreaking for a new 2,500-seat stadium, headquarters and banquet hall. Protesters are planning to attend the event to voice concerns about artificial turf.

“Save the grass! Save the grass!” fans chanted over the weekend at a farewell event honoring the Navin Field Grounds Crew, which has voluntarily maintained the field since May 2010.

“We worked so hard for six years and they just don’t care,” said Tom Derry, one of the original crew members. “We had a great run.”

City officials defended the handling of the sale, saying it was necessary to sell the property because leasing it would have created “technical issues in setback requirements, access and zoning that would have taken months to resolve through normal channels.”

DEGC spokesman Bob Rossbach said the sale was a victory because it preserves the ballpark and allows thousands of children to use the site.

We are going to see kids playing baseball on the same turf that hosted Hall of Famers for many decades,” Rossbach said. “It’s a great outcome, and it doesn’t require a significant investment from local taxpayers.”

Old parking sign for Tiger Stadium.

Old parking sign for Tiger Stadium.

But PAL wasn’t the only group interested in preserving the field. Between 2009 and 2012, the city rejected three different offers by the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, which wanted to retain the grass and keep the field open to the public. The group committed nearly $13 million in cash, secured a $3 million federal grant that is now being awarded to PAL, and later joined with two local nonprofits in another plan and finally offered to lease the land to build a museum. After getting no traction for those proposals, the conservancy joined with PAL in 2014 to support this plan – though not without dissent – and city leaders quickly green-lighted it.

Tiger Stadium, via Wikipedia.

Tiger Stadium, via Wikipedia.

Before the stadium was completely demolished in 2009, the city had also turned a deaf ear to various offers from developers, including one for $750,000 and another “blank check” offer of at least $1 million, that would have included preservation of the field and other development.

The current plan includes housing along Trumbull and retail along Michigan from developer Eric Larson.

PAL CEO Tim Richey insists artificial turf is necessary to support the group’s programming, but has not yet identified what type will be used. He has said bulldozers will start digging up the field by the end of this month.

 

Michael Betzold

Michael Betzold is a former Free Press reporter and longtime area freelance journalist. He wrote Queen of Diamonds, a history of Tiger Stadium. He lives on Detroit’s east side.

  • dirtydog1776

    No public input? No transparency? Government doing whatever it wants? Sounds like city taking lessons from Obama administration. Bring back grass roots democracy!

  • Dean Henry

    “We are going to see kids playing baseball on the same turf that hosted Hall of Famers for many decades,” Rossbach said.
    Soooooo, that means no artificial turf. Not.

  • Dean Henry

    “We are going to see kids playing baseball on the same turf that hosted Hall of Famers for many decades,” Rossbach said.
    Soooooo, that means no artificial turf. Not.

  • Mike m

    Would they use turf if it were possibly dangerous? Would they use the water if it were dangerous? Let’s ask Flint.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      Its rubber and poly, how is it dangerous. Are you shoes dangerous, or your sweat pants ?

      You car tires, or handles or grips on half the things you own from tools, sports equipment, phone covers, tablet covers etc.

      This has to be like lab rats getting cancer when fed 100 times more X than anyone could consume. And even then its just accelerated rate of cancer in some rats, sometimes.

      Do you know how many people live to 80-90 that used to work industrial jobs with almost no regard for safety, health, chemicals, etc.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      Its rubber and poly, how is it dangerous. Are you shoes dangerous, or your sweat pants ?

      You car tires, or handles or grips on half the things you own from tools, sports equipment, phone covers, tablet covers etc.

      This has to be like lab rats getting cancer when fed 100 times more X than anyone could consume. And even then its just accelerated rate of cancer in some rats, sometimes.

      Do you know how many people live to 80-90 that used to work industrial jobs with almost no regard for safety, health, chemicals, etc.

  • Mike m

    Would they use turf if it were possibly dangerous? Would they use the water if it were dangerous? Let’s ask Flint.

