Everybody in Miami has given up hope of economic boom from stadiums, except guy paid to say so

With Miami officials talking about helping David Beckham build a new soccer venue, thoughts naturally turn to the possible economic impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Unfortunately, there’s a perfect case study right next door in the Marlins‘ stadium, and it is a uniformly dismal one, as the Miami Herald’s David Smiley points out:

The 26,000 fans leaving in streams large enough to snarl traffic are mostly walking into the surrounding neighborhood toward their cars — not the businesses that Miami’s politicians and the team said would thrive in the Marlins’ shadow.

“The Marlins …” says [Ysbel] Medina, whose bar is mostly empty, save a few stragglers drinking draft beers and eating cheeseburgers. “Man, the Marlins. I don’t know what to say about them.”

Well into a fourth disappointing season in the new stadium, little has changed in the surrounding neighborhood. Predictions that restaurants, cafeterias and hotels would open around the publicly funded park have proved false. The area surrounding the stadium is still pocked with small strip malls, empty lots, vacant buildings and affordable housing. Even the city-owned retail stores in the parking garages surrounding the stadium remain mostly empty.

It doesn’t help, obviously, that the Marlins are the Marlins, still among the bottom five teams in attendance despite a new stadium that offers protection from the elements. (Pro tip: Baseball fans are more interested in protection from having to watch teams that lose 60% of their games.) But even the 1.7 million fans that the Marlins drew last year would have been more than double that of any team in MLS (thanks to the longer baseball season), making it dubious whether any “restaurants, cafeterias, and hotels” will be any more excited about siting nearby just because a couple dozen soccer dates are on the menu.

Hope springs eternal, though, if you’re the economic consulting firm chief who was hired by the city of Miami to project a huge windfall for the local economy from the new Marlins’ stadium:

Tony Villamil, the economist who said the Marlins would pump $300 million in annual business into the local economy once the team began playing ball, says there are local businesses that do make good money providing services to the stadium, and it’s too early to claim failure on sports’ promised impact to Little Havana. He said the idea that an entertainment district would pop up around the stadium was always a long-term vision, and one that required zoning changes in the area around the stadium, which never happened.

“If you do soccer, now you’ve got almost year-round entertainment,” he said.

Actually, 81 baseball home games plus 17 soccer home games is way, way short of year-round. But given that Villamil’s actual study came up with that $300 million in annual impact figure just by adding up all the money projected to be spent at Marlins games and then applying a multiplier — without attempting to account for, say, money that now wouldn’t be spent at Marlins games at the old stadium, let alone how much would substitute for money that would otherwise have been spent on other entertainment options — maybe we shouldn’t expect much here in the way of math.

13 comments on “Everybody in Miami has given up hope of economic boom from stadiums, except guy paid to say so

  1. Soccer season in the US is about the same time as baseball season, so I don’t get the year-round entertainment comment, either

  2. That’s the other thing about many stadiums; they are almost exclusively serviced and run by national concession companies. Which is not surprising necessarily, since many of them are the only people with man power and distribution networks to get such massive events off without a hitch, but it does undermine the idea that somehow local businesses and companies can get in on the contracts at stadiums. To be honest I’m surprised that Miller Park sells as many local food options and non-Miller beer as they do, considering the paucity of offering at other places.

  3. “81 home games”? You forgot to count Marlins playoff games. Man it’s hard to type when you’re laughing so hard your keyboard wont sit flat.

  4. The economist sounds almost as bad as an economics professor, just with the opposite political bent.

    He may actually having a point about zoning. Despite my personal objections (strenuous objections, actually) on the grounds of bad taste, I think that a lot of fans want these antiseptic “ballpark village” areas if they are going to arrive early or stay late. Maybe the current zoning blocks that.

