Why the New Stadium Won’t Save Downtown East, and Why That’s a Good Thing

Much of the discussion leading up to the Great Stadium Decision of 2012 had to do with whether or not a new Minnesota Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis would be the economic boon that downtown so badly needs in order to attract the 70,000 new residents the city hopes to house there by 2025 (not to mention the many businesses those residents would bring with them).

Regardless of where you came down on the issue, the debate is now settled. The Vikings will be building a new stadium inside the city limits, more or less directly on top of the old Metrodome. What is yet to be settled—and what is perhaps even more critically important than the decision to stay in Minneapolis itself—is what development around the stadium might look like, and how a stadium can be incorporated into an urban environment that must also be both economically productive and appealing to the potential visitors and residents who will use the space during the 355 days a year in which the Vikings are not playing football.

The first thing that it’s important to establish is that development will not magically occur simply because a new stadium pops up (see the sea of parking lots surrounding the Metrodome for proof of this fact). Furthermore, the evidence (at least the evidence not funded by franchise owners) overwhelmingly suggests that sports teams and stadiums do not provide the kind of economic boost to cities that we’re often told they do. According to many economists [PDF], sports franchises actually lead to a net decrease in a city’s per capita wages on average.

This happens for a number of reasons. First, public money spent on building the stadium (a form of monetary stimulus) is money that might otherwise be used to fund projects that increase productivity more significantly over the long term—infrastructure, education, public safety, or attracting businesses to the area. (This trade-off is often called the “substitution effect.”) Similarly, because families have finite entertainment budgets, dollars spent at the stadium are not necessarily “new” dollars but rather dollars that are simply diverted away from other entertainment businesses—movie theaters, restaurants, etc.—whose revenues are much more likely to remain in the local economy than those of major sports franchises.

In short, stadiums are not economic saviors. Which—if you’re in favor of making downtown a more attractive and prosperous place to live and work (in addition to a great place to catch a game)— should come as good news.

Because once we stop insisting that the stadium will be the savior of Downtown East, we can finally get down to the business of making downtown a place in which people actually aspire to live, rather than one in which they simply aspire to tailgate.

This means (among other things): doing away with much of the surface parking in this area in favor of above- and below-ground garages (anyone who thinks doing so would discourage tailgaters has no idea just how resourceful and determined tailgaters are); increasing frequency of transit to and from downtown on game days; instituting policies that promote mixed-use development in the areas surrounding the stadium; limiting the amount of “dead space” between the stadium and its surroundings; and trying to cultivate a balance of retail and restaurants that cater to an audience beyond Vikings fans. (It bears repeating: the Vikings play just ten home games a year, leaving 355 football-less days in which this space must still be economically productive.)

Whether you’re a football fan or not (and I am), a downtown that’s lively, vibrant, and prosperous year round seems like a goal worth aiming for. If it happens to get a bit livelier on Sundays, well, I’m sure no one will complain.

 


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7 Responses to Why the New Stadium Won’t Save Downtown East, and Why That’s a Good Thing

  1. Nathaniel M Hood
    Nathaniel M Hood August 23, 2012 at 3:42 am #

    Great article Chris. I enjoyed it. Good perspectives on how to approach the situation. Best -Nate.

  2. Jeramey Jannene August 23, 2012 at 4:39 am #

    Good article. The Metrodome has often struck me as one of the most disappointing things in downtown Minneapolis when I visit.

    I hear the same refrain in Wisconsin about tailgaters (and why Miller Park wouldn't have worked downtown). The solution is so overwhelming obvious (beyond the fact that yes, they're a resilient bunch), have reserved spaces for them. Tops of parking garages, remaining surface lots, street parking spaces are places that could be marked off and rented at a premium on gameday for groups that want to tailgate.

    • Jeramey Jannene August 23, 2012 at 4:40 am #

      And when I say the Metrodome is disappointing, I'm not referring to the building itself. The sea of surface parking around it has no place downtown.

      • Nathaniel M Hood
        Nathaniel M Hood August 23, 2012 at 5:57 am #

        It's the black eye of downtown, for sure. I think that even with the stadium, there needs to be a plan to un-disconnect (aka connect!) Elliot Park from other areas of downtown. Hopefully this can happen.

  3. Phil August 23, 2012 at 4:43 am #

    One thing that needs to be done in order to spur residential development, especially family friendly development is changing the roads in the area. Currently the area lacks desirability in the streetscapes. Four lane one ways with poor bike and pedestrian amenities and a lack of greenery are, in my opinion, the greatest barrier to turnig DTE into a residential neighborhood. The city needs to look at streets in successful urban neighborhoods like 2nd St. in the Mill District or the quiet streets of Loring Park and try to emulate their good qualities in DTE. Of course, this means the city will have to make a decision if DTE should be designed to handle a large capacity of cars from all around the metro, or if it will become a place for its current and future residents.

  4. Paul Udstrand August 25, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    Nice article. I think it needs to be said however that the stadium isn’t merely a neutral influence on downtown development.

    The new stadium will actually create additional hurdles for those trying to transform and update the downtown core. For one thing, there’s a reason area’s around stadiums are “dead zones”; as far as housing is concerned few people want to live next to them, and few businesses want to operate next them.

    This stadium is also a huge problem because it’s sooooo expensive. It’s going to suck $30 – $40 million dollars a year out of the state and city budgets. That’s a lot more money than the Twins Stadium and way more than the Metro-Dome. The distorted budgets will make it much more difficult to entertain the kinds of ideas your presenting here.

    The first time I noticed the impact of parking lots and garages on a downtown core was a few years ago when my wife and I were in London. We’d been walking around London for three days amazed at it’s vibrance and beauty when I realized that we hadn’t seen a single parking lot or parking garage. When almost all of the space is devoted to living and sustaining life instead of accommodating cars it’s amazing how different a city can be.

    My thought is that MPLS should get rid of all of it’s surface parking, and a many ramps by building big ramp up in the industrial area between Washington and the River. Those ramps should then be connected to downtown by fast and possibly even automated light rail or street cars of some kind.

  5. BB August 29, 2012 at 5:23 am #

    They better have Roller Dome in the new place :)

    That was the best!

    I find it interesting that the Vikings couldn't have a stadium with the gophers, and now will play on their field.

    What do you put in circle of dead space, a box?