Friday, December 05, 2014

Mixed results still bedevil the question of the economic impact of sports venues on neighborhood businesses

First Tennessee Park is rising dramatically now between Salemtown/ Germantown and downtown. The next stages will be the mixed-use residential and parking garage that will effectively swallow the compressed ballpark facade. As all of this is unfolding, I continue to look around the country for economic impact information from other communities with new sporting venues.

The latest news is from Brooklyn (NYC) and it bears what seems to me to be a continuing theme of enigma:

When the Barclays Center opened in Downtown Brooklyn two years ago, some thought the arena would reinvigorate a section of the borough that had yet to capitalize on its potential, while others believed the neighborhood’s small businesses would meet their demise.

As the arena prepares to celebrate its second anniversary and host an expected 300 events annually, the impact it has had on small businesses appears to be mixed. Some of the stores that survived the seismic shift brought by the 18,000-seat venue report an uptick in patronage, while others remain unaffected ....

Some businesses were not equipped to adapt to the changing environs. According to one news report, roughly 100 local shops shut their doors in the Barclays Center’s first year.

Robert Perris, the district manager for Brooklyn’s Community Board 2, which includes the Barclays Center, corroborated that the type of businesses in the arena’s immediate vicinity has changed.

“It does seem that there has been a loss of some smaller businesses and an increase in some better capitalized businesses,” Mr. Perris acknowledged ....

“It does seem that the streets and individual buildings that have benefitted the most are the ones that can be seen from the Barclays Center,” Mr. Perris said. “It sort of requires a more adventurous arena-goer, someone who does their research ahead of time instead of getting to the arena and looking around and making a spontaneous decision where to go.”

Without more intentional action on the part of leaders, it seems reasonable for us to assume that First Tennessee Park will have the same impact: destablizing small neighborhood businesses and attracting high-visibility, "big box" corporations to Jefferson Street. Character could give way to high-volume (merchandise and traffic).

This information joins a growing compilation of reports of ambiguous economic impact around sports venues. In St. Louis new ballpark amenities are encouraging baseball fans to ignore once popular neighborhood businesses. Louisville subsidized a new arena that did not deliver the promised job growth. Minor league officials admit that, regardless of local claims to the contrary, baseball is not in the business of urban redevelopment. Indeed, the politicians have a track record of ludicrous promises invented to leverage subsidies for sports venues. Yet, according to independent research, there is no proven connection between pro sports subsidies and economic development.

So, with First Tennessee Park sprinting to its 2015 Opening Day completion, those of us who are its neighbors face uncertain prospects built on a shaky foundation of empty, unsubstantiated promises. On the one hand, we can assume that new businesses inside the development that includes First Tennessee Park will attempt to lure patrons away from existing Jefferson Street businesses. On the other hand, we have no idea what will happen to our quality of life when 8,400 commuters are "injected" into our residential area 70 times during the summer.

While the Courthouse and developers depict the ballpark as a rising tide that will lift all ships in our neighborhoods, it also has the potential, based on evidence, elsewhere to be a one-two punch to the gut.

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