Greater Greater Washington

How to create a successful urban stadium

DC United intends to build a new 24,000 seat stadium in Prince George's County. This is a golden opportunity for our region to gain another vibrant, regional, walkable, urban, Metro-adjacent, transit-oriented development. Except on game days, stadiums have been centers of un-activity for the past sixty years. However, they don't need to be like that and haven't always been that way. In fact, with proper design and context, they can be major activity centers. Equally important, they can serve as anchors of vibrant neighborhoods that generate tax revenue in perpetuity.


Photo by chucka_nc on Flickr.

According to the Post article, "The team is examining several possible sites near Metro stops for what [D.C. United owner Victor] MacFarlane called an 'urban stadium.'" What's differentiates an "urban stadium" from a "suburban stadium"? It's the context of the stadium site. FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, sits amid acres and acres of surface parking. It has a direct link to the Beltway. It is designed with only the car driving fan in mind. While it is one mile from the Morgan Boulevard Metro, there is no obvious, pedestrian-oriented thoroughfare between the stadium and the Metro. Fans who take the Metro have to walk along the narrow sidewalk of a too-wide suburban arterial. Finally, there is nothing on the way to the stadium to interest pedestrians.

On the other hand, the Verizon Center is located downtown, literally on top of the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro. It is the anchor of a major regional restaurant and nightlife district. While there were revitalization plans for the area before the arena was constructed, the arena's construction accelerated and intensified those plans. The Verizon Center is everything that FedEx Field is not. It is a true urban stadium/arena. It possesses many fundamental characteristics of a successful urban stadium:

  1. No surface parking. Surface parking creates a large barrier between the activity center and the surrounding city. It kills any chance of event-goers going across the street to check out the nice restaurant or bar they saw on the way in. RFK Stadium, DC United's current home, and Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, suffer from this problem.
  2. Integration with the street grid. The Verizon Center only takes up two city blocks. It does not provide any barriers to pedestrians as they walk along F or H Streets between 6th and 7th Streets NW. While not perfectthe Verizon Center breaks up G Streetit leaves the rest of the two hundred-year-old, human-scale L'Enfant street grid intact.
  3. Proximate transit access. It doesn't get much better than the Verizon Center's location, literally on top of a major downtown transfer station on the Metro. Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles, does a solid job in this respect with a Light Rail station adjacent to its gates. On the other hand, FedEx Field seems designed to maximize parking lot fees. It would appear that Redskins management would prefer that fans didn't know that it was a mere mile from the closest Metro station.
  4. Pedestrian-friendly connection to transit. Is it safe to walk to the stadium/arena? Do event-goers have a nice wide sidewalk that is flanked with interesting businesses and slow-moving car traffic? Or, do they have to watch their step as they walk single-file on a too-narrow sidewalk that flanks a curvy four to six lane high speed suburban arterial?
  5. Frequency of events. A business in a neighborhood that flanks a stadium can't survive on 8 events a year. The Verizon Center hosts more than 220 events per year. That generates a lot of extra foot traffic heading to and from the Metro, past all the bars and restaurants. Many of those people stop for a nice dinner or drink after the event. That's also a lot of tax revenue for the District from both the taxes on the event tickets and from all the restaurant receipts.

    On the other hand, there are few such businesses near Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, even though it was built on a brownfield development adjacent to downtown Baltimore. The stadium only hosts for eight to twelve events a year (twelve when the NCAA holds playoffs in the stadium), and acres of surface parking separate it from the neighborhood. The bars that are adjacent to the stadiums in Baltimore are across the street from Camden Yards because there are 81 home games in a Major League Baseball team's season.

  6. Vibrant surrounding urban area. If a stadium properly executes points 1-5, the constant foot traffic and hunger or thirst of eventgoers will present an array of business opportunities for restauranteurs. The area will become a restaurant and nightlife district in addition to a stadium district. Other durable goods retailers will take advantage of the business opportunities that the constant foot traffic and convenient transit access present. The foot traffic will also provide excellent "eyes on the street" and improve the safety of the surrounding area.
There is a large (and rightful) backlash against the financing for the shiny new baseball stadium next to the Navy Yard. That is the result of the DC government capitulating to Major League Baseball rather than sitting down and working out a deal that is beneficial to all. After a decade of sitting down at the table with the District government and trying to find a deal that would benefit both parties, DC United has elected to pick a different site with a different local government after talks with the District collapsed. I believe Prince George's County will find success negotiating with McFarlane and making plans to construct a true urban stadium.

The soccer stadium comes pre-packaged with a few qualities that make it a good fit for implementing the six points above. Between D.C. United games, Washington Freedom Women's Professional Soccer, concerts (the stadium will have a stage), ACC soccer tournaments, and other college sports, the stadium should host at least 60 events a year. At RFK, over half of the 20,000 DC United fans who attend the average game currently arrive by Metro. The trend would continue at a new stadium that is convenient to the Metro.

