With Demolition Under Way, Group Wins Time to Save Part of Tiger Stadium
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Aug. 14, 2008
Despite the demolition crew tearing down Detroit's Tiger Stadium this summer, it's not the end of the ballgame for the entire 1912 park.
Last month the city council reached a tentative agreement with the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy and the Ernie Harwell Foundation. The deal grants the preservation groups six more months to raise $15 million to save part of the park, including the section of the stadium between first base and third base, 3,000 seats, and the field itself.
"The portion that is being preserved has not been touched and is safe and sound," says Dan Varner, spokesman for the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy.
Saving the Tiger
The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the ballpark to its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 1991 and 1992. In 2005, the National Trust listed the historic buildings of downtown Detroit on the same list. That year, its Midwest Office helped establish the Greater Detroit Preservation Coalition to coordinate the many organizations in the city that are working together to preserve buildings in the city's core.
"Our position has been to reinforce that group, which supports the conservancy's plan to preserve part of the stadium," says Royce Yeater, director of the National Trust's Midwest Office.
Since the last game the Tigers played there in 1999, it has been touch-and-go for the stadium, once a playing field for Hank Greenberg and Al Kaline, as well as visiting players like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and other legends. In a compromise with the city, preservationists settled on a plan to turn a small remnant of the stadium into a museum for sportscaster Ernie Harwell's sports memorabilia.
After demolition began this June, the Detroit Economic Development Corp. backtracked on an earlier agreement with preservation groups when, on July 15, it asked the city council permission to raze all of the stadium. The council effectively denied that request on July 29, agreeing to retain part of the ballpark until Mar. 1, 2009. The foundation raised almost $400,000, keeping its end of a previous bargain with the city.
"It's definitely too early to call it a victory," says Gary Spicer, the attorney representing the Ernie Harwell Foundation. "We're still hopeful that we can save the playing field and enough of the real estate to construct a 20,000-square-foot new building to house part of Mr. Harwell's vast collection."
Now the foundation and coalition are trying to raise the rest of the money for the plan.
"We're excited about our new step forward with the city of Detroit and new timeline for raising funds," Varner says. "It will be challenging, but we're optimistic about getting it done and hope that at the end of this process, we'll have a huge victory for those interested in economic development and preserving historic spaces in the city of Detroit."
For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.