Demolition began last summer, and the stadium was to have been completely torn down until the conservancy won Detroit City Council approval to keep part of it standing and allow time to come up with a plan to preserve it. What remains of the ballpark runs from dugout to dugout.
The conservancy hoped to renovate the lower deck and part of the upper deck into a historic exhibit, along with commercial space and special-event facilities. Once a deposit was submitted for buying the ballpark and paying for security at the location, a project plan and budget were submitted to the DEGC and given preliminary approval.
The dispute since then has been on financing a project estimated to cost as much as $27 million. The conservancy submitted a plan on March 1 that included a $3.8 million federal budget earmark, plus federal and state tax credits and private donations, such as from the Kresge Foundation in suburban Detroit. Since then the conservancy has been trying to secure financial commitments and get other organizations involved, including the Tigers.
"We have extended deadlines for the conservancy to meet its commitments several times, yet the group is still far short of its targets," said Waymon Guillebreaux, executive vice president for the DEGC in charge of project management and contract monitoring. "Meanwhile, security costs are continuing, and demolition costs are rising again. We simply can't afford to keep waiting when it is clear that the conservancy's concept is not financially viable, nor will it be in the immediate future."
Gary Gillette, a board member of the conservancy, disagreed.
"This action by the DEGC/EDC is completely unwarranted," Gillette said. "It is unnecessary. It is short-sighted, and it's foolish. While we have not met all of the goals that we originally talked about in our [memorandum of understanding] with them, we are making substantial progress, including anticipating receiving the $3.8 million federal earmark that has been approved, including receiving funding and support from the Kresge Foundation and including receiving approval from the state Historic Preservation Board for the amended listing to stay as a state historic site even with the partial demolition.
"For the city of Detroit -- in the midst of the worst economic recession since World War II, and the day after GM filed for bankruptcy -- to potentially forgo $20-plus million of development in Corktown at a cost of zero dollars to the city -- since the city is not paying for maintenance and security, and since the money would come from state and federal tax credits, the federal earmark, and other sources -- is literally crazy."
Originally called Briggs Stadium, Tiger Stadium served as the home of the Detroit Tigers from 1912 to 1999, when the team moved into Comerica Park. It also hosted the NFL's Detroit Lions until 1974. It remained largely vacant after the Tigers moved to Comerica Park in 2000 while the city and various groups debated on what to do with the facility.
Only in the past year or so has the debate taken steps toward a conclusion. Tuesday's vote could well have determined it once and for all.