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Pro tip: don’t build a downtown stadium if no one lives downtown

Mar 28, 2012, 3:03 PM EDT

Coors Field

I think the movie “Field of Dreams” Is schlocky tripe. I know most of you disagree with me on that. I don’t care.  But its worst transgression may not be against grownup storytelling, but in giving city planners and stadium-backers that stupid “if you build it, they will come” catchphrase. I bet there hasn’t been a stadium campaign which hasn’t had that bit of faux wisdom behind it since the movie came out.

However, as a recent compare and contrast between Coors Field — which truly helped revitalize its surrounding area — and Chase Field — which didn’t do a hell of a lot for downtown Phoenix — shows, that wisdom is exactly wrong. You need to build it where people already are:

Metropolitan Phoenix is a widespread area without a distinctive downtown core. Its satellite cities of Glendale, Tempe, and Scottsdale all have significant attractions and downtowns of their own that create what the researchers call a “centrifugal effect” on potential visitors to downtown Phoenix. By some estimates, Phoenix has the least developed downtown core in the country.

Denver, on the other hand, has a historic core that dates back to the city’s founding in 1858. In addition, the city itself is far less expansive: encompassing only about 150 squares miles, to more than 9,000 for metropolitan Phoenix. The result of this urban form, for Denver residents, is a considerably more convenient proximity to the stadium.

All of which led to a ballpark in Phoenix that does nothing for its surrounding area and one in Denver that does.

Hit it where they ain’t. Build it where they are.  It’s a pretty simple formula, actually. Amazing that people who are supposed to be experts in this kind of thing forget that sometimes.

  1. Old Gator - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    Bienvenidos a Habana pequena! Y alla, ese es el Campo de la masacre del plátano de Macondo. Ha causado el renacimiento espléndido de una porción vacante enorme. Donde una vez colocado nada pero los escombros y las malas hierbas, ahora se levanta este monumento magnífico al ego de un hombre. ¡Pensamos en él como la equivocación ocho del mundo!

    • dwrek5 - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:57 PM

      Welcome to Havana small! And beyond, this is the field of the massacre of the banana of Macondo. Has caused the rebirth of a splendid huge vacancy portion. Where once placed nothing but debris and weeds, is now adjourned this magnificent monument to the ego of a man. We all thought of him as the mistake eight of the world!

  2. sabatimus - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    What’s the Rays’ excuse?

    • Jonah - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:16 PM

      Among other things: Fewer people within a 30-minute drive of the ballpark than any other stadium, by a landslide.

    • tartan1 - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:16 PM

      Don’t build a stadium across a bridge that people don’t drive over. Worked in Pittsburgh, didn’t in St. Pete.

  3. Alex K - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    I visited Coors for the first time last year and it was absolutely fantastic. The area around the park is nice, and if you don’t know about Denver’s weather in the summer I suggest you find out, because it is beautiful. I can’t recommend Coors Field highly enough.

    • koufaxmitzvah - Mar 28, 2012 at 4:01 PM

      I agree. And they sell kosher dogs, too.

    • illegalblues - Mar 28, 2012 at 4:26 PM

      yep, i’ve never seen a game at coor’s where i’ve had a rooting interest, but i’ve always had an amazing time there. absolutely gorgeous during a sunset.

      • Alex K - Mar 28, 2012 at 5:05 PM

        I forgot to mention the sunset. I’m already excited for my return trip this year. I had no rooting interest in the teams last year or the game I am scheduled to go to this year. Just a great place to watch a game.

  4. pkiguy22 - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    No matter where Phoenix built their stadium, they were going to have a problem. That city is so spread out that they couldn’t just put it in an area that would be central to everyone. They did manage to build it where it would be accessible via the freeway and light rail.

    • 5thbase - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:42 PM

      Hit the nail on the head here.

      First off, I don’t believe there is a compelling case for cities getting a return on investment for building any private sports team a new facility in any city, at least not in terms of actual dollars.

      However, you can’t just compare the two ballparks and say one was a mistake and one wasn’t because of how things are now. When Coors was built, Denver had already spent many years revitalizing downtown and already had more of a real downtown before those years even started. When Bank One Ballpark was built, that was really the beginning of the effort. And if you don’t know that it has made a difference you haven’t been in Phoenix both before and after it’s been there.

