Report: Camden Yards hasn’t done squat for surrounding neighborhoods

Bloomberg has a long article today counting the ways in which the Baltimore Orioles‘ Camden Yards has been a lousy investment for the city, costing taxpayers $282 million and bringing little tangible return. (Disclosure: I was interviewed by one of the reporters, but I’m not quoted.) Much of it ends up being he-said-she-said, but the hes (or the shes?) include a nice list of stadium experts, from economists Arthur Rolnick and Victor Matheson to Baltimore community activists William Marker and Julian Lapides, who were two of the first people I interviewed when I started research for the bookField of Schemes a billion years ago.

The most interesting point, given Camden Yards’ reputation as a neighborhood revitalizer, is that not only has there not been an explosion of development around Camden Yards, but the area has arguably declined since the Orioles ballpark and accompanying Ravens football stadium opened in the ’90s. The number of employers in adjacent neighborhoods has declined since 1998 — though as the Baltimore Business Journal rightly notes, comparing the peak of the ’90s economic boom with post–Great Recession figures is a bit unfair — with city having previously paid several employers to leave the area to make way for stadium construction. And unemployment and crime numbers are up as well. (Since we were playing with crime heat maps last week for central Atlanta, it’s interesting to compare with those for supposedly “revitalized” Baltimore.)

Florida State University urban planner Tim Chapin, whose speciality is studying which sports projects are better or worse catalysts for development (or maybe worse and less worse is a better way of putting it), tells Bloomberg:

“While it expanded the tourist bubble to the west, it didn’t wholesale save the downtown economy or prop up very poor neighborhoods not too far from downtown,” Chapin said.

The Baltimore Business Journal’s James Briggs complains that Camden Yards is unfairly being made the “poster child” for bad stadium deals when there are so many worse ones, but that really misses the point here, which is: The Orioles’ stadium has been widely portrayed as the poster child for successful stadium deals, but in fact its return for Baltimore has been somewhere between meh and craptastic. At best, you can say that the Camden Yards stadiums haven’t done much of anything for the surrounding neighborhoods, except bring a bunch of people to drive past them 81 times a year en route to the Orioles-controlled shops along Eutaw Street inside the stadium gates.

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The Waverly neighborhood around the Orioles’ old home of Memorial Stadium, meanwhile, appears none the worse for wear since the team’s departure. On second thought, maybe this should go on some kind of poster, because the occasional Bloomberg article sure doesn’t seem to be getting the message across.

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19 comments on “Report: Camden Yards hasn’t done squat for surrounding neighborhoods

  1. I absolutely cannot WAIT til a similar report comes out in Orlando about the Amway Center, the Citrus Bowl, and this new soccer stadium.

  2. I wonder if it’s possible that Eutaw St is part of why the ballpark has had no appreciable impact on the surrounding neighborhood. The way the park is designed with Eutaw it takes the fans out of the surrounding neighborhood rather than letting them wander it like in San Francisco around AT&T Park or San Diego around PETCO Park where there isn’t the natural team controlled gathering area like Eutaw.

  3. Eutaw definitely doesn’t help. But lots of other stadiums manage the same thing by effectively bringing their own “Eutaw Streets” inside the buildings — cf. all the steakhouses and such in the new Yankee Stadium, for example.

    AT&T Park certainly has its share of eateries, but I do wonder if one reason it’s been a relative success fitting into its neighborhood is because cost constraints and seismic regulations kept them from building a giant shopping mall inside the ballpark.

  4. was is seismic regulations or size that kept the giants from developing a shopping mall? not both, right? And didn’t they pay for most of their stadium (sorry, I can never remember how they funded it). Without huge subsidies that other stadia get, it probably doesn’t make much sense to develop a shopping mall inside a ballpark.

  5. The Giants paid about 90% of the cost. That was one factor — since it was their own money they were spending, they couldn’t get too grandiose with their plans. Seismic regulations I’m speculating more on, but I know when I’ve been there it feels more compact than many modern stadiums, which I’m guessing has something to do with the fact that it’s tough/expensive to build sprawling atria that won’t fall down in an earthquake.

    So, it’s both.

  6. I thought AT&T Park’s size was more constrained by the lack of available land then seismic regulations, i.e. land is expensive in SF so they built it on as small of parcel as they could get away with in order to save money.

    Kind of like how they used to build stadiums.

  7. True AT&T Park is one example I used and was by and large privately funded unlike most parks. But the other example I used was PETCO Park, which isn’t as constrained size wise, and was a 70/30 Public/Private split that has seemingly added to or at worst been neutral on its 2 neighborhoods (Gaslamp and East Village). But again it lacks any kind of Eutaw St with the Padres opting for the city park approach instead of shops they control.

