Munsey on Ballparks
by Paul Munsey (archive)
April 9, 2005
Tiger Stadium was in the news again recently. How many of you are surprised to know that it still exists? It is still there, a giant white monolith, practically all by itself, viewable just off of I-75 as you drive toward downtown Detroit.
Many, many years ago, Tiger Stadium, then known as Briggs Stadium, was surrounded by buildings. The neighborhood wouldn't have been much different than that of Fenway Park, Wrigley Field or the other ballparks built in that era. But, as the years went on and the automobile gained dominance, the surrounding structures were gradually peeled away in favor of parking lots and freeways. In Detroit, like in many cities, that process was accelerated by urban decay.
So, there it sits, waiting. It's waiting for the politicians to figure out what to do with it. They would have demolished it if it didn't cost so much. But, leaving it there vacant is just asking for trouble. Something tells me that someone is going to take care of their problem for them, one way or another.
I have said some unkind things about Detroit in the past. When I visit that city, I am saddened by the devastation that has taken place there. It was once one of the wealthiest cities in the world, but it has been reduced to one of the poorest in the country. However, there are positive signs that the city is rebounding. But, suffice it to say, they have a lot of work ahead of them if they ever want to see all those vacant skyscrapers downtown filled with tenants again.
There are a lot of vacant buildings in Detroit. These aren't just warehouses and old factories. They are office buildings, civic buildings, mansions and train stations. There is a lot of magnificent architecture to preserve, but Detroit has so far to go that there just isn't enough time or money to preserve everything. Inevitably, many buildings, like the Hudson Department Store, which was once the third largest department store in the country, get demolished.
In all likelihood, it's just a matter of time before Detroit rebounds from its decline. Someday, it will be a great city again. The police will get crime under control and the city will become an attractive place for people to reclaim those great old neighborhoods and commercial districts. The question is: how long will that process take and will Tiger Stadium survive long enough for redevelopment to reach it? It seems unlikely.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to look around inside Tiger Stadium. A young man who worked for the Tigers escorted columnist Phil Francis, my brother David and me through the place. Anything valuable and transportable had been removed. However, it looked pretty much the same.
Tiger Stadium has been largely unused since the Detroit Tigers played their final game there Sept. 27, 1999, and moved to Comerica Park. The movie 61* was filmed there. They spray-painted the seats to simulate Yankee Stadium, and spray-painted them back.
The city of Detroit, which owns the stadium, claims it has been searching for developers to transform Tiger Stadium into a useful building. From what I've been able to gather, the only offers they have received involved the city offering subsidies to save the ballpark.
There has been talk of converting the ballpark into apartments, an amusement park and a massive fitness center. But no investor has been willing to put up the money it would take to build any of those projects. It appears that the only entity that can save what is left of Tigers Stadium is the government, and they are tapped out.
With any luck, the 2005 All-Star game, which is being hosted in Comerica Park, will bring some attention to Tiger Stadium. Maybe the right people will become interested in what is to become of that great old ballpark and do something to preserve it.
Paul Munsey is the editor of Ballparks.com.
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