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McKechnie Field and imminent gentrification

Mar 6, 2014, 10:34 AM EDT

BRADENTON — It stinks that there’s probably not going to be baseball here today, because this park is pretty sweet:

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I love McKechnie Field. It’s old, and despite recent renovations, it still has that old-timey feel. And of course the renovations make it more comfortable. And the food here is great. Just a wonderful park.

As many note when talking about this place, the area in which it sits is not exactly prosperous. I parked my car right across 17th Avenue from the park, right behind a homeless shelter/soup kitchen/free clinic. There are a lot of auto repair and body shops nearby. These are the sorts of elements which people cite when disparaging Maryvale Baseball Park where the Brewers train and Citi Field in New York.

My view: baseball is part of life. We shouldn’t consider it a bad thing when life happens next to a ballpark. If anything, it’d be better if the luxuries of society were closer and more accessible to more people and their necessities. That they not cloistered away in prosperous areas as though they were playgrounds for rich people. People in Bradenton work in and around this ballpark. And I can’t help but think that even if they don’t get here very often, seeing it as they walk to where they need to go makes the fabric of society a bit stronger. We already have too many things for rich people separated from the majority of people by virtual moats. Going to a baseball game isn’t cheap these days, but it’s nice to see a ballpark less characterized by that sort of thing.

Not that there isn’t some sort of gentrification going on here. Right next door to the free clinic is this, under construction:

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It may be hard to tell from the photo, but looking inside you see beer tanks and a couple dozen taps in what will be a dining area. Yep, they’re putting a brewpub across from the park.  And now gone from the park?

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That was Popi’s Place, a good old fashioned greasy spoon. I ate there back in 2010 and it was one of the best breakfasts I ever had. And the palce had all kinds of character. The Pirates bought it last month and closed it down. They’ll use the site for parking now, but it’ll eventually be part of a ballpark expansion. The owners weren’t forced out or anything — this story explains that they were ready to retire — but it is hard to feel great about the closing of this sort of place.

Especially when, again, according to that article, it’s part of “the City’s and the Pirates’ strategy for redeveloping the area around McKechnie Field as an arts and entertainment district.” “Arts and entertainment districts” tend not to be aimed at a neighborhood clientele. Indeed, it often means people in the neighborhood need to find new neighborhoods in which to live or work due to increased rents.

I’ll admit that I’m a naive idealist/utopianist. I have this vision of a civil society in which people come together in order to get the business of living done. That they use the banks and post offices and sidewalks and public squares more or less together. That the services and businesses that tend to serve the rich aren’t so profoundly separate and apart from the services and businesses that tend to serve the poor. That people see those who are different from them more often than we do now — literally see them — and as such, don’t forget their existence when plans and policies are made. I feel like such a thing would make our society stronger.

Maybe that’ll never exist. Maybe it never truly existed in the past either. Maybe the fact that I live in an upscale suburb specifically so my kids can go to better schools makes me a way bigger part of the problem than someone who builds a spring training complex in gated-off parking lot in a rich suburb or gentrifies a working-class neighborhood to the point were the workers actually have to leave.

I don’t know. But this is the stuff I think about when it’s raining at a ballpark.

  1. sdelmonte - Mar 6, 2014 at 10:49 AM

    Those auto yards by Citi Field are not a neighborhood, though. They are in the one part of NYC with no sewers, and have all of one legal resident. I don’t love seeing legitimate businesses closed in the name of progress, but there is something vaguely disreputable about that collection of junkyards. That they will be gone in 10 years doesn’t fill me with sadness.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:01 AM

      Oh, there are obviously degrees. I agree that the chop shops aren’t the same thing as the diner here.

      • historiophiliac - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:33 AM

        Don’t even get me started on how the City of Tulsa squeezed space from the Greenwood Historic District (what’s left of the black-owned businesses that had once filled the area and were wiped out by the Race Riot) to make room for a nice new park that borders that token sop John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park (sandwiched between the Field and the highway, and without parking to facilitate visitors). Nowhere in the area are you bothered by markers or signage that indicates that you are standing on the site of mass murders or the like. We wouldn’t want to disturb your fun-filled commercialism with yucky reminders.

  2. natstowngreg - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    What they’re trying to do sounds like what’s been happening around Nats Park. An area of body shops, strip clubs and homes for middle-class African-American residents transitions to an area of expensive condos and apartments, with shops, restaurants and hotels.

    I’m not going to take either of the extremist positions on the ballpark’s impact. The gentrification of Southwest Washington was underway before the park was built. Indeed, several parts of the city have been gentrifying rapidly. However, it makes no sense to me to say that such an amenity has had no impact (pardon the double negative).

    Whatever the reasons, the area around the park is supposed to be safer and more welcoming to the white suburbanites who patronize the ballpark. Like me. Same idea, on a smaller scale, in Bradenton.

    • NatsLady - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      You can still walk a couple of blocks and find “projects,” not to mention street after street of “middle-class” town homes.

      However, the immediate area around Nats Park was pretty trashy when it opened. So, the justification for city money paying for the park was that it would attract busnesses and upgrade the neighborhood–and when it does so then you hear compaints about gentrification and displacement.

      My area in NW has significately “upgraded” in the fifteen years I’ve been in this particular neighborhood, so much so that I can barely afford to live here (thank you, rent control) and won’t be able to retire in the city or anywhere near it. Hopefully, Chattanooga is still beautiful and cheap.

      • natstowngreg - Mar 6, 2014 at 1:14 PM

        Obviously, gentrification and displacement don’t happen overnight. And Southwest isn’t the only area (as you note) where it’s happening. I work near Verizon Center, and have seen the redevelopment there. Not a whole lot is left of Chinatown.

