Ford Field Retractable Roof Concept for MLS Scrapped

Ford Field MLS

Detroit’s Ford Field will not be retrofitted with a retractable roof to accommodate a MLS expansion club, as was recently confirmed by Detroit’s bidders. 

Detroit’s MLS expansion bid, backed by Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores, proposes that the club play at Ford Field, the downtown home of the NFL’s Lions. The stadium has been a fixed-roof facility since opening in 2002, but it was learned earlier this year that backers of the MLS expansion bid were exploring the possibility of modifying the facility to add a retractable roof.

Switching to a retractable roof seemingly could have allowed for increased flexibility, and perhaps the installation of a natural grass field (one addition that could be enticing to MLS). However, it would have not have just been a simple change to the roof, as the project would have had implications for a facility that was originally designed to be completely indoors–for instance, where there’s an open roof and potentially real grass there’s also the need for a more robust drainage system.

In a September 24 letter to MLS, the backers of Detroit’s bid told the league that it is ruling out the Ford Field retractable roof concept. While other changes would be made to the stadium to accommodate MLS, the addition of a retractable will not be one of them, “because the risks that would inhere to such an undertaking would substantially outweigh its rewards.” More from The Detroit News:

“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,” businessman Dan Gilbert and Arn Tellem, who is representing Pistons owner Tom Gores, wrote to MLS Commissioner Don Garber and President Mark Abbott. “We agree with your assessment that our bid is unrivaled in each of these critical respects.

“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.”

But, they 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.”

Since it scrapped a previous proposal for a downtown soccer-specific stadium, Detroit has seemed to cast itself as a potential success story in the mold of Atlanta and Seattle, two cities where teams are thriving in shared NFL/MLS venues. The proposal for Detroit also calls for Ford family, owners of the Lions, to join the MLS group. It was one of four finalists in the previous round of expansion, but was passed over in favor of Nashville and Cincinnati–two bids that included new soccer-specific stadiums.

Even without the retractable roof, Detroit’s bid features several intriguing elements, including Ford Field upgrades and plans for a training academy at the corner of Woodward and Seven Mile Road. Still, there is much uncertainty about the next round of MLS expansion and where Detroit will fit into that mix. We took a closer look at MLS expansion candidates in a story earlier this week.

Renderings courtesy Rossetti.

RELATED STORIES: Ford Field Retractable Roof Proposal Being StudiedLions Engaged in Ford Field Retractable Roof Discussions for MLSRetractable Roof Considered for Ford Field MLS PlansDetroit MLS Expansion Backers, MLS Continue Ford Field Discussions; Garber: Detroit MLS Expansion Bid Hampered by Ford Field PitchDetroit Prepares to Present MLS Expansion BidFour MLS Expansion Finalists AnnouncedArn Tellem: MLS Can Work at Ford FieldNew Downtown Detroit Stadium Scrapped; Ford Field Now Target MLS Facility

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