From the reports, the sites under consideration are greenfield sites adjacent to Metro stations. The county could surround the development with a new street grid that incorporates the stadium. The proposed 24,000-seat stadium would fit in a footprint similar to an arena like the Verizon Center. Finally, and most importantly, no previous renderings of the stadium have had surface parking lots. In order for a stadium to add to an urban place, it must not have surface parking lots. Maybe you could get away with a small garage like in Silver Spring or adjacent to 1st Mariner Arena in downtown Baltimore.

Looking back into history, some of the best pre-WWII stadiums in the United States also displayed excellent urbanism. They added a sense of place to their surroundings and were considered jewels in their cities. As the pre-war stadiums gave way to the modernist stadiums like RFK, Veterans' Stadium in Philadelphia, and Giants Stadium in suburban New Jersey, they became monster structures that were designed by the car, of the car, and for the car, like most buildings of their era. We forgot as a nation how to build stadiums that are good for their surroundings, relegating them to things that belong behind a moat of asphalt, right off the highway, as greenfield development outside the Favored Quarter or as destructive "urban renewal" projects on top of what used to be a downtown.

New stadiums and arenas have shown that the mid-20th century modernist planners were wrong about the nature and use of stadiums. If done right, DC United's new stadium could be a regional jewel like the Verizon Center and surrounding neighborhood. It will also serve as another example to the rest of the country of how to build a stadium correctly.

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Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master's in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place's form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

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I agree with all your points, but not having enough of #1 is enough to torpedo any development deal, particularly in an already car-dependent suburb like PG County. Trying to convince them that all 24k seats will be filled exclusively by Metro rail/bus is one of the hardest sells you could possibly imagine. If they were building this stadium in Columbia Heights or Rhode Island Avenue, it would be different. Largo Town Center isn't Penn Quarter.

by monkeyrotica on Feb 18, 2009 9:15 am • linkreport

Nice job Cavan.

This is one of the areas where the Fenty Administration has dropped the ball. If you look at most neighborhood soccer stadiums in Europe, or as you point out, the Wrigley Field and Fenway Parks of a different era, you can see how a stadium can integrate with its neighborhood and be an anchor.

One of the areas where Verizon center has actually not maximized, in my opinion, is the idea that the street level retail provide year-round opportunity for its tenants. After 10 years, it is finally coming to be, although the site of the Greene Turtle continues to lag as compared to the area where the McDonalds/Chipolte exist.

I really wish the media reporting on the Polar Point situation had been more factual. I think it would have gone a long way to helping public sentiment at a time when the financial situation would have allowed for the development to move forward.

by William on Feb 18, 2009 9:16 am • linkreport

Great points, Cavan.

Do we believe Prince George's will build a street grid around the stadium? So far, county planning efforts don't seem to always best embody good urban design. I'm concerned their Adequate Public Facilities laws will require very wide arterials in all directions with lots of turn lanes, hindering development of a walkable place. The Morgan Boulevard area is already surrounded by cul-de-sac neighborhoods. If they wanted to turn it into its own city, with a large street grid and lots of housing, then that would be great, but I don't really see that happening. The Largo area is more developed but doesn't seem very walkable at the moment.

by David Alpert on Feb 18, 2009 9:26 am • linkreport

Good article. Well-considered points. To a large degree, building a transit-friendly park in an urban area requires compromises on the part of the team owners. They can't get the large palace, built to the well-established and well-understood norms of most ballparks. But the new Orioles stadium seems to have changed the tone.

I'm not convinced that stadiums do bring economic benefits, though. Sixty events a year isn't that many, certainly not enough to sustain nearby businesses. The Nationals stadium can't do that. And the new jobs are mostly low-wage, unstable service industry positions.

And then we have the obligatory cheap shot at Mid-Century Modernism as the cuplrit for everything bad about cities. It's Modernism again, rather than, say, land use and transportation policies, changes in demographics, and the collapse of the industrial base on which most American cities were built.

If you don't dismiss the suburban-style stadium out of hand, simply because it's not walkable/transit accessible, there is a logic. I randomly picked six ballparks out of Wikipedia, all of them completed since the mid-90s. Four were surrounded by parking lots or other low-density land:

Chase Field, Phoenix - surrounded by railyards

Qwest Field and Safeco Field, Seattle - in a harbor district near warehouses and rail lines, parking lots and parking garages, convenient to the freeway

Comercia Park, Detroit - acres of parking lots

Minute Maid Park, Houston - there's a street grid. It divides up parking lots.

