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Fields of Dreams

Plans to redevelop Tiger Stadium mean more than building a few structures on that block. Corktown leaders believe it will drive development in the old Irish enclave and clear out another reminder of the stadium's busier days: old parking lots.

The city, which owns Tiger Stadium, has proposed plans to tear down most of the stadium while preserving the field as a park. Mixed-use buildings, lofts and storefronts will then be built around the field. Parking lots aren't part of the plan.

Those old lots of asphalt, gravel and grass often covered with garbage, weeds or cracked asphalt make up about 70 percent of the greater Corktown area and have sat empty since the Tigers left seven years ago. But these fields of dreams are filled with potential.

R. Scott Martin Jr., the Greater Corktown Development Corporation's executive director, says the parking lot owners haven't developed the spaces in hopes another single-use tenant, such as a sports team, moves into the old stadium. That would allow them to once again collect bundles of cash in parking fees while paying low taxes on property requiring little upkeep. "You can't blame them," says Martin, a Corktown resident. "They're business people, too."

If the stadium went multi-use, however, the development could spill over. "Then these parking lots will naturally become available for development," Martin says. "At least at that point, nobody has an argument for hanging onto them."

Filling in

Development in Corktown is taking place on small and large scales now.
The Grinnell Place Lofts project is progressing. Developers are building 34 lofts in the old Grinnell Brothers Piano Warehouse, located on Brooklyn Street just north of Michigan Avenue. Half of those units, priced between $163,000 and $390,000, are sold.

Diane Meidell, the project's operations manager, said the developers want to build in Corktown again. She believes the Tiger Stadium plan plays to the neighborhood's strengths, history and location by preserving the historic field and opening up more land for development near downtown.

"It's such a great neighborhood," Meidell says. "What a perfect set up to have that (downtown) urban lifestyle and still live in a neighborhood."

And not everyone is waiting on the stadium to take advantage of Corktown's assets or develop the lots. In 2004, Jason Nardoni bought an old Corktown worker's cottage, at least 125 years old, which developer Ed Potas brought back from the brink of destruction. Most of his neighbors marked the house, a burnt-out shell, as beyond saving.

Potas saw it differently. He gutted it, rebuilt it, gave it modern amenities and added a garage while maintaining its Victorian craftsmanship.

Even though the cottage looks much like it did when it was first built, 85 percent of the house is new. The $100,000-plus investment turned Nardoni's 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath home into a head turner on his block.

During the day, the information security specialist walks to his job downtown. At night he watches the city's skyscrapers from his backyard.
The cottage came with an adjacent lot that where a similar house once stood. Over time it became a parking lot, but no more. Nardoni plans to build another house there in the near future to help complete his block. He's more interested in density than a bigger yard. "If every other house was knocked down so everybody can have a bigger yard then that would take away from Corktown's charm," Nardoni says.

And less density would reduce the number of eyes on the street. Corktown's Martin explains that more houses and businesses mean more potential eyes watching, making people feel safer.

Jana Cephas, a research fellow at the University of Detroit Mercy specializing in urban design, agrees. The former Corktown resident says parking lots detract from a neighborhood's urban feel. "Whether it's a parking lot or a vacant lot, really there isn't a sense of safety because people aren't there," he says. "It feels less safe and less like a community. It's actually a huge waste of land."

Moving forward

If the Tiger Stadium mixed-use plan goes forward and the parking lot owners still don't develop their land, Martin plans to push for land-value taxing in Corktown.

"It's basically a policy where buildings are taxed much less and surface lots are taxed higher," he says. Martin hopes it won't have to come to that because these people are still neighbors and local business owners.
Ray Formosa is one of them. Formosa, born and raised in Corktown, owns a few parking lots in the neighborhood, as well as Brooks Lumber on Trumbull Avenue.

He wants to see something done with Tiger Stadium and is open to razing it if it helps the neighborhood. He is even open to developing his parking lots. But for now, he's waiting. "Yeah, it's something to look forward to, but it becomes believable when it happens," he says.

Martin says it will happen, even though critics and naysayers insist otherwise. He says an auction of stadium memorabilia will happen this fall, followed by demolition of most of the structure beginning late fall. The field, dugouts and some seats will be preserved. Then, late spring or summer 2007 will see construction start on the mixed-use buildings around the field. It all should be wrapped up in about three years.

The plan is moving forward, he says, although he knows some won't believe it "until the jaws start tearing into the stadium." And those empty lots will become history, too.



Editor's Note: The original story, which appeared in our 9/26 newsletter, did not mention Ed Potas' involvement in Nardoni's rehabbed house. We regret the omission.




Photos:

Tiger Stadium

Scott Martin

Grinnell Place

Jason Nardoni's Rehabbed Cotage

Ray Formosa of Brooks Lumber



All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

Read more articles by Jon Zemke.

Jon Zemke is a news editor with Model D and its sister publications, Metromode and Concentrate. He's also a small-scale real-estate developer and landlord in the greater downtown Detroit area.
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