Key approval given to Tiger Stadium plans

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — Plans to develop the vacant Tiger Stadium land took a big step forward Tuesday as two proposals — one driven by the nonprofit Detroit Police Athletic League, and the other a private plan to bring retail and residences to the fabled Corktown site — won key city approval.

It's the first time in years that a vision for the city-owned land appears to have widespread support among preservationists, developers and Detroit economic officials. One plan preserves the baseball diamond and will allow youths to play on the historic grounds; the other vows to listen to community needs when deciding which retailers to attract around it.

"This is the best Christmas and Hanukkah present our city has had in a long time," said Thomas Linn, president of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, a nonprofit that's been involved in the years-long effort to find a new life for the 91/2 acre site. The group was among many who wanted to preserve the former Major League Baseball stadium after the Detroit Tigers left for Comerica Park in 1999. But city officials maintained the plans never made financial sense, and so the stadium started to be demolished in 2008.

Since then, rhetoric between preservationists and city officials occasionally got ugly. Meanwhile, volunteer groups such as the Navin Field Grounds Crew kept the empty site in solid condition, including the baseball diamond.

Everyone was on the same team at the Tuesday board meeting of the Economic Development Corp. A $33 million plan by Larson Realty Group of Bloomfield Hills was given the green light to proceed. Larson was among the two developers who were finalists for the project.

Larson's plan, called The Corner, includes a four-story building along Michigan Avenue with about 30,000 square feet of retail and 102 residential rental units. Along Trumbull Avenue, 24 town homes are planned for sale. They are intended to be an homage to the historic row houses of Corktown.

A rendering of The Corner and Michigan and Trumbull.

"We have worked closely with key stakeholders to understand the priorities of the community," said Eric Larson, president and CEO of Larson Realty. "That's why this is such an exciting project, we have assembled a great team." Partners include Rossetti Architects, Heritage Development and Stokas Bieiri Real Estate.

The group is committed to a goal of getting at least 30 percent of Detroit businesses involved. Up to 20 percent of the residential units may be slated for affordable housing, which translates to buyers who earn about 80 percent of the annual median local income. Larson also will include a crowdfunding approach for part of its financing, to allow many individuals to invest.

On the public side, the $11 million plan being lead by Detroit PAL, along with the Tiger Stadium Conservancy, will preserve the baseball diamond mainly for youth leagues and build a new PAL headquarters at the site. A Kansas City, Missouri, design firm, Pendulum Studios, has been hired to restore the diamond and add a gated entry, scoreboard, dugouts and seats for 2,500 spectators.

"You will really know you are in the old Tiger Stadium," said Tim Richey, CEO of Detroit PAL, which serves about 12,000 youths.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, praised the deal Tuesday. In 2009, Levin secured $3.8 million in federal historic preservation funding to aid redevelopment of the site.

"This is terrific news for all of us who sought to preserve the Tiger Stadium diamond as a magnet for youth sports, and for redevelopment of the site as a magnet for economic activity that will boost the surrounding neighborhood," Levin said in a written statement.

Each of the plans have a ways to go before becoming reality. Both need to raise millions and further city approval is needed, including a City Council vote. If things go as planned, the projects may be completed in 2017.

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