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.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Stadiums (and arenas) and cities versus suburbs: Atlanta

Image from Ballparks of America.

I guess I was distracted, because in the previous piece I forgot to discuss recent events in Atlanta, when earlier in November, the Atlanta Braves baseball team announced that they are leaving the city and moving to the suburbs, which is counter to the trend -- at least for baseball, basketball, and hockey -- of teams relocating to center city locations.

-- "Stunning news: Atlanta Braves moving to Cobb," Atlanta Journal-Constitution
-- "Atlanta Braves move to suburbs approved," CNN
-- "Like it or not, Braves' planned move understandable," Atlanta Journal-Constitution
-- "The Atlanta Braves' Move To Cobb County Is About Race, Not Transportation," International Business Times
-- "Your daily jolt: The threats on both sides of the Atlanta-Braves negotiations," Atlanta Journal-Constitution
-- "13 Ways Of Looking At The Atlanta Braves' Move To The Suburbs," Forbes Magazine

Note that the issue of sports teams and economic development is tricky.

1.  As discussed in the previous post, at the metropolitan scale, teams don't add to economic activity, merely substitute for other forms of entertainment.

2.  However, stadiums and arenas can contribute positively, at least in some ways, to urban revitalization at the micro scale of a sub-district of a community.

3.  But contribution is dependent on how well the facility integrates into existing urban fabric, if it extends urban fabric in positive ways, and if the scheduling of events is done in a manner that  allows for spending at nearby businesses that aren't directly affiliated with the team.  (For "early" events, people go to the facility directly from work, and buy food from the facility.  Although many sports arenas and stadiums are significantly upgrading their food offer, and incorporating more locally owned firms and brands.)

Like my point about Walmart not really being an "anchor" because their business model discourages customers from spending money anywhere else (except for prepared meals), increasingly sports events are scheduled in a manner that discourages patrons from consuming food elsewhere--at least before the event, but afterwards, except on weekends, people aren't likely to hang around and spend money anyway.

4.  The ability of teams to contribute at the micro-level to local economic activity is also dependent on how many events are held, the success of the team--even the Atlanta Braves, one of the most successful teams in baseball, only ranks 13th in attendance, whether or not the team successfully prevents the locality from assessing admissions taxes on tickets, and how much money the team is able to extract/extort from the locality for building the facility.

I would argue that baseball, which has 81 games in the regular season, and arena-based sports like basketball and hockey, especially if the two sports are offered in the same arena, have greater financial contribution than football--which has 11 games a year and the stadium typically sits empty the rest or the time--and to some extent soccer--soccer has more games than football and the stadiums cost a lot less than football--which should be positive, but soccer is still in development mode in the US compared to the other sports, so there is a limited track record for determining how well teams contribute economically at the sub-metropolitan scale.

5. The ability of teams to contribute positively to cities is in part a function of good transit systems, which allows patrons to get to events without having to drive, which allows more of the area around the facility to be developed, because of the reduced need for parking lots, and creates less traffic problems.

Football contributes less well on this dimension because of the tailgating phenomenon--people coming to the game hours before it starts, and partying-cooking int he parking lot.

The move by the Braves and its implications

The Atlanta metropolitan area is significantly sprawled and car dependent.  Heavy rail transit (MARTA) is not widely used.  While there are urban intensification and revitalization efforts in the city, such as at Atlantic Station and in the vicinity of Georgia Tech and Emory Universities, economic development trends there still favor the suburbs ("Atlanta Braves Prove New Realities In Stadium Decision," gondeee blog).  Organizations, even the main newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, continue to move out of the Downtown and the city.  (The newspaper is now located in suburban Dunwoody.)

Turner Field is seemingly close to Downtown, less than a couple miles away, but is not well connected to the urban fabric, being framed by two freeways and surrounded by parking lots, and is 3/4 mile from a MARTA station--not terribly far, but certainly not connected in the way that AT&T Park in San Francisco enjoys transit service--and is in a neighborhood that doesn't have the same fabric and place value of areas like Wrigleyville in Chicago or Fenway in Boston.
Photo by Mike Kepika of the San Francisco Chronicle. People leaving the streetcars to see a Giants game at PacBell Park in 2005.

Although plenty of other in-city stadiums, such as in Seattle, the Bronx or Queens boroughs in NYC, or even in DC--the area around that stadium is in the midst of redeveloping--don't offer experiences comparable to Wrigleyville or Fenway either.

Note how well San Francisco's AT&T Park integrates into the urban fabric.
SBC Park, San Francisco
SBC Park opened in 2000 as Pacific Bell Park. By far the most breathtaking of the 18 major league ballparks that have opened since 1989, it glories in its tight perch between a big city and a wide-open bay. SF Chronicle photo by Michael Macor.

The Atlanta Braves move follows the movement of other cultural institutions out of Atlanta proper ("Braves move seen as a blow to Atlanta and a signal of a new era," New York Times), and the failure of a transportation and transit sales tax initiative in 2012 (past blog entry, "Failure of the transit-roads sales tax measure in Metro Atlanta"), which also communicates that as far as Atlanta is concerned, and unlike many other US cities, pro-city trends are not positive.

The IBT article cited above asserts that the move is partly about racism.  Atlanta is an African-American majority city (and small in population, 2/3 the population of DC, which is small too) and the fan base for the Braves is mostly white and suburban.  The article points out that while the team claimed that lack of great transit was an issue in their move, they chose a new location with no existing transit connections and a dim likelihood for getting such service.  The piece makes similar points, focusing more on the spatial organization of racial segregation in the Atlanta region.

Other reportage makes the point that the Braves resented how much money--$1.2 Billion--that will go to a new Atlanta Falcons football stadium, and that they weren't offered a comparable package--in part because the city didn't have any more money, and because the city thought that the baseball team wouldn't move out of the city.

