In America, we build things then tear them down then get sad about the ruins

It’s stadium demolition porn day at Deadspin, with photos of the ruins of Candlestick Park and a link to not-actually-all-that-new-but-still-cool photos of the ruins of the Pontiac Silverdome. They are sad and oddly beautiful.

Since we’re on the subject, one piece of the stadium debate that seldom comes up is that of waste. Not waste of money — that comes up all the time, of course — but waste of resources, of labor power, or energy, of carbon footprint, of all the stuff that you use more of by tearing down an existing building and erecting a new one. Not that nobody should ever build anything — and I’ll happily admit that the San Francisco Giants‘ new stadium is an awful lot nicer than the ‘Stick, for example — but there’s a predisposition in American political culture in particular to think of new development only for the jobs and economic activity it creates, without wondering if constantly building structures and then tearing them down again is the most efficient way to run a society.

Anyway, lookit the pretty pictures, but allow yourself a moment to think about the cost of constant upgrades to people’s sports experience, when it even can be considered an upgrade. Had your moment yet? Okay, we’re done.


22 comments on “In America, we build things then tear them down then get sad about the ruins

  1. ” The Silverdome is massive and MLS has always preferred smaller, more intimate “soccer-specific” venues, located in the heart of a city, seating around 20,000 fans.”

    Question. Would it have been that hard to do what they do in B.C. Place and artificially reduce the capacity? Probably could of come up with a better solution to doing so than rolled down sheets.

  2. Meanwhile, I hold my breathe while riding across the I-75 bridge over the Ohio River near Cincinnati. Civil engineers have been raising the alarm about our aging dams and bridges across America while our tax dollars are diverted to sports stadiums. Idiocracy!

  3. To play devil’s advocate for the moment…

    Building new things (which includes groundwork, design, planning, logistics, labour, et al) produces jobs and consumes materials (though both are produced in finite quantities related to the size of the thing being built).

    But so does demolishing things, particularly if the materials are recycled to some significant degree. I think we are some way from the “blow it up and bury the rubble” concept that cities used to use (except San Francisco, which likes to push the rubble into the sea and create new unstable land on which to build…).

    New sports palaces every 17 years or so is certainly not an efficient use of capital in my opinion. But this is not the only way in which our society is failing us. We used to look down upon the Russians for “paying people to dig holes and then paying other people to fill them back in”.

    Take a good look around, folks…

  4. For the point you’re making, losing Candlestick for AT&T probably isn’t the best example. But, strangely enough, losing Candlestick for Santa Clara is a pretty good example. Candlestick was just fine for football.

    A better example overall is basketball/hockey arenas. There just aren’t that many that are 30+ years old. Heck, there aren’t that many that are 15+ years old. They keep getting 30 years of financing for buildings that rarely make it to 20.

    You should get 6 year financing deals on all your cars, then trade them in after 3. Get back to me in 20 years and let me know how that’s working out for you, okay? This is exactly what Cities do.

    We’re about to face this very situation in Sacramento. There’s about 15 years left of STA payments to go. I suspect SBH will find a way to weasel out of these payments, which means it’ll fall to the taxpayers. How many times can we do that? Probably once. How many times SHOULD we do that? Zero.

  5. Houston is still trying to find a way to keep the Astrodome from going the way of Candlestick. Would love to see Houston succeed. Wouldn’t this be the first for a major league football/baseball stadium?

  6. Spent a few Thanksgivings as a kid at the Silverdome. There was nothing fancy about the stadium. No bells and whistles or frills. Just a place to watch football. I sat in one of the last rows in the upper deck of the end zone and it wasn’t a bad seat. Unfortunately, there isn’t much use for an 80,000 seat stadium. It should have been torn down as soon as the Lions left.

  7. By the way, aside from deferred maintenance, what was wrong with the Silverdome? It looks to me as though $10M in correcting that deferred maintenance would have turned it into a very usable NFL facility. Heck, it’s better than O.co.

  8. @MikeM
    The Lions were offered a better deal by Detroit than the one which saw them paying a percentage of concession revenue to the City of Pontiac. Also, Detroit is more centrally located and made it easier to sellout games (there was lot of blackouts because it was hard to fill an 80,000 seat stadium). When the Lions first moved to Pontiac, William Clay Ford bought into the conventional wisdom of the day that Detroit was going to decline permanently and that Oakland County would be the future of the region. And that honestly was the way things were going before Ilitch began reviving downtown properties in the late 80’s and the Archer mayorality in the 90’s turned things around. By the mid 90’s when Comerica Park was proposed, Ilitch and the city made an offer to Lions ownership (including Ilitch donating land he owned next to Comerica) to build Ford Field next door. IMO, it has worked out great for the city because the stadiums have revitalized that part of downtown. The Broderick Tower and David Whitney Building renovations are a couple of examples that came as a result of the new stadiums.

