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Demolition Ordered to Stop at Tiger Stadium

Wed June 24, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Ben Leubsdorf - ASSOCIATED PRESS



DETROIT (AP) Tiger Stadium’s final out appeared at hand June 5 as crews began demolishing what’s left of the venerable ballpark, until a judge halted the demolition — with an assist from a fan who charged the mound armed with the court order.

A temporary restraining order issued by Wayne County Circuit Judge Isidore Torres around 5 p.m. EDT halted demolition work that had started several hours earlier.

Crews are barred from “engaging in any demolition activity” at the Detroit stadium until a June 8 morning hearing before Judge Prentis Edwards. The judge then will decide whether to extend the ballpark’s reprieve from the wrecking ball.

The injunction was requested by the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, a nonprofit group that had tried to raise money to preserve and redevelop the ballpark, much of which was knocked down last year in a first round of demolition. But the city’s Economic Development Corp. board voted June 2 to reject the $33.4 million plan, saying the funding wasn’t in place.

“The argument is easy — is there irreparable harm to the city by waiting and is there irreparable harm to us by continuing?” said Gary Gillette, a conservancy board member.

But when attorney Michael Myckowiak and others arrived at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull to serve the order on the demolition contractor, they found they couldn’t get inside the covered fence surrounding the site.

That’s when stadium supporter Chip Owen took the order, got inside the fence and “ran toward the mound with the papers,” said Rick Ruffner, a conservancy board member. “He gave the papers to the construction company and demolition stopped immediately.”

Owen, 48, of Grosse Pointe Park, was given a warning by police.

“I found myself inside the fence and I just wanted them to stop. There was a court order and we couldn’t serve it.…I did what anybody here would have done,” Owen said.

Earlier June 5, a backhoe tore apart a portion of the lower deck along the former third base line shortly after Detroit Economic Growth Corp. executive vice president Waymon Guillebeaux emerged from an onsite meeting with the demolition contractor and told The Associated Press he had given the green light to begin.

As the backhoe worked on the lower deck, another machine blasted water overhead to keep down dust. Other equipment and workers could be seen at the site. Dozens of fans watched from a nearby pedestrian bridge.

Leveling the stadium was to take 30 days and crews would remain onsite for an additional 30 to 60 days to handle cleanup, according to DEGC spokesman Robert Rossbach. Rossbach said 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.

Myckowiak said the conservancy will argue in court that it should be given more time to put together the money for its proposed redevelopment of the ballpark.

“They have paid for security at the site through the end of June with the understanding from the city that they would have at least until that time to have their financing in order,” he said.

City development officials have said the group was given more than enough time to raise money and that the partially demolished stadium is becoming unsafe.

Tiger Stadium opened in 1912 as Navin Field, on the same day Fenway Park opened in Boston. The Tigers departed for nearby Comerica Park after the 1999 season.

Wrecking crews went to work last June, and much of the stadium was torn down by fall. But a section stretching from dugout to dugout was left standing while the conservancy sought to raise money to preserve and redevelop the stadium as a commercial building with a working ballfield.