Ford Field abandons plan for a retractable roof

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Ford Field retractable roof Image: Dave Reginek/Getty Images

The Detroit group trying to attract a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise will not retrofit Ford Field with a retractable roof to sweeten the expansion bid, according to several local media reports.

Businessman Dan Gilbert, Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and the William Clay Ford Family are clear they will “not move forward with this proposed retrofit, because the risks that would inhere to such an undertaking would substantially outweigh the rewards,” the Detroit Free Press reported citing a letter that was addressed to MLS commissioner Don Garber and MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott.

The four-page letter, dated Sept. 24, was signed by Gilbert and Detroit Pistons vice chairman and minority owner Arn Tellem, who is serving as the bid group’s liaison with MLS. The letter indicates Gores, Detroit Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford and Lions president Rod Wood received copies, according to the report.

But, pressing their initiative to obtain a team, the bidders propose developing a new youth soccer training facility and a dozen new soccer parks with more than 100 pitches to benefit 150,000 youths in the city.

Meanwhile, The Detroit News reported that despite abandoning the plan to install the retractable roof, the bidders said they would continue with their vision to make significant changes to Ford Field.

They vowed to establish optimum sightlines, “first-class MLS team locker rooms and related spaces,” a flexible capacity from 26,000 to 64,000 seats and increased signage for sponsors, The Detroit News reported.

They also pledged to develop the training facility and academy at the corner of Woodward and Seven Mile Road and the soccer parks over the next three years, it added.

The Detroit News cited further details from letter from Gilbert and Tellem to Garber. “We appreciate that you and the MLS Expansion Committee have been impressed with our vision, the strength of our ownership group and the appeal of Detroit as an MLS market. We agree with your assessment that our bid is unrivaled in each of these critical respects,” the letter stated.

“Based on that assessment, you told me last April that MLS would grant us an expansion team if we agreed to put a retractable roof on Ford Field.

“After careful study and analysis, however, we have determined not to move forward with this proposed retrofit, because the risks that would inhere to such an undertaking would substantially outweigh its rewards,” it added.

But, the bidding group made clear they are not going away.

“We understand and respect the MLS expansion process and your preference for soccer-specific stadium,” Gilbert and Tellem wrote. “But in view of the strength of our bid and the commitments we are prepared to make to MLS, the presence or absence of a retractable roof should not be a dispositive factor.”

It’s not clear whether the decision will impact the future of the bid, but Garber has said multiple times the league prefers open-air, soccer-specific venues. Detroit is among the cities in the running for one of the remaining two bids in the league’s rapid expansion to 28 teams.

The Detroit Free Press also reported that Garber responded to the letter on Sept. 26: “We will be reaching out soon to set up a time to meet and look forward to continuing the discussion to determine if there’s a mutual path forward to achieve our collective vision for MLS in Detroit.”

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