Columnist: Not too late to fix the disgraceful mess at Tiger Stadium site

Here's what the baseball field at Tiger Stadium looked like in July. Photo by Alex Haggard.
Here’s what the baseball field at Tiger Stadium looked like in July. Photo by Alex Haggard.

It’s not too late to fix the mess at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.

A new natural grass surface could still be installed there. Since PAL doesn’t want to spend the time or effort to maintain grass, Sen. Levin should stop his $3 million federal earmark from being used there; it was intended for preservation, and what PAL is doing is manifestly not preservation. If Levin doesn’t act now, legal or government action may soon threaten to block the entire project.

Long grass grew around the perimeter of the field.
Long grass grew around the perimeter of the field.

The place looks like a disaster zone. Corktown residents and many others are unhappy they no longer have access to the historic ball field which – thanks to the volunteer efforts of the Navin Field Grounds Crew – was open for public use for six summers until the city of Detroit shamefully sold PAL the treasured property for $1 this spring.

It hurts those of us who saw the ashes of old friends spread there to see PAL’s contractors tearing up the sacred grounds like it was just another abandoned vacant lot. The grounds crew is aghast to see the trash piling up around the property.

And it’s a downright fraud that Tim Richey of PAL spent a year or so saying PAL needed artificial turf because they were going to program youth sports 50-plus hours a week – but then recently announced that kids games could take up as little as 51% of the time and that PAL might rent the place out the rest of the time.

In addition, preservationists are highly skeptical that PAL’s announced plans for a purported sports “Hall of Heroes” on the second floor of its new headquarters building there will even approach a proper historic commemoration.

Richey has now completed his Corktown apology tour – a series of four weekly private house meetings in September – and community leaders are planning a follow-up meeting later this month; PAL will be invited. Reports are that Corktown is negotiating over the amount of public access that PAL will allow at the field,

That’s not enough. Corktown residents are not the only ones PAL must answer to. Michigan and Trumbull is an important site for all of us. It’s time for the city’s leaders to patch up this botched opportunity and salvage PAL’s reputation.

Mayor Duggan
Mayor Duggan

Taxpayers helped Mike Ilitch build a new stadium for his Tigers; he should pay back the city by helping to restore and maintain the site where they played major league ball for the entire twentieth century. And where is Richey’s pal Mike Duggan? Fiddling while his city squanders a golden opportunity.

Everyone wants city youth a chance to play there – but on real grass. The Corner also requires a fitting historical commemoration. But that’s neither PAL’s mission nor its expertise. PAL should run its youth sports programs, and local preservationists and artists could join in creating great exhibits to display the site’s history. It ought to become something akin to the DIA or Greenfield Village.

If PAL can’t fill the days with youth sports, vintage baseball and Tigers and Negro League old-timers games could round out the schedule. Done right, this site could be an incredible tourist attraction rather than a rental business with a third-rate sports hall.

Civic and business leaders, step up to the plate. What’s happening at the Corner now is arguably illegal and inarguably a national embarrassment.

Motor City Muckraker is an independent, ad-free watchdog that relies on donations. Your contribution will help us continue serving as a watchdog who answers to no one but the public.

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.