The sins of suburban stadium sprawl


Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX - Source: go.dallasnews.com

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX – Source: go.dallasnews.com

The following blogpost seemed timely and appropriate with the Super Bowl coming up this weekend in Glendale, Arizona, a large suburb of Phoenix. More on Glendale at the conclusion of this post.

Quite often among the planning world there are debates on the pros and cons of stadiums as an economic development tool for cities to revive their core. Likewise, the sweetheart financing programs associated with new stadiums is a common area of contention.

Source: myfox8.com

Site of new SunTrust baseball stadium NW of Atlanta – Source: myfox8.com

A related topic that arises less often during these debates are the negative “sprawlesque” impacts associated with constructing a major sports stadium in the suburbs instead of in or near the urban core.  As with all forms of sprawl, suburban stadium sprawl has a litany of problems associated with it. These problems can include in many, but not all cases, the following:

  • Inadequate infrastructure – roads, highways, transit, water, sewer, etc.
  • Poor multi-modal accessibility –  lack of transit, car-oriented locations, and difficult bicycle and pedestrian access
  • Acres of empty parking lots much of the year
  • Inefficient, non-centric location – causing more attendees to travel further
  • Social inequity – the poor and less fortunate have reduced access and employment opportunities at the facility
  • Gobbling up greenfield sites instead of brownfield ones – further reducing sustainability and increasing the region’s carbon footprint
  • Promoting further sprawl

While locating the stadium in/near the heart of the existing urban setting is not always a perfect scenario either, it can effectively address many of the problems identified above. Unfortunately, there has been a recent uptick in new stadium construction on suburban sites during the past 20 years. These include the following professional football, soccer, and baseball stadiums:

  • AT&T Stadium (Dallas Cowboys) in Arlington, Texas (2009)
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Colorado Rapids) in Commerce City, Colorado (2007)
  • Fedex Field (Washington NFL team) in Largo, Maryland (1997)
  • Gillette Stadium (New England Patriots) in Foxboro, Massachusetts (2002)
  • Globe Life  Ballpark (Texas Rangers) in Arlington, Texas (1994)
  • Levi’s Stadium (San Francisco 49ers) in Santa Clara, California (2014)
  • NRG Stadium (Houston Texans) in south-central Houston, Texas (2002)
  • Red Bull Soccer Arena (New York Red Bulls) in Harrison, New Jersey (2010)
  • Rio Tinto Stadium (Real Salt Lake) in Sandy, Utah (2008)
  • Sporting Park (Sporting Kansas City), in Kansas City, Kansas (2011)
  • StubHub Center (LA Galaxy) in Carson, California (2003)
  • SunTrust Park (Atlanta Braves) in Cumberland, Georgia (2017)
  • Toyota Park (Chicago Fire) in Bridgeview, Illinois (2006)
  • Toyota Stadium (FC Dallas) in Frisco, Texas (2005)
  • University of Phoenix Stadium (Arizona Cardinals) in Glendale, Arizona (2006)

Source: en.wikipedia.org

As is evident with the two stadiums in Arlington, Texas, locating such facilities in or near the heart of an urban setting can be a moving target. A quick glance at the map of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex below, shows Arlington is located geographically near the center of the metropolitan area. As urban agglomerations merge, this aspect of stadium siting and sprawl becomes more fuzzy.

Source: arlington-tx.gov

Source: arlington-tx.gov

Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts raises the same centrality questions as it is nearly equidistant from downtown Boston, Providence, Worcester, Fall River, and New Bedford.

For planners and community leaders alike, there are many issues to contend with when siting a stadium. Preferably, a carefully thought-out and regional decision-making approach will be employed that will help prevent/limit bidding wars between neighboring communities. The only real winner in a such a contentious scenario is the team owner.

Turning back to the introduction to this post, large sport venues do not necessarily lift their suburban homes into financial nirvana. Here’s a weblink to recent article on the trials and tribulations that have dogged Glendale, Arizona since it became a sports mecca.  Perhaps, more suburbs should carefully consider what has happened in Glendale before acting on professional pipe-dreams that could eventually extend them beyond their means.

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4 Responses to The sins of suburban stadium sprawl

  1. John Woods says:

    I don’t know that I agree with some of the stadium examples. Is building a stadium adjacent to a state university in Carson, CA, an older inner ring suburb of LA, really suburban sprawl? With the potential to add another purpose for the existing parking at the university, that seems more like smart growth. Is putting an NFL stadium next to a major theme park in Santa Clara, CA, which has become a significant urban center in its own right, really sprawl, or is it an attempt to add density to sprawl. Is locating a soccer stadium in Sandy, UT, within two blocks of a light rail stop, multiple bus lines, one of the busiest interstate highways in the western US and a major convention facility really urban sprawl?

    While the Glendale, AZ case is clearly an example of consuming greenfield land for stadium use, at least some of the other examples cited represent efforts to bring urban scale to older suburbs seeking to develop an identity and sense of place. The fact is that the suburbs built over the past 60 years are not going to go away. The question is what form will the infill development in these suburbs take and will it begin to correct the mistakes of sprawl? It is not easy to clear enough land in the downtown areas of major urban centers. Efforts to do so by demolishing much of Philadelphia’s Chinatown were met with fierce opposition of local residents, so the new facilities remained separated from downtown. It makes sense to focus some of that new development toward infill development in suburban areas.

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  2. John D. Said says:

    Fortunately, there are some notable exceptions to these examples. In Montreal, there’s the Bell Centre (home of the Canadiens), which is in the city and near transit. Interestingly, given the car culture of the community, in Detroit there’s Joe Louis Arena and the proposed new arena (home of the Red Wings), Comerica Park (home of the Tigers) and Ford Field (home of the Lions). In Detroit’s case, fans benefit from these locations where there’s restaurants and pubs nearby for pre- and post-game gathering.

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