Although the reality is that the financing issues are complex.  The Falcons already play in a facility owned by a state agency while Turner Field is privately owned, and tax funding streams are already in place to support the publicly owned football stadium.

Cobb County is likely to provide about $250 million towards a stadium, when the City of Atlanta was likely to provide no more than $150 million

This is important to think about because if cities are going to continue to be extorted by teams in terms of subsidies, and there is no reason to think that this will change any time soon--Congress would have to step in and pass laws forbidding local funding, which will never happen--then they are going to have to make hard choices about which types of projects to fund, and which projects not to fund.

Probably it would have made more sense for Atlanta to significantly invest in baseball and in improving transit connections and the neighborhood around the stadium that could have upwards of 100-110 events each year, versus a football stadium that likely has fewer than 20 events annually.  But because of how the respective stadiums are owned, such decisions couldn't happen as quickly as the Braves wanted.

Interestingly, the NYT piece makes the point that the area of Cobb County where the stadium will be moving to is intensifying and becoming urban in ways that Atlanta isn't (not unlike how Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia and White Flint in Montgomery County, Maryland are changing their spatial organization to become more urban and less car dependent).

Other stadium and arena projects to watch

1.  Richmond.  Is still trying to build a new minor league baseball stadium in the Shockoe Bottom district downtown.  While I think that would be great, the area is constrained physically and a stadium there could pose tough transportation issues.  Plus, the current stadium is owned by the Richmond Metropolitan Agency, a multi-jurisdiction agency and it could be difficult to get the county members to sign off on such a change.

2.  Brooklyn.  The sky hasn't fallen with the opening of the Barclays Center.  It will be interesting to see how things develop there, especially by contrast to the areas around baseball stadiums elsewhere in NYC, which by contrast to similar districts in Chicago and Boston, aren't happening places.

3.  Plus, in Manhattan, the conditional use permit for Madison Square Garden was approved for a 10-year term, not indefinitely, which could lead to a plan for changes in the Penn Station area of the city.  With a new mayor not necessarily as focused on land use intensification, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

4.  Sacramento.  There is opposition to public funding of a new arena for the Sacramento Kings basketball team, which had been on the cusp of being sold and moved to Seattle.  The team was sold and plans for a new Downtown arena and adjacent development are underway.

5.  Seattle.  One of the funders of a effort to put an anti-funding referendum on the Sacramento ballot was the person who aimed to buy the team and move it to Seattle, which has poisoned his relations with the NBA.  And Mayor Mike McGinn, who was supportive of the proposed move of the Kings to Seattle, was not re-elected.

6.  DC.  Plans to trade land in an off the books transaction to avoid bond funding limits to build a soccer stadium continue to move forward, although are behind schedule.

7.  In "Devil of a Stadium Plan" the Wall Street Journal reported on how Arizona State University in Tempe Arizona is able to trade land that it owns to developers in return for their building the university a new football stadium.

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At 9:56 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I know you don't bring up these poins, but stadium+ transit means increased beer sales.

Given how much cities and counties make off drunk drivers, probably net net near zero, but much nicer for the fans.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

all in all, stadium+transit is likely to result in more add'l spending in the locality. Good point.

I realize more and more when I/and others say X or Y is always Z, it's more about not drilling down to specifics well enough.

E.g., both this post and the previous one acknowledge that at the sub-district level stadiums and arenas can have positive economic effects, even if they don't have effect at the metropolitan scale, and that it is dependent on how well they integrate--including transit-wise--into quality urban fabric.

I haven't drilled down the argument in quite the same way before, and have spent too much time arguing that Verizon Center and the Nationals Stadiums are more dependent variables in those particular situations, rather than the primary augurs.

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yeah, same granular stuff we argued about yesterday.

And the tying urban fabric sounds good. Much like your scenario planning. Transit (and to some degree bike/walk) requires your to be proactive and plan. Just let the status quo and you've got nothing.

Have you head of plans to make the M st bike lane seperated? I noticed some strange construction down in the west end yesterday.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

haven't kept up with the specifics about M St. cycletrack, I imagine it will be as separate as the L St. one.

Note this blog post on the Dutch workshop from 2010.

David Patton, an ArCo bike planner who lives in DC, and I figured out that by extending this cycletrack up to the Key Bridge, you can connect 6 different trails--so long as it is extended eastward to the MBT.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The other thing I was thinking though about what you said about drinking is football.

I don't go to football games, haven't in probably 30 years. My understanding is that NFL games can be very gnarly, violent, and tons of drunk patrons.

But transit is little used, comparatively speaking for going to the games. What's up with that?

Anyway, the comments on that story are interesting. (I hadn't read that story, but remember a similar story in the newspapers.) It's interesting that some commenters suggest that in more expensive seats the experience is better, that only 1 stadium has a family friendly section, and the experiences for many are lousy.

Why should cities spend hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize this?

At 3:21 PM, Blogger IMGoph said...

I'll debate you regarding Pac Bell being "by far the most breathtaking" of new ballparks since '89. You can argue over preferences, but I'd put PNC Park in Pittsburgh right there with it, or ahead of it. :)

Of course, it's not as well integrated with the city around it, but I'd say it's not bad.

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I should have made clear that the caption was from the original photograph. I agree that the PNC Park is very good. As you point out, it's in more of a stadium district (and other elements of that district have combined to fund for a couple years anyway, free light rail service from downtown to their Northside stop), but like Camden Yards--again, not as successful as Wrigley Field or Fenway Park--not the most urban revitalization generation successful, but a much better park and park experience, and connected a lot better than many others (e.g., the Chicago White Sox stadium).


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