Monday, April 2, 2018

The Real Impacts of Downtown Sporting Venues

Nur Asri is an Associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates.

The 2018 Major League Baseball season is upon us. Like every other major professional sport, the season reminds us of the vast impacts– both good and bad – that sport has on our cities and downtowns. Across the country, downtowns are becoming choice sites for sports arenas. In 2016, the Brookings Institution found that 45 stadiums and arenas for the four major professional sports — football, baseball, basketball, and hockey — were constructed/renovated in the United States from 2000 to 2014 with a large majority of these being built in urban centers.

This map shows a concentration of sports teams (and by extension, their stadiums) by city from 2012.

Communities around the country are often told by political leaders of the potential economic effects of building these stadia or arenas; however the reality is often a lot less rosy. Sure, these attractions are bringing in visitors downtown in large numbers like no other business might. Last year, the average attendance to any Major League Baseball game in the US was approximately 30,000. In 2016, the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx saw over 3.5 million spectators enter their doors.

As a result, local bars and restaurants might see hikes in foot traffic due to pre- and post- game crowds seeking replenishment. In Downtown Sacramento, pedestrian traffic in the immediate area of the NBA Kings stadium grew by 10%, according to the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. Many bars have even leveraged these pedestrian counts by hosting parties that coincide with game days and even hired special DJs or introduced sport-themed menu items to lure passing crowds. Unfortunately, the same impact is unlikely for retailers offering goods and services unrelated to entertainment, dining, or sports and wellness. So the jewelry store, hair salon or local book store aren’t naturally going to be the biggest fans of a stadium.

The No-Trickle Effect
In recent years, stadiums themselves have become increasingly mixed-use and entertainment-focused attractions. This means that the developments are inward-looking and offer amenities and attractions that responsive to what already exists in adjacent areas. In particular, the retail and food and beverage offerings found within stadiums are driving visitors with busier schedules to completely skip stopping by outside bars and restaurants before games and spending their dollars directly in these arenas.

In an anecdote from 2012, owner of the Yankee Tavern in the Bronx, Joe Bastone, stated that his business was not really making more money as a result of the new Yankee Stadium’s opening. He claimed that the stadium in fact killed local business because once inside, “visitors can choose from 444 souvenir shops, eateries and concession stands, nearly 50 percent more options than in the old stadium. From hot dogs to Cuban sandwiches and sushi, and from pennants to pinstriped jerseys, Yankees fans can find it all without setting foot outside the stadium.”
Photo: USA Today
Some stadiums have carefully curated concession stands to offer local fare and structured vendor deals with local restaurants. For example, the Barclays Center in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, home to the Nets basketball team and Islanders hockey team, offers Brooklyn-based Williamsburg Pizza, Café Habana Cuban sandwiches, and of course Brooklyn Lager on tap. However, stadium and sports arena developments still have much more to do in terms of growing partnership with small businesses and downtown associations and to enhance cross-shopping opportunities outside the arenas to support adjacent economies.

Furthermore, having tens of thousands of bodies arrive all at once in a concentrated geography doesn’t always bode well for businesses and residents. The hordes of spectators entering and leaving the downtown can be noisy and disorganized, and will certainly impede the regular operations of a business. To mitigate the impacts of human and vehicular congestion on game days, downtown associations are taking a few precautionary measures:

Educating potential visitors on available parking options and street closures. Partner with local news outlets to publish day-of articles that include details on how to get to sporting venues by car or by public transit. This information helps visitors plan their trip ahead of time and reduces frustration on the day of the game.
Uber at Coors Fields, CO
Partnering with ride-share services to manage people and vehicle flow near the venue. Designated Uber pick-up and drop-off areas with clear signage and instructions should be made available to riders to reduce congestion near the stadium.

Detroit Tigers, for example, signed Uber as the official ride-sharing partner for Comerica Park in downtown Detroit. The partnership not only designates pick up areas but also offers first time riders promotional codes. The same deal was made with the Detroit Lions and Detroit Pistons.

Providing shuttle rides to and from transit stops or parking lots farther away. Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena partners with the Downtown Partnership to provide such a service during event days. Again, this helps reduce congestion near the arena and makes the experience downtown less stressful for visitors.
Photo: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

Providing convenient, attended bike parking service. This strategy has in fact made driving to games the more inconvenient option for those in San Francisco. A regulation passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1999 requires monitored bicycle parking if an event incurs a street closure and anticipates more than 2,000 participants. As a result, all San Francisco Giants games played at AT&T park now provide valet bike parking services to more than 200 spectators, thanks to an arrangement with local bike advocacy group, SF Bicycle Coalition.

So if you’re thinking of attracting a sports team to make its home downtown in a new arena to catalyze further investment in the area and attract visitors, think also about the potential impacts it will have on foot traffic diversion and vehicular congestion. Prepare small local businesses for game days and at the same time, make sure that the arena is responsive to and supportive of existing businesses in the area. 

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