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.

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.

Orioles, Indians mull stadium refits

The New York Times’ Ken Belson has been busy on the stadium beat; today he has a profile of how Janet Marie Smith has been re-hired by the Baltimore Orioles to help spruce up Camden Yards, the stadium whose design she helped oversee 20 years ago. (And which helped set off the whole retro trend that kick-start the stadium-building craze of the last 20 years.)

The most interesting bit, though, may be an aside about the kinds of rethinking that tenants of ’90s-era stadiums are considering as they see their honeymoon periods disappearing in the rear-view mirror:

The club levels at Camden Yards will get a second look because the corporate appetite for expensive suites has diminished. It hasn’t helped that the Orioles last had a winning record in 1997 and drew their smallest crowd ever at Camden Yards earlier this season.

The Orioles are not the only team thinking about makeovers. The Cleveland Indians, who opened Progressive Field in 1994 (it was Jacobs Field then), are among the 10 teams looking at ways to revive their parks, said Earl Santee, a senior principal at Populous, the architectural firm that designed Camden Yards, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Coors Field and other retro stadiums.

This has been an issue I’ve been wondering about for a long time: What do modern stadiums that are designed for the luxury market do when that market evaporates? In olden times, it was easy enough to just rejigger ticket prices, but today’s class distinctions are cemented in concrete and steel — you can’t easily take just one chunk of glassed-in seats with their own restaurant and private entrance and turn them back over to the great unwashed.

Cleveland is going to be an interesting test case for this, as it has that vertical wall of club seats separating its lower deck from its upper. I’d love to see the recent generation of class-segregated stadiums retrofitted for more egalitarian uses, but it’s going to be a challenge.