  • Tim Burke

    KINDA LIKE FLINT WATER ISSUE LETS WAIT UNTIL PEOPLE START GETTING SICK BEFORE WE DO SOMETHING IN THE MEAN TIME THERES MONEY TO BE MADE, IF THE KIDS GET CANCER FUCK EM THEY CAN DEAL WITH IT LATTER IN LIFE IN THE MEEN TIME PLAY BALL.

  • Tim Burke

    KINDA LIKE FLINT WATER ISSUE LETS WAIT UNTIL PEOPLE START GETTING SICK BEFORE WE DO SOMETHING IN THE MEAN TIME THERES MONEY TO BE MADE, IF THE KIDS GET CANCER FUCK EM THEY CAN DEAL WITH IT LATTER IN LIFE IN THE MEEN TIME PLAY BALL.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      These fields have been out for 20 years, do not act like is no data to act on.

      Where is the data, good or bad, where is it.

      You cannot make every single thing a cancer scare.

      They have this at maybe half the highschools, the fanciest private schools, DPS, wayne state, all the colleges and pro teams

  • hrtuten

    Thanks Micheal and Steve for reporting this.

    It probably won’t show up anywhere in mainstream Detroit media as a story.

  • hrtuten

    Thanks Micheal and Steve for reporting this.

    It probably won’t show up anywhere in mainstream Detroit media as a story.

    • Jeff Keathley

      Because it’s not to really a story. It’s Steve Neavling once again trying to stir something up. The majority of Detroiters are behind this project, including Tiger great Willie Horton.

      • hrtuten

        That’s correct, Jeff. When people who aren’t given a voice and are constantly derailed to create their own project (when they have the money and means to do so), it isn’t a story. I thank you for clearing that up.

    • Joey

      I still fail to see why this is a problem. Other than the possible cancer links (news to me, I had never heard that before) and the fact that the land can no longer be a museum/nostalgia piece/etc., I haven’t heard any arguments yet as to why this redevelopment is a bad thing…

      I’m asking that question earnestly because I’m curious to know why some people see it as a problem. No historic buildings are being razed, no one is being evicted, and being a ballpark for kids honors the history of the site. What am I missing?

      • hrtuten

        Reread the first four words of the headline:

        With no public input

        That has been the crux of this issue from the beginning, Joey. Yes, a ballpark for kids honors the site. And what the city is doing for PAL is wonderful too. Most people following this story, like me, don’t have an issue with what the site is being used for and its overall intentions. Hell, I don’t really have a major problem with the artificial turf.

        BUT here’s something I do have a problem with: the DEGC. They been so secretive (and stubborn) with the development of this site for over a decade. We are talking about more than 15 years of ignoring solid offers and proposals and dragging feet on what to do with the site. Everything has been decided behind closed doors with that group.

        That may not be a story to you, but THAT IS A STORY to me. When your city govt operates like this…despite it looking good for all in the end…it still makes me wonder, Why the secrecy? I wish PAL luck, but I ask: What other solid proposals were heard?

        I think Steve and Michael’s article here is important because THIS is the way the DEGC has operated for years when it’s come to this land (and other zoning issues…but that’s only what others tell me). And if it weren’t for the Navin Field grounds crew, the DEGC probably wouldn’t know where to begin to build the field.

        • Joey

          Ok fair enough, thanks for the thorough response. I hadn’t really considered that aspect too much, rather focusing on what I see as a positive outcome.

          Agreed though that a positive outcome is a rarity from a secretive government process.

        • javierjuanmanuel

          But thats not unique, is there public input on many or even most things done in detoir ot wayne county.

          Then there is of course, they hear you out as a formality, but do as they wish, that I assume is almost all of the time, its just window dressing, its fake, so basically everything is zero impactful input from the public

  • SnowStormsinDetroit

    Kinda unfair to place what *didn’t* take place over the past 16 years in the City on the backs of those who’ve only been in office for the past 2.

    I’m thinking if those other proposals had come across Duggans desk he would’ve definitely signed off.

    And if they did come across his desk then maybe mentioned it in the article.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      Detroit has been paralyzed by inaction for about 35 years. Perpetual we will get around to it some day attitude.

      Even if Duggan is corrupt, or part of the macnamara machine, he is an effective, and maybe even brilliant administrator.

