It would be fair to say that the sale of the Pontiac Silverdome for $583,000 last November touched off a wave of outrage. News story after news story pointed out that the building cost $55 million to build in 1975, and a $20 million deal had fallen through just one year prior.
Now that the dust has settled, though, new owners Triple Properties Inc. of Toronto are stirring up hope that once again the enormous edifice off Opdyke Road will be an asset to the community instead of a punching bag.
"Every single person who comes through the door has a unique memory of the Silverdome from the late 1970s and on," says Grant Reeves, interim general manager of the facility. "The general impression is they thought it was a war zone inside here. We've left a majority of the population surprised at how well it's held up – it looks good now -- and how clean it is."
The company has booked several events since buying the facility, starting with the sort of event that was a hallmark of the Silverdome in its boom years – a monster truck rally. It's also hosted an international soccer match between Greek team Panathinaikos and Italian team AC Milan that drew 30,000 spectators and generated a good amount of buzz locally. Another match between several soccer teams from Africa was canceled.
Last weekend the Silverdome hosted a concert by Indian musician and Slumdog Millionaire
composer A.R. Rahman, and a medical marijuana show is slated for later this fall. Reeves says home and garden shows are planned over the next few months.
Of course, 30,000 people for a soccer game is a lot less than the 80,000 who would sell out the place for an A-list rock concert or a Lions game. Reeves says that the nature of the Silverdome allows for an easy partitioning off of the unused portions of the stadium, making it seem fuller. He says the facility is capable of hosting small events as well as accommodating the tens of thousands who attend more successful events, with a ticketing system via the website, www.silverdometickets.com
Triple Properties has renovated bathroom and concession stands. Reeves says the exterior will be among the next areas to be freshened. "It's looking a little bit ghostly," he says. "It's an ongoing process—we have a lot of work to do."
Reuse of old stadiums has always proved a challenging game. Several Olympic stadiums have been repurposed – two landmark Beijing Olympic facilities, the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube, are in the process of being converted into theme parks. Some former baseball stadiums have been maintained, either by nonprofits or as college stadiums. Locally, of course, attempts to preserve Tiger Stadium were defeated and Cobo Arena, while managed by Olympia Entertainment, is considered by many to be underutilized.
So what did Triple Properties see in the Silverdome that several years' worth of potential buyers did not? The key was one of the Silverdome's prouder moments – the hosting of several World Cup soccer games in 1994. "The family [which owns Triple Properties] has always had a very big liking for soccer," Reeves says. "They saw the venue as a soccer-friendly venue with potential there."
Reeves says they are in talks "at all levels of soccer" but would not elaborate on what level of team, if any, might call the Silverdome home. Triple Properties CEO Andreas Apostolopoulos has said he would like to host a Major League Soccer team and a women's professional team at the Silverdome. The U.S.-based Major League Soccer has announced plans to expand to 20 teams by 2012, but New York is widely believed to be the location of the as-yet-unannounced 20th team.
The venue itself does not employ very many people beyond a small management team, Reeves says, but opportunities exist for local residents through jobs at contracted services like security and catering. A large event can employ 400 to 600 people, he adds.
The Metro Detroit region has no shortage of venues, from the sparkling and relatively new Comerica Park and Ford Field downtown, to the Palace of Auburn Hills - just a few miles away from the Silverdome. Reeves says that the venue hasn't had a great deal of time to survey the competitive landscape, but believes there are enough events to go around, even if the bad economy makes it a tough market for concerts. "Everyone has carved out their own little niche," he says.
Dawnaree Denrose, president of the Pontiac Regional Chamber of Commerce, is bullish about the Silverdome's prospects for helping along Pontiac's revival. "We're excited about the events they're bringing to town and the economic development they will be doing," she says. "They're also bringing a positive image back to Pontiac because of the incredible events they will be having - we're so thrilled they are back in town."
The Chamber offers one year of free rent to new business owners willing to commit to the city's downtown with a two or three-year lease. Denrose thinks that the nearby stadium reopening will help restaurants and other venues downtown – and they don't need football-size crowds to do it.
"I think anything they can generate with activity, even if they start smaller, is a way for people to come back to Pontiac," she says.
Amy Kuras fondly remembers going to a U2 concert at the Silverdome in 1985 and watching the back of the head of the guy in front of her. It was magical. Amy is a Detroit freelance writer. Her previous article for Metromode was Destination: Do It Yourself.
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All Photos by Dave Lewinski