Detroit PAL begins tearing up Tiger Stadium site grass

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
Construction workers use heavy equipment to dig out the field at the former Tiger Stadium site on Monday, June 27, 2016.

Construction crews on Monday began tearing up the outfield and other grass at the old Tiger Stadium site to make way for a Detroit Police Athletic League youth sports stadium.

Russ Russell, Detroit PAL chief advancement officer, said the grass on the lot at the corner of Michigan and Cochrane will all be torn up by the end of the week. Crews on bulldozers and an excavator had a large strip of the field torn out Monday afternoon after a few hours of work.

The Willie Horton Field of Dreams will be an artificial turf field when the site reopens. Grass would have gotten torn up too easily and been too hard to maintain with the number of events PAL hopes to schedule at the stadium, officials have said.

PAL aims to open the $20 million, 2,500-seat stadium by next June, Russell said Monday. He stopped by the site to check on the excavation.

Detroit PAL broke ground at the site in April. Though bulldozers were supposed to be on the site in early June, Russell said pushing back the excavation slightly won’t hurt their schedule.

By July, he expects to have about 150 construction workers on the site laying the foundation for the field and stadium. “You’ll see some pretty dramatic changes,” he said.

The stadium will house PAL offices, a banquet center and a sort of hall of fame once it’s finished. Russell said the stadium will give the 13,000 children participating in PAL programs a flashy new field to play on.

Russell said Monday the field won’t become the only place PAL teams play. All of the fields the organization currently activates throughout Detroit will still be used.

He estimated around 50 percent of programming at the new facility will be from PAL teams. The rest will come from rentals, banquets and college games that PAL will rent out the facility for. PAL also plans to hold concerts at the facility.

“You got to make money,” Russell said. “A lot of other uses will draw people into the stadium (and) create revenue.”

Russell’s organization is still raising money for the facility. He said they’ve raised about $14 million of the $20 million they need.

The project coincides with a $33 million mixed-use development on the same block at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, which hasn’t been started.

Tiger Stadium was demolished in 2009, leaving the field open and overgrown until the Navin Field Ground Crew, a group of volunteers, stepped in to maintain the field. The group has vocalized disdain for PAL’s plan for artificial turf.

The Detroit Tigers left Tiger Stadium in 1999. The diamond opened as Navin Field in 1912.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau