Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Denver's Delightful LoDo area -- A Lesson for Stadium District Development

After writing the entries yesterday about planning for Washington's new baseball stadium, where I mentioned the LoDo District in Denver, I finally dove into the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch and found a travel section article entitled "Denver's delightful LoDo area."

LoDo is hailed by most sports business advocates as a revitalization success story sparked by the Coors Stadium. But if you read the book Cities Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz (if you only have the time to read one book about urban revitalization, this might be the book for you, it's full of stories, mini-case studies) you know that the LoDo District story pre-dates the baseball stadium by about 20 years (in fact the book was researched over a period of five years before Coors Stadium was planned, and the book was published a year or two before the stadium opened).

The stadium came to LoDo because it already was a great destination attracting visitors. Adding the stadium made a great district even more inviting.

This by the way is a key difference between Baltimore and Denver. LoDo is a real place, while Harborplace is fun, but created, without a lot of authenticity--do you really need to go to Harborplace to find a California Pizza Kitchen? (Read this case study of Harborplace from a Florida tourism group--which among its points states that the Inner Harbor has multiple quality transit modes .)

The Denver Tourism Guide describes the attraction of the Colorado Rockies baseball team thusly: "Experience some major league fun April 4, 2005 (or throughout the season) during the Colorado Rockies home opener at Coors Field. Enjoy the 76-acre ballpark centered in Denver’s lower downtown "LoDo" district". Yet, the travel review by Knight Ridder Newspapers journalist Anne Chalfant doesn't mention the baseball stadium at all in her description. In fact, she describes a trip that she took to Denver in January.

Chalfant describes a district that is worth seeing and visiting for days at a time because it has a lot to offer and is exciting, not because it is hard to get to or leave....

"I rode the Free [Mall]Ride everywhere for three days, hopping off and walking only a few steps or a block in this restored historic district of 26 square blocks of brew pubs, restaurants, stores, museums, parks. There's no traffic, just buses, on the mall, although Denver's mounted police are allowed. [Note how part of the strategy for promoting the LoDo District is great transit, not crappy transit and transit infrastructure.]

For three days, I lived the LoDo lifestyle, with nothing low about it. I ate dinner in one of the nation's top-rated new restaurants, Adega. I went to the theater in the nation's second-largest performing arts center. I gawked at the new wing of Denver's Modern Art Museum, the wing designed by Daniel Liebeskind, who won the bid for construction of the new World Trade Center space. And I considered taking up permanent residence in one of the comfy chairs at Tattered Cover, the nation's largest independent bookstore."

One of the places to visit is Wynkoop Brewing, Denver's first brew pub (founded by Denver's current mayor John Hickenlooper--do you think he understands the value of independent businesses in generating value, character, pride, and quality as the foundation of ground up community revitalization?).

Here's how the website describes the brewpub: "You know we say “Park it Here” because there’s so much to do at the Wynkoop; you can park it once and have a great time all evening. There’s fanstastic food, homemade beer, pool, darts and tabletop shuffleboard. There’s a comedy club right downstairs, and you can even book a banquet for up to two hundred. So park it at the Wynkoop. Or get off the Light Rail two blocks away and park it here without parking at all."

Look at how much you can do in just one place in LoDo! Multiply that by the scads of other activities--restaurants, stores, and things to do. It sure sounds a lot more exciting than Herb Miller's proposal to build big box stores (Staples, Target, Sports Authority, etc.) next to the stadium on Washington's Anacostia Waterfront.

Exciting places are attractions, and part of urban destination development and management includes sound transit planning and expansion (such as the Downtown Circulator that is coming to Washington, through the initiative of DC's Department of Transportation, the Downtown DC BID and other stakeholders).

The book-movie Field of Dreams had it wrong, or at least incomplete: "If you build it [they] will come" but only if you build it right.

Things to see and do, places to eat, a place that is convenient to get to, and easy to get around once you're there--those are the "secrets" to great destinations.

I higly recommend to anyone the Nova Scotia Tourism Partnership Council's Tourism Destination Assessment Workbook. It really gets you thinking about the components of great places, whether or not you are trying to attract tourists.


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