As bulldozers tore up the historic field at Michigan and Trumbull this week, another lie was uncovered about the Police Athletic League’s plans for the site.
From the start the project to put a PAL youth stadium at the Corner has been cloaked in deception. The plan masqueraded as preservation in order to win a $3 million federal grant. PAL sold that plan to the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, the gatekeepers for the grant, and to foundations contributing to the project without disclosing that the field would be artificial turf. Then, in public meetings last fall, PAL CEO Tim Richey deceptively cited MSU turf management expert John N. Rogers, a staunch opponent of artificial turf, as a backer of its carpeting plan at the historic site of former Tiger Stadium.
When the need for synthetic turf was questioned at City Council and other public forums and in interviews, Richey and other PAL officials always insisted the organization needed to have a carpet because it would be programming the site for its youth sports so heavily that a natural grass field wouldn’t hold up under all the wear and tear. And PAL’s responses to criticisms of its plan often scolded naysayers as being against city kids playing ball at the site.
But in remarks published in the Detroit News on Tuesday, PAL spokesman Russ Russell painted quite a different picture, saying PAL youth sports will constitute only about 50% of the programming. The rest of the time PAL will be operating a rental facility for banquets, private parties, concerts, and college games.
“You got to make money,” Russell said. “A lot of other uses will…create revenue.”
The programming suggests what many critics have indicated – artificial turf isn’t needed because young Detroiters won’t be playing at Michigan and Trumbull from dawn to dusk. It isn’t a matter of meeting programming needs for youth sports. It’s a convenience to make maintenance easier. Half the time PAL will be operating a private rental business, using federal money meant for historic preservation and foundation money obtained under false pretenses.
PAL’s rental facility will be flanked by a private housing development along Trumbull and private retail along Michigan. That’s how Detroit will dispose of this treasured historic site that was a public gathering place for more than a century – by turning it into a cash cow for those fortunate few connected to the city’s power brokers.
As for city youth? If Russell can be believed now, they’ll get about half of what was promised them – if that. PAL also didn’t mention at public forums that it has no plans to transport its youth athletes to Michigan and Trumbull from neighborhood fields where they play PAL sports now. They’ll have to get there on their own.
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.