      Cities get to a point where building further out is too far and people begin to put their own money into revitalization. Phoenix is probably at such a point, although it’s a bit hard to say with the economy the way it is. It’s possible that what is now Chase will serve as part of the long-term downtown anchor the city was hoping for.

      But anyway, back to the point … what crossroads in the Phoenix area would you suggest for a team that plays 81+ home games a year? I would love to know.

    • marshmallowsnake - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:45 PM

      True enough. I live in Gilbert, AZ – and Downtown Phoenix is kind of a joke of a downtown (grew up in the Boston area). But hey, at least the stadium is in a better location for commuting to the park then the Football Stadium here…

  5. nonmendacium - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    umm nobody lived in downtown denver before coors was built. thesis fails.

  6. normcash - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    I agree about the Phoenix sprawl—just got back from a week there visiting spring trianing sites.
    We stayed in north Scottsdale and it took and hour and a quarter of freeway driving to get to the
    Indians/Reds ballpark in Goodyear. On the other hand, there isn’t any better location in the area
    than where they built the park

    • blabidibla - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:41 PM

      It took you an hour and 15 mins to drive 24 miles via freeway? If you’re traveling during rush hour, then of course you must account for traffic, but it’s not like Goodyear is 100 miles away.

  7. istillbelieveinblue - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:47 PM

    Downtown Indianapolis was an empty hole before then Mayor Dick Lugar pushed the city to build Market Square Arena. A few years later the Hoosier Dome was built. 30+ years later Indy has one of the most vibrant downtowns in the country, despite the fact that a large portion of what is considered the Indianapolis Metro Area is actually the suburbs.

    • nightman13 - Mar 28, 2012 at 5:34 PM

      Thumbs up for the name Dick Lugar. Sounds like a pro wrestler that moonlights as an adult actor.

      • istillbelieveinblue - Mar 29, 2012 at 7:34 AM

        Yeah, he acts at night after he leaves his day job, as a US Senator from Indiana (since 1977). 😛

      • stlouis1baseball - Mar 29, 2012 at 11:00 AM

        Hahaha! I hear you Nightman. He is also known among many as Barry’s favorite Republican!

    • stlouis1baseball - Mar 29, 2012 at 10:58 AM

      Dead on Blue. Not sure what the thumbs downs are all about as you absolutely correct.
      Indy is a blast. It has been for the last 20 – 25 years. Also turning into a sort of Arts hub as well.
      You are also corrrect in your last sentence. Indianapolis is considered the 12th largest City in the Country as a direct result of the of the suburbs. The Metro area (Marion County in general) is tallied when figuring the population as it is spread out over a vast area. But you can get virtually anywhere in 20 – 25 minutes. Are you from Indy?

      • istillbelieveinblue - Mar 30, 2012 at 1:09 PM

        Grew up just West in Plainfield, but spent many Sunday afternoons at the Hoosier Dome, MSA or old Bush Stadium. :)

    • stlouis1baseball - Mar 30, 2012 at 2:12 PM

      Have you had the opportunity to see any games at Victory Field? I ask cause’ I am not sure if you are still in Indy (or Plainfield). If you haven’t…the next time you are home I encourage you to take in a game. One of (if not THE) nicest minor league stadiums in the Country. Routinely wins the stadium of the year award. Top notch for a minor league venue.

  8. Gamera the Brave - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Craig, you say “schlocky tripe” like it’s a BAD thing!…
    I personally only watch the last 5 minutes, for personal reasons, and I could watch that 5 minutes 20 times a day, and I would choke up all 20 times… I know I am being manipulated, but in that scene I let it happen willingly…

    • spudchukar - Mar 28, 2012 at 4:35 PM

      Well said, Gamera. Plus you should read the book Craig. Kinsella isn’t tripe. One clue, the famous author isn’t Mann as in the movie, but Salinger. For additional pleasure check out “The Iowa Baseball Confereracy”, also by Kinsella… Baseball and Native Americans.

