Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Real Estate Fail

The Pontiac Silverdome was recently sold for less than an upper middle class home. The dome was purchased by an unidentified Canadian buyer for $583,000 during an auction on Monday. This amounts to less than 1% of the initial cost to build the stadium 35 years ago. Talk about depreciation! Seriously, you'd think 127 acres of urban land would hold some sort of value. For $583,000, I'm almost wondering if the purchaser is simply planning on taking residence there.

Of all the economic crisis stories coming from Detroit, this is one of the worst. Think about it, many of you reading this blog could have found a way to purchase the building yourself. The Silverdome was built to improve the economy of Pontiac. 35 years later, Pontiac is still in economic ruin, and now all the surrounding suburbs are as well.

As a child, I never understood why the "Detroit" Lions and the "Detroit" Pistons played 45 minutes outside of their city. The riots of '67 began the "white flight" out of Detroit. Over the next two decades, nearly a million people left the city in order to live in the safer suburbs. I suppose this was the first brain drain out the city. We're currently experiencing a larger drain of people fleeing from the entire region. It's called a brain drain since most of the people who leave are the educated working class, drastically changing the dynamics of the group of people left behind. When I travel back up to Detroit, I enjoy what Detroit has to offer now, but all my years as a child, I knew it to be a complete hole. Attending a Tigers game at night was considered a calculated risk. I remember clinging to my dad one time on our way back to the car as he got cussed out by a bum for not not giving him money. Since Pontiac was located near Chrysler headquarters and some of the wealthier suburbs, it made sense to put a stadium in a safer location that was closer to the burbs. The stadium was built in 1975 for $55.7 million. I can tell you with certainty that the stadium did not help the local economy. If you look at the new Ford Field, it is surrounded by restaurants, stores, and the Greek Town Casino. When you go to a game, it is quite common to eat at a nearby restaurant or hit up the casino. The Silverdome, on the other hand, sits in the middle of a giant parking lot next to the expressway. With any luck you could exit M-59 and park your car without seeing much of the run down city. I have no memory of the area near the Silverdome, just memories of walking great lengths in a concrete park. If you were to hang out for food and drinks before or after the game, you certainly weren't going to do it in Pontiac.

I grew up in Rochester Hills, the city directly bordering Pontiac to the East. We referred to our neighbor city as Ponti"crack", as it seemed easier to find a drug house than a car factory in that town. Rochester was a very wealthy, residential city. Most of my friends parents worked for one of the big 3, usually a white collar job, and the city didn't allow any riff-raff; no strip clubs, no liquor stores, there was even an ordinance against 7-11. In high school, we all knew that the closest 7-11 was right outside our city limits, just inside "Ponticrack". Part of the intrigue in making a slurpee run was the simple danger you were subjecting yourself to in leaving your safe suburbia and crossing over into the ghetto. Pontiac was almost this mythical place where whites became the minority, the streets were full of jallopies and potholes, and you did NOT want to get lost there. We knew their high school had metal detectors, and we all knew of a legendary liquor store called Trademark. It was well known amongst the teenage crowd that Trademark would sell alcohol to minors. I know first hand of this, as I made a trip there one time when I was 17. I stayed in the car while my friends went inside, trembling in fear; not of getting caught, but of getting mugged. My parents ended up catching my friends and I with our bottle of Dewars the next day. They were very upset to find out that I was drinking, but way more upset that I had gone into Pontiac at night.

The city owned the stadium and leased it out to the Pistons and the Lions. I can tell you that an upper deck seat for a Piston game at the dome is about the wost seat you could possibly have for a live sporting event. I can also tell you that I would get to watch 8 Lions games a year on television and had to listen to the other 8 on the radio as nearly every home game was blacked out locally due to the inability of selling out the 80,000 seat capacity stadium. The two most famous events at the Silverdome would have to be Super Bowl XVI, and Wrestle Mania 3 where Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre the Giant. The legend is that Hulk didn't think he could do it and was frantic in the locker room before the match. I remember watching it on Pay Per view with the help of my uncle's scrambler. In attendance at the stadium I did actually get to see some historic events. I was there when Dr. J play his last game in Detroit, when Michael Jordan dropped 70 points in one night (a Silverdome record...I think I cried), when Mike Utley gave the thumbs up as he was carted off the field, and when the Dolphins spanked the Lions so bad that coach Bobby Ross resigned after the game in the middle of the season. I suppose it's not just coincidence that these events don't include Detroit actually ever winning.

I don't know what will come of the dome and the 127 acre lot that it sits on, but I do know that it will most likely make me sad. Just another landmark of failure in Detroit next to all the other large abandoned warehouse buildings along the sides of the expressways. An investment that dried up way too soon, leaving nothing but memories and an eyesore. Even the good landmarks of Detroit seem to conjure painful memories: the Chrysler building is now the DaimlerChrysler building and the Renaissance Center was a symbol of the dwindling Ford motor company when it was sold to GM in the 90's, only to become an even larger symbol of failure this past year when GM was bailed out. Still, I get excited when I see the glow from the dome off of M-59, but now it will only serve as another painful reminder of what has become of Southeast Michigan. Henry Ford helped build a great city here a century ago, our generation has only seen it fall apart these last 4 decades.

1 comment:

Shannon Smith said...

Great post. I can hear your pain and disappointment amidst your regional pride. There were two lines that I really enjoyed.

"Attending a Tigers night game was considered a calculated risk."


"I remember watching it on Pay Per view with the help of my uncle's scrambler. "

The first was just funny, but the second brought back memories. Growing up, we had a 10 foot satellite dish in our backyard and used what we called a "descrambler" to watch all the Pay-Per View events.

Oh the good old days.