Tears, beers and developing

Sep 29, 1999 at 12:00 am


Innocent bystanders who happened upon the fabled Detroit intersection of Michigan and Trumbull over the past week or so were no doubt awash in maudlin sentiment and wistful reminiscence, as Monday’s closing of Tiger Stadium coincided with the opening of the floodgates of lachrymose dewy-eyed nostalgia.

Inevitably, in media spectacles such as this, the local chapters of the Fourth Estate deplete their cupboards of every saccharin-laced mushy adjective in an attempt to wring the last drop of sentimentality out of what is, essentially, yet another Detroit-style building abandonment-in-progress.

Not surprisingly, Mitch Albom’s front-page daily paper column on Monday morning led the unabashedly overwrought pack. Evoking the overused Tiger-stadium-as-graceful-old-dowager metaphor, Albom’s essay takes the cake with such plum lines as "She inhales proudly and raises her blue and white chin to the morning light ... she will once again bear nearly 50,000 loved ones in her lap."

Whoa, Nelly! The idea of a chin on a sports stadium stretches the bounds of credible metaphors to the figurative breaking point.

I visited the "lap" of this elegant yet rusty old dowager for the final time last week for a game against Cleveland. After being gouged, embalmed and hung out to dry by the local parking commissars, we made our way through the invading hordes of Indians fans.

Upon arriving at our assigned resting place, we were thrilled to discover that the elegant old dowager was a bit incontinent, as she had left a large puddle of indiscernible dark liquid beneath our seats, just waiting for us to dip in. Nothing like putting your toes in some nice cold water on a 40-degree night at the ballpark. Why, if I would’ve brought some Epsom salts, we’d have been all set.

Ah yes, but that’s part of the charm of the stadium. As I settled in, I thought of greats who have graced the field … Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb ... Helms.

Helms, you say? But of course ... Bubba Helms, the navel-baring, pot-bellied, beer-soaked, cannabis-infused reform school dropout who became a national poster boy for a black-eyed Detroit after the Tigers clinched the ’84 World Series.

Who can forget the memory of Helms, holding a pennant above his head and striking that coy "come hither and riot with me" pose as flipped-over police cars blazed nearby. Alas, poor Bubba, we hardly knew ye.

Seriously though, folks, if Mayor Archer can find a feasible, financed and credible redevelopment proposal for the stadium in the next year, he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. At this point, however, he’s got about as much chance of that prize as Helms.

Stay tuned. This will become the what-do-we-do-with-the-Hudson’s building drama for the next millennium.


Last Thursday saw the coming out party for Smalls, Hamtramck’s latest entry in the nightlife sweepstakes, brought to you by such folks as Perry Lavoisne, Dan Sordyl and Jeff King. Located at the corner of Caniff and Conant, this unpretentious yet studiously cool spot is the perfect hangout for some serious nighttime slithering, with a bar ably manned by King, Hamtown gatekeeper Scott Ross and a gent known only as "Kegger."

At first tentatively dubbed The Double Dare, the owners probably changed the name when they measured the place. The cozy front room features a classic bar with trendy vintage red lighting and cozy banquettes, as well as an (almost) perfectly stocked jukebox. (Lavoisne indicated he’d be removing the "All Occasions" and Elvira CDs, thereby correcting the imperfections.)

Mingling about were artist Tim Caldwell (positively giddy at the prospect of a new bar within walking distance of home), Ritual ProductionsDiana Frank ("No photos please!") and Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise drummer Jeff "Shakey" Fowlkes.

Also wedging their way into the requisite photo op were Nicole Richard and Carmen Mirabella.

This is the kind of casual-yet-cool bar real cities have in abundance. This being Detroit, however, means that the opening of such a spot is practically a citywide celebration for those looking for something to do after the sun goes down.


In downtown development gossip, emissaries of the Ilitch Empire have supposedly been engaged in discussions with Promus Hotels to build an Embassy Suites near the new stadium site, and word on the street is that it could possibly be on scenic tree-lined Madison, directly across from the Detroit Athletic Club.

Olympia Development’s Al Sebastien was tight-lipped on it all, only commenting that they are in the process of "master planning" their development plans for Ilitch’s entire downtown real estate holdings – which seem to grow daily.

Unfortunately, the chosen site is where the old crumbling-yet-charming Madison-Lenox Hotel is currently located. It would be a shame to see the powers that be tear down the Madison-Lenox in order to build a typically boring and cookie-cutter Embassy Suites, which has all the architectural charm of a suburban office park. This prospect seems more egregious when one considers the already renovated and preserved classics in the neighborhood, such as the Michigan Opera House, Music Hall, the DAC and the Gem. Would they consider such a renovation for an Embassy Suites? Only time will tell.