Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Old, Empty Stadiums Could Be Last-Minute Gifts -

Old, Empty Stadiums Could Be Last-Minute Gifts -
[SP1] Associated Press
The Pontiac Silverdome is shown last month.

Most sports fans assume that once a stadium or arena is replaced by a newer model, the old house is immediately blown to smithereens in a pyrotechnics show that would make James Cameron proud. But many more than you think are still around. Some have historical value, while others are still bringing in funds to cash-strapped municipalities. Who knows, some may even be available to well-heeled holiday shoppers looking for a last-minute gift. Here are a few:

Pontiac Silverdome, Pontiac, Mich.
Thirty-five years after taxpayers spent $56 million to build it, this domed stadium, once home to the NFL's Detroit Lions and NBA's Pistons, was auctioned off last month for $583,000 to the highest bidder—a developer from Toronto. After several lawsuits, the deal is expected to go through this month because the city can no longer afford to maintain it. The developer, Andreas Apostolopoulos, spent last week in Pontiac and says he is in discussions with Major League Soccer to bring a team to the Detroit area. He says the stadium might not be quite the bargain it appears, given the amount he'll have to invest to bring the facility up to speed. "There's a lot of work to do first," he says.
Reliant Astrodome, Houston
The world's first domed sports stadium, the Astrodome was nicknamed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" when it opened in 1965 to house baseball's Astros and football's Oilers. But since the Astros moved into Minute Maid Park (née Enron Field) for the 2000 season, after the Oilers had already decamped for Tennessee for the 1997 season, the city has spent millions over the years on basic upkeep even though the dome has no major tenants. After plans fell through to convert the facility into a hotel and convention center, there are groups lobbying to turn it into everything from a movie studio to a planetarium.
Pyramid Arena, Memphis, Tenn.
Associated Press
The Pyramid in Memphis shown in early 2008.
Opened in 1991, this 20,000-seat arena on the banks of the Mississippi—one of the world's 10 largest pyramids—housed the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies and the University of Memphis men's basketball team until both moved to the FedEx Forum in 2004. Shelby County, which sold its half share in the arena to the City of Memphis this year, has considered refashioning the pyramid as a casino or an aquarium. A local congressman suggested opening a new branch of the Smithsonian Institution. Sporting-goods outfitter Bass Pro Shops is renting the pyramid for $35,000 a month with plans to convert it into a megastore, but a spokesman says the company won't purchase the building.
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington
Former home of both the Redskins and baseball's second Senators franchise, which moved to Texas to become the Rangers after the 1971 season, the 48-year-old RFK hasn't been able to hook a new team for long despite $18.5 million in renovations for baseball's Nationals, which played there from 2005 through 2007. Critics pronounced it one of baseball's worst stadiums on account of its cramped quarters and awkward layout. The resident DC United soccer team hopes to have a new home by 2012.
Balboa Stadium, San Diego
Built in 1914, this facility housed the Chargers during some of their winningest years from 1961 to 1966 and hosted three American Football League championship games during that period. Now owned by the city of San Diego and leased to the local school district, the stadium has fallen into such disrepair that many soccer players and runners fear injury on the worn-down track and torn-up turf. The city and district have said they can't afford renovation.
Olympic Stadium, MontrealSP3
Associated Press
Montreal's Olympic Stadium in 2001.
Designed for the 1976 Olympic Games by ambitious French architect Roger Taillibert, this structure—which was part of a $1.5 billion project that was just paid off a few years ago—has been plagued by problems since its inception, thanks to labor strikes, fires and a host of structural snafus. The inclined tower—now the highest in the world—wasn't finished in time for the Olympics, nor was the retractable roof, which proved unstable in high winds even when it was completed a decade later. Part of the roof collapsed before the Montreal auto show in 1999. Once home to baseball's Expos, a soccer team and the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes, the stadium was used this month for a swine-flu-vaccination clinic.
Beijing National Stadium, Beijing
This stadium, built for about a half billion dollars before the 2008 Olympic Games and better known as the "Bird's Nest," was transformed into a snow park this month, much to the chagrin of environmentalists who say creating the artificial snow is a waste of water, especially given the continuing drought in the area. The snow festival is one of only a handful of events the stadium has hosted since the Olympics. With annual operating costs of roughly $10 million, the facility was placed under government management in August to curb financial losses.
Alamodome, San Antonio
Opened in 1993, the nearly $200 million arena was forsaken seven years ago by the NBA's Spurs, fans of which complained of poor views from many seats in the designed-for-football stadium. (The Spurs now play in the AT&T Center). In 2005 the San Antonio City Council voted to spend close to $6.5 million to renovate the arena to lure a Major League Soccer franchise to the city, but it soon abandoned that plan, and the city hopes to someday draw an NFL team. One of Texas' least-utilized stadiums, it hosted the New Orleans Saints for a few games in 2005 when they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The stadium's bread and butter is playing host each year to college football's Alamo Bowl, which this season will feature Texas Tech against Michigan State.
The Forum, Inglewood, Calif.
Home of the Los Angeles Lakers and NHL's Kings until both moved to the Staples Center in 1999, this circular, $16 million arena was purchased by the Faithful Central Bible Church in 2000, though the church stopped holding regular services in the arena earlier this year. The church's Web site states "WE ARE AVAILABLE" for film shoots and rehearsal space; earlier this year the Lakers played a preseason game in the Forum to celebrate the team's 50th season in Los Angeles. The arena also has hosted big health clinics for low-income families.
Write to Hannah Karp at

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