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Detroit Economic Growth Corp whiffs on Tiger Stadium development offer

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Tiger Stadium field today (photo by Allison Hagen)
Tiger Stadium field today (photo by Allison Hagen)

First, a history lesson:

Tiger Stadium saw its last game on Sept. 27, 1999. It moonlighted as Yankee Stadium in the 2000 movie 61*. It sat as the backdrop on occasions as video crews needed it. It sat empty, the facade cracking and falling off as trees and weeds grew in the stands for years.

Plans to turn the corner of Michgan and Trumbull into some sort of residential/commercial center were sometimes batted about, but never came to fruition. The City of Detroit sold off most of the interior of the ballpark as souvenirs in 2006 and finally completed the years-long demolition on Sept. 21, 2009.

Today, nearly 12 years after the final game and two years exactly since the final bricks were removed, the field is again being used thanks to community volunteers who cleaned up the mess despite Detroit's best efforts to stop them with fences and locks.

Community member Dave Mesrey told National Public Radio in July:

We couldn't stand the sight of six and seven-foot-tall weeds all around the perimeter. So we got together. I organized something last summer called the great Tiger Stadium weed-out.

(Check out Alli's photos from a visit July.)

General Motors, a corporate citizen of the city, through its Chevrolet division had a plan to rebuild the field into a place where children could play the sport of baseball on the same field as Al Kaline, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, or any other player among dozens of Hall of Famers and thousands who rounded the bases and stood on the mound during the 87-year history of baseball at The Corner.

Phil Caruso, of Chevy, to Detroit:

Chevrolet is offering to provide financing and labor (in the form of employee volunteers) to put the field at the site of Tiger Stadium back into playable shape as part of our commitment to revitalizing Detroit and to help support the Tiger Stadium Conservancy's efforts to more fully develop the location. We have had informal discussions with both the Conservancy and the Detroit Tigers and both support our efforts to refurbish the field.

Once the field has been refurbished we'd anticipate the city and/or Conservancy would be responsible for on-going maintenance and any additional element on-site. What we'd provide, frankly, is a new ballpark for Detroit's youth on the site of the city's most hallowed baseball stadium.

Detroit to Chevy: No. Stay away from our abandoned field that we refuse to upkeep.

Detroit never misses the chance to give itself a black eye. For decades, the city has swung its elbows at every offer that might actually benefit the people of Detroit and the Southeast Michigan region.

The city, through the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation that oversees the property the field stands on today, has another plan: Keep holding out hope they can turn the property into condominiums or a Whole Foods store or whatever major retailer decides to move into the city. So they rejected Chevy's vision for The Corner.

Chevy still cares about the city, and will work to build a youth ball field elsewhere.

George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp, in a statement quoted by the Detroit News, seems unfamiliar with the history of the city.

Chevrolet's decision to work with DEGC to find a suitable site for a youth baseball field in Detroit is a win-win for the city.

"Young people will have a new place to play ball, and the city will maintain control of a prime piece of property that in time will generate new investment, new jobs and new economic development to an historic district in Detroit."

In time. Time has not been the issue here. Detroit has had plenty of time.

In time, the field at Tiger Stadium may be home to a Wal-mart or Meijer store's produce section if everything breaks right.

In time, maybe this pettiness will end. In time, maybe the custodians of the city's future will have a vision and will look beyond protecting their crumbled fiefdom. In time, maybe they will realize the city is a national punchline not because of the residents, but because of the leaders who dragged it into the ground and through the mud since the 1970s.

In time, this half-empty city full of abandoned houses, weeded fields and areas of anarchy even the police avoid will figure out that having enough space isn't the issue and has not been for years. In time, maybe the leaders will stop fighting the people who care for the city and volunteer their own time and money to do so. In time, maybe Detroit will honor its history and learn from it, rather than repeating the same mistakes.

George Jackson and the rest of Detroit's decision makers should be ashamed.

In time, maybe they will be.