DETROIT // Built three decades ago for US$56 million (Dh206m), the Pontiac Silverdome has been sold at auction for a paltry $583,000 to a Canadian-based company. That comes out at $7.25 a seat, a fire sale that has reduced the once-proud arena to another sad symbol of the Detroit area's economic collapse. The NFL's Lions called it home from 1975 to 2001, while the NBA's Pistons played there from 1978 to 1998.
The stadium hosted the 1979 NBA All-Star game and Super Bowl XVI in January 1982, when the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21 and their legendary quarterback Joe Montana was named MVP. It was also under the Silverdome's air-inflated, cross-hatched silver roof that WrestleMania III took place. Hulk Hogan's win over Andre the Giant drew 93,173 fans in March 1987, which is still thought to be a record indoor crowd for an event in North America.
Now the arena is an abandoned laughing stock. Mostly unused since the Lions moved to Detroit's Ford Field in 2002, the dome has saddled Pontiac with a maintenance bill of $1.5m a year. Drive-in movies were briefly shown in the parking lot, while other ventures to convert it into a casino, shopping mall, minor league baseball stadium and an entertainment complex have also failed. The buyer, Triple Properties Inc of Toronto, say they plan to use the site for a football arena.
They are expected to close the deal within 45 days after a judge cleared the way for the sale this week - taking note of the region's hard times. The Oakland County circuit judge Edward Sosnick said the stadium "represented hope for those who worked and lived and grew up in this area". "I am aware of the human agony in the community at large, and particularly in Pontiac," he said. "We're in this together."
For years, Pontiac has been one of the less prosperous of Detroit's north west suburbs. The city of 66,000 fell under state financial oversight in March after local officials failed to balance the annual budget. Many of the once well-paying jobs that supported the local economy have disappeared with the hard-hit US car industry. Pontiac once had about 20,000 General Motors workers, but plant closures have wiped out almost all of them.
Pontiac had nearly 1,100 homes in foreclosure last month, according to the latest figures released by RealtyTrac. Fred Leeb, who was appointed by the state as Pontiac's emergency financial manager, said the city was lucky to get anything at all. "In fact, due to past difficulties in dealing with city administration, the depressed state of the local economy and high cost of demolition, three major real estate developers stated they would not take over the Silverdome even if it were provided to them at cost," Leeb wrote in an affidavit to the judge.