City helps PAL be lousy neighbors at historic Tiger Stadium site

What’s left of the Tiger Stadium site. Photo by Alex Haggart. 

When it comes to making friends with their new neighbors, so far Detroit PAL is letting its bulldozers do most of the talking.

This week, city officials helped as PAL tried to keep Corktown in the dark about its plans for parking at its new youth stadium and headquarters.

Using a defunct address to avoid the legal requirement of notifying neighboring property owners, PAL on Tuesday got approval from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals to put 128 parking spaces on site and lease another 200 or so off site. Corktown business leaders were turned down when they asked for a delay in the decision on a parking variance since they hadn’t yet seen PAL’s proposal.

“This is a major development which will have a big impact in Corktown,” says Human Scale Studio consultant Chad Rochkind. “There should be a minimum level of community engagement.”

A year ago, Corktown community organizations asked PAL to explain why it was planning to use artificial turf, what its plans for public access were, and how it would handle traffic at its planned development at “The Corner” where the Tigers played during the last century. Rochkind says they got an answer, though not a satisfactory one, on the field surface – but haven’t yet received any answer on public access plans. And PAL delivered its traffic and parking study to Rochkind only as the BZA hearing was convening Tuesday morning.

That hearing almost took place without Corktown businesspeople and residents even knowing about it.

By law, all neighbors within 300 feet of a property must receive a notice of such a zoning hearing. Mike Khalil, whose business is sixty feet away from PAL’s planned development, didn’t get a notice. Few property owners did.

That’s because the city got around the notification requirement by allowing PAL to use 2121 Trumbull as its address. It’s a rather bizarre fiction – since the city this spring deeded PAL the two parcels of the field that border Cochrane and Kaline Drive – but not the two parcels that border Trumbull and Michigan. The 2121 address was where the Tigers’ offices once stood near the main stadium entrance. PAL’s new headquarters will be located at the opposite corner of the site.

When the Corktown Business Association and EDC found out about the hearing anyway, they sent Rochkind to the meeting to seek additional time to get a chance to read it. But the parking variance was ushered quickly over this bureaucratic hurdle with the same special handling PAL has received throughout the approval process.

Finally heeding the need to mend fences, PAL CEO Tim Richey has agreed to meet with Rochkind today.

“We want to be good neighbors. We have given them many opportunities to be good neighbors, and we’ll continue to do so,” Rochkind says.

Just a few months ago, the stadium site was an unauthorized public park hosting pickup ball games. Now it’s a bulldozed vacant lot. At Tuesday’s hearing, BZA commissioner Keith Williams wanted to make sure Richey wasn’t going to keep calling it Navin Field, which he characterized as a racist name.

It wasn’t a banner day for historical accuracy. Navin is a former Tiger owner who died in 1935; it was his successor, Walter Briggs, who was well known for racist practices at his factories. And the BZA hearing petition referenced PAL’s plans for something called the “Hank Greenburg [sic] Hall of Heroes.”

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.