By SHAUN BYRON
email@example.com; Twitter: @shaunbyron
PONTIAC — Emergency Manager Lou Schimmel didn't say no to giving a tax break to the Silverdome's owners.
He certainly implied it, though.
“I thought you were going to make it hard for me,” Schimmel said to the applause of residents and elected officials Thursday afternoon for a hearing on a proposed tax abatement for the entertainment venue.
“I thought you were going to come in here with a very sophisticated presentation with elaborate drawings about something.”
The tax break was for an estimated $4.1 million for a five-year period.
The request, made by owner Andreas Apostolopoulos, was to do the following:
• $1 million for parking lot resurfacing
• $500,000 for new drainage around the foundation to prevent leaking
• $300,000 to replace parking lot lights with energy efficient lights
• $500,000 for automatic gates in the parking lot
• $300,000-$500,000 for upgraded emergency exit systems
• $1 million to upgrade interior lights
• $300,000 to upgrade concessions
The request also asked for tax breaks to upgrade the main concourse, ceiling floors and upgrade doors to become accessible for people with disabilities. No estimate was given in those requests.
The Silverdome was built for more than $55 million in 1975 as a home for The Detroit Lions.
It remained mothballed when the team left in 2002, moving to Detroit.
The residents were put on the hook for $1.5 million a year just to maintain until it was sold at auction to Apostolopoulos for $583,000. He pays an estimated $95,000 in taxes to the city for the property, which has a taxable value of $1.3 million and a true value of about $2.5 million.
Some of the changes listed by the owners are needed just to get it up to code, said retired Pontiac Fire Marshal Darryl Fowlkes, who inspected the facility when it was sold.
The Silverdome has a limited sprinkler system, which means none of the suites have sprinklers, Fowlkes said.
“That building is unprotected,” he said. “Things were overlooked so he could open it up.”
While Fowlkes didn’t comment on whether that is in fact the case, Schimmel said the building department is taking a good look at the Silverdome.
“We made it very clear that we are going to be over there inspecting," he said, adding the city's former emergency financial manager and emergency manager had "looked the other way.”
Residents were enraged in 2009 when news broke of the bargain price the Silverdome was sold for.
It was apparent those old wounds hadn’t healed during Thursday's hearing.
“I don’t see where we should give you guys anything,” Pontiac resident Warren Rodgers said.
A cash-strapped city like Pontiac can’t afford to help a businessman who already got a deal on a piece of prime property, said Frances Fowlkes, Pontiac resident and former Pontiac Stadium Authority chairwoman.
Jeremiah Mankopf, a partner in the Lansing-based firm Michigan Governmental Strategy, gave the presentation for the owners.
The firm was hired to represent Apostolopoulos, who was ill, Mankopf said. The tax break also doesn't absolve the owners of paying their taxes, it just freezes at its current level so the upgrades can be made, he added..
“They need to get into a competitive form,” Mankopf said. “They better they do, the better Pontiac does.”
The construction create jobs and allow the owners to hold an event every week, rather than every month, he said.
It was last October when a website for fans of professional soccer posted two drawings of a redesign for the Silverdome to support a soccer team on its website.
The drawings showed changes that would include deflating the dome and installing a natural grass stadium in its place. The bottom will be cut in half.
Officials with Apostolopoulos have also confirmed he is working to bring a soccer team to the venue.
The illustrations do show what the owners would like to do, but that is in the future, Mankopf said.
The owners of another business in Pontiac with a focus on soccer were also against the tax break.
Pontiac needs revenue and the owners already bought the Silverdome for 1 cent on the dollar, said George Derderian Jr. of Ultimate Soccer Arenas. “We spend more on our plumbing in the bathrooms than they spent for the Silverdome,” he said.
While a decision on the matter won't be made public until a second hearing, the message was clear that Schimmel wasn't impressed with what he saw.
The request was far different from what had been initially discussed, he said, calling it all upgrades and not the blockbuster project that would create hundreds of jobs. “To me, that would be a list of things I’m going to do if I’m going to buy the Silverdome for $583,000,” he said.