These are all stadiums built within the last ten years or so. These four are auto-oriented, seem to do little for their surroundings, built in low-value land areas far from city centers and residential disticts. They're sited like necessary nuisances like waste transfer stations, scrapyards, and bus depots. And in a way, stadiums can be public nusiances. They require large amounts of land, even without parking, and yet they are only open for business sixty days out of the year. They bring noise and drunken fans - there's a reason why Wrigleyville has a frat-house reputation. And they need cheap land.

by David Ramos on Feb 18, 2009 9:39 am • linkreport

I agree with your points, and I'd make a corollary: it's much harder to build an urban football (as in NFL, not soccer) stadium than it is to build an urban stadium for almost any other sport. #5 looms large on that list, because despite extremely creative attempts by stadium managers over the years, there just isn't much else you can do with a football field.

The most promising non-sports use historically has been music, but history has shown that musical acts prefer an arena, which has much better acoustics and comforts. The problem is that football stadiums, which need to hold 50k to basketball/hockey's 20k, are just too darn big. And so we implicate #2, street grid interruption, and even #1, because larger size means more temptation to use parking lots.

by tom veil on Feb 18, 2009 9:52 am • linkreport

No additional surface parking should be needed if the stadium is near the Morgan Blvd. station...FedEx Field has more than enough surface parking to handle the overflow parking needs of a 24,000-seat stadium. Sure, folks who park there will have to walk down that same narrow sidewalk that Metro riders use when attending games at FedEx, but hey, it's not such a bad walk, and I'm sure The Danny would be more than happy to provide shuttle service...for a nominal fee, of course...payable only in Redskins Bucks, which are like real dollars, only more fun!

by EdTheRed on Feb 18, 2009 10:04 am • linkreport

I tend to agree strongly with all of your points. The one hangup I really have that hasn't been mentioned is United's tailgate tradition. The two large supporters' groups (La Barra Brava, and the Screaming Eagles) both have a strong history of tailgating in sections of the RFK parking lots before games. While the parking at RFK is way too big for this and should by no means be replicated... well, anywhere, some parking might be a must for United's hardcore fans.

I'm looking for opinions on how a modestly sized tailgate lot on one side of the stadium - and not in between Metro and the stadium - would affect the prospects for otherwise creating an optimal urban stadium. Thanks.

by The AMT on Feb 18, 2009 10:06 am • linkreport

To add to Tom's comments:

Football stadium sees 8 regular season games 2 pre-season and if you are lucky 3 post-season games. Also, the culture of Football today revolves around the parking lot. Tailgating is now just as an important part of the game day experience next to actually watching the game. Ironically tailgating started as people started to arrive early to beat traffic; now people tailgate after to wait for traffic to pass. Plus charging for those parking spots sure helps with the payroll of your ageing overhype talent. It will take some huge revolutionary change in the sport or some visionary owner to pull this trend to a more urbanism feel.

by RJ on Feb 18, 2009 10:11 am • linkreport

A great analysis which seems to point to the fact that building this stadium in a suburban environment would be a waste unless there's a serious commitment to design an urban friendly infrastructure in the vicinity. In this economy that seems unlikely. I've never understood why they don't retrofit RFK and develope the forcourt composed of the Armory with a lot more mixed use development. If not, it should be moved to an area where it would generate more immediate economic activity like Silver Spring.

As for the "obligatory cheap shot at Mid-Century Modernism"

it shouldn't have the object like, blank walled, to hell with my environment look mid-century modernism seemed to excell in. This dosen't mean the stylistic flourishes can't be "modernist", just avoid the typological and architectonic miscues of that period, please.

by Thayer-D on Feb 18, 2009 10:20 am • linkreport

Good post but as a fellow urbanist sometimes I think we need to be real about some things. I definitely think a soccer stadium can be urban because it only seats 24,000 people and in this case just like the commenters say they can use the surface parking already in place for the Redskins.

That being said I do not think it is the easiest thing in the world to make an urban football stadium. For 1.) nobody likes surface parking but for a 91,000 seat stadium like FedEx Field you need a place to put those people. I know if you put a metro there it would alleviate the stress but as we saw at inauguration metro only carries 120,000 people an hour period. In the entire system. I dont know how that breaks down for the period before a game but I would say 10 to 20,000 tops. Another thing about surface parking, it's actually an integral part of the American football experience. Tons of people tailgate before a game and that alone is a reason that parking lots will always be apart of the American football experience. 2.)Have you seen the size of the Redskins stadium? What street grid would that fit in? Just think about RFK in town and try to figure out how many blocks that would take up.