        Consider that hole in the ground on the east side of Half St., between the Metro station and the park. The hole that’s been there since 2008. Someday, something will be built there. Most of the gentrification thus far has been to the east of the park, around the Navy Yard. That part was starting to gentrify already. Eventually, the areas to the west and north will see redevelopment. Like that new building across South Capitol St. from the Left Field Gate.

  3. penguins87and71 - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    I was fortunate enough to there this past summer. No one was there, but they left the gate open, so I just walked in and stood on the field, no one cared.

  4. deepstblu - Mar 6, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    Bradenton’s had a neighborhood called Village of the Arts in the general vicinity of the ballpark for some years now, and it’s still kind of low-key and funky. I think the city is smart enough to know they’re never going to be Sarasota North.

  5. psunick - Mar 6, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Then you must have been thrilled, Craig, when Gov. Brown shut down all of our redevelopment agencies a few years ago!

    • Craig Calcaterra - Mar 6, 2014 at 2:40 PM

      Considering they were being used to do things like move the A’s out of Oakland and down to San Jose at public expense, well, yeah.

  6. mrbullgator - Mar 6, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    I live in bradenton and they have started doing a lot to that area. It used to be a thriving area for car lots and repair shops then as the city and town grew the big ones left for busier roads and what not. but now the city, with the help of the Pirates, are really renovating that area. Just a mile or so away is downtown bradenton. I suggest a visit down there to The Lost Kangaroo Pub. A lot of the players frequent that place during the spring training season.

  7. raysfan1 - Mar 6, 2014 at 1:42 PM

    Complex issue. On the one hand, access for all potential customers is important. However, the ones with deeper pockets are less likely to go to what appears to them as dilapidated areas as they are also generally seen as less safe. As long as the private business interest is footing the bill, and there are no evictions in the name of billionaires’ subsidies, I’m okay with the effort.

    However, it is also getting to where only upper middle class and wealthier families can go to MLB/NFL/NBA regular season games (or NCAA football too) with any regularity at all. Their venues are essentially already playgrounds for the wealthy.

    • historiophiliac - Mar 6, 2014 at 2:02 PM

      I’m still cheesed that Starship Records was forced out because TU just haaaaaad to put in the ubiqiutous campus oval. Since they forced out the Metro Diner too, suppliers had to redo the snow globes of the city sold at Saks. Now old timers can sniff at the new-to-town money that have post- globes instead of the prized collectible pre- ones. Most importantly, the view to the college was improved by the addition of the grand entrance, as long as you keep your back to the dumpy fronts of the old Taco Bell and University of Wash across the street. Of course, if your kid goes to TU you can probably afford overpriced NCAA football tickets. Most of the people on the north side of the campus cannot, however. (Well, really the east and west sides too.)

      • raysfan1 - Mar 6, 2014 at 2:28 PM

        I remember Starship Records and the Metro Diner. I have a hard time seeing how they couldn’t have been part if urban renewal/campus expansion instead of being steamrolled by it. That’s a shame.

        As for college football, I have not taken my son to any OU games because two tickets and parking is over $200. It’s insane. (I do take him to college baseball games, a much better deal.)

      • historiophiliac - Mar 6, 2014 at 2:37 PM

        Honestly, OU games are kinda worth it. They regularly put up good teams. TU isn’t even in the same class, so they are definitely getting the alumni increase on their tickets.

        The sad thing is watching the old Drillers Stadium mostly decay. The county had no plan for it. The City was hell bent on it’s downtown revitalization program and left the county holding the bag on how to make something out of the fairgrounds. The amusement park is gone. Baseball is gone. I don’t think they have horse races much anymore. The water park is still there but doesn’t pay its bills all the time. Now it’s mostly the Expo Center and parking lots. Mid-town is being abandoned in a big way. All that’s left are gun and horse shows.

      • raysfan1 - Mar 6, 2014 at 2:58 PM

        OU does field good teams, but my only connection to them is proximity and having technically been an employee during my internship year–and that was in Tulsa. So, for me, definitely not worth it for one afternoon’s entertainment. (On the other hand, the boy’s fav team is the Arkansas Razorbacks. We lived there before moving to OKC. Their tickets are significantly less expensive, and we can combine that into visiting old friends too.) in Little Rock, the new park for the Travellera has brought more business into the old downtown area of North Little Rock and thus been a boon there. The old ball field, I think, is being used to expand their zoo.

      • historiophiliac - Mar 6, 2014 at 4:34 PM

        Ahh, the Travelers. They come to town frequently — as do the Naturals. Once, at a game, my niece asked sweetly: What’s NWA? We all started laughing. I guess that shows where our minds are. You know, I think Frisco kicked off the whole ballpark building craze in the Texas League.

  8. psly2124 - Mar 7, 2014 at 1:46 AM

    I’ve been to the park and you are not giving the area around the stadium justice. It is a complete s**thole. Across the street you have people smoking crack in parking lots. Chicks turning tricks behind buildings. My car was broken into and had some things stolen out of the car, called the police and the cop basically laughed at me and said that what you get for parking where u did. Asking me seriously what was I thinking. The entire neighborhood should be torn down and flattened. No if ands or buts about it

  9. psly2124 - Mar 7, 2014 at 1:50 AM

    Hey Craig here’s a piece of advice your your liberal utopia. Go live in the areas that you seem to think are the greatest people on earth that do no wrong. Move your family there for a month. You will change your mind within a month. If you live to tell about it

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