      He turned the DMC around in just a few years, that is a huge deal, it is more than about 90 percent of politicans on either side of the isle ever do. Most people never make impactful measurable change.

  • Michael F. Copado

    Alex Atwell of WDIV just posted a pic from there of what appears to be them tearing up the grass already.

  • Michael F. Copado

    Alex Atwell of WDIV just posted a pic from there of what appears to be them tearing up the grass already.

  • Joey

    Look, I love nostalgia as much as the next guy but I can’t see what’s wrong here… Detroit kids get a great new place to play ball, Corktown gets new retail and housing, and taxpayers aren’t stuck with the burden of maintaining a grass field in our Michigan climate.

    • Jeff Keathley

      The only people complaining about this project (grass vs turf is just a lame excuse) are the old white dudes named the Navin Field Grounds Crew because they will no longer get to play on their so called Field of Dreams. PAL has raised funds and are breaking ground on this project today, if these nostalgia fans wanted to keep the stadium to their liking, maybe they should have raised money and came up with their own project. The stadium closed in 1999 so they had plenty of time to do that.

      • Bart

        Our old black dudes are just as sad about it, thank you.

        • Michael F. Copado

          And all the women, who make up half of the nfgc regulars….

          • javierjuanmanuel

            yeah but still. Are they old ? I do not think he counts blacks, latin, jewish. He said he does not even like southern or eastern europe. No slavs, no italians, no greeks. Too greasy.

        • Michael F. Copado

          And all the women, who make up half of the nfgc regulars….

      • Bart

        Our old black dudes are just as sad about it, thank you.

      • Briacula

        Is there a problem with “old white dudes” wanting to maintain their history?

      • Briacula

        Is there a problem with “old white dudes” wanting to maintain their history?

        • Jeff Keathley

          There is a problem when you stand in the way of progress. The new field will be used by Detroit kids for playing a kids game.

          For those that say they should leave the place alone, I disagree. It’s located on a major street in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. This project is perfect for honoring the past and going forward with a plan that actually makes financial sense. How many people would show up to a museum and how would that benefit Detroit? It wouldn’t and that’s why no one was willing to risk their money towards something like that.

          • Briacula

            I don’t object to the re-use of the parcel as planned, but your racism toward white people, which apparently is ok by you if the City of Detroit is getting a few extra tax dollars.

          • Briacula

            I don’t object to the re-use of the parcel as planned, but your racism toward white people, which apparently is ok by you if the City of Detroit is getting a few extra tax dollars.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            It will be used only by detroit kids? Is that code for black, which is why you have something against old white guys ?

            You do know there are something like 50-80 closed parks in the city, many of white have baseball and softball fields if any of these black people you think so highly of could cut the grass there like the fine white people of the detroit mower gang, this would be a non issue.

            Why cant young healthy would be athletes or their fathers push a lawn mower around for an hour 1 time per week for about 4 months. Is it a black thang ?

          • javierjuanmanuel

            It will be used only by detroit kids? Is that code for black, which is why you have something against old white guys ?

            You do know there are something like 50-80 closed parks in the city, many of white have baseball and softball fields if any of these black people you think so highly of could cut the grass there like the fine white people of the detroit mower gang, this would be a non issue.

            Why cant young healthy would be athletes or their fathers push a lawn mower around for an hour 1 time per week for about 4 months. Is it a black thang ?

      • Chris Kreider

        Other groups did come up with plans and raise money and offered more than the PAL. Did you not read the article?

      • javierjuanmanuel

        lol why does it matter that they are old, or white, why is there no down votes for that?

        Why did no one call you racist, or racially biased, hateful etc.

        You are definitely using white and old as a pejorative.

      • javierjuanmanuel

        lol why does it matter that they are old, or white, why is there no down votes for that?

        Why did no one call you racist, or racially biased, hateful etc.

        You are definitely using white and old as a pejorative.

    • Jeff Keathley

      The only people complaining about this project (grass vs turf is just a lame excuse) are the old white dudes named the Navin Field Grounds Crew because they will no longer get to play on their so called Field of Dreams. PAL has raised funds and are breaking ground on this project today, if these nostalgia fans wanted to keep the stadium to their liking, maybe they should have raised money and came up with their own project. The stadium closed in 1999 so they had plenty of time to do that.

