Trending: Sports Venues as Anchors in Retail, Entertainment Districts | Sports Destination Management

Trending: Sports Venues as Anchors in Retail, Entertainment Districts

Jul 15, 2015 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher
New Wave of Ready-Made Neighborhoods Includes New Sports Stadiums, Retail, Residences


Peanuts and Crackerjacks aren’t the only commodities around a stadium – and the economy knows it.

While it’s not uncommon for land around ballparks and football stadiums, as well as indoor arenas, to skyrocket in value once the project is underway – or at least once the crowds start rolling in – there’s a new trend afoot: the sports facility as the lynchpin in the center of a purpose-built district of retail and entertainment possibilities.

According to an article in the Tampa Tribune, the Rays’ new stadium (no matter where it’s built, and that part has not yet been decided) will be one part of a much larger and far more intricate real estate deal.

“With the era of standalone, isolated stadiums largely over, sports team owners increasingly are taking on the role of developer and using their stadiums as anchors for entertainment districts or retail and residential developments,” the article noted.

The Rays don’t have to look too far to find an example. SunTrust Park, a ballpark and entertainment district in Cobb County, Georgia, now under development by the Atlanta Braves, is expected to include up to one million square feet of retail, residential and hotel space.

It’s not just football, though, and it’s not just in the South. The Detroit Redwings have a plan in place for a new $450 million hockey arena; that development is being combined with a $200 million project to build a hotel, office space, stores and restaurants.

Michigan is already on a roll with development collocated with a sports facility; its upcoming project, The Outfield, is a series of residences that make up one wall of the Lansing Lugnuts’ new stadium.

Branching out into the development market makes sense for professional sports teams, Sharianne Walker, a professor of sports management at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts, told the Tampa Bay Tribune. And, she added, turning the area around a stadium into a destination helps strengthen a team’s place in the community and builds team loyalty.

More importantly, an entertainment district opens up revenue streams for teams that have maximized TV and concession revenue, allowing them to make money in December as well as July, she said.

“There clearly is an ‘arms race’ when it comes to sport facility construction,” Walker said. “Everyone wants to build bigger, better, more high-tech, more fan-friendly and with more high-end amenities. These facilities are expensive to build and to run, and so owners are seeking new ways to generate revenue year-round.”

The idea of a joint entertainment district-sports facility can also be seen in Kansas City when Sprint Center opened along with the Power & Light District — and while achievable, it can have its roadblocks, as the St. Louis Cardinals found out with its much-delayed Ballpark Village.

Entertainment, retail and residential districts have long sprung up around sports facilities; almost every city with a MLB, NFL, NBA or NHL team is proof of that. Foot traffic generates business before and after games; it also helps lessen crime -- all good things that developers like to tout.

To create such a district (and sports facility) from the ground up, however, takes a tremendous effort on every front. The Tribune article noted that a combined ballpark and entertainment district for the Rays would require a site of about 40 or more acres.

And then there’s the price tag. In Georgia, the 41,000-seat stadium, scheduled to open for the 2017 season, will cost $672 million, with the Braves contributing 55 percent and the remainder paid by Cobb County taxpayers through a combination of bed- and car-tax revenue and long-term construction loans taken out by the county.

That, noted the Tribune article, brings up once again that favorite chestnut of pundits: whether ballparks are, in fact, a worthwhile investment for taxpayers. Phillip Bess, a professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame and the author of City Baseball Magic: Plain Talk and Uncommon Sense About Cities and Baseball Parks, said the problem often comes at the start. In other words, what drives new stadium construction is the opportunity of making more money rather than any sense of stadiums as good long-term urban investments, Bess said.

In addition, the creation of a district takes planning to an entirely new level. Full infrastructure, parking, utilities, layout, accommodations, amenities, access to mass transit and more have to be factored in and laid out before the first piece of construction equipment ever moves onto the site. If any part of the equation is not planned out successfully, the city will be  left with a boondoggle that becomes the butt of jokes.

There haven’t been enough districts co-developed with athletic venues – but there certainly have been enough badly-designed, poorly-planned, thoughtlessly-located stadiums built through the years. ESPN created its own top-10 list – but it’s far from the only one.

The idea of destinations springing up around sports facilities is far from an American phenomenon. Olympic venues – including sports facilities, housing and more – have been built for decades, with varying degrees of success when the Games leave town.

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