In a recent budget address to Detroit’s City Council, Mayor
Kwame Kilpatrick preached the virtues of selling city-owned property. "I am
pleased to inform you," exclaimed Kilpatrick, "that to date, we have sold or
have commitments to purchase $36 million in [city-owned] property. This year we
are developing whole new strategies, including bundling of properties as well as
looking at the assets of city government that can be sold and placed back on the
He’s right. The best thing the city of Detroit can do with
its massive hoard of property (more than 40,000 parcels at last count) is sell
it. The city could do even more to shed such assets. It could, for instance,
minimize hurdles to privatization by removing unnecessary and expensive
bureaucratic obstacles to acquisition. Case-in-point: Tiger Stadium.
For the past seven years, the city of Detroit has attempted
to find a bureaucratic answer to the question: "What to do with Tiger Stadium?"
Employees in the city’s Planning and Development Department were charged with
determining what constitutes a best use for the corner of Michigan and Trumbull
instead of simply selling the property to the highest bidder in an open, fair
auction and allowing the winner to do with the property as he pleases.
Regrettably, the city has paid the Detroit Tigers
organization more than $2 million to maintain the stadium over the past seven
years while "feasibility studies" have been conducted on what to do with the
asset. Failing to be persuaded that Tiger Stadium holds value, city planners
seem bent on tearing down the stadium before selling the land — if it is sold at all. Rumor has it that the property may be used to build a new arena for the Red Wings.
A lack of ideas, money or interested, capable developers is
certainly not Tiger Stadium’s problem. As a potential developer who met with
city officials, I can say that there was never any serious consideration given
to the proposals for an alternative use of the ball park.
The Navin Field Consortium (the
group to which I belonged) proposed converting Tiger Stadium to its original
1912 configuration when the park opened as Navin Field. Our proposal was made
privately to the Detroit Tigers with the suggestion that they follow the latest
major league trend by locating one of their minor league affiliates nearby — in
this case at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
We explained that the New York
Yankees have a minor league team on nearby Staten Island and that the New York
Mets have a team down the road in Brooklyn. In professional hockey, the
Philadelphia Flyers have their top farm team located in their old arena adjacent
to their new facility. Similarly, the Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and
several other teams have minor league affiliates within a short drive of
the major league venue. For once, we felt that the Tigers could be ahead of the
curve instead of behind it.
From a sports marketing
perspective, the possibilities are endless: Cross-promotion and schedule
coordination would assure that the two teams complement one another; the Tigers
would be the only franchise in Major League history to preserve and
utilize their former facility; Detroit would be preserving an internationally
recognized baseball landmark; profits from the minor league operations could
serve to bolster the major league team’s competitiveness; and the Tigers could
reconnect with disenfranchised fans who lost interest in the team when they
moved out of Tiger Stadium.
The consortium also proposed that
the stadium be privately financed without subsidies from the city of Detroit or
the Detroit Tigers. The only expense would be a market rate for rent, no
different than the rent the Tigers pay to house their minor league team in a
city like Erie, Pennsylvania.
Because such a venue has the
potential for multiple tenants, including concerts and special events, it is
widely believed that the site could become a real money-maker. Cooperation from
the city and the team would undoubtedly assure that raising capital would not be
an issue. We also proposed that the stadium be purchased from the city at a
market rate or at auction.
The consortium included
architects and builders who presented detailed cost estimates for a partial
demolition and reconstruction of the old park. They determined that it would be
less expensive to convert Tiger Stadium to its original form than to build a new
minor league ballpark.
Incidentally, metro-Detroit is
the largest metropolitan area with only one professional baseball team. It is
only a matter of time before a minor league team locates in the Detroit area.
More than likely, an independent league team will locate in a Detroit suburb,
and the Tigers will have a competitor instead of a partner.
Shortly after the Detroit Tigers departure in 1999,
developers made proposals to the city’s planners for alternate uses for Tiger
Stadium. One such party is McCormack Baron, a real estate development firm from
It didn’t take long before principals at McCormack Baron
were disenchanted with the way Detroit does business. In an April 2000 interview
with The Detroit News, the firm’s vice president, Jack Hambene, announced that
he had heard no response from the city in the eight months since his firm had
submitted its proposal.
The city’s reply? "We are not obligated to get back to
McCormack Baron," Sylvia Crawford, the Planning and Development Department’s
spokeswoman, told The News. "We are putting a contract together for a
predevelopment study. We are doing a study to see if it’s feasible to renovate
But city feasibility studies are unnecessary. Detroit could
privatize (that is, sell) Tiger Stadium by issuing a relatively simple
Invitation to Bid. An ITB is used by units of government primarily when it is
easy to define the service or asset being contracted or sold outright, and the
bids are almost always opened at a very public meeting.
The highest bidder for Tiger Stadium would win the land and
building, and do with the property as it saw fit: construct a Wal-Mart,
residential lofts, a parking lot, or use it as a sports stadium. The
possibilities are endless. Selling it in this fashion would constitute the
highest valued use of Tiger Stadium by the marketplace.
All too often politicians and their lieutenants view
publicly owned assets as pawns in power struggles. How city "jewels" are valued
by municipalities are often wildly different than how free people spending their
own resources would value them. But city-owned property does not exist to
advance the interests of a bureaucracy.
Selling Tiger Stadium would generate a one-time cash flow,
end subsidies for its annual maintenance and likely provide new property tax
revenue. In baseball vernacular, we’re talking a financial home run for the
Steven Thomas is the owner of Detroit Athletic Co., a
memorabilia store west of Tiger Stadium, and an adjunct scholar with the
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and
educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in
whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are