Sports Stadiums: Rebuilding Local Neighborhoods, Enhancing Local Economies
For years, building sports stadiums – particularly in urban areas – has been touted as an economic panacea by some and as overhyped economic boondoggles by others. Critics noted that sports facilities, particularly those that were funded with taxpayer dollars, often failed to generate much financial benefit, in part because they were only being used on limited number of days per year.
However, since the construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards on a former railroad yard in Baltimore a quarter century ago, many sports franchises – in conjunction with public and civic institutions – have successfully used stadiums to spur revitalization and growth.
The Boston area is one example of stadiums fueling growth rather than leaving an area with a desolate, isolated, often-empty sports arena. The TD Garden redevelopment in 1993 initiated a redesigned North Station – later expanded in 2007 – and the facility continues to be a hub for surrounding residential developments during a recent surge of renovations. Most recently, there have been discussions of a potential North Station Tower – an office tower that would be built next to the Garden – which is part of Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone’s multi-city pitch along the Orange Line for Amazon’s second headquarters. Buildings are being put up all around the Garden now, including the new Converse facility and The Hub on Causeway.
Less than five miles away, the Fenway area has undergone one of the most dramatic transformations in recent history, in part fueled by the Red Sox organization’s commitment to make the ballpark area a true year-round destination. Though it is the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, its rehabilitation and expansion has brought concerts, hockey games, football games and other events to the old bandbox.
Today, restaurants, sports-themed bars, movie theaters and major retailers surround the area. Since 2004, Samuels & Associates, a major Boston development firm, has built three residential towers including fancy rooftop decks and ground-floor retail. Most recently, the 30-story Pierce – a residential building at the corner of Boylston and Brookline. Samuels, along with other developers in the area, have created (and continue to build) a lively, bustling neighborhood in the Fenway-Kenmore area.
In a more unique situation, last September, the Bruins practice facility – Warrior Ice Arena along the Massachusetts Turnpike in Brighton – was completed, helping to jumpstart the already growing Boston Landing area. Around the same time, the Celtics broke ground on their new practice facility – The Auerbach Center – right next to the Bruins’ facility, which is set to open in June 2018. Both sites are open to the public for skating and hockey lessons for all ages. Boston Landing is also home to New Balance’s world headquarters, along with retail, restaurant and hotel space. There was also a new commuter rail stop built along with the Boston Landing development, and Bose has recently committed to leasing 98,000 square feet of office space there as well. The development has added jobs, additional transportation, residences and entertainment to Allston-Brighton, rejuvenating the area.
Finally, in an example of a stadium transforming a more suburban location, the Patriots have transformed Gillette Stadium, built in 2000, into a year-round sports, shopping, and dining mecca. Not only do the Patriots sell out all of their games, but the stadium also serves as home to concerts as well as Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution.
With such a large audience at Gillette and seeing the potential for a greater hub in Foxborough, The Kraft Group created Patriot Place, an open-air shopping center built around Gillette Stadium, in 2007. The center features more than 1.3 million square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment space to host events for the whole family. With Patriot Place came several roadway and intersection improvements to ease traffic, helping to bring new growth and an expanding tax base for the town and the region at large.
With new, innovative approaches to sports facilities, team owners, developers and local officials have finally figured out how to make stadiums not just places where people venture for a small number of games but true year-round destinations, helping to create vibrant commercial centers as well as places for people to live, work and play. Going forward, developers should continue to think more about how best to create not just playing fields but true neighborhoods and destinations.
In creating an environment of entertainment, the economy sees benefits not only from the arenas themselves, but from the dynamic neighborhoods they help create.