Share this article

print logo

Ask Pontiac about effect of dead stadium

If you thought dead malls were bad, try a dead stadium.

Just ask Mona Hofmeister. She has been fighting for years to tear down vacant houses in her hometown of Pontiac, Mich. Her small city, north of Detroit, was once home to two things: the car industry and the Detroit Lions.

Now, she’s not just fighting empty homes; she’s fighting a vacant stadium.

The decline of General Motors hit Hofmeister’s community hard. Jobs bled. The population dropped. Houses went empty. Then, in 2002, the Lions left the Pontiac Silverdome for a gleaming downtown stadium in Detroit.

Not much has gotten off the ground at the Silverdome since then.

Once host to a Super Bowl and a papal Mass, Pontiac’s stadium now sits as a dilapidated mess. Nearly five years ago, the cash-strapped city, which was paying a reported $1.5 million a year to maintain it, sold the Silverdome for the unbelievable price of $583,000 to a Canadian developer, who tried to make a go of hosting concerts in the dome.

Then its roof collapsed. Last year, he auctioned off everything, from its urinals to its copper wiring.

And there the old Silverdome sits, irking citizens who want to see their community move forward.

“As residents of this city, I think we expect more, and we deserve more,” Hofmeister told me by phone last week. “I mean, we paid for that stadium.”

Hofmeister, a widow who has poured her heart into cleaning up her city, spends her time documenting the demolition of blighted vacant houses. Now, she and other residents have turned their sights on the stadium with a letter-writing campaign to press the Silverdome’s owner to do something about its condition.

“It was our Silverdome. We have great memories of that place,” Hofmeister said. “My biggest memory is seeing it lit up against the sky, and it just took my breath away. And he has just stripped it, and left us with not even a prayer.”

County economic-development officials – who are hoping the land could get new life – are much more optimistic.

“With the Silverdome, the city was in financial trouble, as well, so everything kind of fell at the same time,” said Oakland County Economic Development Director Irene Spanos.

“I think that’s why it’s taken so long to redevelop, but the property that the stadium is on is some of the most attractive property in the State of Michigan and the Midwest.”

Perhaps opportunity and eyesore can coexist, but 13 years is a long time to wait for a behemoth to come down.

This might seem a far-off fate for Ralph Wilson Stadium, where taxpayers have just spent $95 million toward a $130 million project to spruce up the 42-year-old stadium, one of the oldest in the National Football League. But it’s going to come quick.

Public excitement and hand-wringing over the possibility of constructing a new stadium in downtown Buffalo has revived age-old chatter about the home of the Bills.

County officials say it’s too early to start talking about what may become of The Ralph.

It’s not.

Any plan to build a new stadium in Western New York must include a solid plan for demolition or redevelopment of The Ralph.

Without that, we’re looking at one stubborn white elephant left behind in Orchard Park. Just ask the residents of Pontiac, Mich.