The City of Detroit is to announce Tuesday that it has selected Larson Realty Group to redevelop the Tiger Stadium site, choosing a proposal that will not only preserve the historic playing field, but add residential and commercial space.
Two local developers, Roxbury Group of Detroit, and the Larson Realty Group of Bloomfield Hills, responded to the city’s March request for proposals with plans for a mixed-use development including retail and residential space, but multiple sources told the Free Press that Larson had been selected.
Larson’s plan calls for smaller retail along Michigan Avenue, as well as a mix of for-rent and for-sale housing.
Detroit PAL reached agreement with the city in July to build its new headquarters and related facilities on the western and northern edges of the site while preserving the historic playing field for youth sports.
Along the Cochrane Avenue side of the site, PAL would build its new headquarters that would employ up to 30 people. Detroit PAL would maintain the playing field for youth sports, including high school and college baseball.
Larson’s proposal will take up the rest of the site at Michigan and Trumbull.
“Like everyone else, we look forward to seeing the details of the Larson proposal,” said Dave Mesrey of the Navin Field Grounds Crew, which has worked to preserve the playing field. “What we’d like to see preserved are the field’s historic dimensions, the natural grass, and continued public access. In the meantime, we plan to continue picking up the trash and maintaining the site, as we’ve done since 2010.”
Both Larson Realty Group and Roxbury have long track records working in the downtown area. Larson was involved in the redevelopment of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education (also known as the Argonaut Building) in New Center. Larson was also involved in One Detroit Center, the Millender Center, Orchestra Place and the Madison Theatre Building.
The Roxbury Group is redeveloping the David Whitney Building on Grand Circus Park, which is to reopen this month, and the Auburn in Midtown.
Professional baseball was first played on the site, at a 5,000-seat ballpark known as Bennett Park, on April 28, 1896 — three years before Detroit even had an auto plant. The field, named after fan favorite Charlie Bennett, was built on the former site of a municipal hay market. The park was razed after the 1911 season and replaced with 23,000-seat Navin Field. The ballpark as we know it today opened April 20, 1912, the same day as Fenway Park in Boston — and six days after the RMS Titanic sank.
Tiger Stadium in 1996.
In his farewell remarks following the final game, Ernie Harwell noted that the Corner hosted 6,873 regular season games, 35 postseason contests and three All-Star Games — in 1941, 1951 and 1971. The location was unique because, as the Tigers were a charter member of the American League, every American League starting player from 1900-1999 — from Babe Ruth to Ted Williams to Alvaro Espinoza to Jim Walewander — played at Michigan and Trumbull. There also were 10 no-hitters pitched at Tiger Stadium, but only two were by Tigers: Virgil Trucks in 1952 and George Mullin in 1910.
The 100 millionth fan entered Tiger Stadium on July 6, 1994.
Baseball wasn’t the only sport played at the ballpark. The first football game was held there on Oct. 9, 1921, when Detroit (also called the Tigers) squeaked by Dayton, 10-7. The Detroit Panthers would roam the Corner from 1925 to 1926 before the Lions set up shop at Briggs Stadium in 1938. Except for 1940, the Lions called the Corner home until Nov. 28, 1974, when they lost, 31-27 to Denver.
Athletes weren’t the only stars to roam the Corner: Pat Boone, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Rod Stewart, Kiss and the Eagles were among the musical stars who performed there. On June 28, 1990, South African leader Nelson Mandela thrilled 49,000 listeners at Tiger Stadium by retelling his life during apartheid. The Three Tenors — Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti — sang before more than 31,000 there on July 17, 1999.
The park sat vacant since hosting its final game on Sept. 27, 1999. Comerica Park, the current home of the Tigers, opened April 11, 2000.
Nearly a decade later, with news of the city’s plans to demolish the ballpark, an effort was launched to save a corner of the ballpark for future generations. The plan by the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy called for redeveloping the last chunk of the stadium into a $27-million project that would convert space from the dugout-to-dugout section into commercial space and a community center. The playing field would have been preserved for youth baseball.
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, included a $3.8-million earmark for the stadium preservation in an omnibus spending package in February 2009, leading to calls of pork barrel spending by some in Congress. The conservancy also said as of June 1, 2009, it had about $4 million in cash and about $18 million in tax credits available, plus another $5 million in commitments.
But despite the group’s fund-raising efforts, Detroit’s Economic Development Corp. commission voted 7-1 on June 2, 2009, to level the site anyway. The commission cited safety and security concerns in its decision, but it also said it wanted to make it more attractive to developers.
The DEGC also said the group had not met fund-raising milestones to prove the project was financially viable, something the group chalks up to struggling local and national economies.
Demolition began June 30, 2008. An emotional battle played out in which preservationists tried to save part of the historic stadium, but the last of the ballpark came down the following year.