Do Stadiums Bring Development?

Defense of the proposed Minnesota Vikings downtown stadium is typically accompanied by a handful of arguments. One of the most prominent being that of associated development. If we build it, the developers will come! Unfortunately this commonplace argument is based little in reality.

“The mayor’s position is he believes that the site is really prime for development,” said [Mayor R.T.] Rybak spokesman John Stiles. “Sometimes people say, ‘Well, look at it, nothing’s happened in 30 years’…but a lot is happening now.” […]

“There are a lot of surface parking lots over there by the Metrodome,” Stiles continued. “There’s a lot of available land. There are a lot of landowners interested in selling their land.” [Pioneer Press, March 4, 2012]

For a place to be successful, it needs people. All types of people. This is why the idea of creating “sports entertainment districts” might not be such a great idea.

Proposals for entertainment or sports districts occasionally sprout up in City Councils meetings as the next big thing. While it certainly is tempting in its efforts to capitalize on people’s passion for retail, sports, food and drink; it is a development prospect that should be viewed with skepticism. Mostly because it doesn’t actually happen.

If we build it, they will come? This argument doesn’t hold up under even the most modest of scrutinies. The Twin Cities own experiences should serve lesson that large sport and convention center venues do not create a catalyst for development.

[Minneapolis, Minnesota – 1991, 2002, 2009]

Notice the development around the Metrodome? Neither did anyone else. North of the Metrodome, near the Guthrie Theater, residential development has occurred, but little of which can be attributed to proximity to the Metrodome. The Mississippi River, cultural amenities and other forces play a larger role in redevelopment.

St. Paul has had similar results with the Excel Energy Center.

[St. Paul, Minnesota – 1991, 2002, 2009]

The taxpayer-subsidized arena was supposed to act as a catalyst for development in St. Paul. Ten years later, there isn’t much to show for it besides renovated pubs along West 7th Street. All of which are fantastic (McGoverns, The Liffey, Eagle Street, Tom Reid’s), but the success of these local watering holes is hardly worthy of hundreds of millions dollars in taxpayer subsidizes.

Stadiums prompting development in the immediate surrounding area of new stadium construction certainly sounds like a plausible argument as large infrastructure projects do typically yield private development. However, sport stadiums appear to be the exception to the rule.

[Indianapolis, Indiana – 1992, 2007, 2010]

The new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is pictured above. Notice the RCA Dome in the 1992 and 2007 images. It’s a now a convention center – a non-private sector development.

[Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 1992, 2002, 2011]

Philadelphia’s sports district has seen little improvement in two decades. Sports stadiums seemed to beget only more sports stadiums … and open surface parking lots. A similar story exists in Phoenix, Arizona, where not even the seemingly omnipresent speculative housing subdivisions of Phoenix desired proximity.

[Phoenix, Arizona – 1992, 2003, 2011]

Even urban success stories of the 2000s (such as Denver and Pittsburgh) with large influxes of people clamoring for downtown and inner-city real estate struggled to fill in the empty surfaces surrounding their sport stadiums.

[Pepsi Arena, Denver, Colorado – 1992, 2002, 2011]

[Coors Field, Denver, Colorado – 1993, 2003, 2011]

[Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – 1993, 2004, 2010]

Is Minneapolis the exception to the rule? Will we somehow beat this stadium vacuum? It’s unlikely. When a large building (such as a $1 billion stadium) fails at creating a lively mix of retail, residential, commercial and civic space – it creates an isolating space not worthy of the public affection. Developers, unless enticed with subsidizes, will likely avoid these places.

It doesn’t help that these stadiums aren’t cheap – taxpayers usually end up taking on the initial bill, and all the risk. Stadiums and their surrounding districts are the new “Bilbao anomaly”, are the new urban mall, are the new downtown casino, are the new urban renewal.

13 thoughts on “Do Stadiums Bring Development?

    1. Nathaniel

      In this post, I certainly didn't want to imply favoritism towards any particular site. My goal was to articulate that stadiums typically have poor urban design outcomes and don't really spark development, as is claimed by proponents and local boosters.

  1. Andrew

    So what makes a site like the Metrodome kill everything around it, while something like Target Field is nestled in its neighborhood like its always been there?

    1. Nathaniel

      There are a handful of differences. Urban design is one. The Metrodome sort of knocked everything down, whereas the original construction of Target Field was to nestle it into its surroundings. I'm probably not the most qualified to answer this question, but,

      Target Field was built over a parking lot, next to a garbage burner (which is sort of okay in my mind), existing parking garages, and a small handful of mixed use buildings. So, I mean, it doesn't connect terribly well to 3/4 of the surroundings, but why would you want to connect with a garbage burner? You simply wouldn't.

      Anyway, I'm under the impression that Target Field will have a much smaller footprint than that of a new Football stadium. Regarding development around the Field, well, I don't think it'll happen, at least not under market conditions.

      Those are my quick two sense. Anyone, feel free to poke holes in them. I'd love to continue this conversation.

    1. Nathaniel

      Bill –

      As a member of the St. Paul Planning Commission, will you be having a say (possibly) on a newly proposed St. Paul Saints field (i.e.: Lowertown proposal)? If so, shoot me and e-mail, I'd love to bounce some ideas off you.

      Feel free to post something similar to this. I didn't really expand on much, other than basically show photos. More needs to be addressed on this topic!

      Best -Nate

  2. John Bailey

    Good and timely article. I do think there is some nuance between different types of stadiums. For instance, I think that basketball arenas and baseball parks can be more easily integrated into the urban fabric and incent development more than football stadiums. (I can't bring myself to use "stadia.") Obviously, this is primarily due to size (those are smaller), but also the amount of use that each one is likely to get.

    Now this is not to say there aren't hordes of examples of baseball parks and basketball arenas that didn't incent squat (Baltimore, Cleveland. etc.). I just think they can do a better of job jump-starting, or at least supporting, other good development. I lived in DC from 2000-2007, and saw that with the (privately financed) downtown basketball arena (moved from the MD suburbs) and starting to see that with the new Nats ballpark in SW DC. There is a lot going on there besides the new stadiums of course, but maybe that is part of the point…if you are putting all your eggs in a stadium basket…your likelihood of failure is high.

    1. Nathaniel

      John –

      Thanks for the comment. I'm not familiar with the D.C. stadium issue, but it'll be interesting to see how those areas develop. I didn't want to imply that stadiums can never be catalysts for development – it's just that history seems to dictate otherwise. I don't feel that the Vikings proposal will be the exception to this rule.

      I do agree that there are differences between baseball, football, basketball, hockey, etc – football probably driving the least amount of traffic overall. It'll be interesting to see how the St. Paul Saints stadium proposals develops.

      Of course, all of this, in my opinion, is outside the realm of whether public funds should go to things like privately-owned stadiums, of which, are not typically open to the public.

      Best -Nate

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