There was a fascinating article yesterday in the Baltimore Sun by Louis Miserendino marking the 20th anniversary of the opening of Camden Yards (we attempted to see a game during that inaugural year but didn’t make it past the National Anthem as one of our kids got sick in the stands). Mr. Miserendino compares the economic development track records for Boston and Baltimore over past half century. I was surprised to see that before 1980 Boston was in worse shape than Baltimore having lost more manufacturing jobs and population had a lower median income and a higher crime rate. But in the ensuing period, Boston’s income levels have soared while Baltimore’s have stagnated.
He notes that Boston has not built a new baseball or football stadium during that period (though he does not mention that the Boston Garden was replaced) while Baltimore made an enormous public investment in both baseball and football stadiums downtown. He questions whether that strategy has paid off for the city as a whole. Camden Yards, of course, is the stadium that triggered an onslaught of downtown, retro baseball stadiums (e.g., Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Denver, San Francisco). It is often held up as the poster child for how sports facilities can be used as catalyst for a downtown renaissance. The question Mr. Miserendino asks is “at what cost to the economic development prospects for the remainder of a city.
On the same day, the City Council in Lincoln, Nebraska, approved a $57 million mixed-use project that is to be built adjacent to the Pinnacle Bank Arena currently under construction. The link between the two projects was acknowledged by Councilman Carl Eskridge who said: “Part of the reason for building the arena is to have lots of things around it, places for people to live and play.” The Arena will be part of a sports-entertainment district that includes Memorial Stadium and Haymarket Park. These three facilities are the home for the Husker basketball, football and baseball teams respectively. The Haymarket itself is a successful conversion of an old warehouse district into restaurants and shops.
So while this project has a lot going for it in terms of ties to the University of Nebraska and an already thriving mixed-use district that it hopes to become an integral part of, one wonders what public investments in other parts of Lincoln could not be made in order to create this mecca for sports fans.