Friday, March 30, 2012

The False Assumption between Economic Development and Stadiums

Allow me time to rant about a topic I have touched on before. Also allow me the latitude to basically repeat previous posts on stadiums found in this blog.

I was perusing some of my common planning sites when I came across a piece in the Atlantic Cities. The author, Eric Jaffe, cites a study done by Stephen Buckman and Elizabeth A. Mack. Sadly, I can't access the study and can only interpret what Jaffe decided to write about in his brief article.

Coors Field, in downtown Denver, became home to baseball's Colorado Rockies in 1995. Its impact on the city was as immediate as it was considerable: housing units in the area of the stadium doubled within a year of its completion, and retail and restaurant development experienced a similar boom. Soon after it opened the stadium's economic influence was estimated at $195 million a year, twice what city officials had predicted.

The number one flaw in any stadium article surfaced in the very first paragraph. Stadium built, development followed, stadium must be responsible. Correlation is not causation. I repeat, correlation is not causation. I drink water before I turn on the TV. Therefore, I must have water in my system to be able to operate the remote. Only rich people shop at Nieman Marcus, therefore if you go there, you will become rich. My basset hound died of cancer, therefore all basset's will die of cancer. Obviously, you could take items that happen at the same time or anecdotes and do this ad nauseum. Point is, none of what I wrote is dependent upon each other. Stadiums and economic development are the same.

In the case of the paragraph, I find it hard to believe that the stadium was responsible for all the residences in one year, when a private developer needs bare minimum five from start to finish. That doesn't include the city's work in planning and preparing for development or deciding on tax abtement or tax increment finance district boundaries or funding. Was it responsible for any of it, I can't say. I will say the burden of proof is upon the researchers. They can't just say here's stadium, then here's residences, the economic impact is $X. Surveys with developers asking the top reasons they choose to build there would help. And when those are conducted, demographics, trends and city's wilingness to help are always at the top.

My issue is that downtowns across the country have seen this, whether there is a stadium there or not. If that is the case, obviously there is something else at work.

Jaffe then relays another common mistake, a comparison of apples to oranges.

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.
While 99 percent of Denver county residents live within 10 miles of downtown, that's true of only 41 percent of residents in metro Phoenix (Maricopa county), Buckman and Mack report. A better illustration of proximity comes from a ratio of populations near the stadium: at a mile away from the stadium, Denver has 1.77 times the population of Phoenix, a ratio that continues to favor Denver until 7 miles out. In other words, the fan base of Coors Field lives rather close to Coors Field.

Denver has a metropolitan areas of 8,414 square miles, very similar to Phoenix. You can't say Denver city is compact and Phoenix metro is sprawl. Their metro populations are even similar, Phoenix as a whole has 4 million while Denver has 2.5 million people.

Even to use county alone is a poor comparison. Denver as a city is the same as Denver as the county, their boundaries are one and the same. There are no suburbs within Denver County, but there are suburbs of Denver City. Meanwhile, Maricopa County, of which Phoenix is within, has an area of over 9,000 square miles. Is it any wonder that most residents of Denver County live within close proximity to Central Denver where as most of Maricopa County is not close to Central Phoenix. By that comparison, 41% of a 9,000 square mile county is a lot of people, signifying a relative density in that small area.

All of Denver City residents living in Denver County means nothing. It is deceptive and a way to illustrate a point that can't stand up on its own.

The researchers conclusion, which Jaffe relays isn't necessarily a bad point, but it certainly doesn't justify building stadiums.

The lesson for other cities considering a downtown stadium, the authors conclude, is to understand beforehand whether or not the mega-structure fits the urban form, and if it doesn't, to design a development plan that enhances whatever impact it might have on its own.

I'm not going to argue this point. It makes sense. Coors Field is built on the very edge of downtown, as is all of Denver's sports stadiums. Chase Field is not. If it can be established that stadiums are detrimental to street activity, which a literature review on the subject would confirm, Denver did it right by putting something with minimal, but time period intense street activity, on the edge of an area that would have little if any street activity to begin with. Despite the fancy renderings, large amounts of people do not just hang outside of stadiums. They need some place to go to at that time. Since stadiums are unoccupied greater than 90 percent of the time, their streets are empty 90 percent of the time.

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