Again I like alot of your points for an arena (remember at most 20,000 people) or small size soccer stadium. They have done very creative things with baseball stadiums but remember baseball stadiums are square in nature, and they are easier to accomodate. Football structures are massive and need space. I have only seen a few (Meadowlands, Lincoln Financial, M&T Bank, FedEx Field and they are all located off major interstates.) The most urban one I have seen is Heinz Field in Pittsburgh where they have alot of surface parking but it is all on one side of the field and the open end of the field faces the river and downtown. It's the best one I have seen but still has surface parking.

I have seen plenty of soccer stadiums in Europe fit but does anybody have an example better than Heinz Field in Pittsburgh that do here?

by Ralph on Feb 18, 2009 10:20 am • linkreport

"While there were revitalization plans for the area before the arena was constructed, the arena's construction accelerated and intensified those plans."

Actually, revitalization was already moving east when the Verizon Center was built, and any acceleration and intensification, was heavily subsidized by DC taxpayers through TIFs and tax incentives. Looking at the area around the Verizon Center, one thing is clear, subsidies and tax incentives were behind much of the change in the area and the Verizon center creates dead space on some sides, leaving areas that have suffered as a result and feel unsafe to pedestrians after dark.

As to using stadiums, even well designed urban stadiums, as economic generators, many of the points mentioned here are mere speculation. The numbers simply do not back it up, especially, when it comes to baseball, where the fans' dollars are spent in the stadium, not in the surrounding area. The claims of increased tax revenue never account for the fact that much of the "incremental" tax revenue is being dedicated to the stadium and its owners and without the stadium, there could have been significant revenue from unsubsidized businesses at that site if the stadium were not there.

At any rate, William, I do not see this as a loss to DC, unless is it simply a ploy to extort more taxpayer subsidies from Fenty. I am glad to see that DC taxpayers will not be taken for another ride.

by JR on Feb 18, 2009 10:35 am • linkreport

Great consideration of the urban design of stadiums, Cavan.

David Ramos, I don't think it's fair to judge Nationals Park just yet, and I think your case studies of other parks is also misleading.

I'm not one to argue that stadiums are an economic slam dunk, but they certainly can be a catalyst. The examples you've chosen 'at random' don't take into account local context. Detroit, for example, has a great location. It's right downtown. The surface parking around the park is more an indictment of the state of urbanism in Detroit than it is about anything specific to the stadium.

And you've also missed on some great examples. Coors Field in Denver integrates into the surrounding LoDo area exceedingly well, and has provided a great entertainment anchor during the summer months to draw crowds in. PetCo Park in San Diego is also very well integrated into the area, as is New Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

With regard to Nationals Park, you can't judge it after just one season. Come back after ten years and we can assess what role it's had in the area. You have to give these places time to evolve, time for businesses to cater to the crowds and developers to build around the parks.

----

As an avid DC United tailgater, I think it's important to realize that tailgating need not be defined by the actual tailgate of a vehicle. I think it's both possible and probable that a well-design plaza with the ability to provide that kind of open space as well as the logistical requirements of a tailgate would be an excellent way to integrate the Lot 8 traditions with a more urban pre-game experience.

I went to school at the University of Wisconsin, and college football is always a big deal. However, Camp Randall Stadium is nestled between campus and neighborhoods, and does not have any surface parking. However, the combination of closing a few streets on gamedays, parties in front lawns, and bars setting up beer gardens in open lots (rather than parking cars in them) makes for a tremendous 'tailgating' experience without the actual tailgate.

It can be done. It has been done. It's only a matter of thinking creatively about it.

by Alex B. on Feb 18, 2009 10:47 am • linkreport

You'll be hard-pressed to ever find a football-only stadium in an urban area. Most teams that played in the heart of a city usually rented from a third party (Jints- Yankee Stadium, Redskins- Griffith Field, Colts- Memorial Stadium, Patriots- Fenway Park).

A few others played in college stadia (Steelers- Pitt, Eagles- Franklin Field).

I don't really see the point of an urban stadium if most of your fanbase doesn't live in the urb. Does Nationals Park really fit in to the community? Or is it just a transfer payment to the Navy Yard area in the form of that investment.

by MPC on Feb 18, 2009 10:50 am • linkreport

There are soccer stadiums that fit, but they're also smaller in footprint, close to public transportation and weren't designed to be the anchor of the surrounding development. This is going to be a mixed-use development in PG, so they need to really try hard in that respect if they want to make this a real urban stadium. They need to attract businesses and a wide-range of people to live there. I personally don't think it's important that something like a football stadium be built in an urban environment. It may not even be a big priority for a soccer stadium given how large the field is. Wrigleyville-like density is great but it takes a lot of commitment.

It's good for PG from an economic standpoint, but this "urban stadium" idea is mostly marketing from my perspective. In this economic climate and with what's already there, it'll take a long time for this to become a reality.

