Wayne County grants $850K to renovate Negro League ballpark in Hamtramck

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Hamtramck — One of the last remaining Negro League ballparks received a boost in its renovation efforts Thursday when Wayne County awarded Hamtramck Stadium an $850,000 grant.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans proposed the grant, and the Wayne County Commission approved it.

The grant will contribute toward the stadium's $2.6 million renovation, which will breathe life into  a facility out of use since the 1990s. There was talk in the 2000s that the stadium would be torn down. 

An artist's rendering of what a renovated Hamtramck Stadium would look like.

But history proved to be the facility's saving grace. Now, renovations are expected to start later this summer, and the stadium's new life will begin by year's end.

It's when Hamtramck Stadium appeared to be consigned to history that Gary Gillette, president of the Detroit Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, dug deep into that history.

He found that Hamtramck Stadium occupied a unique place in baseball, Detroit and American history. It was one of the few facilities custom-built for a Negro League team, the Detroit Stars. At least 17 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame played at Hamtramck Stadium.

Gary Gillette and the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium has long advocated for the preservation and repair of the Hamtramck stadium.

Gillette founded a group called Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium and formed a partnership with city officials to ensure the site and its history were preserved.

The stadium was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. A state historical marker was dedicated at the site in 2014.

The stadium was built for the Detroit Stars in 1930.

"Hamtramck Stadium is hallowed ground, essential to both Black history and baseball history," Evans said in a statement. "I am thrilled that we are restoring Hamtramck Stadium to its former glory so that the next generation of Hamtramck and Detroit young people can learn to love this game on the same field where legends like Turkey Stearnes, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson once roamed."

Many partners contributed to the $2.6 million renovation costs. They include the Detroit Tigers Foundation, which is under Ilitch Charities, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium, Michigan Municipal League Foundation, the Hamtramck Parks Conservancy, and the National Park Service.

A portion of Hamtramck Stadium, home field of the Detroit Stars in 1930-31, 1933 and 1937, still stands. The stadium also was the home of the Detroit Wolves of the short-lived Negro East-West League in 1932.

“We are proud to play a role in revitalizing this ballpark, which is deeply rooted in baseball greatness and historical significance," Christopher Ilitch, chairman and CEO of the Detroit Tigers, said in a statement. 

Gillette, who batted lead-off in the effort to save the stadium, added: “The history of Hamtramck Stadium and the Negro Leagues is an integral part of the history of both Detroit and Hamtramck, and the rehabilitation of the grandstand will make that history accessible."

DMC Consultants, a Detroit-based contractor, will carry out the renovation work.