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Remaining part of stadium to be razed

6/2/2009 - MLB Detroit Tigers

DETROIT -- What remains of historic Tiger Stadium will be demolished after the city rejected a $33.4 million proposal by a nonprofit group to preserve and renovate the old ballpark.

The Economic Development Corp. board voted 7-1 on Tuesday to authorize the complete demolition of the stadium.

Detroit Economic Growth Corp. vice president Waymon Guillebeaux said the stadium will be leveled as soon as a contract is negotiated with a contractor.

"We cannot have a partially demolished building remaining indefinitely," Guillebeaux told The Associated Press.

Gary Gillette, a leader of the group trying to save the stadium, blasted the vote as "shortsighted" and vowed to fight.

"We are obviously going to do everything we can -- including calling on all of our friends and supporters -- to try to get this decision reversed," said Gillette, board member and secretary of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy.

Tiger Stadium opened in 1912 as Navin Field. The Detroit Tigers departed for nearby Comerica Park after the 1999 season.

The first demolition began at the end of June 2008, and much of the stadium was torn down by fall.

But the Detroit City Council voted 5-3 last October to spare -- for the time being -- the remaining wedge of ballpark in the city's Corktown neighborhood. Council members said at the time they wanted to give the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy more time to raise funds for a proposed redevelopment of the site.

The group submitted a plan this year to renovate the stadium into a commercial building, with a working ballfield for youth and amateur baseball. The project had an estimated price tag of $33.4 million, much of which would be covered by historical and other tax credits. A $3.8 million federal earmark also was approved for the project.

"In terms of some of their plans, they met our approval," Guillebeaux said. "The biggest issue was the funding. There were some matters as to how they were going to fund it, whether they were going to receive certain tax credits. ... It was the financial milestones largely that had not been met."

Guillebeaux said the conservancy's plan relied on proposals to raise funding rather than money, loans and credits already in hand. He noted the group was given several extensions on deadlines last fall and this spring.

Messages seeking comment were left with conservancy officials.

Guillebeaux said negotiations already are under way with the two Detroit-area companies that carried out last year's partial demolition.

Demolishing the rest of the stadium likely will cost the city about $400,000, with $300,000 covered by money put up by the conservancy in advance, in case their plans for the site were rejected or fell through, he said.