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Published: Wednesday, 6/3/2009

Time's up for Tiger Stadium

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT - What remains of historic Tiger Stadium will be demolished after the city rejected a $33.4 million proposal by a nonprofit group to preserve and renovate the old ballpark.

The Economic Development Corp. board voted 7-1 Tuesday to authorize the complete demolition of the stadium, said Waymon Guillebeaux, executive vice president of project management for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a public-private group that staffs the EDC.

"We cannot have a partially demolished building remaining indefinitely," Guillebeaux said.

A nonprofit group trying to save the stadium blasted the decision, saying it wasn't told a vote was coming.

"We are obviously going to do everything we can - including calling on all of our friends and supporters - to try to get this decision reversed," said Gary Gillette, board member and secretary of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy.

The ballpark at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull became home to the Tigers in 1912, when it opened as Navin Field. The beloved stadium hosted 87 years of baseball, three All-Star games, Babe Ruth's 700th career home run in 1934 and even the Detroit Lions from 1938 to 1974.

The city, which owns the stadium, searched for ways to develop the site after the Tigers departed for nearby Comerica Park after the 1999 season. After a few years,

officials began to talk about

demolishing the building to make way for new development.

Wrecking crews finally went to work last June, and much of the stadium was torn down by fall. But the Detroit City Council voted 5-3 last October to spare - for the time being - a remaining wedge stretching from dugout to dugout. Council members said they wanted to give stadium advocates, led by the conservancy, more time to raise funds for a proposed redevelopment of the surviving structure.

The group submitted a plan earlier this year to renovate the stadium into a commercial building with a working ball field for youth and amateur baseball. The project had an estimated price tag of $33.4 million, much of which would be covered by historical and other tax credits. A $3.8 million federal earmark also was approved for the project.

"In terms of some of their plans, they met our approval," Guillebeaux said. "The biggest issue was the funding."

Guillebeaux said the conservancy's proposal relied on plans to raise funds rather than money, loans and credits already in hand.

The conservancy has struggled to raise money "in the teeth of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression," Gillette said, but progress is being made and the group is optimistic it can reach its fund-raising goals.

Guillebeaux said negotiations already are under way with the two Detroit-area companies that carried out last year's partial demolition under a joint venture allowing them to sell the stadium's steel and other components for scrap. The city didn't pay for the project but forfeited a $300,000 payment from the companies by not authorizing the complete demolition of the ballpark.

That isn't an option this time around, Guillebeaux said, given a sharp decline in scrap prices in the last year. Demolishing the rest of the stadium likely will cost the city about $400,000, with $300,000 covered by money put up by the conservancy in advance, in case their plans for the site were rejected or fell through, he said.



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