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The Silverdome, Detroit Lions' Former Home Turf And 'World's Biggest Birdbath,' Is On Stadium Death Row

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The Silverdome, Detroit Lions' Former Home Turf And 'World's Biggest Birdbath,' Is On Stadium Death Row

A former NFL and NBA stadium that’s sat deserted for years after hosting a Super Bowl, the World Cup and the Pope is set to be demolished by court order.

The owner of the Silverdome, the home of the Detroit Lions from 1975 to 2002, has signed a judgment with the city of Pontiac that orders the demolition of the 80,000-seat stadium. The structure, visible from miles away, has sat open to the elements since its roof tore and deflated four years ago.

The consent agreement was reached after Silverdome owner Andreas Apostolopoulos’ Toronto-based Triple Investment Group was ticketed Feb. 27 for parking Volkswagens (OTC: VLKAY) recalled in the automaker’s diesel emissions scandal on the property without city approval, Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman told Benzinga.

“They did not have a permit to house the Volkswagens,” Waterman said. “When those showed up on the Silverdome lot, we brought it to their attention and at that point filed the violation because we had not been satisfied by our previous attempts to work with them in a collaborative way.”

Estimates for the cost of demolishing the Silverdome range from $8 million to $15 million, Waterman said.

A sea of recalled Volkswagens are parked at the Silverdome, the 80,000-seat former home of the Detroit Lions, in Pontiac, Michigan. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

The judgment signed March 28 called for Triple Investment Group to apply for a demolition permit by June 9. The company submitted an application, but it's incomplete as of late Friday afternoon, according to Waterman's office.

A Triple Investment Group spokesman did not respond to Benzinga’s request for comment.

The 127-acre property the Silverdome occupies at I-75 and M-59, 30 miles north of Detroit, is more valuable without the stadium standing, Waterman said.

'Entreprenurial District'

When Pontiac updated its master plan, the Silverdome property was designated as an “entrepreneurial district” in order to give flexibility to a future developer, the mayor said.

“We want the best result to come out of this given all of [the Silverdome’s] history.”

Mona Hofmeister, the vice president of the group Citizens Against Blight, said she’ll have to see the Silverdome’s demolition to believe it.

The community activist describes the stadium as “the world’s biggest birdbath.”

Apostolopoulos “should be ashamed of himself for letting it sit there in that condition for so long, and I think he owes the people of Pontiac an apology,” Hofmeister said.

“If it hadn’t been for those Volkswagens, we wouldn’t have gotten [Apostolopoulos] into court. That was the key.”

A VW Graveyard

The Silverdome is one of multiple U.S. facilities Volkswagen has contracted with to store vehicles the automaker has bought back from customers, said spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan.

VW reached a $14.7-billion settlement after the EPA determined that the automaker’s vehicles were designed to go around emissions standards and violated the Clean Air Act. The owners of the vehicles in question have the option of selling them back to VW.

“These vehicles are being stored on an interim basis and routinely maintained in a manner to ensure their long-term operability and quality, so that they may be returned to commerce or exported once U.S. regulators approve appropriate emissions modifications,” Ginivan said.

Vehicles that aren’t fixed will be recycled, she said.

Historic Place

Pontiac, a city of 60,000 that was once home to the defunct General Motors Company (NYSE: GM) brand of the same name, was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager from 2009 to 2013 after City Hall’s finances crumbled.

Since then, the city has experienced an uptick in private investment and the completion of multimillion-dollar projects such as the opening of the renovated Flagstar Strand Theatre and the M1 Concourse automotive enthusiast development.

The stadium was built by the city for $55 million and opened in 1975. The Silverdome set world indoor concert attendance records with The Who in 1975 and with Led Zeppelin in 1977.

The Detroit Pistons played at the Silverdome for a decade, from 1978 to 1988, before moving to The Palace of Auburn Hills.

The Silverdome hosted Super Bowl XVI on Jan. 24, 1982 and the World Cup in 1994. Pope John Paul II celebrated mass at the stadium in 1987. That same year, the venue hosted WrestleMania III before an audience of 93,000.

The number of events held at the Silverdome plunged after the Lions departed for Detroit’s Ford Field in 2002.

Fred Leeb, the first of three emergency financial managers appointed to Pontiac, auctioned the Silverdome in 2009 for $583,000. Apostolopoulos’ Triple Investment Group was the buyer.

The Silverdome fell into disrepair after its pressurized fiberglass roof deflated in 2013. The roof panels were eventually destroyed by weather, leaving the stadium’s interior exposed. Triple Investment Group auctioned the contents of the stadium — including seats, a scoreboard and even toilets — a year later.

The stadium was used as the setting for the forthcoming film “Silverdome,” and it appears in the trailer for “Transformers: The Last Knight,” which is set for release later this month. In 2015, Red Bull released a video of Tyler Fernengel riding BMX through the sprawling, desolate stadium.

'It Becomes A Drain'

Triple Investment Group listed the Silverdome for sale for $30 million in 2015, with no apparent takers.

The Silverdome serves as a cautionary tale for other cities, said Citizens Against Blight’s Hofmeister.

“No. 1, I don’t think any city should be building stadiums. That’s for the teams to do. I don’t think a municipality should ever build a stadium for a ball team,” she said.

“Yes, it sounds good, but then it becomes a drain — just like it did on Pontiac.”

Main image: The Silverdome on Friday, June 9. Pontiac community activist Mona Hofmeister calls the stadium, which has been open to the elements for four years, the "world's biggest birdbath." Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

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