Urban football stadiums in the US: The bad
Yesterday, several GGW contributors debated whether DC could accommodate a new home for the Washington Redskins inside the District.
We asked some of our urbanist friends around the country to weigh in on the experience with urban arenas in their cities.
The Indianapolis Colts have played in an urban football stadium since the team's founding in 1984 when the Hoosier Dome (later the RCA Dome) was built in the heart of downtown. The stadium sat next to the Indianapolis Convention Center, creating a superblock in downtown Indianapolis that encouraged monotonous urban forms and destroyed vitality in the surrounding area. Yet, the RCA Dome could be considered a decent urban football stadium because the structure was built to the street right-of-way, featured large entryways off the sidewalk, and was decently integrated into the urban fabric with no surrounding parking.
In late 2008 the Dome, seen as a relic of a past era, was abandoned for the sparkling new Lucas Oil Stadium a few blocks south. Lucas Oil Stadium is a true mega-structure. The hulking arena is roughly the size of two large downtown blocks, with its surrounding landscaping, parking, and entryway features taking up an additional four to five blocks.
Needless to say, Lucas Oil Stadium is now a prominent fixture in the Indianapolis skyline, often dwarfing the neighboring buildings and harkening back to the field house structures with which Indianapolis has long had a love affair. From this standpoint, Lucas Oil is a small success, providing the urban environment a beautiful building that represents the city's sports venue value system.
In terms of accessibility, the stadium does well in some points and fails in others. From the south, the area's walkability is poor, covered in a swath of parking, but is much better from other directions, with small to medium setbacks and large sidewalks for often heavy pedestrian traffic. Numerous IndyGo bus lines run along South Street and surrounding downtown streets, allowing for easy transit access.
By 2012, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail will link Lucas Oil Stadium directly to downtown's main bike and pedestrian system, providing an important link to downtown's vibrant entertainment districts. This improvement, along with the new Georgia Street reconfiguration that will provide a pedestrian-oriented, entertainment corridor, is proof positive that Indianapolis is attempting to incorporate Lucas Oil Stadium into downtown's pedestrian experience and make the area more walkable.
Still, if the City ever wants to be truly integrate the stadium into the urban environment, they need to do more. The stadium site sits on a mega block, offering poor street and pedestrian connectivity to the surrounding street grid and neighborhood. Plus, the stadium is placed at an angle to the street grid, creating odd open spaces around the stadium.
Looking towards the future, integrating a large, out-of-context, football stadium like Lucas Oil into an urban environment like downtown Indianapolis's southern edge will prove to be difficult. Still though, improvements can be made that can create a more vibrant, sustainable district and interesting street life. Connecting the Cultural Trail to the stadium is an important first step. From there, the street grid needs to be reinforced to the stadium's south end and transportation circulation needs to be improved, urban forms need to be constructed to the north and east edge, and urban infill needs to occur to the west.
If plans such as these are put forward and actually implemented, Lucas Oil Stadium could quickly become a poster child for successful urban football stadiums in the United States. But the stadium is still in its infancy and full plans for the area have yet to be developed, so only time will tell if such ambitions will be achieved.
Each of the three St. Louis National Football League stadiums has been located in an urban setting. Sportsman's Park was truly a neighborhood stadium, sharing an incredible likeness to Chicago's Wrigley Field. A football field was shoe horned into Sportsman's for six years.
When Busch Stadium I opened in 1966 it was one of a wave of dual use stadiums of similar design, started by DC's own RFK stadium and followed by Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The stadium was home to Major League Baseball's Cardinals and the Cardinals NFL team. Built during a period unprecedented faith in urban renewal in St. Louis, the stadium was one component of a larger effort that included the final clearing of a dozen city blocks for the Gateway Mall, the building of the Gateway Arch and construction of urban Interstates through the city.
Downtown St. Louis. Image from Google Maps.
Completed in 1995, the Trans World Dome, now Edward Jones Dome, was built as a multi-purpose facility, following the then trend of combing convention centers with domed stadiums. It was one of the very last traditional dome stadiums built. The Dome's utility as an expanded convention center has not lived up to initial promises for revenue generated and events held. The stadium even fails to offer a view of the Mississippi River, or the iconic Arch.
While an urban football stadium on the right site may add to and take advantage of a dramatic skyline, the stadium and convention center combination in St. Louis fails to do this. The stadium has arguably been an impediment to development. The 12 city block superblock is a defining barrier separating the near north side and the central business district to the south and last remnants of historic riverfront with the rest of the city.
The nearest commercial corner at 7th and Washington is the site of a long vacant building encompassing an entire block and failed indoor urban mall. Both structures are currently undergoing development, two of the last to do so along the historic Washington Avenue corridor, and 15 years after the completion of the Dome. However with the surface parking lots, vacant land, and empty historic buildings surrounding the site, it's a tough argument to say that things could have been worse.
At the time it was designed, the Dome was criticized by Eugene Mackey, a former president of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, . St. Louis Post-Dispatch architecture critic E.F. Porter stated that such a structure at the edge of a struggling CBD would have a "pervasive and irreversible impact on the complexion of the city." He described the project as a "great protective battlement…sealing off the CBD from the neighborhoods to the north." Mackey summed it up: 'It makes north St. Louis the loading dock for downtown."
The negative impact is more than a few vacant lots and blocks of housing, the Convention Center and Dome present a life-subduing façade, especially to the west and north. Would the Dome have been better situated on the east (or even west) riverbank with an open roof view of the St. Louis skyline? Perhaps a suburban stadium, nearer the region's population center, approximately 12 miles west of downtown would have worked.
Although served by the light rail MetroLink line and Metro bus, such service can only accommodate a fraction of 66,965 fans who can fill the stadium. Transit works better for baseball, basketball and hockey crowds of 12-40,000.
Ultimately, urban stadiums can work and we're left to wonder if the Convention Center and Dome have inflicted and maintained blight in the St. Louis CBD or whether it's successfully served as a bulwark against decay in a city where these problems are clearly bigger than a football stadium.
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