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Detroit Plans to Build Downtown Baseball Stadium : Development: The ballpark will be area's first major project since '70s. Private investment will account for $145 million of the $235-million cost.

October 28, 1995|DONALD W. NAUSS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DETROIT — Seeking an economic "grand slam" to spur downtown development, this struggling industrial city announced Friday a plan to build a new $235-million baseball stadium largely financed by private interests.

Mayor Dennis Archer said the ballpark--to be located next to the downtown theater district--would replace Tiger Stadium, built in 1913 and the oldest stadium now in use in major league baseball.

"This will create an economic windfall for the city," said Archer, who was elected two years ago on a promise of economic revitalization for a city that is a symbol of urban blight.

The stadium will be the first major center-city project here since the development of Renaissance Center, a huge glass hotel and office complex built along the Detroit River in the 1970s by Henry Ford II.

The city's newest benefactor, however, is not an automotive titan but a pizza mogul. Michael Ilitch, owner of Little Caesar Enterprises and the Detroit Tigers, will invest $145 million in the stadium.

"It will be the first true entertainment-sports complex in America," said Ilitch, who said the 42,000-seat stadium would have architectural flair similar to Cleveland's Jacobs Field and Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Archer touted the project as unique because, unlike other baseball stadiums that have been built in the last decade, Detroit's will not require the levying of any new taxes.

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The state of Michigan, however, would provide $55 million and the city $35 million under the plan to be used for land acquisition, site clearance and infrastructure development.

The city will own the stadium and lease it to Ilitch for 35 years. Construction is slated to begin in April and be completed by the beginning of the baseball season in 1998.

"This is a special transaction and will set the curve as to how public and private projects can be put together," the mayor said, adding that it would provide up to 3,300 construction jobs and infuse tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.

The stadium will be built on 25 acres, a block west of Woodward Avenue, the city's main north-south corridor. The area is now dotted with a collection of decaying office, warehouse and parking structures.

Ilitch has invested $200 million in downtown Detroit since moving his company's headquarters to the city in 1987. In addition to the Tigers, Ilitch owns the Detroit Red Wings hockey team, the Detroit Rockers soccer team, the historic Fox Theater and a comedy club and manages the city's Cobo Hall convention center and Joe Louis Arena.

Ilitch said he is negotiating financing with his bankers. He bought the Tigers in 1992 for $85 million in cash and is ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the nation's wealthiest individuals with a fortune of $500 million.

While Archer and Gov. John Engler have endorsed the project, it still faces some obstacles. Public opinion in Detroit is divided on the need for a new stadium, an issue that has been debated here for more than two decades.

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"We are opposed to public subsidies and prefer a restoration to a new stadium," said Bill Dow, a member of the Detroit Tigers Fan Club.

Three years ago, city voters passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of city funding for a new stadium. The ordinance can be overturned by a majority vote of the City Council.

Archer is optimistic that opposition can be overcome and that the stadium would become a "crown jewel" of his economic revitalization efforts.

He has already landed a $100-million federal empowerment zone grant, received commitments from two auto makers to expand their plants and attracted new housing developments. But he failed to win state approval for casino gaming earlier this year.

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