Saying nay

For the record, it wasn’t me who recently wrote… “Some complain that the downtown ballpark may be good for the team but lousy for downtown.”… it was Allen Johnson of N&R Editorial fame.

But it was me, and other “naysayers” saying similar things back in 2003 when the new stadium was being touted as an economic engine and development catalyst for that section of downtown.

One of the more knowledgeable of the naysayers was Ann Stringfield who undertook some serious research into the historical and empirical data separating fact from hype when it comes to building new sports venues in city centers – which has become the most recent incarnation of 1960 – 1970′s style “urban renewal”.  Among the findings (see website for citations)…

“Despite growing scholarly evidence that professional sports teams do not contribute significantly to a community’s economy, supporters of stadium subventions in both the major and minor leagues persist in using the promise of substantial stadium-induced economic activity as a rationale for them.

“Regardless of whether the unit of analysis is a local neighborhood, a city, or an entire metropolitan area, the economic benefits of sports facilities are de minimus [i.e. minimal].”  “Sports facilities attract neither tourists nor new industry.”  “Most spending inside a stadium is a substitute for other local recreational spending, such as movies and restaurants.”

One of the other trends that Anne’s “naysayer” research uncovered was that new stadiums always enjoy tremendous attendance growth for up to eight years after they are built.  But then, slowly but surely, the crowds begin to shrink back to pre-new stadium levels.

Although the Grasshoppers only missed a fourth year of record attendance by 331 fans this season, it was undeniably not an increase.  Only time will tell if this season was an earlier-than-usual beginning of the historical trend toward fewer and fewer paid ‘butts in seats’ commonly experienced by other new stadiums throughout the nation.

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8 Comments

  1. Posted September 5, 2008 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Well, we’re getting our own new ballpark over here in Winston and I think we’ll find the same result that researchers seem to be finding elsewhere. What I’m curious about is the effect of Baltimore’s Camden Yard on this whole trend. When I was a kid we’d go up to Baltimore to see the O’s play at Memorial Stadium on a regular basis and I can tell you that it was a pain because it was difficult to get to from the highway and the stadium itself wasn’t much to write home about. When they built Camden Yard it had two very significant things going for it:

    1. It was literally within sight of I-95 so it made the games exponentially easier to attend for DC suburbanites. That led to a huge increase in attendance.

    2. It was built at the harbor which was already the center of a grand urban renewal process that included a convention center, a world class aquarium, new hotels, paddle boats, historic ships, and a new mall.

    As the first “retro” ballpark Camden Yards was a huge hit and I think other cities looked at its relative success and thought a new ballpark was the answer to their prayers. What many people lost sight of was that Baltimore had some unique advantages in the harbor area that are difficult to replicate elsewhere. They also lost sight of the fact that Camden Yard was a success because of what was already happening at the harbor, not the other way around. Had Camden Yard not been such a success I wonder if these other ballpark renaissances would have been as easy a sell?

  2. Posted September 5, 2008 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Careful Jon, If you say it too loudly someone from the Bobblehead camps will start trying to build a harbor in Greensboro. They’ll probably try to move I-40 closer too– perhaps where Market Street currently resides.

  3. Posted September 5, 2008 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    As for attendance– the numbers are always wrong.

  4. Posted September 6, 2008 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Posted at Allen’s:
    Just a thought.
    Why not donate WMS to A&T allowing state funds to renovate with the stipulation that the facade remain intact?

  5. David Wharton
    Posted September 6, 2008 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Tony, to answer your question: A&T has never expressed interest in owning the stadium (btw, it’s also Greensboro College’s home field), and Parks and Rec needs the field for other amateur games.

    Cost of demolition of current seating is about $700,000, and that doesn’t include any costs for facade maintentance/repairs, new seating, or locker room repairs.

  6. Posted September 6, 2008 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Tony,

    I’m seconding Wharton’s comment. And also…

    I asked exactly that question of P&R Asst. Dir John Hughes.

    Although there had been talks of your suggestion within the last few years, there has been a general change of the guard at A&T so all of those folks are long gone.

    In addition, as Wharton alludes, who in the world would even consider taking over a facility that is such a state of disrepair?

    Even if it would be state money (our money also, right?), it is still going to require a chunk of change to make things right.

    No… this one belongs to you and me, Tony. We own it and we are obligated to preserve this memorial, IMHO.

  7. Posted September 7, 2008 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you on the preservation David.
    Do you have a large enough base of support that volunteer labor could make a dent in whatever project evolved?
    I know that I, for one, would volunteer to help.
    Do you think the FM is the right answer Hogg?

  8. dhoggard
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Yep, I do think the FM expansion to WMS is the right answer.

    Adaptive re-use of historic properties is a time honored method of preservation. Creating a “stadium with a park” will catch the imagination of many Greensboro citizens, I believe.

    Regarding the volunteers – damn fine idea. Let’s look at all the options.

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