September 1, 2009 at 11:37 am

Laura Berman: Tiger Stadium in limbo

Permit issue fouls up Tiger Stadium demolition again

The half-demolished elevator shaft looms over the rubble of Tiger Stadium on Monday. The rest of the stadium should be torn down by Oct. 1. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

You wouldn't want Ty Cobb to see the stadium now.

Old Glory still flies in Tiger Stadium's center field, surrounded by foothills of concrete and twisted steel, shards of scrunched up plastic.

The half-gutted carcass of an elevator shaft looms high over the rubble, bearing witness to incomplete destruction, bureaucratic folly, bad timing and the near-total failure of love to fix any of it.

All work stopped weeks ago, without public explanation, amid territorial negotiations between state and city officials over the final tear-down.

"Doesn't it just look like s***?" says Joe Stefanski, inelegantly but to the point. He had a ticket to Monday's Tigers game and tailgated first in the parking lot behind Nemo's. From there, he and friends had a view of The Corner -- a view that once inspired awe and reverence but now evokes horror, sadness and a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach.

"Depressing," says Tigers fan Dan Fay of Royal Oak, wearing his ball cap.

"It's an eyesore," says Wayne Williams, who guards the parking lot and, at night, what's left of the stadium.

By comparison, the Michigan Central Depot, now an international monument to urban neglect, looks tidy.

This demolition that should have taken three months, or four, is now into its 14th stop-and-start month. It's currently on hold.

"It looks worse now than when it was vacant and standing in one piece," says Brent Harbaugh, a tailgater Monday, whose shaded view through dark sunglasses didn't lessen his sadness.

Lay blame wherever. On the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation for insisting on tearing it down. On the dedicated fans and interests who filed suit, successfully for a while, to halt demolition. Blame Ernie Harwell, whose own legend equals the stadium's, and whose support for preservation kept hope alive.

But that controversy is over. What remains is the wrecking-ball business of knocking the stadium down and clearing the site.

So what's the holdup?

That last hideous, half-devoured tower is perilously close to Michigan Avenue. Permission was required from the state to partially close the street, which is a federal highway. There were issues about barrel alignment and liability.

"We have the permit now," says George W. Jackson Jr., the stadium-weary development chief. Had the stadium been torn down 14 months ago, as planned, the demolition company would have paid the city for the privilege of reusing the bricks, the concrete and steel that once held the stadium together. Instead, the high prices of steel and concrete collapsed late last summer, and the city's now coughing up $400,000 to complete the job.

The road closure permit was another -- maybe final? -- setback.

"It was back and forth for a couple of weeks," says Robert Morosi, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

But the permit was issued Thursday, and the contract calls for the demolition to be complete by Oct. 1.

"The rubble is going," promises Jackson. "We aren't going to leave it like that."

"Please don't," would be the response from the pregame crowd at Nemo's. Nobody treats their loved ones like that.

Laura Berman's column runs Tuesday and Thursday in Metro. lberman@detnews.com">lberman@detnews.com (313) 222-2032

Paint peels off a ballpark logo. Demolition was held up while city ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
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