Detroit development chief who turned Tiger Stadium into empty lot blames baseball lovers for keeping it an empty lot

Today in “Detroit economic development chief George Jackson really, really, REALLY hates Tiger Stadium even though it was demolished five years ago” news:

The top Detroit economic development official accused U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat from Detroit, and a nonprofit group Tuesday of blocking a redevelopment proposal for the Tiger Stadium site by insisting — for nostalgia’s sake — that plans include a baseball park with the same dimensions as those of the demolished field…

George Jackson, CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., told an audience of about 300 business and community leaders Tuesday that the now-scuttled redevelopment plan called for a row of retail stores, the Parade Company’s new headquarters and, to the chagrin of Levin and a nonprofit called the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, a Little League-style field with a shorter outfield and smaller basepaths than those in Tiger Stadium.

“We had a plan that was nixed because we didn’t comply with their need for a center field that no Major League ballpark even has at this point,” Jackson said following a Detroit Economic Club event in the Renaissance Center’s Detroit Marriott.

Conservancy president Thomas Linn denies opposing any plan that didn’t retain Tiger Stadium’s 440-foot center field, and indeed, given the number of alleged development plans for the site that have fallen through, it doesn’t seem like it would have taken a group of preservationists to block this one. But given that Jackson’s resume already includes tearing down the stadium with little notice, rejecting an offer from Chevrolet to maintain the ballfield at no cost to the cityrefusing to let people watch the 2012 World Series on a big screen at the site, and calling a MLB proposal to build a youth baseball academy there a “scam,” I’m guessing a baseball just ran over Jackson’s dog when he was a kid or something.

Detroit economic chief: MLB plan for youth academy on Tiger Stadium site a “scam”

Yesterday I wrote of MLB’s proposal to put an Urban Youth Academy on the former site of Tiger Stadium that it was “not clear whether they’ve talked seriously about it to the city of Detroit.” I was slightly unsure of that, since the Fox Sports article I linked to had MLB VP Darrell Miller saying of local elected officials, “Everyone seems to want to play ball, if you will forgive the overused analogy” — but that seemed a bit hazy, and I know that Detroit development officials have had their own plans for the site, so I figured it might be worth waiting to see if another shoe would drop.

Consider the shoe dropped:

The old Tiger Stadium site is owned by the City of Detroit and controlled by the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. George Jackson, the economic growth corporation’s president, dismissed the MLB academy idea, saying that Miller has no money to make it happen.

“You could almost call it a scam,” Jackson told the Detroit Free Press on Monday afternoon. “He has absolutely no money. … He came to visit us, and when we got down to the brass nuts and the facts and the figures, he disappeared and just reappeared by talking only to politicians.”

Yeah, who the hell is this MLB, acting like they have money to throw around? Clearly some sort of fly-by-night organization that will probably disappear again within a couple of years.

The USA Today story on Jackson’s comments also notes that about $3.7 million in federal money approved by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin when Tiger Stadium was still standing remains left unspent, and can be used to aid development on and around the site. It doesn’t say whether this money would specifically be made available for a youth academy, but Thomas Linn, president of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, is quoted as saying, “I’d still like to do something baseball related on the site. Tiger Stadium is sitting there fallow and growing weeds.” As we’ve seen before, though, Jackson gets what Jackson wants — and so far, he seems to want weeds.

MLB considering Tiger Stadium site for youth academy, but will it displace actual ballfield?

MLB VP Darrell Miller tells Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi that the league is considering the site of Tiger Stadium for a new Urban Youth Academy … along with two other sites. And it’s not clear whether they’ve talked seriously about it to the city of Detroit, which has its own plans for the site, amorphous as they might be.

On the off chance this thing actually happens, an Urban Youth Academy would provide free programs that, according to Morosi, “would host educational support and vocational programs in addition to baseball and softball activities. The complex would include an indoor facility to allow for year-round use.” How that would fit on the Tiger Stadium site, and whether it would work with the layout of the original Tigers diamond, which volunteers from the Navin Field Grounds Crew continue to maintain and play ball on, isn’t addressed in Morosi’s story.

Detroit economic chief: Red Wings arena will take more public money

MLive has an interview up with Detroit economic development czar George Jackson, in which Jackson whines a bunch about the groups that tried to save Tiger Stadium, and are still trying to retain the old stadium site for baseball. (“They didn’t have the wherewithal and capacity to perform what they say they wanted to perform,” says Jackson, which doesn’t explain why he turned down an offer by Chevrolet to maintain the old ballfield for free.) More relevantly, Jackson also has some to say about future plans for a Red Wings arena and for the Tiger Stadium site.