    • SnowStormsinDetroit

      One HUGE deal is experts have recently began to see possible signs of a link between astro-turf and cancer. Here are stories from two reputable publications expressing concern.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2014/10/09/is-there-a-link-between-artificial-turf-and-cancer-in-soccer-goalies/

      http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/mom-cancer-stricken-soccer-player-wants-answers-artificial-turf-n435146

      As of yet, the link has not been proven…but it has certainly not been disproven either. Fact is its just too soon to tell, and because our children are gonna be the ones populating this field NO WAY should they be plopping down astro-turf.

      PAL says they’re aware and intend to put down a different type of astro-turf, but still too soon to tell in my OP

      • Jeff Keathley

        It’s called FieldTurf and the majority of NFL and college football teams use it (including Michigan Stadium and Ford Field). Do you honestly believe if there was a real risk to peoples health, they would still be using it? I doubt it.

        • Adonis Pointer

          Do you honestly believe that with money to be made, that a little thing like peoples health would stop the NFL from using it? I doubt it.

          • SnowStormsinDetroit

            I just sat motionless and completely dumbfounded staring at my screen when I read his post.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            Read it again, he is in agreement with you.

          • SnowStormsinDetroit

            I just sat motionless and completely dumbfounded staring at my screen when I read his post.

        • SnowStormsinDetroit

          Do I think the NFL would use it if it were unsafe?

          Uhhhh..well…considering the NFL has known about and been “studying” the brain damaging affects of concussions since 1994 and Just. Last. Month. acknowledged their connection to CTE I’m gonna go ahead a lean towards yes. Yes I do believe they’d use it for as long as it took to prove.

          Not to mention there’s also Asbestos that was used by every builder in America..until it wasn’t.

          As well as Lead paint that was used by every painter in America…..until it wasn’t.

          And cigarettes smoked by damn near every person in America….until they weren’t. This list is endless. People don’t know what they don’t know…until they do.

          So as I said, Astro turf is a RECENT concern, that obviously takes time to study. But the experts are alarmed and these athletes stories have merit, which is why they’ve ended up in The Washington Post and on NBC. And PAL should just be safer than sorry.

          • romeokilo

            What tends to happen is they get everyone on the band wagon and then all of a sudden the band plays a different song. Usually to the advantage of a veiled profiteer. Such is the way of politically motivated do good schemes.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            its important to get super worked up before anyone knows, ruin people, have sleepless nights, fights, meeting etc for 10-15 years. Then when its wrong everyone pretends they were not stupid.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            What about baseball, soccer, high school field and track.

            Are small town highschools part of the global conspiracy also ?

          • banmar

            FYI, asbestos wrap is still used and people still do smoke. Life is inherently dangerous and we can’t layer ourselves and our loved ones in bubble wrap and not experience the thrills of minor danger. I thoroughly believe kids playing tee and baseball should have the joy of grass stains on their white uniform pants, avoiding bees in the clover in the outfield and laying down in the grass, all sweaty, after the last game of the day, trying to figure out what animals the clouds look like. But, in honesty, kids can do this at the playground after playing catch if it means they’ll have a field that will stay in good condition longer with less maintenance.

          • SnowStormsinDetroit

            “asbestos wrap is still used and people still do smoke”

            Yea no shit…..But not NEARLY at the levels they first were after being found to be hazardous to our health. And in the context of the conversation, *that* was my obvious point.

            Yea life is inherently dangerous, but it is not inherently cancerous. And whereas you might feel children possibly being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a “minor danger”, experts, players, parents, and sane people would certainly disagree.

            Particularly the players who are now living with it, and especially the parents who’ve children have recently died from it.