The negotiation for this between dc and the united was really piss-poor. It doesn't reflect well on the DC gov't, they should have at least been more honest about what was going on.

by Vik on Feb 18, 2009 10:51 am • linkreport

The new Nationals Stadium is a great example of an urban stadium. It will anchor a vibrant neighborhood for decades to come, much moreso than a soccer stadium in the burbs. It will take a few more years for the new area to infill with retail, but the result will be good, if not as good as the Verizon Center (location is apples and oranges).

by SG on Feb 18, 2009 10:59 am • linkreport

Successful for whom?

Jurisdictions that foolishly lend public funds to such projects, give away public land, or broker other sweetheart deals (tax abatements, etc.) always regret it.

I recall reading that the "most successful" publically-funded stadiums return taxes at the rate of the average veterinary clinic.

by Mike licht on Feb 18, 2009 10:59 am • linkreport

It seems pretty clear that Cavan's post was talking about success in terms of how a city interacts with its stadium, not the financial rate of return. You can argue that stadiums as a whole are not good investments, but you cannot deny that some are better designed than others.

by Alex B. on Feb 18, 2009 11:06 am • linkreport

The numbers just don't add up. How, precisely, is a restaurant supposed to survive on sixty events a year? Cheap, available land, with no residents to complain - and no promise of future residents to complain - seems to drive a number of stadium locational decisions.

I don't know that stadiums are as good for neighborhoods as you might think. Take the classic ballpark, Fenway up in Boston - people are afraid to go into the Fenway at night, and the whole district has more dilapidated housing stock than its posh surroundings.

RE: Mid-Century Modernism, cheap shots at. Would any of these car-oriented stadiums be a success by Cavan's metrics if they were built of brick and had funky vernacular-inspired raised-seam metal roofs? Maybe if the lamps in the parking lots were raised on Corinthian columns? It's a land-use and policy issue.

by David Ramos on Feb 18, 2009 11:10 am • linkreport

I'd argue that the best way for a city to interact with its stadium is not to interact with it at all. Treat the stadium as a nuisance use, the way that some stadiums have wisely been. Sure, sometimes it can work - too often they don't, and at enormous public expense. Push it out into low-value land. Minimize the public investment and the opportunity cost of using centrally-located land. Put a transit link in, sure, but that's about it.

by David Ramos on Feb 18, 2009 11:13 am • linkreport

I was also going to mention college football, but Alex B. beat me to it. You can get 90,000 people into a stadium without surface parking directly surrounding the stadium. Games at the University of Florida (you might know us -- we won the NCAA championship?) depend on a lot of car and RV traffic from out of town, but they manage the parking in a way that reduces the impact on pedestrians. The stadium has garages and surface parking across the street as well as throughout campus, plus private lots and homes, businesses, churches, etc. that convert to private lots for game day. There is still lots of tailgating. And the stadium is located between a dense campus and the dense surrounding neighborhood. Game day brings tons of business to town, especially in the area around the stadium and on the roads out of town (between the stadium and the highway).

Coincidentally, the arena (basketball, swimming, gymnastics, public lectures, etc.) is right across the street, so it shares parking infrastructure.

The parking in the immediate area is woefully inadequate, though -- if you didn't have the campus as spillover parking, it'd be a mess. (Using the campus as spillover parking creates a mess for everyone else, though.) And moving traffic to/from the area is another debacle.

However, the contexts are different in some important ways. The stadium was built in a pre-existing campus -- you can't (re)develop the immediate area. And you're packing 90,000 into a stadium for a metro population of 250,000 -- clearly, a much larger proportion of your stadiumgoers are coming from out of town than would be the case for DC pro teams, so intracity transit is less relevant.

P.S. Although the stadium's only used maybe 12-15 times a year, it's open to the public (not the field) -- people go there to run or exercise, or sit with a book and read. The memorabilia store also stays open, and the meeting rooms/skyboxes are available for other use. Not to say it's a happenin' place when there's not a game, but it's not completely dead.

by Gavin Baker on Feb 18, 2009 11:18 am • linkreport

One quick thing...we always talk about stadia and the controversy of whether offer a huge economic benefit but what about a city funding something just for the public happiness. It's always termed in dollars and sense and nobody wants it to be a drain but can't a stadium be built because you want the population to be able to enjoy a sporting event. Many people that rail against stadiums seem to rail at the thought of any stadium and seem to be against any taxpayer money for sports viewing.

