Demolition of Pontiac Silverdome to begin in spring ’16

Candice Williams and Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit Lions running back Billy Sims galloped for huge gains and high-stepped in the end zone, Elvis split his jumpsuit pants before more than 60,000 on New Year’s Eve 1975 and WrestleMania in 1987 hit its apex before a frenzied crowd of 93,173 — then the largest recorded attendance for a live indoor sporting event in North America. Months later, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass.

The Pontiac Silverdome, once the home of the Detroit Lions with its innovative inflatable roof, was for decades a destination for pop culture and special events. Now, the hulking stadium, dormant for years and once “sapping the lifeblood of the city,” will be demolished after the property failed to sell for its $30 million asking price, the property broker said Thursday.

“There are plans to begin demolition on the Silverdome in the spring of 2016,” said Kristie King, a broker with CBRE, representing property owner Triple Investment Group.

Once the stadium is leveled, the developer’s plans for the site includes stores, offices, a hotel and light manufacturing, said City Council Pro Tem Mary Pietila said. The plans are expected to be unveiled Friday during Oakland County’s second annual One Stop Ready Community Showcase in Waterford Township, when developers, investors, brokers and businesses seek available parcels.

David White, director of special projects for Triple Investment Group, said “this has been about a year and a half in the works to figure out the best use for the land” and was prompted by market needs.

“In conjunction with talking to our planners and our professionals and doing our market research, we decided that this was the best use for the area and best use for our site and had the best economic impact for the community around,” he said Thursday night.

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Triple Investment Group, a Michigan-based company led by a Canadian developer, bought the 127-acre site in 2009 for $583,000 at auction from Pontiac’s emergency financial manager as the city sought to get rid of its costly, city-owned properties. At the time, the company had a vision for hosting professional soccer games at the stadium.

Those with ties to the city welcomed the razing as a positive step for the prime property along M-59 near Interstate 75 that the city is eager to return to the tax rolls.

“It’s just now a blight and it’s bringing down property values and perceptions of the city, so we would support the demolition of that facility at this point,” said Kyle Westberg, president and CEO of West Construction Services, which has developed properties downtown.

“We feel that the land and the location is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in all of Oakland County. It’s a great opportunity for a redevelopment for a mixed use development project.”

Built in 1975 with $55.7 million in Pontiac taxpayers’ money, the venue once served as home to the Lions and the Pistons. In 2002, the Lions paid the city $26 million to break its contract and move to the newly built Ford Field in downtown Detroit later that year.

The Silverdome quickly descended into decline, though it sporadically hosted sporting and other events. Through the years, the city rejected offers as high as $18.5 million for the stadium.

Andreas Apostolopoulos of Triple Properties bought the Silverdome in 2009 in an auction for $583,000, which is about 1 percent of its original cost. He was the sole bidder.

Pontiac’s former emergency manager who approved the sale, Fred Leeb, said in his resignation letter in 2010 that the Silverdome’s cost to taxpayers through the years played a role in the city’s dire financial straits. Upkeep of the facility cost about $1.5 million to $1.6 million a year. Many in the city had long over-estimated its value, Leeb wrote, “even though it had been sapping the lifeblood of the city for many years.”

During the past 18 months, items from inside the facility including scoreboards, pretzel warmers, press box cameras — were auctioned off. This year, a urinal from the Pontiac Silverdome autographed by Lions legendary running back Barry Sanders went up for sale on eBay.

It’s not a done deal, though, White said. The Silverdome’s fate is not necessarily sealed.

“Tomorrow someone could come along and say, ‘No, we want to use the dome just as it is to refurbish it.’ Then we’d love to look at that and maybe see how that fits in with our overall master plan for the community,” he said Thursday night. “But as of today, and as of our market analysis, it will be demolished.”

City Council members are excited that an eyesore could be removed, Pietila said. “We have been asking that to come down for years. It’s a good thing. ... Something has to be done with that property. We need to get rid of that deteriorating building.”

There has been a lot of interest in the property that will only increase once the Silverdome is gone, said Bob Waun, an area developer.

“It’s such a prime piece of property,” said Waun, who is vice president of business development for Core Partners and involved in efforts to revitalize downtown Pontiac. “That’s probably the best intersection in Oakland County as far as traffic flow.”

“It’s on everybody’s radar,” he said. “When we think of Pontiac, that’s a very important property. We’d like to see something great happen with it.”

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Silverdome history

1973: Pontiac taxpayers finance $55.7 million to build the 80,000-seat Silverdome on 127 acres.

Aug. 23, 1975: Silverdome opens. Detroit Lions beat Kansas City Chiefs 27-24.

Sept. 18, 1987: Pope John Paul II celebrates Mass.

1994: Hosted four first-round games of the soccer World Cup.

Jan. 6, 2002: Detroit Lions beat Dallas Cowboys 15-10 in their last home game there before moving.

November 2002: Three companies make bids for the Silverdome.

Nov. 16, 2009: Triple Properties bids $583,000 for the Silverdome.

Source: Detroit News research