Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Between 1936 and 1975, political and business leaders in Detroit tried to gain support for the financing and construction of a municipal stadium. The stadium plan originated as part of an attempt to bring the Summer Olympics to the city. The municipal stadium was to serve as the main Olympic stadium and be used for a variety of events after the Olympics were finished. Later, after Detroit leaders gave up on the Olympics after several failed bids, the stadium plan evolved into a domed facility on the downtown riverfront for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions, the city’s professional baseball and football teams. This dissertation examines the attempts of political and business leaders in Detroit to build a municipal sports stadium over the course of four decades in order to illuminate key themes in Detroit history. A thorough examination of the city’s efforts to build a multi-purpose stadium contributes to a more nuanced depiction of the city’s growth and decline throughout the twentieth century. Detroit became an important industrial center with the rise of the American automobile industry during the first half of the century and became a symbol of urban decay, racial warfare, and poverty by the 1980s. Exploring the municipal stadium story within this process of growth and decline will illuminate the history of urban politics, planning, race, and economics in Detroit.

Several sport historians have analyzed the growth of professional sports as part of American urbanization and modernization, but few scholarly treatments have assessed the specific political and economic factors which led to the planning and construction of professional sports facilities and the cultural significance which city residents attached to

those facilities. Most studies of urban sport history focus on major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago, but they have neglected many cities of the industrial Midwest, including Detroit. An examination of the history of Detroit’s failed attempt to build a municipal stadium contributes to a clearer understanding about the role of urban politics, economics, and culture in the Rust Belt, particularly in terms of Detroit’s political economy during this period and the growing political and economic power of suburbs during the mid-twentieth century.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.