Now, DC is in a worse position than many areas because they pay for a stadium that the rest of the area uses and if they don't want to lose money for the non tax paying residents of MD and Virginia but it seems to me that every stadium gets turned into a matter of how much money is sports gonna make us. I hope we can have a positive effect on development and I don't believe any of the stuff about how it doesn't but combined with the fact that your residents get to watch a great game in a great venue, I like stadium construction. Let's just do it right.

by Ralph on Feb 18, 2009 11:19 am • linkreport

One thing you can do with stadiums: do not destroy plans for building a greater, more coherent city, as DC did when it plunked Nationals Park and lots of office/condo boxes down on the last ground available to expand the National Mall. NCPC had proposed a plan for building South Capitol Street into a new area of museums, public buildings, and monuments, tightly interwoven with a residential/commercial district. Same ground that's now been built up, only someone actually had an idea and a way to shape the city's long-term direction. Now we've got big empty condos and an albatross of a ballpark.

by David Ramos on Feb 18, 2009 11:20 am • linkreport

Thank you all for the reception to the piece. I am a sports fan and it makes me sick to read about another pro sports team somewhere griping about their stadium. With the news about my favorite team finally moving forward on a stadium of their own, I started to think about what makes a stadium Greater Greater rather than a scar on the land.

In response to some specific questions about the DC United stadium rather than the overall concepts, the majority owner currently has $1 billion invested in urban real estate in the District. He has made his fortune doing walkable urban projects in San Francisco and now Washington, D.C. He has always seen the stadium as an anchor of a larger mixed-use walkable urban Metro adjacent development. Hence why he got involved when there were negotiations about Poplar Point.

David, you do raise good concerns about Prince George's current laws about new infrastructure. All I can say is, having lived there, how should I say this? ... I found that many things in the county are more flexible than they might first appear. Mr. McFarlane will have to sit down at a table with county planners to work out a Metro-adjacent urban design.

While I'm not ready to declare this deal as Sliced Bread #2, I do think there is legitimate promise to the county and the region.

As for the Nats ballpark, while I'm not a baseball fan and am somewhat resentful that their stadium deal salted the earth for my favorite team, I have to say that the jury is still out on whether it will be the anchor for a vibrant district. We must remember that the speed of real estate development (both sprawl and walkable urban) that we experienced in this decade was historically rapid due to a monster speculative bubble. It will take many more years for the area around the Navy Yard Metro to take shape as our economy relearns sane business practices.

by Cavan on Feb 18, 2009 11:26 am • linkreport

Part of the reason the MCI Center has fit in with the urban environment is that it was built in an already existant urban environment. In other words, it was built in a place that was already a pain in the ass to drive to.

I just can't believe that PG County would build the stadium in a way to discourage people from driving there. It wouldn't even make sense. Gallery Place is at the nexus of an arterial subway network. Placing the stadium out at the end of one of those arterials does not create the same transit access.

I would've liked to see DCU build a stadium at Poplar Point, but I think MacFarlane just realized that DC has wised up (somewhat) to the bad deal that stadiums are. He looked around and found the next sucker. Good luck with that PG County.

by Reid on Feb 18, 2009 11:35 am • linkreport

David Ramos, I can tell that you're not the sports fan. I will hold to my thesis that if done right, stadiums and arenas can bring benefits to all citizens, not just sports fans. I think Verizon Center and Madison Square Garden in New York are excellent examples of this phenomenon. They are not nuisances any more than a large theater or music hall (often serving as a music hall) and do not need to be built on some far away greenfield in the un-Favored Quarter.

As far as dollars and cents, you can argue that one until you're blue in the face, just like you can argue whether or not the Metro was "cost effective" until the day you die. At the end, just like infrastructure, they are judgement calls as much as anything else.

They will get built though, and when someone builds a stadium it should be done right.

by Cavan on Feb 18, 2009 11:36 am • linkreport

Ok, so typologically, having a stadium that fills up a spot in the city grid is not good or bad by itself, unless it opens up onto the street with ordinary uses as well. The Verizon center does nothing for Chinatown 70% of the time, but its presence is offset by the density of the surroundings and the storefronts that ring the structure. The 30% of the time it draws people into the city it probably adds a good kick to the local economy.

Have a look at Citi Field and its surrounding development in Willets Point . I think this is the opposite of what anyone wants to do. The building is stylistically and typologically traditional, but in the middle of a parking lot. Even better, it's near the 7 train, but still puts the parking lot out front. Also, there will be new development on the opposite side of the stadium from transit. I truly wonder what the hell was going through the designers' heads when they were planning it.

by цarьchitect on Feb 18, 2009 11:38 am • linkreport

Well said, öarüchitect. It's not about the building itself but about the context. Notice how I said "modernist planning" not "modernist architecture." It's not the architecture that makes RFK anti-urban. It's the acres of surface parking lots.