      • cur68 - Mar 28, 2012 at 6:01 PM

        For additional reading I HIGHLY recommend the Frank Fencepost Chronicals. Kinsella is from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: my home. A true son of the Pro-Beaver Agenda.

      • The Rabbit - Mar 28, 2012 at 7:33 PM

        For something offbeat, I’ll recommend a collection of Kinsella’s short stories, “The Alligator Report”.

      • Gamera the Brave - Mar 29, 2012 at 10:24 AM

        Funny you should mention Salinger, I was talking to some co-workers yesterday about “Classics”, and how some are actually great (and Salinger was my example), and some are painful (Moby Dick was my example). And I have tried to slog through Huck Finn several times in the last 30 years without much success, not sure why that book stymies me…

        If Salinger replaces Mann in Field of Dreams, that makes a significant difference. Good knowledge!

  9. cintiphil - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    The problem with your commentary, Craig is this. If you build a park anywhere in a sprawling area as Phoenix, some people are going to be a long way from the park. However, if and when the team brings a winner to the area, people will drive through hell to get there, D-T Phoenix notwithstanding. So the real issue is, are they going to compete and build a winner, so people from all over, will be anxious to see them play?

    • Jonny 5 - Mar 29, 2012 at 8:27 AM

      I’m with you Phil, There are plenty of ballparks not in the downtown area which fill up for every game. Philly is one. Half of Southern NJ makes the trek at least twice a season to go see the Phills. I’d say 40% of the fans there every game are from New Jersey actually. Of course that’s a guess. CBP is on the opposite side of the city from downtown imo. It’s between the river, industrial ugliness and swamps. Sure it’s a small city and everything is pretty close but my point is fans will drive to see their rooting interest if they really want to. As a matter of fact they are just now building a complex there to make everything a bit more attractive for people.

      • stlouis1baseball - Mar 29, 2012 at 11:15 AM

        Good points Jonny. I know I drive to St. Louis (4 – 4 1/2 hours) from my home in Indiana a handful of times a year (minimum). When the Cardinals play the Redlegs in Cincy I take in a least the same amount of games as well as the Great American Smallpark.

  10. Chipmaker - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    Of course the movie quote referred to the deceased players coming, not fans, but it’s easy to see how stadium proponents would quickly twist it to their ends.

  11. El Jefe - Mar 28, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    As a local Phoenician who works in Downtown Phoenix and has D-backs season tickets I feel like I should probably chime in. The problem with Chase Field is that it is pretty much the sole reason anyone comes downtown, unless it’s for a Suns game. There isn’t really a “Hey let’s go hang out downtown and then catch a ballgame” type of attitude here. Part of it may be the heat, part of it is the fact that a lot of Arizonans are transplants, but most of it is the fact that there is nothing to do in Downtown Phoenix besides work. There are a few bars and restaurants here and there but in general the entire Downtown area is empty commercial spaces and office buildings. Well, the arts community is actually pretty good, but not many of them are baseball fans.

    • kpow55 - Mar 28, 2012 at 5:37 PM

      The city itself is getting on the right track, building the City Center and a few other areas. Large chain restaurants for the average family as an alternative to the ma & pa (although amazing) places that are about the size of my living room and require an hour wait, Breadfruit co, Matt’s Big Breakfast, etc..,

      It will take a few years to catch on and for the “screw it lets just go to Scottsdale” feeling to fade.

      The main thing is that both the Suns and Diamondbacks need to build consistent contenders and stop with the build then implode routine. I realize that you occasionally need to rebuild but not every few years, it tends to turn off the fan-base. Especially when your state hosts spring training, too many other teams to fall in love with.

      A decent GM that hangs around for a bit never hurts either.

  12. aiede - Mar 28, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    Detroit disagrees. Our downtown has been the Platonic ideal of “nobody lives here” for decades and the construction of Comerica Park and Ford Field across the street from each other has been a big part of a slow but sure gentrification of the surrounding area.

    (Yes, I know that in Detroit, “gentrification” is a relative term. We’ve heard whatever joke you’re gonna make.)

    • mybrunoblog - Mar 28, 2012 at 4:19 PM

      Can we try and sell Detroit to the Canadians and buy Toronto?