First, on the Red Wings:

We’re going to move; we’re putting the financial pieces together as we speak. So from that standpoint, we’re moving; that’s how this works normally. We’ve got some base funding related to the legislation that was passed in the lame duck session, and now we’ll move on putting those final pieces together – both public and private…

Do we need two arenas (The Joe and a new Red Wings arena)? No. Let’s face it, arena’s don’t exactly make money. The arena (is making some money) with the parking. The one thing about the city is this: If everybody likes you, then that means you’re not doing anything and not getting anything done.

Did you find the actual news, buried Waldo-like in that wad of verbiage? It’s that the $650 million Red Wings arena-and-development plan would require additional public funds on top of the (roughly) $150 million that was approved by the state legislature in December. Jackson didn’t say how much public money, or where it would come from, but saying the remaining funding will be “both public and private” is certainly an indication that the public’s share is only going to rise.

And on the future of the Tiger Stadium site:

We’re working with the Parade Company as we speak, but at the same time the proof is in the pudding. But at the same time, we’re open to a mixed use; we’re open to a compromise. But sometimes these folks (critics of me, those advocates of saving the stadium when it was still up and using it for something else) act like it’s ‘everything we want or nothing.’ It’s kind of like the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives; that’s what I’m getting from some of these critics about Tiger Stadium. I’ve been more than convenient and more than compassionate in regards to realizing their dreams. But also, I also like to keep things real and keep things realistic.

Realism: It’s not what it used to be.

Detroit nixes Tiger Stadium viewing party because that’s what Detroit does

It was a good idea, anyway: Fans of Detroit’s not-quite-all-gone Tiger Stadium organized a viewing party Saturday night where locals could watch Game 3 of the World Series on a 20-foot TV screen, have DJed music between innings, etc. It didn’t happen, though, because city officials decided the event didn’t have the proper permits, including “City Council approval.”

The group Historic Detroit responded with an appropriately pissy Facebook post:

Everyone thought it was a great idea, that is, except for the City of Detroit, which officially pulled the plug on the party this morning, threatening to arrest anyone on the field for trespassing.

That’s right, folks. The same city government that brought you a giant empty field instead of a preserved National Historic Landmark and field for youth baseball has said no one is allowed on the field. Any of the tens of thousands of OTHER vacant, city-owned lots, you’re welcome to prance about on. But not the site of Tiger Stadium. You’ll be arrested for that.

Of course, given the way the Series turned out, Tigers fans are probably glad that they weren’t subjected to this.

If nothing else, the Tigers’ brief appearance in the World Series provided the opportunity for some national media coverage of the history of Tiger Stadium and attempts to preserve the site for baseball (check out Reggie Jackson’s awesome hat in this one). The current city plan is to try to develop the site as anything other than a ballfield as soon as possible, but given that this is Detroit, “as soon as possible” can always mean “never.” In the meantime, volunteers continue to maintain the field and play the occasion pickup game there — check out their Facebook page if you want to get involved.

Fenway Park and Tiger Stadium celebrate birthdays, one from beyond the grave

One hundred years ago today, two ballparks opened that would survive to be among the longest-lived in baseball history. One of them today gets wall-to-wall coverage, though the Boston Globe will only let you read it if you pay them. (Here’s a sampling of another paper’s commemoration of the anniversary, with a nice nod to the “stadium diehards” who helped convince the Red Sox to retain Fenway Park instead of demolishing it.)

The other stadium is remembered today by a photo gallery of what you’ll never see again. No mention of Detroit’s own stadium diehards who kept Tiger Stadium alive for a decade past when ownership wanted it gone, but then, history belongs to the victors.

As a personal note: The two are among my absolutely favorite ballparks that I’ve visited, for very different reasons: Fenway has its bizarre dimensions, the fascination of the Green Monster, and its unique (even for when I was growing up in the 1970s) single-decked structure, though its roof deck has slowly grown to make it more of a 1.5-decked building in recent years. Tiger, meanwhile, had a history even longer than Fenway’s (the site known simply as The Corner had been home to pro baseball since the 19th century), the famous overhang in right field that allowed fans to catch home run balls that otherwise would have landed in outfielders’ gloves, and most of all, an upper deck that was so close to the action that spending one inning there put the lie to claims that “intimacy” is solely the province of new stadiums with high-priced seats right next to the batter’s box.

