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The Detroit Tigers almost had a domed stadium

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A fun little historical “What if?” for you.

HOUSTON’s SKYLINE AND TRAFFIC Photo by Paul S. Howell

Welcome to the TigerDome? It isn’t as farfetched as you might imagine. Once upon a time, there were whispers of a new Tiger Stadium that would have featured a dome. One eagle-eyed history buff shared the throwback newspaper article on Twitter and it got us wondering about this would-be TigerDome. Anyone who lived in Detroit in the mid-60s to early 70s may recall the stadium plan as well.

Everyone knows, of course, that the Tigers played at old Tiger Stadium from 1912 until 1999 (if we want to be pedantic, they played at the location of old Tiger Stadium starting in 1896, but let’s go with official dates). From the 2000 season onward, they have played at Comerica Park, situated in the heart of downtown Detroit, a literal stone’s throw from the Lions’ home stadium, Ford Field. But once upon a time the Lions and Tigers shared home turf.

From 1938 to 1974, old Tiger Stadium was home to both the Tigers and Lions, something that the Lions, in particular, did not enjoy especially as the popularity of football blossomed. So with the Lions eager for a bigger venue, and old Tiger Stadium feeling just that, old, by the 1960s, the Tigers began looking at new options for a fancier home to call their own.

Now, before we scorn the idea of a domed stadium, it’s important to remember the era this was taking place in. The space race was on in the 60s, which would culminate in the 1969 moon landing, and retro-futurism was all the rage. The Houston Astros opened the Astrodome in 1965, and the New Orleans Superdome opened in 1971. Domes were the popular new stadium format of the era.

The plan, which was all but certain in 1972, was to create a new multi-use facility for the Tigers and Lions with a retractable dome ceiling. The owners of both teams were hoping to draw in bigger crowds—up to 60,000 for football games—and also rejuvenate the Detroit downtown, but they weren’t looking to the current home of both stadiums. The suggested location, which you can see below if you expand the image, was to be an 80-acre development on the shore of the Detroit River.

This version of the new Tigers/Lions stadium would be a mecca for shopping, dining, outdoor park space, and even hotels. While it sounded idyllic and actually looked very cool in the renderings, the dream of a new 1970s sports mega-space was not to be.

In spite of things looks so certain that the new stadium was heavily featured in the 1972 Tiger yearbook, ground was never broken on the new stadium project. So what happened? Well, it all comes down to politics and money, as these things usually do. The Michigan Supreme court caught wind of the $126 million of taxpayer money earmarked for the project and ruled it unconstitutional.

The Lions moved to the Silverdome in 1975. The Tigers hung around at Michigan and Trumbull until 1999, and that sweet riverfront location? The Joe Louis arena ended up there in 1979. Ultimately the three stadiums would be in walking distance of each other, creating a sporting heart to the city, but we never got to see what a TigerDome would look like, and I, for one, am a little disappointed.

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