Dome sweet dome

Using his authority as Pontiac's emergency financial manager, Fred Leeb is selling the Silverdome his way: an auction with no minimum bids to be completed by the end of this year.

"We have to sell it now," says Leeb, appointed in March by Gov. Jennifer Granholm because of years of unresolved budget problems in the city. "It's going to happen this time basically because I'm making the decision to do it."

As emergency financial manager, Leeb — instead of local elected officials — has the authority over finances including contracts and sales of city assets. Now, after seven years without professional football at the Silverdome, and three failed rounds of bidding and negotiations to sell the site, Leeb says it's time for the landmark to go. 

The city, with a $6.5 million deficit from last year and $106 million in debt, can't afford the $1.5 million it's paying annually in upkeep, security and insurance for the shuttered facility and its 127-acre site, he says.

"The Silverdome has been for sale for several years, but it's been a ping-pong ball between the City Council and the mayor. Both sides have blamed each other for causing deals that have been in hand to slip through their fingers," Leeb says. 

In 2002, the city started accepting bids and proposals in a negotiation process that would last until 2006. Three finalists presented plans that included businesses, residential structures and entertainment venues with purchase offers between $11 million and $18.5 million. By February 2006, the two remaining proposals were withdrawn. 

In 2007, another attempt to sell the Silverdome began. Last year the City Council approved a $20 million offer from Bloomfield Hills attorney H. Wallace Parker and his Silver Stallion Development Corp. that would have brought a hotel, casino, conference center and horse racetrack to the site. The mayor vetoed the sale but the City Council overrode it. Negotiations were not completed by the November deadline. Parker did not return telephone calls to Metro Times this week. 

Two weeks ago, the City Council rejected Leeb's plan to auction the Silverdome site, voting unanimously against it at its Sept. 3 meeting, mainly because of the no-minimum-bid provision. But the council's opposition has no teeth.

"Mr. Leeb does have the authority to go ahead and move forward with what he wants to do," says council member Susan Shoemaker. "What the emergency financial manager wants, that's what the city of Pontiac is going to get."

Shoemaker, like some other council members, agrees the Silverdome should be sold, but thinks the city should be able to set a minimum price to at least guarantee reasonable income from the sale and future property tax revenue. The current economic climate makes that more important, she says: "I think we'll get maybe $500,000 in this kind of economy."

Council members suggested seeking proposals from moviemakers to blow it up as part of a film or to run a demolition school at the site, allowing students to dismantle the structure, and letting the city sell the scrap.

If the Silverdome comes back to life, it would be unusual among NFL teams' former homes. Seattle's Kingdome, of the same generation of stadiums as the Silverdome, was blown up a few years ago. The Orange Bowl, which the Miami Dolphins left in 1987, was torn down and is now the site of the Marlins' new stadium. Football stadiums in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Denver have been razed as well.

Former deputy mayor Leon Jukowski, who was one of eight candidates on the ballot in this week's primary election for mayor, would also like to see the Silverdome sold. But he'd like a guarantee of property taxes to be paid. 

"You need to do an auction that says, 'The number I will hear from you is the amount of taxes you'll pay each year,'" he says.

Leeb says future taxes will be determined by Oakland County, which is contracted to do Pontiac's assessing; property values are to be determined by sale price, present value of cash flow at the site and construction costs. "With apartment buildings, the city could agree with the developer-owner on a payment in lieu of tax where the city could be paid a specific amount generally tied to the revenue of the property," Leeb wrote to Metro Times in an e-mail. "This amount, however, is typically less than the tax that would be paid based on the normal property tax assessment. This would reduce revenue to the city rather than increase it, but it would, hopefully, stimulate development in the city."

State Rep. Tim Melton (D-Auburn Hills), whose district includes the site, says because the city of Pontiac will feel the sting of the current economic downtown and housing crisis for years, it's important that the Silverdome site get back on the tax rolls as soon as possible.

"I think it's the most valuable piece of property in North America. It's positioned next to M-59 and I-75 in Oakland County, the economic engine of the state," he says. "It's too valuable a piece of property. I think we'll see something soon."


Aug. 23, 1975 – The Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium opens after nearly two years of construction. The $55.7 million cost is financed with bonds issued by the city. Its name is changed in recognition of its silver-colored roof.

Oct. 6, 1975 — The Lions first regular-season game is played, a 36-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

April 30, 1977 — Led Zeppelin performs for 76,229 fans, the largest indoor musical audience at the time.

1978 to 1988 — The Dome is home to the Detroit Pistons. 

Jan. 24, 1982 — The Silverdome hosts Superbowl XVI. The San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21.

March 29, 1987 — Wrestlemania III lures 93,173 attendees, the largest ever for a single sporting event. 

1996 — The Detroit Lions announce they will move to a downtown facility, yet-to-be-constructed.

December 2000 — The City of Pontiac sues the Lions, trying to force the team to honor its 30-year lease that was to have run through 2006. 

November 2001 — Pontiac and the Lions settle the suit with the team paying the city $26.3 million, more than the remaining $14 million in bond debt.

Jan. 6, 2002 — The Detroit Lions play their final game at the Silverdome, a 15-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys, before moving to Ford Field.

May 2002 — Online bidding begins for potential purchasers and developers for the Silverdome site.

July 2003 — Three finalists in the first-round bidding appear at a public forum to present their proposals which include offices, retail, restaurants, technology businesses, a hotel, an aquarium and convention space among the plans. 

November 2004 — The Michigan High School Athletic Association holds its last football finals at the Silverdome, moving them to Ford Field in 2005. High school teams had played at the dome since 1976.

June 2005-February 2006 — The two remaining proposals from the July 2003 bidding deadline are withdrawn.

March 2007 — The Silverdome officially closes.

October 2007 — Nine bidders say they are interested in the site during the second round of bidding.

March 2008 — Seven plans are proposed at the deadline of the third round of bidding, including baseball, a casino, an indoor water park, horse racing, a convention center and a research park.

July 2008 — The Pontiac City Council votes 4-2 in favor of the potential $20 million Silverdome sale to Bloomfield Hills attorney H. Wallace Parker's Silver Stallion Development Corp. Mayor Clarence Phillips vetoes it. The City Council overrides the veto.

November 2008 — The deadline for the dome's sale to Silver Stallion passes without the city and the group making a deal.

March 2009 — Gov. Jennifer Granholm appoints Fred Leeb as Pontiac's emergency financial manager. 

June 2009 — Emergency Financial Manager Fred Leeb announces plans to auction off the dome and plug its drain on city finances. 

Sept. 3, 2009 — The Pontiac City Council unanimously rejects Leeb's proposal to auction the site with no minimum bid required. Leeb has the authority to proceed anyway.

Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or [email protected]
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