by Cavan on Feb 18, 2009 11:46 am • linkreport

You can't compare tailgating at a college football game and tailgating at a sport like the NFL or MLS. Tailgating on campuses is done mainly on residential and recreational land near the stadium and the circumstances are completely different, especially with people not all living in a relative close proximity. Bars could work but they have to be able to survive all year so people living in the neighborhood is important. But if you want to tailgate, it's going to be noisy and people living there who don't want to hear it may object so you have to balance everything out. And if you want to bring music and grills and whatnot, it's a lot to ask for people to lug that onto the metro. I think one option is to develop the stadium as a part of a larger recreational facility with some tennis courts or other open land close by and have people tailgate there and you can try to minimize its impact on pedestrian traffic while you're at it. If it's a large development, the area can be urban while also providing some space for the stadium, it's not the end of the world if the stadium isn't packed into a grid like the Verizon Center.

by Vik on Feb 18, 2009 12:17 pm • linkreport

Cavan, you're absolutely right. Too often modernists confuse the criticism of modernism as directed toward the style and not the architectonic qualities that style embraced. 1950's TelAviv and EUR outside of Rome prove that you can have just as good urbanism with modernist style buildings as with traditional style buildings.

BTW, modern is anything happening now, not any particular style (look it up in the dictionary). If someone does a building in a Greek style, I hate to say it, but it's still modern. The implication is that a modernist style building wasn't copied out of a history book, please.

Enjoy your subscriptions to current architectural periodicals and leave the posturing out of it.

by Thayer-D on Feb 18, 2009 12:20 pm • linkreport

The issue of city benefit has been argued time and again, but the uniqueness of the District is such that with Maryland and Virginia residents spending their entertainment dollars in DC rather their home jurisdictions, it is money that would otherwise not be spent in town.

This is different than, say Pennsylvanians who spend money at the Linc or Heinze Field, where the dollars are staying in state.

I believe that in the long run, it would have been better to have DCU be an anchor at Polar Point.

Reasonable people can disagree.

by William on Feb 18, 2009 12:38 pm • linkreport

"Verizon center does nothing for Chinatown 70% of the time"

Not really. The Verizon Center has over 220 events each year. Which is, 60% (or 4.2 days/week) of the year there is something going on at the Phone Booth.

Another way to see it:

Nats Park used 22% of the year

FedEx used 3% of the year

RFK used 5% of the year (20 events).

by RJ on Feb 18, 2009 12:49 pm • linkreport

William, I agree with you. Fans in general want the hometown team to stay in the hometown. Long term wise, it would have been better to keep the team in DC which is also a more central location. The talk of how to develop the site densely wouldn't have been much of a topic had the team went to Poplar Point but that ship has sailed. My biggest gripe is the way the administration dealt with this though.

The situation with this development was nothing like the baseball stadium so I hate hearing people make the comparison. This was a part of a billion dollar development in the most blighted part of the city, not downtown. Public funds would have been used to improve the infrastructure, not for the stadium itself. So the issue of paying back isn't as much a problem b/c public funds are going to develop the entire mixed-use development, not for the construction of the stadium.

by Vik on Feb 18, 2009 1:31 pm • linkreport

David Ramos wrote: "I don't know that stadiums are as good for neighborhoods as you might think. Take the classic ballpark, Fenway up in Boston - people are afraid to go into the Fenway at night, and the whole district has more dilapidated housing stock than its posh surroundings"

People are afraid to go into the Fenway at night? You coulda fooled me. When I lived there (until about eight years ago), most of the most popular dance clubs in the city, with lines outside a block long, were along Lansdowne Street (and had been for at least 15 years); every other week I was at a microbrewery or a billiard place along Brookline Avenue. Is there crime in the Fenway area? Absolutely. There's even more crime in Adams Morgan, but plenty of people still go there.

When I lived in Chicago, the area of the city with the most sought-after living spaces for young people was the portion of the Lakeview neighborhood near Wrigley Field (which some people unfortunately refer to as Wrigleyville).

Mind, both of these areas became what they are *organically*; they don't have much to say about the effort by developers to artificially create such a scene. That, to me, is the more interesting question. Penn Quarter may be a positive example, but there are negative ones too.

by Chris Metzler on Feb 18, 2009 1:49 pm • linkreport

The only reason it was able to happen "organically" was because of the urban-friendly design of the stadium. If Wrigly Field was surrounded by acres of surface parking lots that neighborhood wouldn't be so vibrant.

The "organic" development around the pre-war baseball stadiums in Boston and Chicago was financed by profit-seeking developers just like any other modern human settlement.

However, if by "organic" you mean slow and evolutionary, you're onto something. Having a good urban-friendly design is essential to the evolution of the surrounding neighborhood.

by Cavan on Feb 18, 2009 1:56 pm • linkreport

Great point, Chris. The most successful places are the ones where the stadium and the neighborhood have evolved hand in hand - Wrigley Field, Fenway, numerous downtown arenas, etc.

