Silverdome still stands; implosion goes awry

James David Dickson, and Candice Williams

Pontiac —  A partial implosion of the long dormant Silverdome on Sunday fizzled due to technical issues before a gathering of thousands who came to watch the iconic venue fall.

Shortly after 8:30 a.m., puffs of smoke from explosives emerged from the structure that once housed sports teams, featured Elvis and even a pope. The explosion that was to bring down the upper ring of the 400,000-square-foot structure did not happen.

"I'm a little disappointed," said Jessica Landino. She came from Algonac with her children Michael Gibson Jr., 11, and Riley Landino, 7, picking up her mother in Rochester along the way. Landino had no specific memories of the Silverdome but had come to see a spectacle.

"My reaction is: Boo," Gibson said. He initially offered a 1 out of 10 for the experience, but bumped it up to a 3, "because of the sound."

Rick Cuppetilli, executive vice president of the demolition company Adamo Group, said technical issues left the stadium at Interstate 75 standing — for now.

“The main eight columns that actually were the ones that would trip the structure, we don’t know if the cord was detonated or cut,” said Cuppetilli, “We don’t know it didn’t detonate. It’s not coming down right now. Believe it or not, that bang was the soft one. The cutting charges are on the eight main columns and they did not go off.”

The city of Pontiac has said the implosion Sunday was only the beginning of a yearlong process.

After the implosion glitch, spectators stood at their watch sites, some still recording on their phones, others asking "is this it?"

But Jeff Bowdell, who is overseeing the Silverdome demolition for the city, had warned days ahead that people viewing the implosion would likely think it was a bust.

"This is going to anti-climactic," Bowdell said last week. "This isn't going to be like the Georgia Dome or the Hudson's building. That's not what's going to happen. That's not what's been approved."

City officials could not immediately be reached Sunday.

"One minute," said Tim Wallace, phone in hand, starting the countdown to what was to be the beginning of the Silverdome's end. A minute later, the implosion he'd come from Waterford to see was over. Outside of about three seconds of noise, nothing changed at the site.

"You've got to be (kidding) me," Wallace said. "That's it?"

After two decades as a Detroit Lions season ticket holder, after watching the Silverdome rot for years since the Lions left following the 2001 NFL season, Wallace thought it only right he pay his final respects to the building. Afterward, he lamented the lack of finality to it. The Pistons played there too from 1978-88.

"It's still there!" he said.

Twitter users responded with mockery and it didn't take long: "Epic demolition fail trying to take down old Pontiac Silverdome. Ummm... more dynamite please!"

Another found a way to link two sports-related themes: "I don’t know what’s a bigger bomb. The Silverdome fail or the Wings effort last night."

The Silverdome opened in 1975 and cost $55.7 million. It has featured performances from Elvis on New Year’s Eve 1975 and Pope John Paul II in 1987. It was the site of the largest recorded attendance for a live indoor sporting event at the time when WrestleMania III attracted a crowd of 93,173 in 1987. In 1994, it hosted indoor matches for the World Cup.

“There were a lot of great times there,” said Crystal Williams, a publicity coordinator for the demolition. “People remember all the fun they had there.”

The nearly 130-acre site fell into disrepair after the Lions left for Ford Field in 2002. It lost its inflatable dome after a snowstorm and was referred to as the “world’s largest bird bath.”

Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman and city officials have long been working with Triple Investment Group, owners of the site since 2009, to clear the stadium. Officials in 2015 announced demolition plans after the investment group failed to sell the site for $30 million.

Without the blighted structure, the 127 acres of land, with the M-59 freeway to the south and Interstate 75 to the east, is attractive, Waterman said.

“It’s very valuable in terms of its location and its placement not only to the city but in Oakland County as well,” she said.