Monday, February 15, 2016

Volunteers brave snow and cold to help keep Navin Field clean, even in the dead of winter

Laura Tas (left) and Adam Millikin pick up trash Sunday morning at Detroit's Navin Field, site of historic Tiger Stadium.

CORKTOWN — With temperatures in the teens and the wind chill hovering around zero Sunday, it was a perfect day for bundling up and staying indoors.  

But not for Adam Millikin.

Millikin, a hardy soul and self-styled Detroit sports superfan, suffers from chronic back and leg pain. But that didn't stop him from doing his part Sunday morning to help keep Navin Field clean.

Along with fellow Navin Field Grounds Crew member Laura Tas, Millikin braved the cold Sunday morning to pick up trash in the snow at his beloved Navin Field.

Despite the frigid temperatures Sunday, Millikin and Tas were still hard at work on the frozen tundra. 

"This is nothing to old Lions fans," Millikin said, recalling the days when Detroit's beleaguered NFL franchise played at Tiger Stadium.

Adam Millkin, right, started many a wave in the bleachers at old Tiger Stadium.

A longtime Detroiter and former Tiger Stadium "bleacher creature," Millikin is cut from the same cloth as Dancin' Gus Sinaris and Joe "The Brow" Diroff, superfans from a bygone era who embodied the spirit of Tiger Stadium. 

And like most of the men and women on the Navin Field Grounds Crew, Millikin finds inspiration in their patron saint, Herbie Redmond.

But "Dancin' Herbie," the beloved old Tiger Stadium groundskeeper, never braved these kinds of temperatures

"I felt the spirit of Tiger Stadium here today," Millikin said. "I just want to help keep that spirit alive."

Laura Tas, a native of Detroit's east side, was clearly in the spirit Sunday morning, even though Opening Day is still more than a month away. 

"My grandfather brought me to Tiger Stadium as far back as 1965," Tas said. "One of my fondest memories of my father is him making a thermos of hot chocolate for me and coffee for him and whisking me to a game in late September or early October of 1968." 

In the 1920s, Tas's grandmother lived on Trumbull Avenue when wooden sidewalks still surrounded the old ballpark. 

"She would roller skate around and around, and often spoke with the ballplayers," Tas said. "She met Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.  They must have been charmed,  as she was a beautiful little girl with black hair and blue eyes and always a huge bow on her head."  

To Tas, even if it's blanketed in snow, Navin Field is still a field of dreams. 

"This city and this field are a part of me," she said. "They're in my heart."

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Detroit PAL loses key supporter over its handling of Tiger Stadium situation

Lear Corporation withdraws annual $50,000 contribution to Police Athletic League, cites concerns over player safety and historic preservation.

As readers of this site know, Detroit City Council recently gave the green light to the Detroit Police Athletic League and its proposal for a new artificial-turf development on the site of historic Tiger Stadium.

While there's good reason to celebrate this new era and the fact that Detroit's schoolchildren will continue to use this historic site for baseball, football, and other sports, it's also a critical time to carefully consider the safety of Detroit's student-athletes.

With more and more high-school turf-related football deaths in the news (Chicago) (Seattle) (New York), it's imperative that we protect our student-athletes, as well as our history and our environment

Detroit PAL's mission is an honorable mission, and we should all support their efforts to enrich the lives of Detroit's student-athletes. But we should also hold their leadership accountable not only for the players' safety, but also for preserving the historic stadium site they stand to inherit.

"Our kids deserve this new facility," goes the old argument. But when that facility's artificial turf factors into a player's death, it puts high-school football and its shiny new athletic complexes in perspective.

The Tiger Stadium site hasn't hosted a football game since 1974. If it is to be used for football again, it's critical that we take precautions to avoid this kind of tragedy in Detroit. 

Despite a $3 million federal earmark from U.S. Senator Carl Levin that calls for the preservation of the site, Detroit PAL insists it is instead moving forward with its controversial plan to tear out the grass at old Tiger Stadium so that it can install artificial turf on the historic site.

This does not sit well with at least one prominent supporter of PAL. 

With an annual contribution of $50,000 to Detroit PAL's programs, the Lear Corporation has been a major benefactor of the nonprofit for years. But in light of PAL's controversial plan to redevelop the Tiger Stadium site with artificial turf, Lear's CEO is speaking out.

Matthew Simoncini says that Lear is withdrawing its financial support of PAL for its mishandling of this delicate issue.

"I believe the [PAL] plan is severely flawed [and] a terrible use of resources," Simoncini writes in a letter to Detroit City Council. "[It] does not preserve this site and provides [an] unsafe playing surface for the children," 

Matthew Simoncini

"I believe the [PAL] plan is severely flawed, is a terrible use of resources, does not preserve this site and provides [an] unsafe playing surface for the children." 