Poplar Point had that chance to be a great place 10, 20 years down the line. In the interim, a soccer stadium would have been a great bridge to help get outsiders to come visit the area and spend money.

To address Ramos's point, no, a stadium isn't going to support a restuarant on 60 events a year - but it would provide that final boost to keep one open where it would have never opened before.

by Alex B. on Feb 18, 2009 1:57 pm • linkreport

How sad have city governments come to that they have been reduced to begging for teams to build stadiums, with taxpayer dollars and tax breaks in underdeveloped areas.

by MPC on Feb 18, 2009 2:05 pm • linkreport

MPC, DCU was going to build its own stadium. DC monies would have gone to water, road and other infrastructure. If, say 5 years from now, a developer wants to put in 10,000 units of affordable housing at the site (not a solution I would recommend, but just for arguments sake), the city would still have to spend that money on infrastructure improvements.

Do you get it? The city is going to need to improve the site, regardless of what its ultimate use will be.

by William on Feb 18, 2009 2:18 pm • linkreport

David Ramos wrote:

"One thing you can do with stadiums: do not destroy plans for building a greater, more coherent city, as DC did when it plunked Nationals Park and lots of office/condo boxes down on the last ground available to expand the National Mall. NCPC had proposed a plan for building South Capitol Street into a new area of museums, public buildings, and monuments, tightly interwoven with a residential/commercial district. Same ground that's now been built up, only someone actually had an idea and a way to shape the city's long-term direction. Now we've got big empty condos and an albatross of a ballpark."

Yeah, 'cuz when it comes to vibrancy, no place in DC rocks quite like the Mall does at night. That's some quality mixed-use right there...

Compared to the destruction of SW via urban "renewal," Nationals Park looks pretty good...and the Smithsonian and the other "museums, public buildings, and monuments" on and around the Mall don't pay a dime in property taxes, so why should the District pull even more land off the tax rolls just because the NCPC is running out of room for the latest National Museum/Monument of the Special Interest?

Nationals Park was a bad deal for the District, but not an inherently bad idea. Ballparks can and have been important parts of vibrant, coherent cities for more than a century.

by EdTheRed on Feb 18, 2009 2:19 pm • linkreport

Nationals Park was a bad deal for the District, but not an inherently bad idea. Ballparks can and have been important parts of vibrant, coherent cities for more than a century.

Only when bureaucrats don't plan them. Most the 'charming' old stadia that are part of the neighborhood were built with private money and didn't have to go through the hoops and special interests that modern "private-public" partnerships do.

I ask you to name me any circumstance where a government-planned stadium did anything of note to improve the 'urbanism' of a city. I'm sure you'll mention Cleveland's sports complex, which is great if you're a suburban yuppie. Transplanted suburbia, which is what is the goal in these efforts since all the fans are from the suburbs, is not 'urbanism'

by MPC on Feb 18, 2009 2:54 pm • linkreport

Kevin Payne, United's GM, had some good things to say today in a WaPo chat:

"Kevin Payne: We have said one of our priorities is to try to locate at or near Metro. 5 of the 7 sites we are looking at fit that bill. This is a big priority for us, though there are many factors and there are no guarantees."

"Kevin Payne: Other issues we are considering include transportation generally -- is the site served by a good road network? Will there be appropriate mixed use development around the stadium -- shops, restaurants, homes, to be sure the area around our stadium is lively and our stadium increases economic vitality. A big one is trying to take advantage of existing infrastructure, whether that be roads, parking, etc."

"Kevin Payne: ... It may take some time, given the economy, but we want to be in the middle of a vibrant community with lots of vitality and entertainment options."

by Andrew on Feb 18, 2009 3:02 pm • linkreport

Well, there may be no guarantees for Mr. Payne, but there are for me. If they pick one of those 2 sites that's not near a metro, I can guarantee that my attendance will decrease dramatically.

by Alex B. on Feb 18, 2009 3:17 pm • linkreport

I think those sites that aren't on the Metro are plans F and G.

by Cavan on Feb 18, 2009 3:27 pm • linkreport

Oh, I agree - but Payne's language on that isn't as strong as I'd like.

by Alex B. on Feb 18, 2009 3:49 pm • linkreport

Cavan: yes, by "organically" (I know it's not a technical term of the industry, but I don't know what else to say) I mean in a slow, evolutionary fashion -- as opposed to the hyper-accelerated creation of a commercial district around a stadium in a short period of time. I hope it works for DCU. But Penn Quarter had advantages that I don't know if Morgan Blvd or Largo are going to be able to answer.

by Chris Metzler on Feb 18, 2009 10:42 pm • linkreport

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