Planning for Athletic Facilities

A huge topic of conversation in LA these days is the plan for Farmers Field, a state-of-the-art football stadium proposed for downtown, adjacent to LA Live and the Convention Center. Proponents of the plan repeatedly tout the economic development that the stadium would bring to downtown LA, especially to the horribly designed eyesore of a street that is Figueroa. However, with it’s proposed location, I don’t know if I see this really being true. The stadium is to be wedged between the 110 Freeway and the Convention Center, a short walk from Staples Center and Nokia Plaza at LA Live. The stadium cannot be seen from Figueroa, and it’s location right next to the freeway ensures that a majority of its patrons—many of whom would likely have a fair amount of disposable income given the astronomical costs of enjoying an NFL game today—would drive to the stadium, park, watch the game, and leave. Where is the spillover?

Time to borrow from the competition. Let’s take, for instance, Denver’s Coors Field, a relatively young baseball stadium in the rejuvenated LoDo district of the city. The stadium is located about 5 or so short blocks from the 16th Street Mall, a transit-only pedestrianized street that serves as the heart of the city’s main entertainment and commercial drag. Denver’s planners could have located the stadium right on the mall, or perhaps wedged somewhere between the mall and the freeway, which may have been the stadium’s most obvious location in terms of transportation. Whereas this would surely increase economic activity along the already thriving street, the choice to locate the stadium a couple of blocks away from both the mall AND the highway has worked wonders for LoDo, as has the decision to only provide parking for only a fraction of the stadium’s capacity. This forces a significant number of fans to either park in one of the districts many parking garages or take transit downtown, enjoy a beer or a meal at a restaurant or sports bar, maybe buy a hat or t-shirt at one of the many merchandise shops in the area or on 16th Street, and THEN go to the game. The stadium is far enough from the commercial hub of the city to encourage development in another area, but close enough to still aid development in the hub. LA would benefit greatly from adopting similar principles in terms of locating Farmers Field a few blocks from the LA Live hub of entertainment, encouraging spillover effects to other underdeveloped areas.

Coors Field with LoDo in the background.
Photo From: http://www.flickr.com/photos/49394874@N08/5629656939/

Furthermore, cities can learn greatly from the mistakes of others. Philadelphia, a great sports town, made the choice to locate all four of its major sports venues among a sea of parking far South of any of the city’s nodes of activity and adjacent to the Highway. This ensures that the city is not living up to its potential in terms of economic and private development. While this setup may have been economically preferable as the land was previously unused (to my knowledge) and provides ground-level parking, the cheapest development option for parking, the long-term benefits of integrating theses beautiful sports palaces into the city would surely help Philadelphia rise far above its competition in terms of providing for sports fans and the young “the creative class,” an increasingly important class according to author Richard Florida. While LA has generally done a pretty good job of avoiding this sort of development (save for the Memorial Coliseum), Philadelphia’s decisions continue to serve as an example of bad land-use and decision-making, and other cities can learn quite a bit from avoiding the city’s mistakes.

Philadelphia Sports complex among a sea of parking.
Photo From: http://davepolaski.blogspot.com/2011/04/philadelphia-story.html

Of course, these are just a few examples. One can easily find numerous additional examples of fantastic locating in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Boston’s Fenway Park, or Chicago’s Wrigley Field, and could just as easily find examples of bad location in places like Dallas’ American Airlines Center or LA’s own Memorial Coliseum. Integrating the lessons that we as planners and city officials have learned from the competition into locating our most costly developments, including stadiums and arenas, can go far in terms of beating this very competition from which we’ve learned. Immediate costs might be high, but designing our cities to maximize activity around the city as well as increasing economic spillover will ensure that such development pays for itself, and it’s time LA, as well as a number of other cities and developers, learns that.

– Dave Weissglass, MPL Progressive Degree, Concentration: Preservation and Design of the Built Environment

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