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.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Let it go: Washington Redskins and Virginia

*" Let it Go" is one of the songs from the movie "Frozen," for six months or more, the little girls next door took every opportunity to sing the song, the littlest, then maybe 16 months, used to sing it as "'et it go."  We use that phrase around the house now when we're talking about how we should react to things out of our control.

The new Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California.  SF Chronicle photo by Michael Macor.

The media ("Tug of war for new Redskins stadium is complicated by name debate" Washington Post) has reported that the State of Virginia is talking with the Redskins and offering them sites in far western suburbs.  The team already has its practice facility and headquarters in Ashburn, Virginia and recently relocated its summer camp to Richmond, Virginia.

While I still don't favor public financing of stadiums and arenas for professional sports teams unless the government ("the people") get a financial participation interest in the increased value a team gets from new facilities (see "Stadiums and arenas as enabling infrastructure"), I am coming around some on the value of sports teams in terms of intra-metropolitan competition for attractions, anchors, branding, etc.

However, some types of sports teams are much better at having a local financial return than others ("American City Business Journals calculates the capacity of North American metropolitan areas to support new/additional professional sports teams").  Generally, American football teams and their stadiums don't seem to provide much spillover benefit to community-urban revitalization.

So I can't see much economic benefit for cities in seeking a football stadium, notwithstanding the current events in Greater Los Angeles involving the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers--all teams trying to get their home cities to build new stadiums.

Can you name an area around a football stadium that has improved as a result of it?  I can't.  At least, not thinking about stadiums in DC/Maryland--both the Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens; the Philadelphia Eagles, or the Meadowlands complex in New Jersey,just to name a few.

San Francisco Chronicle graphic.

There are a few reasons for this.  First, the stadiums cost so much to build.  For example, the stadium for the Dallas Cowboys cost $1.2 billion.

Second, that means football stadiums cost a lot to finance and this typically puts a huge financial burden on local and state governments who end up financing them.  The under construction stadium for the Minnesota Vikings will cost over $1 billion, with about half coming from the State of Minnesota and the City of Minneapolis, split 2/3 - 1/3 between the two).. The new Levi Stadium for the San Francisco 49'ers ended up costing about $1.3 billion, with much of the financing by a public authority.

Third, football stadiums host few events, maybe 12 to 20 including practice games and other events.  A baseball stadium holds at least 82 events, and an arena shared by basketball and hockey teams can have almost as many.

Tailgating at FedEx Field.  Photo by Joshua Yospyn via WJLA-TV.

Fourth, most people drive to football games, which taxes the infrastructure in ways that stadiums where people can use transit do not.  And they need a lot of land for parking lots, which isn't used most of the year.

By contrast an urban baseball stadium or arena served by transit needs a lot less parking, and every site not used as a parking lot can be used for buildings and other uses.

And now that arena projects are being expanded into mixed use districts, such facilities in center cities have great revitalization potential compared to single use facilities.

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At 8:47 AM, Anonymous charlie said...


I'd agree that urban stadiums come from an era where we thought surface parking lots were good for cities.

The Madrid soccer stadium is extremely urban, works well, and takes huge crowds. So it can be done, just maybe not in the US.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I do think that European soccer stadiums can serve as a counter example, but I don't have enough personal experience to be able to generalize.

I was surprised (I wrote about it last year I think but maybe 2013) to come across research finding a positive connection between property value and proximity to a soccer stadium.

And then you have examples, like the one you mention, of a stadium tightly integrated into the grid, where people don't drive.

Tailgating culture is a big thing here, I guess. (I am not into football so I have never participated, except a couple times at UMichigan.)

But I don't think all European soccer stadiums function like the one you call attention to in Madrid.

One of the Liverpool teams (Everton?) aiming to expand, has been buying property around its current stadium and letting it moulder, slum-like, with the aim of building a bigger stadium. I think a lot of the UK soccer stadiums have issues in terms of "revitalization generation."

OTOH, there was that piece I mentioned a couple weeks ago, about the football-oriented hotel next to the Manchester City stadium.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I don't remember super well the Indianapolis stadium from when I was there. I didn't really have time to explore and evaluate the town the way I like to do normally.

They don't have real transit, so everyone drives anyway. And the core isn't all that densely populated. (A big issue when they had the super bowl was the lack of a taxi infrastructure to move visitors around. The presumption concerning mobility is that everyone has a car.)

At 10:07 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Indy, don't know it either, remember it being cited as a urban football stadium.

At 10:34 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

it is. while the urban design elements around the stadium seem to be decent, Indianapolis doesn't have the same kind of tight urban fabric that we do in DC. But the stadium is within the core.

another example would be New Orleans. I haven't been in that area of NO though.

Even the Detroit one is planted right in the heart of the city close to Grand Circus Park. But I think it's an example of a football stadium not being enough in and of itself. The "District Detroit" initiative will put the basketball-hockey arena in the same general area, with a big complementary development initiative around it.

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as far as bringing the Skins back to the city and breaking the " curse" it is pretty apparent that the only viable space/place for a new football stadium in DC is the site of RFK stadium- and whatever is done would likely involve demolition of the existing stadium- which is obsolete for modern NFL uses. Any other options would mean a relocation to another suburb. Football, up into the 60's was not as suburban a sport as it is now- it was more urban- but I do not think that Dan Snyder would be sympathetic to a city location when he could probably get a better deal out in the Sprawl. All of this begs the question that nobody has yet answered or even approached; what to do with the existing FUGLY ass RFK stadium? If it is to be torn down- what goes in there? a ginat full service homeless shelter? or an extension of the existing city grid, built by developers who will create just more box like dull and relentless boring buildings ? What else could/ would/ should go in there?

At 7:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I think that the site should be redeveloped, part could be parks etc. like some groups want. Definitely the parking lots abutting Benning Road ought to be redeveloped as primarily housing, by extending the street grid.

this is a more recent piece I wrote

but other pieces I wrote inspired by my involvement on the design advisory committee for the 11th Street Bridge Park explore different ways to look at the Anacostia in a more integrated fashion.

Those pieces are linked within this entry:

... wrt RFK, unfortunately, the family is very much wedded to the continued presence of a stadium there as a memorial.

with the creation of a new soccer stadium, there will be no real need for keeping the stadium, which opens up an opportunity for planning, which the bag job "planning" initiative initiated by CM Orange is not.

At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

we already have enough park land in this area that is neglected and not orederly or taken care of at all. I am against new parks- DC is over run with useless fallow parks and crummy smelly sleazy green spaces that do nothing but take up valuable land that could make for a better city- I am in favor of extending the street grid by all means- to the river if possible.Yes- please get rid of the damn sea of parking that disfigures this approach to DC.If a memorial to RFK is insisted upon- rebuild it as a truly grand edifice and not as another ugly gray crappy piece of brutalist temporary junk but as something that lines up perfectly with the existing monuments, made of lovely stone or marble, with artistic sculptures on its facade, and enhances the beauty of the city- and doesnt obliterate it as it does now. Knock the existing stadium down.


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