I may have moved to Baltimore but, my beloved and first place Kansas City Royals (ah crap, just jinxed ’em) still occupy a sizable chunk of my heart; the people who made and make decisions about where to build their stadium…not so much. I grew up going to probably 10-15 games a year, probably average for your baseball-loving tyke in Flyover Country. Here’s the thing though, going to a baseball game in Kansas City meant a traffic-laden trek from one side of suburbia to another side of suburbia. Nothing says excitement like…going to the suburbs!
For all of you who grew up after the downtown retro-ballpark boom started by Baltimore’s Camden Yards (technically Oriole Park at Camden Yards), there was a time that no shortage of stadiums were surrounded by enough acres of asphalt that they probably could’ve applied to the United Nations as Parkinglotistan. In Kansas City, Royals…er, Kauffman…Stadium and its cross-parking lot compadre Arrowhead Stadium, are surrounded by something on the order of 200 acres of parking and a web of interstates. Two hundred acres. That’s insane. That’s enough space for somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 cars without a tree for miles, according to my back-of-the-envelope architecture school site planning class math. It’s every bit as inviting as it sounds. Of course, when your only option to get to the game is in a car, you better have a lot of parking. Not to mention when you surround a stadium with a landscape more barren than the back side of the moon, you have one option, show up to the game and go home from the game. It’s not as though you can walk across the street before/after the game and have yourself a brewski. This is America after all. Beer and baseball are sitting right alongside apple pie and Chevrolet on that Mount Rushmore.
So, you get my point. As atmospheres go—the stadium aside, people adore Kauffman Stadium—A PARKING LOT SUCKS. A LOT.
Which begets the question, “So Matt, just what do you suggest instead?” Well, dear reader, I think most of you already know what I’m suggesting because many of you surely grew up with one: an in-the-city part-of-the-urban-fabric ballpark. Now, I had always known this in the abstract. But, this past weekend I went to my first two games in Baltimore. I met some pals, had a few beers, walked over to the ballpark, took the light rail home one night, walked the other; just ridiculously easy. And, guess what, you just saved the hassle and the $20 (okay, probably $628 for a non-premium Yankees game) you paid to park. Added bonus: if you’re a ballpark drinker—oddly enough, I’m not—no drinking and driving. Score!
Aside from all the creature comforts you get with an in-town ballpark (I hesitate to say downtown, there’s no particular need for a ballpark to be smack downtown), there’s the financial boon to the city. Remember Kauffman and its sea of asphalt? I do seem to recall there’s a Denny’s you can see off in the distance from the far corners of the upper deck but, it might as well be in Iowa (that’s 130 miles away for you geographically-challenged sorts). But really, that’s about it. And well, I’m a little concerned about you if you want to go to a Denny’s before 3:30 a.m. (Point of fact: the editor of this blog has a Denny’s fetish.) If you surround your stadium with a -stand’s worth of parking, you aren’t going to get much bang for your city buck in terms of economic development. That stadium you want, it’s gonna cost you something on the order of $1 billion (yes, $1,000,000,000). And, this day in age, no matter how much your city council or state legislature bitches and moans, they’re probably going to bend over and finance it when it’s all said and done. So, you’d think they’d like to get some kind of return on their investment. That may come in part from ownership agreements or concessions regarding the stadium itself, the parking revenue (in nearby garages), merchandise, and concession sales. But, moreover, the return comes in the form of economic development adjacent to your new shiny ballpark. While an overt reason to build a stadium could be to retain your team, the more covert reason is always economic development. You have a venue that seats anywhere from 35,000 to 50,000 people. They either walk, ride transit, or drive to your stadium 81 nights each year. They’re hungry and thirsty. They’ve got disposable income. Developers love these people. Pretty soon you’ve got old buildings being converted to lofts and retailers moving in. The spillover effects are contagious. Assuming you’re not Saint Louis and you don’t open your ballpark right at the beginning of a recession (tough luck…not), this is a guaranteed win-win.
So, what did Kansas City do in 2006 when they had the option to defeat a tax increase to renovate the existing stadiums (Arrowhead included) and thus automatically endorse the downtown concept? The idiots pass the tax increase. Now the Royals (and Chiefs) are stuck swimming in a sea of asphalt until, at the very earliest, 2031.
Face, meet palm.