  8. I haven’t been to Petco, but looking at their concessions list, it looks like there are plenty of places for fans to spend their money inside the gates:

  9. Oh there is plenty to select from inside the gates, but that’s true of every ballpark built since Camden Yards. The difference being the options inside PETCO are just standard in-stadium options, not an artificial gathering spot with shops etc… seemingly outside the stadium like Eutaw, that is actually part of the stadium.

  10. Great Forbes article. And have read your book and take in the blog most days. Enjoy the cynicism for the most part, but wish you’d give a little more credit to the stadiums/arenas that are a success and haven’t pillaged the tax-payers. Maybe I’m biased since I live in SF, but I’ve also but I’ve also lived in many other major-league cities (NYC, Boston, Denver, Orange County?). AT&T Park is a marvel. It’s on par with being the most beautiful (some folks argue PNC). It completely revitalized the area in China Basin (and not just bars and eateries, more like an entirely new UCSF campus/hospital. Public transportation could not possibly be better in the area (CalTrain terminates right there, the new T-Muni line that runs right by the park was built a few years after it opened, BART is a 15-minute walk away and you can also take a BOAT AND DOCK THERE!) And yes, this was all basically done with PRIVATE FINANCING.
    The area around the park is electric on game days, but at the same time, it’s not like others spots around town are deserted. Perhaps part of the problem is that a city mortgaging its future to build a park hoping to ‘remain a major league city’ simply might not have the infrastructure to support these buildings anymore. SF may have been slightly worse-off in hindsight if the Giants moved to St. Pete in the late ’90s given their recent success, but there would still have been at least a few things to do around here…

  11. Jeff,
    Are you trying to say that the UCSF medical center located there because of the park? I doubt that highly.

  12. The Camden Yards stadiums were *not* paid for by taxpayers. They were publicly funded, but they were paid for via lottery revenues.

  13. State lottery revenues belong to taxpayers, too. But I get your point — probably should have said “costing Marylanders $282 million and bringing little tangible return.”

  14. The Bloomberg article is flawed and sloppy. First of all, they missed several development projects that have occurred after the ballpark’s construction. The train yard was dirty and decayed prior the Camden Yard’s construction. Secondly, attendance was not down because the ballpark failed, attendance was down because the Orioles lost for 14 straight seasons and a new team ( The Nationals) moved into their market. The ballpark itself is likely why attendance never dipped below 1 million during the Oriole’s slump. Lastly, the ballpark has helped to spur revitalization in neighboring Federal Hill, Otterbein, Ridgely’s Delight, and Downtown. In fact, downtown Baltimore was the fasted growing neighborhood in Baltimore City between 2000 and 2010. Imho, a terrible report that missed the mark on so many levels. And this is coming from a guy who usually agrees that publicly funded stadium deals are terrible. Oriole Park is a rare success story.

  15. SantaClaraJay — well, I’m not saying that the hospital is there directly or 100% BECAUSE of the park. But just take a look at before/after pictures of the area. Nobody had any real interest or reason to go south of Pier 40 before the park was there. Besides the development of the UCSF campus, there are numerous developments in both directions from the park…

  16. My general and continuously reaffirmed observation is that public funded playgrounds (sports facilities) are vanity projects for the politicians to help mollify the suburbanites. Besides tailgating and post game partying, are there any other reasons customers would be drawn to major league sports districts?

  17. At some point, you have to think that people would get a clue and realize that stadiums are a HUGE drain on the finances of local and state government. (Oh, who am I kidding. This will never happen.)

  18. I have been to ATT Park and enjoyed it very much–as most others have. But it strikes me as being a bit of a stretch to say that the stadium “reinvigorated” a neighborhood in one of the hottest and tightest real estate markets in the United States. With all that money floating around and people falling over each other to live in downtown SF, I kind of doubt waterfront land near a BART station would just lie around.

    Same goes for Baltimore. On the whole, looking at Camden Yards is nicer than looking at vacant lots–but this has to be evaluated as a public policy question. Is it generating jobs? tax revenue? on the whole more than what was there before? More than Harborplace? Seems to me the hotel situation there has been pretty dire–with the city more or less keeping one afloat.

    The trend nationwide is that younger professionals want to live in cities and urban neighborhoods–stadium or not, which explains a lot of the population growth in Baltimore and elsewhere (like DC). The policy question then becomes do you want to utilize your most valuable land for a semi-public purpose that only generates revenue 25% of the year or less?

    Owners in the old days would look at you kind of crazy if you said they should build a ballpark in lower Manhattan, downtown SF, or center city Chicago–it made and makes little financial sense.

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