Deal paves way for Pontiac Silverdome demolition

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The long-vacant Pontiac Silverdome, the former go-to destination for sport events, concerts, even appearances by the King of Rock and a pope, is set to be razed under a deal reached between its owners and the city, officials announced Tuesday.

A consent agreement entered Tuesday in Pontiac’s 50th District Court followed negotiations between the city and Triple Investment Group LLC, which since 2009 has owned the property, long considered an eyesore. The agreement follows complaints by the city about alleged building, safety and zoning codes violations.

The owners still are seeking to develop the site, representatives said Tuesday.

“As we say goodbye to an iconic place that was the setting for so many great memories, we put in place new development opportunities for one of the most unique properties in our nation,” Andreas Apostolopoulos, CEO of Triple Investment Group, said in a statement.

Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman hailed the measure as a push to help the city move forward.

“Like TIG, the city is committed to working with developers and achieving the best economic value for this property, as Pontiac continues its economic revitalization,” she said.

Opened in 1975 at a cost to taxpayers of $55.7 million, the Silverdome had a storied history: hosting the Pistons for about a decade and the Detroit Lions from 1975-2001.

It was where, on New Year’s Eve 1975, Elvis split his jumpsuit pants in front of more than 60,000 fans and where, in 1987, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass. Months before, WrestleMania attracted a 93,173-strong crowd, then the largest recorded attendance for a live indoor sporting event in North America.

The stadium has lain dormant since the Lions left for Detroit’s Ford Field in 2002 and has since fallen into disrepair.

In 2009, a state-appointed emergency manager auctioned the nearly 130-acre site near M-59 and Interstate 75 as the city sought to shed its costly properties.

Fred Leeb, who approved the sale, has said that the Silverdome’s cost to taxpayers through the years factored in the city’s dire financial straits before the state took over its finances in 2009. Upkeep of the facility cost about $1.5 million to $1.6 million annually.

Triple Investment Group purchased the site for $583,000, or about 1 percent of its original cost. The company eventually tried to sell the site for $30 million, but when nothing materialized, officials in 2015 announced demolition plans, possibly to spur development.

Apostolopoulos noted Tuesday the property “continues to be in a transition phase, but we are more committed than ever to working with potential users, developers, brokers and investors. We have entertained many great ideas and look forward to hearing and evaluating many more.”

Flattening the famous stadium means eliminating an eyesore, Waterman said. “The Silverdome is part of the glorious past. We enjoyed all the sports games that were played there. But it is time now for it to be demolished. It has been a sorrowful picture for the residents of Pontiac to see this once glorious structure in its present condition.”

The Silverdome has sported its share of problems over the years. Weeds crept through cracks in the concrete within a few years of the Lions leaving. Its inflatable dome fell after a 2013 snowstorm.

Waterman, who has backed a tax break plan designed to spur redevelopment projects across the state, recently told state legislators the stadium functions as the world’s largest bird bath.

The latest agreement arose after the city filed for nuisance abatement in February. Complaints had been filed with 50th District Court after part of the parking lot was used to store Volkswagen cars during the automaker’s U.S. emissions scandal.

That launched negotiations between Triple Investment Group and Pontiac, which led to setting demolition terms in the decision Judge Rhonda Gross signed Tuesday.

The pact calls for TIG to pick a certified demolition contractor before May 12. The contractor must submit a permit application including a complete scope of the work plan and demolition start date by June 9.

Meanwhile, the group does not have to pay fines, penalties or fees tied to the city’s legal action for nuisance abatement before a June 14 hearing addressing their compliance with the agreement. If Triple Investment hasn’t violated the pact, the tickets and motion to abate will be dismissed, according to the filing.

The cars that sparked the complaints can stay as long as the stadium owners comply with the judgment and “the parking and storage of vehicles does not adversely impact the health, safety and welfare of the citizens.”

The agreement also requires “ongoing security and safety measures, regular meetings regarding development efforts and city oversight of demolition activities,” said J. Travis Mihelick, the attorney for Pontiac.

“There were difficulties and challenges, but in the interest of the greater good, we all chose to reach across the table, work together, rather than pound on it,” said J. Patrick Lennon, a lawyer with Honigman, Miller, Schwartz & Cohn, who is representing the Silverdome owners. “The judgment is the result of those efforts and not only establishes the rules for the transition phase but also positions the property for the future.”