Lear CEO Matthew Simoncini

Under Simoncini's leadership, Lear has worked extensively with the city's Parks and Recreation department in recent years, spending more than $5 million rehabbing Detroit parks. Simoncini, a celebrated former football coach on the city's east side, understands better than most the importance of player safety on the gridiron.

Whether Lear's funding decision will affect PAL's redevelopment plans for the Tiger Stadium site remains to be seen, but it's clear that its CEO means business.

"This site is absolutely vital to Detroit," Simoncini says. "We can do better."

Scroll down for video of Detroit City Council's final meeting on the Tiger Stadium issue, including discussion of the Lear Corporation at 15:50.  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Un-Greening of Detroit: Artificial turf, limited public access on deck for site of historic Tiger Stadium (Part 2 of 3)

LONG GONE? This 9-acre green space and quasi-public park on the site of Detroit's historic Tiger Stadium could soon be replaced with artificial turf. (Tony Leja) 

2015 was an eventful year in the debate over the future of Navin Field, site of Detroit's historic Tiger Stadium. In Part 1 of our three-part series, we explored the recent land transfer of Navin Field to the Detroit Economic Development Corporation.

With the Detroit Police Athletic League set to take over Navin Field later this year, the NFGC is thrilled to see children get the chance to continue playing baseball on this historic site. But the debate continues over the definition of "public access" and the controversial plan to tear out Navin Field's natural grass and replace it with artificial turf.

As we've noted here before, that is not exactly a popular move.

While some in the mainstream media are finally paying attention to this critical moment in Detroit's resurgence, too many others are simply skimming the surface. 

In the second installment of our three-part series, we take a closer look at the controversy surrounding public access to Navin Field and the prospect of plastic grass replacing a venerable and viable green space in the heart of Detroit's historic Corktown district.

Feb. 4, 2016

Federal money earmarked for preservation could instead fund demolition of Detroit's historic Navin Field 

Artificial turf set to replace green space at site of old Tiger Stadium

When Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey appeared before the city's Planning & Development committee, he pledged to retain the authenticity of the site.

"We're very excited about this opportunity to redevelop what we know is an iconic location in the city of Detroit," he said. 

And it is indeed exciting that children will continue to play ball there. But Detroit PAL's proposal, in fact, retains very little authenticity of the site. Today, the only remnants of historic Tiger Stadium are the flagpole in center field and the natural grass that has graced the corner of Michigan and Trumbull since 1896. 

That grass, voluntarily maintained since 2010 by a local mailman named Tom Derry and the volunteers of the Navin Field Grounds Crew, has hosted dozens of youth baseball games for six magical summers. 

And it is magic because it is authentic.  

But soon the grass could be torn out and replaced with artificial turf. 

Since 2010, Navin Field has been widely hailed as a natural, national treasureBut if PAL proceeds to tear out the grass, it effectively obliterates a viable and venerable green space in the heart of historic Corktown — and it ruins its reputation as a bonafide tourist attraction

A misuse of federal funds?

Senator Carl Levin's 2009 $3.8 million federal earmark, which is set to expire on October 1, calls for the preservation and redevelopment of a public park on the site of Tiger Stadium.  

But in fact there is little preservation in Detroit PAL's proposal to redevelop the site.

In response to pleas from Corktown residents and other local activists, Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey has agreed to allow some public access to Navin Field.

"We will offer at least 15 hours per week of free access to the public," he told City Council. 

But how appealing will that access be if Navin Field becomes a sea of plastic?

"I think there's a huge case to be made to keep this natural grass," said City Councilman Gabe Leland"You can't put a value on that field."

City Councilman Gabe Leland

"I think there's a huge case to be made to keep this natural grass." 
—Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland

Despite those concerns, however, the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy voted this week, 7-2, to transfer the remainder of Senator Levin's federal earmark (approximately $3 million) to Detroit PAL. 

'We have decided to choose a synthetic turf surface' 

PAL's insistence on artificial turf for historic Navin Field stems from its plan to heavily program the site, with 10-14 hours of daily activity, including football, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball.

"Our intention has always been to program this site heavily," Richey says. "We want to maximize the usage of the site." 

And with such heavy usage of the historic field, Richey contends that natural grass simply can't withstand that amount of activity, that grass simply isn't as durable as artificial turf.

But to support his claim, Richey cited a typo-riddled 2010 Cal-Berkeley study that focuses mainly on the safety of crumb rubber infill. 

"These fields result in little, if any, exposure to toxic substances," the report reads.

The study contains little primary research, however, and was sponsored by a consulting group that represents artificial turf manufacturers

But with the more recent reports of soccer players battling cancer, 
Congress is calling for an independent study on the safety of crumb rubber. 

Still, Richey pledged not to use the controversial infill at the Tiger Stadium site.

