In the late 1960's a consensus emerged among Democrats and Republicans, city and outstate interests, business and labor that downtown Detroit needed a stadium to house the Detroit Tigers baseball team and the Detroit Lions football team, to revitalize a decaying area of the city.
Michigan state senator Sander Levin, a democrat, proposed such an idea to both John Fetzer, owner of the Detroit Tigers, and William Clay Ford, owner of the Detroit Lions. The Chamber of Commerce appointed a number of prominent civic and business leaders to the newly formed DSWG. Robert Sweany was named executive director.
In July, 1970, with backing from republican governor William Milliken, the Michigan State Legislature created the Wayne County Stadium Authority (WCSA). Michael 0. B. Cherry, a Detroit banker who had served as advisor to the DSWG, was named executive director.
The WCSA began negotiations for land on a riverfront site, entered into negotiations with Fetzer, Ford and Bruce Norris, owner of the Detroit Red Wings, hockey team, and began to raise the $126 million needed, in bonds, to be repaid over forty years, to finance the stadium.
It had the help of a number of private groups, including the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce, Detroit Renaissance, and the Stadium Center Development Corporation.
In 1972, two different groups, claiming to represent area taxpayers and municipalities, challenged the legality of the bond issue in court. One group lost in Federal Court, but the other prevailed before the Michigan State Supreme Court in June, 1972.
The court ruled against the WCSA on a technicality. Over the next two years WCSA sought alternatives to overcome court objections in order to build a riverfront stadium.
But time, money and Pontiac, Michigan finally caught up with the WCSA. The devasting inflation of the early 1970s eventually made the cost of a large stadium prohibitive. City fathers in Pontiac, a small city north of Detroit, convinced Ford, who was always skeptical about a downtown stadium site, to movethe Lions to their 80,000-seat domed stadium that opened in the fall, 1975.
Ultimately, the Tigers worked out an agreement with Detroit that led to the refurbishing of an aging Tiger Stadium. Some of the riverfront land set aside for the stadium was used by Max Fisher to build luxury high-rise apartments. The remainder of the land was used to build Joe Louis Arena, a 20,000-seat, all-purpose facility that is now home to the Red Wings, rock concerts, circuses and conventions, including the 1980 Republican Convention.
The Detroit Economic Development Corporation records reflect the planning and negotiations for a downtown Detroit stadium from 1969 to 1973 and the legal entanglements which eventually led to the demise of the project.
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In the beginning stages of planning there were four site proposals for the stadium including the State Fairgrounds at Woodward and Eight mile, the City of Pontiac and Walled Lake.