Coors Field, in downtown Denver, became home to baseball’s Colorado Rockies in 1995. Its impact on the city was as immediate as it was considerable: housing units in the area of the stadium doubled within a year of its completion, and retail and restaurant development experienced a similar boom. Soon after it opened the stadium’s economic influence was estimated at $195 million a year, twice what city officials had predicted.
Chase Field welcomed the Arizona Diamondbacks to downtown Phoenix in 1998, but despite being modeled on Coors Field, it didn’t achieve the same level of success. The stadium had little positive impact on its surrounding neighborhood and never became the centerpiece of a downtown redevelopment plan, attracting mostly suburban fans. And while residential development in the downtown area did grow after the stadium’s completion, that might have been the result of the housing boom as much as the stadium.
That Coors and Chase Fields had diverging fates is no accident but rather the result of poor planning, write Arizona State researchers Stephen Buckman and Elizabeth A. Mack in a recent issue of the Journal of Urbanism. Phoenix’s attempt to copy Denver’s success shows that sports stadiums are not a one-size-fits-all solution to downtown redevelopment efforts. On the contrary, Buckman and Mack argue, these projects must strongly consider the natural form of the city to avoid failure:
A key consideration that is often overlooked in the planning phase of these projects is the historical urban growth patterns and resulting urban form of the cities in which stadium development projects are proposed....
Where they began to see a clear difference was in urban form. Metropolitan Phoenix is a widespread area without a distinctive downtown core. Its satellite cities of Glendale, Tempe, and Scottsdale all have significant attractions and downtowns of their own that create what the researchers call a “centrifugal effect” on potential visitors to downtown Phoenix. By some estimates, Phoenix has the least developed downtown core in the country.
Denver, on the other hand, has a historic core that dates back to the city’s founding in 1858. In addition, the city itself is far less expansive: encompassing only about 150 squares miles, to more than 9,000 for metropolitan Phoenix. The result of this urban form, for Denver residents, is a considerably more convenient proximity to the stadium.