  9. I’ve long thought the demolition of Tiger Stadium was one of the saddest things (in terms of stadium history). Especially since that land has not been redeveloped, so it’s not like there was any rush. So it’s just a field now with the old Tiger Stadium infield and pitchers mound in tact. I had also thought with some remodeling they could’ve turned it into a fairly decent MLS stadium.

  10. I agree, of all the old stadiums I theoretically could’ve visited but now never will; old Tiger Stadium tugs at my heart the hardest. Someday I will visit that lot and at the very least, have a catch.

  11. Better hurry before they carpet it in fake turf.

    Actually, I better hurry before then, too. I made it to Tiger Stadium several times while it was standing, but did want to make one last visit to the field.

  12. that photo of sold out of Silverdome sold out for Wrestlemania with mulleted guy in farthest row raising his fist might be the most outstate Michigan thing ever

  13. You’d think that with the complaint about the Silverdome being that it seated too many for the Lions and didn’t have enough boxes, that you could’ve turned some of those seats into boxes and killed both birds with the same stone instead of building Ford Field. Oh well.

  14. What’s even sadder, or certainly more wasteful, is that the Milwaukee Bucks are insisting on also demolishing a parking complex built by the city for $30 million to serve the current arena and other uses. This and other ancillary-development demands, are all arena-deal contingencies, according to city officials. The city would also lose all much free-and-clear income, build a new parking ramp, and then split the revenue with the Bucks owners.

    This is all demanded so the Bucks can bring coals to Newcastle by developing a several-floor bar mall across from the arena, and steps from several blocks of thriving bars and restaurants. There is also vacant land across from the arena site, but the team apparently wants to siphon off some of the beverage business now going to nearby establishments. The city will subsidize it to the tune of $100 million including infrastructure ($20 M) and forgone parking revenue ($15M).

    Bucks owners are just using their leverage (“We’re leaving if you don’t give us for $250M for an arena, plus all your lunch money…”)

  15. But just think of all the wealth that will be created for that oddball bidder who dreamed of “something” for the old silverdome. Buys for half a million, auctions off all the scrap/leftover equipment in the place, and then the property is up for lease with rumors of a sale price of $30 million. Good old fashioned American “use some smoke and mirrors plan to fleece the government’s really crappy surplus property department”.

  16. ‘MLS has always preferred smaller, more intimate “soccer-specific” venues, located in the heart of a city…’

    Rapids – Commerce City is not close to the heart of Denver
    Fire – Bridgeport or Bridgeview or whatever; also to close to the hear of the city
    FC Dallas – Frisco is like 45 minutes north of Dallas (at least in mild traffic).
    Galaxy – Carson. Nope.

    Red Bull Arena, PPL, Rio Tinto (which I think is technically in Sandy). What MLS might prefer and where a good chunk of their stadia actually are look to be two different things.

  17. What this post makes me worry about is CenturyLink Field. They’ve managed to build a modern stadium that doesn’t let luxury boxes ruin the atmosphere, and it works well for both football and soccer. It’s 12 years old now, and I just shudder thinking about future news reports 10 years from now quoting anonymous team sources deriding it as an antiquated dump.

  18. Owners and athletes/players can’t make
    what they want in “old” buildings so they
    continue to beat the “new is better” drum.
    Customers. a.k.a. sheep have been conditioned by ad men and pol’s that new
    is better (change & “hope”) knowing that
    the gnat-like attention span will enable them to foist another “new is better” scheme without having to wait for the
    dust to settle.
    Like ANYTHING in life, buildings do have life spans (although longer than what sports industry franchise owners want you to assume) and when the useful time is up then it’s time to come down.
    Society has benefitted from building up
    and tearin’ down for many centuries, of course until recently tearing down wasn’t such an expensive scrutinized effort.
    To produce ANYTHING in life will create the dreaded carbon footprint (including power for electric “cars”) and THAT’S JUST HOW LIFE FOLKS!
    Like any joke that has a beginning a middle and an end, this is a fitting end to
    the joke that was ‘da ‘Stick – ‘specially for the win-less Gi-ants there – 40 years w/o
    series win.
    BTW – How’d all you NorCal’s like the state mandate that insists on fresh water (that could be used for drinkin’ or fightin’ fires during the endless drought) used for
    dust abatement? There’s a whole bay yards away and nope, can’t use that.

  19. Michael:

    It’s absolutely true. MLS might “prefer” more central locations, but their history shows that the overriding factor is “if it’s free, it’s for me”.

    With a couple of exceptions, they take the best financial deal (for themselves, which is often the worst for the host community, unsurprisingly) even if it means playing in an industrial park miles from even a notional ‘downtown’.

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