  5. Soccer games are so quick (literally only 2 hours) that you’d think there be time to tailgate, but I’ll confess that I never go to businesses near the MLS park in Commerce City, Colorado. I aspisre to, but i usually just bring a beer to have in the vast parking lot that surrounds the field complex and enjoy the fact that a 7PM kickoff will have me home by 10 or 10:30. The MLS stadiums are a nice size for concerts, but Miami may already have a lot of other venues, I don’t know. At least when they build an MLS stadium its new and not replacing a perfectly good old one.

    Coors Field, the baseball stadium in Denver, did revitalize an area of Denver; if that would have happened anyway, I can’t say. I don’t go to baseball games more than once a year, I wonder though if the stadium’s proximity to the neighborhood (the parking is hidden far away and does not surround the stadium) and decent public transportation lends people to tailgate less and eat out more. Now the neighborhood is a place people live and go to on non-game nights. But, as I said before, this might have happened anyway, Denver is a really hopping city.

  6. I remember seeing a chart some years back (I can’t find it now, sadly) that showed construction starts in the LoDo section of Denver before and after Coors Field was built: It was a steadily rising line until the stadium opened, and then it leveled off. That’s a pretty good sign that most of the development there was underway before the Rockies decided to join in.

  7. It’s the same as it always was. About 80% of these projects lose money for the governments that fund them. The reports they use to rationalize/justify building sports facilities are always overstated. It’s never a surprise when this happens.

    I don’t think increasing parking rates for people who have no intention of going to the arenas helps even a tiny bit, either.


  8. I thought Denver was a little different. It was a pretty run-down area, and the voters actually passed a $2B or so plan to revitalize the area. I’m operating from memory, but I do recall the voters actually had the chance to approve the plan, and they did so.

    When voters have a chance to approve or reject these projects, I have no issues with them. They’re usually told there will be a tax hike.

    I’ve only been to downtown Denver once on business, and I liked it. I didn’t really get out of the downtown area, though.

  9. I think it is fair to say that stadiums and arenas look nicer in cities with downtowns that are growing and developing (even if they are probably a sub-optimal uses of land)–like Denver and DC–and end up economically disappointing in cities that aren’t growing or developing (that’s you Cincy, Milwaukee, Cleveland, etc.). Even non-city center locations (Yankees, Mets, Fenway) hardly display a “vibrant” surrounding–and they never have.

    Anyone who has worked in the restaurant business would find it laughable that a few baseball (or other sport) games–where “patrons” are arriving in a rush from work, stay in a park with a wide range of competing dining options, and then have to potentially go home a long way afterwards late at night–would somehow be the key to success of an entertainment district.

    One great way to lose customers though–have the surrounding area of your restaurant choked by traffic, inhabited by drunks and surface parking lots charging $35 or more on a Saturday night!

    Zoning might be part of the problem, but the real issue is that building an entertainment zone requires everyday patronage, policing, entrepreneurship, and hard work. Build it and they will come just isn’t the way it works.

  10. I do love the readiness of “consultants” to rush to cite the Nats example–riverside land next to a Metro stop in the hottest urban real estate market in the US –as an example of a “miracle.” Particularly when lots of neighborhoods nowhere near the ballpark see the same phenomenon.

    Maybe not so surprising when those who tout it are often developers who are big fans of government doing the heavy lifting on giving away real estate in prime markets.

  11. “Economic benefits of soccer” is an oxymoron. Unless you count people getting better rest and being more productive the following day. Better rest because they fell asleep early watching soccer matches.

  12. It seems to me we have the process backwards.

    If it were me (and it’s not) I would study the most successful dining and entertainment districts and identify the variables that correlate with success. If it turns out to be a sports stadium, fine, but if it is something else (like a college campus or a mass transit station) maybe that is where you spend the tax dollars.

  13. I wonder if our idiotic mayor in San Diego will try to convince Beckham to come west after we lose the Chargers to Los Angeles.

    Getting conned at the MLS level is more San Diego’s speed. We can’t compete with the big boys like Minnesota, Indianapolis, and soon to be St. Louis who are top level donors. They must have received amazing tote bags.