      • gabrielthursday - Mar 28, 2012 at 10:25 PM

        Crazy nation trades! We’ll offer you Sudbury.

    • Loose Changeup - Mar 28, 2012 at 4:28 PM

      That was my first thought. “Hey, that’s not a picture of Comerica Park”

      Great stadium. Too bad the parking lots aren’t worth a damn.

  13. cintiphil - Mar 28, 2012 at 4:16 PM

    No joke is stranger than the truth. After Malik Shabazz burns down the town, you can rebuild anyway you wish.

  14. desertpirate1146 - Mar 28, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    I guess you never were in downtown Phoenix before the stadium was built. The area has improved tremendously. It was not built near the light rail, that came long after. Parking is not really a problem, access in and out is great. There are a growing number of bars and restaurants in the area too. If you have never been to (Alice) Cooperstown – you are missing out on great food, and fantastic memorabilia. It’s always a great time at Chase Field – though my wife and I still call it BOB….

  15. dowhatifeellike - Mar 28, 2012 at 5:11 PM

    The cool thing about Denver is that the downtown areas are organized rather neatly by desired activity. Coors Field revitalized one particular section, but then you also have the Pepsi Center next to the theme park, shopping/food/bars on 16th street, high-end steak houses near Union Station, and I’m sure there’s other stuff I haven’t discovered yet. It’s all within walking distance no matter where you are downtown, the public transit is really good, and you can even take paved bike paths at least part of the way to wherever you’re going. (I ride to/from work from the edge of Denver proper to 17th & Tremont, and 9 of my 10.5 miles are on paved bike paths with no road crossings.) It’s easy to live here without a car (unless you want to escape into the mountains, which is the only reason I still have mine).

    Having come here from an east-coast city built quickly out of necessity, I can say that Denver definitely had a leg up in the urban planning department.

  16. thehawg - Mar 28, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    Craig, whats your thoughts regarding the location of the Miami Marlin’s new stadium.

  17. yankeesfanlen - Mar 28, 2012 at 7:32 PM

    I wonder what Clark and Addison looked like before they built the Loop.

    • deepstblu - Mar 29, 2012 at 7:34 AM

      The Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary was on the site that eventually became home to Wrigley Field. This picture is probably not the Clark & Addison corner, but it should be close:

      Chicago Lutheran Seminary

      The Addison ‘L’ station was built as a minor neighborhood stop, one that would be skipped by express trains. A reasonable choice at the time–who’d think that the seminary would draw big crowds?

  18. natedawg321 - Mar 29, 2012 at 1:15 AM

    The land areas in the article are wrong. Effective size of Phoenix metro area is ~2000 sq mi. and ~1000 for Denver metro area. Looks like the were using the MSA size for Phoenix which includes a buttload of desert and just the city of Denver to get just 150.

    Since Phoenix metro is approximately 2x the pop of Denver metro, they are very similar density cities. Denver’s core is much more defined and the only other part of the metro area that is a “destination” spot for food/entertainment is Boulder.

  19. petey1999 - Mar 29, 2012 at 2:12 AM

    Hmmm…a premise without any actual facts to support it. Sounds like lazy journalism to me.

  20. wj4122 - Mar 29, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    Did you really write that Glendale would be better…..Craig you are an ignorant fool on this one!!! moving to Glendale worked out great for the coyotes. Like others have said you obviously didn’t know Phoenix before and after bank one opened.

  21. marius139 - Mar 29, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    Having a stadium in a thriving downtown is good but it’s not enough. Toronto’s stadium is in the heart of one of the healthiest downtowns anywhere. New condo developments housing tens of thousands of new downtown residents have been built in recent years and dozens more are under construction. The stadium is located a short walk from a transit hub. When it first opened it was sold out almost every night and the Blue Jays broke the major league attendance record. Now attendance is among the worst in the major leagues. A bunch of reasons are cited for that — a mediocre team, high ticket and food prices, etc. Attendance will probably rebound as the team improves. That the stadium is in a thriving downtown with lots of residents nearby may help but it seems to be only a minor factor when it comes to filling a ballpark.

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