Here’s what I wrote in 2009 as a judge considered a last-ditch effort to save part of Tiger Stadium from the wrecking ball. The effort failed, and the city of Detroit went ahead and completed demolition (though a band of baseball diehards still cuts the grass and plays pickup games on the old field, against city orders to leave it overgrown and unused). But I’d say the same today: Though Fenway Park (and Wrigley Field) remain historic baseball treasures, something of the baseball experience was lost with Tiger Stadium that will never be regained.

Detroit rejects Chevy offer to maintain Tiger Stadium ballfield for free

The Detroit residents who have been maintaining the baseball diamond at the empty former site of Tiger Stadium — and playing occasional pickup baseball games there — got a big boost last month when Chevrolet offered to underwrite their cleanup efforts … and a big blow yesterday when it was revealed that the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation was rejecting Chevy’s offer because it wants to keep the site vacant for development.

“We’re starting to get major retailers” interested in building downtown, said DEGC president George Jackson, not noting that the Tiger Stadium is the only large vacant downtown parcel available because, well, see for yourself.

In any case, turning down an offer of a free community baseball field — even if temporary — is likely to be yet another huge community relations faux pas for the agency, which has previously refused to meet with U.S. senators to discuss plans for the ballpark site.

“This is a fastball right down the plate, and Detroit looks like it’s swinging at it with a blindfold,” University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor Michael Bernacchi told the Detroit News. “There is no way the city of Detroit wins this battle — in terms of public perception. Their long-term vision of the site has always sounded very reasonable and solid — that they need to find a feasible development. But this sounds like such a reasonable short-term solution by a venerable brand, and they missed it. It’s going to dig, gnaw at that perception out there that the city didn’t do all it could.”

Tiger Stadium gone, but ballplayers are back

The attempt to save Tiger Stadium as an amateur baseball field may have failed, but the site of the historic ballpark is currently in use … as an amateur baseball field:

Every Sunday, people from the city and suburbs come to chop weeds, mow the outfield lawn and pick up trash.

And play a little baseball.

This group has no formal name. They are folks from everyday walks of life who love baseball — and Tiger Stadium.

They’ve made the field playable, and if the city stays out of their way, they’ve got goals of doing more. They want to get rid of the high weeds where the grand stands used to stand guard, and they want to bring in seating and permanent bases.

“I just think it would be nice if there were a little ballpark until a larger project comes along,” said David Merser of St. Clair Shores.

Which, the way things are going, could be forever.

Tiger Stadium scoreboard a fake relic?

There were lots of headlines earlier this week when it was announced that the left-field scoreboard from now-demolished Tiger Stadium had been installed at Wayne State University’s home field. According to Wayne State’s press release:

The scoreboard, installed in 1961, was originally placed at the 440 mark directly at center field, according to the Detroit Historical Society. It was later moved to far left field after many players complained that it was in the batter’s line of sight towards the pitcher.

The City of Detroit and the Detroit Historical Society salvaged over 200 pieces of Tiger Stadium for preservation purposes in October 2007.

Sharp-eyed FoS readers, however, noted that this scoreboard — featuring a complete line score of the game — didn’t appear to be the 1961 original. In this 1986 photo, for example, you can clearly see a different board, featuring the inning, player at-bat, ball, strikes, outs, and runs, but no line score.

There was some speculation that the new board might have been installed for the filming of the movie 61* after the Tigers had moved out, but that doesn’t look to be the case, either. I’ve dug through my own photos and come up with this one, from August 14, 1986, showing the old board:

And this one from April 18, 1997 showing the new one, now at Wayne State:

(Click on the photos to enlarge.)

Clearly, the board the Detroit Historical Society preserved and relocated to Wayne State was installed sometime between 1987 and 1997. So while it’s still a “Tiger Stadium scoreboard,” it’s somewhat less of a historic remembrance of the ballpark built in 1912. One hopes at least they got the right flagpole.

UPDATE: Reader Paul Wiederecht dug up this photo on a Japanese language site dated 1996 that shows the old board. So it looks as if Wayne State’s “historic” scoreboard is only 12 years old, and only served as the Tigers’ scoreboard for three years before the team moved out.