Retractable roof for Ford Field remains in play

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Ford Field is home of the Detroit Lions and the proposed venue for a Detroit MLS team.

Detroit — Lions president Rod Wood said Monday that the consideration of a retractable roof for Ford Field will continue, amid signs that another potential bidder may attempt to use an NFL stadium as a venue.

“It’s never been done, to add a retractable roof to a domed stadium,” Wood said during an interview on WJR-AM, which holds the broadcasting rights to the team's games.

“All of the retractable roofs in the country have either been part of the original construction or have been added to an open-air stadium; U.S. Open, Wimbledon.

“Those have less complications, because of the weather issues. They’ve been open and experienced it.”

Wood has said the impact of exposing the interior of the closed space at Ford Field is something that must be understood.

Suddenly, things designed to be indoors would be outdoors.

“We’re still in the feasibility study,” said Wood, who indicated two weeks ago that he would say something more definitive about the possibility of retractable roof that, he said, is expected to cost tens-to-hundreds of millions of dollars.

“There’s a lot of issues, and it’s not just the time and effort of putting the retractable roof on.

“It’s what it does to the stadium to introduce things we’ve never had in the stadium, like sun and wind and humidity and birds, perhaps, flying in, that we need to understand before we commit to something."

More: Retractable roof finally opens up in Atlanta

The Detroit bid for MLS expansion is spearheaded by Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers; Tom Gores, owner of the Pistons; and Martha Firestone Ford, owner of the Lions.

Gilbert and Gores originally proposed a stadium on the construction site of a Wayne County jail.

But they later abandoned the proposal and approached Ford and the Lions about providing the venue. Their approach to MLS touts the attractions of the central sports and entertainment area.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said their decision to abandon the stadium, which would have been designed specifically for soccer, hurt the bid.

The league prefers outdoor soccer stadiums.

But other priorities stated by Garber and MLS officials include owners with deep pockets, big media markets and venues within walkable city centers.

The Detroit bid brings much to the table, but several possible competitors in the next round of MLS expansion would likely bid with soccer stadiums.

A possible exception is in North Carolina.

David Tepper, a billionaire hedge fund founder and president of Appaloosa Management, purchased the Panthers in May. He raised the possibility of bidding on an MLS franchise, with Bank of America Stadium as the venue, in early public statements.

And Tepper has discussed the possibility of other new developments, including the need to renovate the NFL stadium and to provide a better practice field and facilities.

A retractable roof also has been a thought in North Carolina over the years. But it has long sounded like an expensive pipe dream.

“But a retractable roof costs so much to retrofit over an existing stadium that this is simply not going to happen,” The Charlotte Observer reported last week.

Arn Tellem, the vice-chairman of the Pistons who is spearheading the MLS expansion effort on behalf of Gores, said Ford Field is the only site the bidders will consider.

They are continuing to talk with MLS about developing the best possible use of the NFL stadium for a soccer pitch, and for staging the kind of experience the league is intent on providing.

“We’re working with that ownership group on possible modifications of Ford Field that could, perhaps, make that city more MLS ready than it is today,” Garber said after MLS waited six months to award a franchise to Cincinnati, with the Detroit bid on the table.

MLS originally said it would announce two more expansion franchises in 2018. But the timing is now unclear.

“There is no better location for a stadium in MLS than Ford Field,” Tellem said in an interview last month with The Detroit News.

“The most successful franchise are the ones that are situated in the core, the heart of the city. And the teams that have struggled are the ones in the ‘burbs.

“It’s not so much about the size of a stadium or the purpose of a stadium, it’s about location; it’s really what is the most determining factor.”