The town of Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, sold the 80,300-seat Silverdome on Monday, along with 127 acres of nearby land. The massive stadium complex, which once hosted the Detroit Lions, the Detroit Pistons, and the Michigan Panthers, cost more than $55 million to build in 1975.
Its selling price in 2009? $583,000.
The Silverdome isn't just a stadium; it's a historical site. In addition to hosting two huge sports franchises, the Silverdome was also the site of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the first World Cup ever to be played indoors. It held numerous Cherry Bowl games, the 1979 NBA All-Star Game, and Superbowl XVI. It has hosted major cultural figures ranging from Michael Jackson to Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin to Pope John Paul II.
The stadium's sale has a certain symbolic power: over the past few years, the creep of urban decay in Detroit has become a sort of national spectator sport. In 2003, housing prices hit a high of $97,850; today, they are pegged at $11,596. In the meantime, razed buildings and demolished houses have created an urban prairie that brings to mind the worst of the Bronx in the 1970's.
Of course, Detroit's decay extends beyond its residential areas. As upsetting as it is to see once-beloved Victorian homes and beautiful apartment buildings sinking into disrepair, the loss of industrial space is even more significant. The hulking ruins of auto buildings like Fisher Body 21, the Packard Plant and the Piquette Plant (where Ford's (F) Model T was first built) seem to suggest not only a local loss of population but a larger loss of purpose.
And, if the destruction of the area's industrial capacity is devastating, the sale and destruction of its civic buildings takes Detroit's downfall to yet another level. The decay of the Michigan Central Depot, the city's grand, sprawling train station, suggests something more than just hard times: it symbolizes Detroit's inability to provide the minimal services and infrastructure that one expects of a city. The same goes for the Silverdome: although the Detroit Lions haven't played there since early in this decade, its bargain-basement sale price suggests that some standard of civic pride has fallen by the wayside.
Admittedly, Pontiac had little choice in the recent sale, since upkeep on the Silverdome costs $1.5 million per year, and was bankrupting the city. By selling it, they have not only relieved themselves of an insupportable cost, but may have opened a line for more revenue. Taxes on the stadium, which may be used by a professional soccer team, should provide a fresh -- and much needed -- income stream.
Even so, some members of city government are holding out hope that this isn't the last word on the Silverdome. There are 45 days before the sale becomes final and The Detroit News reports that at least one councilman expects that a former bidder will step forward to challenge the sale. Still, with population dwindling and Motor City reverting to prairie, even a better sale price will be cold comfort.
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