Detroit writer Michael Betzold is a former Detroit Free Press reporter.
By Michael Betzold
The Police Athletic League wants to install turf at the old Tiger Stadium site, a move that is being opposed by some who say the materials used for the turf can pose serious health hazards.
Interestingly, the main expert often cited by Police Athletic League CEO Tim Richey to support its controversial decision is actually a frustrated opponent of artificial turf.
Prof. John N. “Trey” Rogers of Michigan State University’s School of Turf Management says he advised PAL to use synthetic turf only because PAL had an insufficient budget and a lack of the expertise needed to maintain a natural grass field.
PAL wanted to use the field six to ten hours daily, Rogers says, but presented a maintenance budget of “less than six figures” annually—which indicated they wouldn’t be able to hire anyone with the expertise needed to maintain a grass field at that level of usage.
Asked whether if PAL had a sufficient budget they could maintain real grass, Rogers says definitely yes—“it just takes a lot of care and know-how to do it.”
The Detroit City Council takes up the controversy over the abandoned Tiger Stadium site at its last meeting of the year Tuesday. At issue is whether the city will transfer land to the the Detroit Economic Development Corporation to facilitate PAL’s plan to build a showcase youth athletics facility on the site flanked by Larson Group housing along Trumbull and retail along Michigan.
Earlier this month, the council’s Planning and Economic Committee postponed a decision on transferring the city-owned property at “the Corner” to the city’s Economic Development Corporation after questions were raised about PAL’s plans to carpet the historic grounds with artificial turf and to limit public access to the site.
Rogers says he has 30 years of experience in the field of turf management but “I don’t care about [artificial turf] at all.”
He says “we’re all fighting a losing battle” to use natural grass on play fields mainly because artificial turf is easier and cheaper to maintain.
“The decision to use artificial turf is always made by people who will never spend one minute on the field,” he says.
“If they were out there and the surface was 140 degrees, they might not like it so much. If they were out there and banged their knee on the field, they might not like it so much.”
Rogers is quoted on PAL’s “Talking Points” distributed at community and city council committee meetings as saying “I do believe synthetic turf..,is the best option” for the PAL program.
Rogers would not say he was misquoted but expressed surprise at how his advice was being characterized. In public meetings, Richey has repeatedly cited Rogers as “a leading expert at MSU” who supports PAL’s position on artificial turf.
Richey responded that Rogers “provided us a letter and all I did was quote it” and he said that he has accurately cited Rogers’ position that artificial turf was better for the field “based on the level of programming” PAL has planned for the site.