          • banmar

            Are you kidding me? Life *is* inherently cancerous. We don’t know why people with no exposure to known severe carcinogens end up with all kinds of cancer. Our bodies sometimes turn on themselves and develop all kinds of terrible diseases, including cancers, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, lupus, etc. That’s why genomic research is so important in finding out what the cancer markers are in people’s genes — it’s as important, if not more, in determining and eradicating chemical and environmental factors. When you look at how many people may be exposed to possible cancer dangers in AstroTurf and how many develop cancer, it’s also important to see how many people are genetically predisposed to the types of cancer associated with the product. This isn’t like the women in Albany, New York painting clocks with radium paint and putting the paintbrushes in their mouths to wet them (which my grandmother did, which gave her seven types of cancer, from all of which she recovered until she died of coronary artery disease at 92) — no one is ingesting AstroTurf.

          • SnowStormsinDetroit

            “no one is ingesting AstroTurf”

            And this is where you are Dead. Ass. Wrong.

            Im my earlier post I gave links to an NBC news and Washington Post story on the matter. If you had bothered to even glance at the FIRST or SECOND paragraph of the WaPo story you’d be much more informed than you are now.

            So in conclusion, by your own words you indicate that it would be more of a concern if the athletes were in fact ingesting the astro-turf….Well read the links I’ve provided and Be. More. Concerned. Because that’s EXACTLY WHATS HAPPENING.

            Glad I could help.

          • banmar

            If posting those two links, whose stories I read (well, I re-read the Post story), um, thanks for trying, I guess? Get back to me when Little League is serving AstroTurf hot dogs or something at the concession stands.

          • SnowStormsinDetroit

            Yea, because everybody knows if all those workers hadn’t been sprinkling Asbestos on their hotdogs they’d still be alive right genius?

            Wow.

          • banmar

            Yeah, my encyclopedic knowledge of BOCA code and decade in elected municipal government, plus my continuing work in urban redevelopment and improving affordable housing proves the simplicity of my brain and lack of knowledge of substances harmful to human health. You called that one, buddy. >insert eyeroll here<

          • SnowStormsinDetroit

            “asbestos wrap is still used and people still do smoke”

            Yea no shit…..But not NEARLY at the levels they first were after being found to be hazardous to our health. And in the context of the conversation, *that* was my obvious point.

            Yea life is inherently dangerous, but it is not inherently cancerous. And whereas you might feel children possibly being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a “minor danger”, experts, players, parents, and sane people would certainly disagree.

            Particularly the players who are now living with it, and especially the parents who’ve children have recently died from it.

        • SnowStormsinDetroit

          Do I think the NFL would use it if it were unsafe?

          Uhhhh..well…considering the NFL has known about and been “studying” the brain damaging affects of concussions since 1994 and Just. Last. Month. acknowledged their connection to CTE I’m gonna go ahead a lean towards yes. Yes I do believe they’d use it for as long as it took to prove.

          Not to mention there’s also Asbestos that was used by every builder in America..until it wasn’t.

          As well as Lead paint that was used by every painter in America…..until it wasn’t.

          And cigarettes smoked by damn near every person in America….until they weren’t. This list is endless. People don’t know what they don’t know…until they do.

          So as I said, Astro turf is a RECENT concern, that obviously takes time to study. But the experts are alarmed and these athletes stories have merit, which is why they’ve ended up in The Washington Post and on NBC. And PAL should just be safer than sorry.

        • Tim Burke

          well it’s kinda like the water in flint don’t see nothin wrong here Ma

        • Tim Burke

          well it’s kinda like the water in flint don’t see nothin wrong here Ma

      • javierjuanmanuel

        the same rubber is scrubbed off tired on every road. I was listening to KFI in cali last week, they said there is a 200 yard cloud of debris in every direction from every 4 lane or greater road in the US. The were specifically talking about lead contamination, but also rubber, carbon, asbestos etc.

        I am not worried that is just big city living, but you seem like a science illiterate chicken little.

        Anything that matters and is important, there is not a sorta maybe link, it is clear as day and measurable. This sounds like one of the hundreds of things they get people worked up about then change, they might even go back to it again, thats how little they know.

        • banmar

          Have they worked out the problems with the flammability of the artificial turf yet? One high school up north here in NJ had their art-turf field melted to a gloppy mess last year. That’s the problem with those robber playground pads and chips; they’re made from recycled tires and burn.