Final Tiger Stadium demolition delayed
Conservancy near funds that would keep renovation afloat
DETROIT -- Members of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy expect the nonprofit group will meet its new Friday deadline to provide the city of Detroit with a portion of the money it needs to save what remains of the historic ballpark and keep its renovation project going.
"This is great news," conservancy board member Gary Gillette said Tuesday afternoon.
The Detroit City Council rejected a resolution earlier in the day that would've cleared the way to tear down what remains of Tiger Stadium, parts of which have already been torn down under a demoltion project that began in June. The vote allows the conservancy a few more days to provide the money it is required to have in escrow under a memorandum of understanding it is finalizing with the city.
Demolition crews tore down the outfield bleachers and continued down the outfield lines during the summer. What remains of Tiger Stadium largely runs along the base lines and behind home plate. The conservancy wants to save and renovate most of what's left, along with the baseball diamond, to turn into a field for youth leagues and high schools with a lower deck of seating and an attached sports museum.
The demolition crew has remained at the ready in case the conservancy is unable to raise the money. What has already been torn down is being sold for scrap to pay for the work.
The conservancy was required to provide just over $200,000 in an escrow account as part of the agreement the city and the conservancy were expected to finalize shortly. Part of that is a $150,000 deposit to keep the project going and demonstrate that the conservancy has the means to follow through.
Another $69,000 is required to reimburse the city for providing security at the stadium between the time the demolition crew leaves and the time construction begins. Since that covers a six-month stretch, Gillette said the conservancy is negotiating to pay that in installments.
The group expects to meet both payments, then move forward with donations for the coming months, when another installment is due.
Members spent the past several days trying to raise funds to meet the deadline. Several board members made donations themselves, and Gillette said an "anonymous angel" made a large contribution Tuesday morning under the condition that their name not be released.
In addition, the group has received a surprising flow of donations through its Web site at savetigerstadium.org.
"We did get a flurry of contributions over the last 4-5 days," Gillette said.
Several conservancy members and other officials took their case to the City Council meeting on Tuesday, including vice president Thom Linn, Southwest Detroit Business Association president Kathy Wendler and Michigan House majority floor leader Steve Tobocman, who represents the area of Detroit that includes Tiger Stadium.
Total costs for the project have been forecast around $15 million. In addition to private donations, part of the funding is expected to come from state and Federal tax credits, as well as a $4 million earmark supported by U.S. Senator Carl Levin as part of a Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill.
"Things will come together very nice in the future on this project," Gillette said.
The conservancy suffered a setback when Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell stepped down from the board last month and had to retract donations from his foundation to the conservancy. Harwell's longtime attorney, Gary Spicer, remains on the board.
Harwell's decision is not expected to affect the conservancy's effort to include a museum. Harwell has a large personal collection of baseball artifacts and memorabilia known as the Ernie Harwell Collection, which is currently part of the Detroit Public Library.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.