"We do know that there is quite a bit of community concern and national concern around the use of the rubber pellet infill," Richey said. ​"That rubber pellet is what's caused a lot of the concern around the synthetic surface as it relates to potential cancer risk.​

​"The safety of the children is of the utmost concern for us. It always has been; it always will be. I'm happy to say  and can say definitively today  that we will seek out the very best infill for the surface, and that the rubber pellets will not be included in the surface at old Tiger Stadium."

Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey

ubber pellets will not be included in the surface at old Tiger Stadium."

—Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey

"Programming more than 20 hours a week is going to cause damage to the [grass]." Richey told City Council, "I think the studies will show that the safety of the turf, as it relates to injuries, is equal if not better [than] the natural grass."

But according to a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, injury rates for ACL sprains and ankle sprains for NFL games played on FieldTurf were higher than rates for those injuries in games played on real grass — and the differences were statistically significant.

Richey says the long-term maintenance and cost will be reduced with the use of synthetic turf.

"Over the course of 10 years," he says, "it's much more expensive to manage."

But plenty of well-known, reputable studies effectively debunk that myth.

According to Texas Multi-Chem, a prominent national sports field contractor, maintenance costs over a 10-year period (a generous estimate for an artificial turf lifespan) come to 
$558,909 for natural grass, and nearly $1.4 million for artificial turf.

GRASS                                ARTIFICIAL TURF 
$558,909                              $1.4 million

And that doesn't take into account the very real possibility of buyer's remorse.

On top of all that, PAL CEO Tim Richey has repeatedly cited Michigan State University turf expert Dr. John Rogers to support PAL's position that artificial turf is what's best for the Tiger Stadium site.

But Rogers, no fan of artificial turf, has expressed serious reservations about PAL's plan for the field.

As for the historic flagpole, the only actual remnant left of Tiger Stadium, Richey says that PAL intends to keep it.

"We're gonna [shine] up that flagpole," he told City Council. "We're gonna make it a beacon for those of us who remember Tiger Stadium."

City Councilman Scott Benson

Councilman Scott Benson then raised an intriguing question:

"Is there an opportunity," he asked, "to remove that sod and place it at another baseball field in the city of Detroit?"

"I think that's a very creative idea," said Matt Walters, of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's office. "We will certainly work with PAL and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy to explore that option."

Benson further suggested reaching out to the Detroit Tigers to see if they'd be willing to preserve some of the old Tiger Stadium sod at Comerica Park

"I'm happy to look at how the field can be reused," said PAL CEO Tim Richey. "The only concern I would have is the expense of lifting the field and moving it." 

And so the debate continues over the future of historic Navin Field.

For now, at least, the grass remains the same.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

BREAKING NEWS: Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy votes to transfer $3 million federal earmark to Detroit PAL

Former U.S. Senator Carl Levin (left) and Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey (center), pictured Sunday with WXYZ's Chuck Stokes, are expected to announce $11 million in funding today for their new Tiger Stadium redevelopment project. (Detroit PAL)    

The Navin Field Grounds Crew has learned that the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy board voted yesterday, 7-2, to transfer Senator Carl Levin's $3 million federal earmark to the Detroit Police Athletic League, bringing PAL's fundraising total for their Kids at the Corner campaign to approximately $11 million.

Details are expected to be announced at a press conference later this morning.

There was no official update on whether historic Navin Field would be torn up and replaced with artificial turf, but the NFGC has learned that the Conservancy is now advocating a compromise on the controversial grass vs. turf issue

The NFGC has also learned that the Conservancy is now proposing to keep Navin Field's historic infield intact (with authentic grass and real dirt), while allowing Detroit PAL to install artificial turf in the outfield only.

The Navin Field Grounds Crew continues to maintain that a natural grass field is best for the historic corner of Michigan and Trumbull — the way it's been since 1896. Our research has shown that real grass is not only safer for our children, it's also healthier for Southwest Detroit's fragile environment. 

"The safety of the children should absolutely come first," says NFGC spokesman Dave Mesrey. "And after nearly a year of research, our experts tell us that natural grass is the safest surface for children and adults. We also believe that natural grass is consistent with Senator Levin's earmark, which calls for the preservation of a public park. 

"And in our view, real grass represents real preservation." 

Brandeis University Professor Guive Mirfendereski, a leading national expert on artificial turf and managing editor of industry watchdog, calls plastic grass "a lifeless eco-desert."

NFGC founder Tom Derry says he's concerned that Navin Field will no longer be accessible to the public as it's been since 2010. "And if they put in artificial turf," Derry says, "it loses its appeal as a tourist attraction." 

Mesrey says he remains hopeful that Senator Levin and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy can work something out that benefits Detroit PAL's kids while still fulfilling the intention of the earmark. 

"Our supporters have even offered to contribute to a grass-roots fund," Mesrey said. "They want to support PAL ... they just don't want to support artificial turf."

For now, the natural grass remains at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.

A press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at DTE Energy headquarters in downtown Detroit.