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Crews continue tearing stadium apart

6/8/2009 - MLB Detroit Tigers

DETROIT -- Part of Tiger Stadium's upper deck came crashing down Monday, nearly a decade after the final major league game there and hours after a judge refused to stop the historic ballpark's demolition.

Crews used a backhoe to tear away chunks of the upper deck along the former third-base line, causing debris to rain down as dozens of people gathered nearby to witness the destruction of a stadium that opened in 1912 as Navin Field and hosted professional baseball for 87 years.

Work resumed shortly after Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards rejected a request by the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy to issue an injunction preventing demolition of the stadium. He also lifted a temporary restraining order issued Friday afternoon that had halted work begun earlier in the day.

Edwards agreed with attorneys for the city, which owns the stadium, that the nonprofit group likely can't raise the funds for a proposed $33.4 million redevelopment project.

"It appears here that the plaintiff has been given every opportunity to succeed with this project," Edwards said after about an hour of arguments, but the conservancy has "simply failed to come up with the requisite funding."

The conservancy won't appeal the decision and has exhausted its legal options to stop demolition, said Thomas Linn, the group's president.

Mayor Dave Bing also signaled he would not intervene to save the stadium, saying in a statement that he would "honor" the judge's decision, though he was "sensitive to the concerns of those who wish to preserve" the ballpark.

"It's profoundly sad to me. It's almost like a funeral," Linn said, standing on a pedestrian bridge near the stadium as equipment and workers moved around on the site.

Leveling what's left of the structure will take 30 days and crews will remain onsite for an additional 30-60 days to handle cleanup, according to the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. The city of Detroit is paying $400,000 to a joint venture of MCM Management Corp. of Bloomfield Hills and Farrow Group of Detroit to handle the project. The demolition contract also allows the companies to sell the remaining portion of the stadium for scrap.

The Tigers departed for Comerica Park after the 1999 season. Much of the stadium was torn down last summer, but a section extending roughly from dugout to dugout was left standing while the conservancy sought to put together financing to redevelop the partially destroyed ballpark as a commercial building with a field for youth and amateur baseball.

The city's Economic Development Corp. board voted 7-1 last Tuesday to reject the plan, saying the financing wasn't in place.

Michael Myckowiak, attorney for the conservancy, argued in court Monday that the group should be given more time to raise money, saying it has paid for security at the site through the end of June.

But Frederick Berg, attorney for the EDC, said the conservancy had been given plenty of time but simply didn't come up with the tax credits, loans and other financing necessary for the redevelopment project.

"They don't have them today, they won't have them tomorrow and it's not likely that they're going to have them any time soon," Berg said, and the judge agreed.

Leaders of efforts to save the stadium expressed disappointment and said demolition is being rushed before they've had a fair shot at raising money for the project.

"Every major development project in the city of Detroit is behind schedule or many have been canceled," said Gary Gillette, a conservancy board member. "... I want to know why we're the ones singled out, that when we're behind schedule because of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, we have to be killed off with a bullet to the head in the middle of the night -- or in the morning at the EDC meeting -- while other people are continuing to work with the city."