Editorial: Find a new life for the Silverdome

The Detroit News

As far as eyesores go, the Pontiac Silverdome is in the hunt for top honors. It has decayed since the Detroit Lions moved out in 2002; its innovative fabric roof is gone and it’s beyond the point of no return as a sports facility.

The owner of the once publicly-owned stadium has it on the market for a reported asking price of $30 million, a 500 percent premium over the $583,000 the Toronto-based company paid at public auction in 2009.

Perhaps a rotting domed stadium — minus its dome — and the surrounding 127 acres can command such a price. That’s not for us to say. But it seems unlikely.

And while the owners are bearing all the cost and risk, Oakland County would benefit if the Silverdome site were put to productive use, rather than sit as a speculator’s prop.

Taxpayers have already been fleeced by the Silverdome’s failure. Pontiac, which was in emergency management when the Silverdome was sold, poured millions into the stadium, as did the state of Michigan, and recovered very little of that investment.

The parcel should have been sold with a development agreement, but because the local government was in such crisis at the time, it didn’t happen.

And so the Silverdome sits.

“The Silverdome site is in a perfect area to be part of the county’s Emerging Sectors Program,” says Matt Gibb, deputy Oakland County executive, of Oakland’s initiative to attract knowledge-based companies. “But even if we use every tool available, the numbers don’t work.”

Gibb, who is in charge of development, says the owner is asking too much for the property and he doesn’t expect a sale at that price, particularly since a new owner would also have to bear the cost of demolition, which could be an additional $15 million.

The county has had some success in reclaiming challenging properties. Just up the road from the Silverdome, the former Showcase Theater complex was folded into the Emerging Sectors Program and now is home to GKN, a British global automotive company with 360 employees.

Gibb says Oakland hopes to work with the Silverdome owners to help find a new owner and new use for the site, but unless a more realistic view is taken of its value, that’s not likely.

“If we want to see something happen, we need to see all parties get realistic on the costs,” he says. “If they could set aside their grandiose vision of what’s there, then we could make some real progress.”

Hopefully, that will happen, and quickly. But until then, the Silverdome will stand as another reminder that publicly funded sports complexes have a shelf life that make them a very high-risk investment for taxpayers.