Done properly, professional sports complexes are the first domino to fall in a city’s revitalization process.
Minor League Baseball stadiums in Durham and Winston-Salem, both in North Carolina, and other midsize cities have drawn people back to downtown and set off a cascade of new attractions, including restaurants, shops, hotels, nightlife and residential development.
Colorado Springs officials hope for the same success at the Downtown Stadium, soon to be the home of the Colorado Switchbacks soccer club.
“Just like the [U.S.] Olympic Museum, the stadium is one of those bookend projects to generate interest in Colorado Springs for people to come stay at hotels, visit our restaurants and use those venues,” said Laura Neumann, area director of stadium contributor Weidner Apartment Homes.
As a minority owner of the Switchbacks, Weidner Apartment Homes is partnering with the organization to build a seven-floor community alongside the stadium, which will house both residential apartment units and mixed-use businesses and provide a deck looking onto the new stadium.
The stadium, six years in the making, is being built southwest of Sahwatch and Cimarron streets, partially funded with a portion of $120.5 million in state sales tax money allotted by the Colorado Economic Development Commission as part of the Springs’ City for Champions (C4C) development package.
The Switchbacks will play 22 games from March to October at the stadium, which likely will draw primarily local patrons, Neumann said. However, the stadium also will host roughly 50 to 60 Olympic National Governing Body trials and competitions a year, bringing additional possibilities for out-of-state visitors, she said.
“We would not have received the incentive from the state if there was not the belief that we would generate visitors from out of state, particularly to that destination,” Neumann said. “[The stadium] will be very significant in terms of net new out-of-state visitors who would not necessarily be coming to our city if it weren’t for this iconic [attraction].”
For some mid-sized cities, downtown stadiums have served as an anchor for revitalization, tying together residential and commercial development for both local and out-of-state visitors.
FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina
When the Class A Fayetteville Woodpeckers’ new home opened its doors in April 2019, it didn’t do so in a vacuum.
“Economic development is a multifaceted endeavor,” said Robert Van Geons, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corporation. “When you get tied into a broader quality of life multidimensional project, you are far more likely to see success.”
The $40.8 million stadium — funded by a $38.3 million limited obligation bond, with the remaining $2.5 million from city funds — marked the return of professional baseball to Fayetteville after a nearly 20-year absence, The Fayetteville Observer reported.
It also spurred more than $120 million in public and private investment in the city’s downtown area, according to the Observer. An investor committed more than $65 million in downtown development to renovate the Prince Charles Hotel and build a Hyatt Regency, along with 120,000 square feet of office space next door, atop a four-story parking deck, city spokesman Kevin Arata said.
“As an economic developer, with downtown sports complexes like this, there is a fine balance and a relatively narrow margin in which they are the most successful and beneficial,” Van Geons said. “In our case, it’s by being in the heart of downtown.”
The four-story parking deck will also serve the hotel and office space, Van Geons said. There are currently no plans to build parking exclusively for Segra Stadium visitors, but “so far it has not been an overwhelming issue,” he said.
“We have a history in our community — we accommodate 30,000 visitors for music and arts festivals,” Van Geons said. “We want to grow ourselves into needing to add more parking. Parking is often discussed as a major issue, but it’s something that you should be planning for in advance and looking to address in a variety of ways.”
The ballpark accommodates about 5,290 spectators for in-season baseball games, and possibly more during special events such as concerts and community festivals, according to the Observer. Several days in May are reserved for the NCAA Division I Big South Conference Tournament.
“[Fayetteville] is a good fit for the size of the facility,” Van Geons said. “It’s not the right call for every community … but for us, it has been a very good catalyst for redevelopment.”
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico
Isotopes Park’s journey to fruition was not a smooth one, but officials report the $25 million ballpark has paid dividends.
After the Albuquerque Dukes — the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers — relocated to Portland following the 2000 season, voters had to sign off on issuing $10 million in bonds to replace the Albuquerque Sports Stadium, as well as decide whether to build an entirely new facility or simply update the existing one, city spokesperson Johnny Chandler said.
Voters signed off on the bond and opted for a renovated stadium, and the City of Albuquerque took a risk by having five prime contractors working at the same time to meet an April 11, 2003, deadline — a mere 20 months from when the Dukes announced they were leaving, Chandler said.
“As the old-timers who worked on the project like to remind us, ‘the paint was still wet on some of the handrails’ during the game,” Chandler said.
A New Mexico state legislature-approved stadium surtax committed future gross receipt tax — similar to a sales tax — for repayment of the bonds that were issued to fund the construction, Chandler said. Before each season, the Isotopes present a check to the city of Albuquerque for a set amount of $750,000 — plus surcharge amounts paid by the team based on annual profability, for their lease in the city-owned and -funded stadium — the Albuquerque Business Journal reported.
The Triple-A baseball team has paid the city an average of $1.7 million since it began operations in the early 2000s, totaling $26.6 million, according to news reports. The latest check was $1.46 million, in the lower range of payments by the team, according to a November 2019 article in the New Mexico Political Report.
The rent and surcharge revenues that are paid to the city go to maintaining the stadium, Chandler said.
The Isotopes have consistently placed in the top 10 in Minor League Baseball attendance every year, he said.
Additionally, New Mexico United, a United Soccer League team, has played at Isotopes Park since its founding in March 2019. The stadium averaged 12,693 fans per United game in 2019, according to Soccer Stadium Digest.
No other team averaged even 11,000 fans per game in the 36-team USL Championship.
EL PASO, Texas
Southwest University Park, home of Minor League Baseball team the El Paso Chihuahuas, opened in 2014 to much fanfare, named Best New Ballpark of the Year by Baseballparks.com, whose reviewer labeled it a masterpiece, according to a March 2018 report in the El Paso Times.
The stadium sits on about 5 acres next to the city’s downtown convention center, on the site of the former City Hall that was razed in 2013 to make way for the $78 million, 7,500-seat ballpark, the Times reported.
In 2012, voters approved a 2 percent hotel tax to finance the stadium’s construction costs, and that debt will continue to be repaid largely by a special tax on hotel stays in El Paso, according to the Times.
Heading into six years of operation, the Downtown ballpark’s revenues and income from hotel taxes have yet to cover annual debt payments — costing taxpayers more than $3 million, the Times reported in March 2019.
Robert Cortinas, director of the city’s Office of Management and Budget, told the Times that the stadium shouldn’t need subsidies from the city’s general fund by 2022, at which point the extra dollars will began to reimburse the city.
Jessica Herrera, the city’s economic and international development department director, called the ballpark “an anchor that acts as a catalyst for Downtown redevelopment,” much the same as a big-box store such as Macy’s or Dillard’s would do for a mall, the Times reported.
Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of public and private development have taken place downtown since Southwest University Park’s opening in April 2014, Herrera said, including dozens of projects slated to receive millions of dollars in city and state tax subsidies.
Several developers told the Times that the stadium sparked their decision to build downtown. El Paso businessman Renard Johnson built the 14-unit, $1.2 million Franklin Ave. Apartments, which opened in February 2018, just down the street from Southwest University Park.
Others, such as Stuart Meyers, CEO of the Miami-based Meyers Group, a Miami-based property developer, said the stadium played no part in their decision to develop downtown. Meyers Group bought the 356-room Hotel Paso Del Norte “because the opportunity was there, and we were able to put a deal together to buy it,” Meyers told the Times.