Monday, February 04, 2019

Life around Stadiums

Hundreds of Millions and even Billions of dollars are spent to build new sports stadiums around the country and each time it seems that the new stadium is more elaborate than the last one to be built. In 2009 the New York Yankees bought a new stadium that cost a whopping $1.5 billion dollars while in 2017 Atlanta built a new stadium for the football and soccer teams which came in at $1.6 billion dollars. Today I plan to talk about the football stadium in Minneapolis that cost $1.1 billion and the baseball stadium that opened on 2010 that cost a measly $555 million. While the cost can seem astronomical I am not going to be talking about the construction cost but instead I am going to discuss the urban environment around the stadium.

    While sports stadiums seem to create a lot of excitement when they are proposed and cities are willing to throw whatever money they can to get a stadium built in their location, like convention centers they often sit empty a majority of the time and can create dead zones around them. While on a trip to Minneapolis last summer, I was able to a take a close look at the area around the stadiums and see exactly what the urban environment looks like today.

    First let’s take a look at the new football stadium. The stadium opened in 2017 and hosted the Super Bowl in 2018. For those not familiar with Minneapolis the stadium sits to the east and slightly to the south of downtown Minneapolis. The biggest activity center around the the stadium is a light rail station which is the primary station for passengers to transfer between the two light rails. There are a few buildings nearby, mainly the county Juvenile detention facility and a hospital which are not exactly the best attractions if you want to build a walkable community.

Green line light rail train arrives at station in front of the stadium. 

Looking at the empty plaza in front of the station. 

Another look at the plaza with the stadium to the right and light rail station to the left. 

Looking north from the light rail station toward the parking garages which is the closest use to the stadium. 

Looking northeast along Chicago Avenue. 

Skywalk leading from the stadium to the parking garage. 

Light rail train going under the skybridge. 

Looking north toward the Wells Fargo buildings which have no active uses. 
A closer look at the Wells Fargo Building

Looking northwest through the commons are toward downtown. 
Taking a look at the good map and the accompanying pictures you can see that from the light rail station you are facing a pretty desolate setting. Looking northwest from the station you have two open spaces which in themselves are good if there is something to bring life to them, however except for one apartment building along Fifth Avenue there is not much. Turning south there is the Juvenile Detention center, the county hospital and a lot of parking lots. Going north from open space you have two bank office buildings with nothing on the street level, and a parking garage. The good news is once you get to South 3rd Street and Park Avenue there are restaurants and hotels but you have to get past the parking garage first which also has no ground level activity to put more people on the street.

      Continuing northwest toward the downtown area things do not get better right away. The blocks between 4th Avenue and 3rd Avenue are lined with city, county and federal offices which can also be a killer to the urban environment. Most of these buildings are only occupied during the week between 8 and 5 and have no ground level activities. There are a couple of plazas, one in front of the Federal Court House and the other in front of the county government center, but once again there is not enough street life to make these plazas valuable most of the time.

Juvenile Detention Facility

Looking southwest along Park Avenue. The Juvenile Detention Center is located to the right and parking lots to the left. 
Looking along S 5th Street toward downtown
Looking northwest across the Commons. 

  Now turn your attention to the baseball stadium that is located on the northwest side of the downtown area, basically on the complete opposite side of downtown from the football stadium. There is probably no ideal spot for something like a sport stadium or convention center, but the baseball stadium in Minneapolis probably comes as close as you get.

     The stadium is located between a highway, an elevated street, a power plant and another elevated street. The baseball stadium has even better transit access than the football stadium as it is the terminal of the Northstar Commuter Rail and both light rail lines. Eventually both light rail lines will be extended beyond this area but both have been controversial. These light rail stations can be extremely busy during rush hour with passengers transferring to Northstar and of course during baseball games but beyond that there is little activity in the area beyond one office building located north of the stadium and the light rail stations.

Light Rail train at the light rail station in front of the baseball stadium. 
Looking southeast along North 5th Street past the stadium toward the parking garage and interstate. 

Looking toward the Northstar Station entrance. 

Looking northwest along North 5th Street. 

Looking southeast along baseball stadium. 

Looking toward the north from the baseball stadium. 

Looking past the baseball stadium toward the parking garage and downtown. 

Office building across the light rail tracks and North 5th Street from the stadium. 

Looking toward the second office building across from the stadium. 

The advantage the baseball stadium has over the football stadium is that you have a much shorter walk to get to a booming urban environment. If you leave the stadium area from the North 5th Street side with the light rail station you do have to walk past a parking garage which once again brings no life to the street but it is also serves as a cap over Interstate 394 so it can be considered an improvement over having to walk over a barren highway overpass. The largest entrance to the stadium empties out onto North 7th Street and using this entrance you do have a slightly longer walk to reach a thriving urban environment. From that entrance you cross over a semi-cap over Interstate 394 then pass the parking garage on one side and the basketball arena on the other to reach a flourishing urban environment. Fortunately you only have to pass a corner of the arena to reach restaurants and other urban life where there is much more activity on the street.

     Another facet of both stadiums that robs street life is that all the parking garages for the stadiums are connected to the respective stadiums via skywalks. While you can argue that it is necessary for the football stadium due to the weather in Minneapolis during the winter, it is a little harder to argue that point for the baseball stadium. Looking at the street view image shows that moving automobiles was put ahead of the pedestrian environment.

      Let’s make it clear I am not disparaging the stadiums themselves. While I was in Minneapolis/St. Paul during the summer I attended a game at the baseball stadium. The stadium itself is terrific and like many purpose built baseball stadiums over the last 20 years, no matter where your seats are you are close to action no matter where you sit. Also, while I am not a fan of the way many stadiums get financed and I question that they really bring the economic development some people feel they do, there is no reason why the stadiums cannot be built and designed to better create a more vibrant urban environment.

      In time the urban environment around the football stadium may greatly improve. The owner of the football team Zygi Wilf has stated he is interested in redeveloping the area around the football stadium. Hopefully this will bring a better urban atmosphere to the area.

    The two stadiums in Minneapolis are a perfect example of how stadiums can create dead zones in the urban surroundings. Most cities have something that will create dead zones such as a sports stadium, convention center, music halls, live theaters, or other similar uses. However, it does not have to be a dead zone if it blends into a vibrant urban environment. But if it’s in a sea of parking, or in an area where few people walk, it will contribute to being a dead zone instead of bringing more life to the area.


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