Soccer stadium more likely to succeed as a mixed-use venue

Published February 20, 2005 1:08 am

ECONOMIC IMPACT: Supporters say the venue will revitalize the area, but others say it may just take
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It's a page from a familiar playbook: A sports team asks taxpayers to subsidize a stadium that, in turn, will rejuvenate an area by bringing more sales and development dollars.

That's what Murray and Salt Lake City are hoping. That's why those cities may be willing to spend up to $20 million for land to give Real Salt Lake a 22,000-seat home. And county officials may ask residents to foot half the cost of a $60 million Major League Soccer stadium.

Problem is, a stadium doesn't always deliver a business boom.

It did in West Valley City, where the E Center gave birth to a host of retail and entertainment enterprises. It didn't in southern Salt Lake City, where Franklin Covey Field did little to revive the surrounding neighborhood.

Studies of other sports stadiums show that development promises often are overblown and that little new spending occurs. It just shifts.

James Wood, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah, warns that building a stadium for a specific sport is an even bigger risk.

One way to reduce that risk is to make the stadium part of a multi-use complex or "fun zone."

Phoenix did that by placing the Phoenix Suns' America West Arena and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Bank One Ballpark within walking distance of each other and a row of bars and hotels.

Carson, Calif., has the Home Depot Center, home of Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, an 85-acre complex that includes a tennis stadium, a 20,000-seat indoor track and practice fields.

"You have to have a facility that is flexible," says David Wilcox, the senior vice president of L.A.-based Economics Research Associates. "The idea of a building dedicated to a single sport is an old concept. It has to have other uses because you don't want dark nights."

RSL officials plan to use their stadium about 150 nights a year for at least 16 MLS games along with dozens of concerts and youth soccer matches.

Even Columbus, which built the nation's first professional soccer-specific stadium six years ago, stages other events, including high school football games and lacrosse.

The home of the MLS' Columbus Crew also helped transform a neighborhood dubbed by a city official as the "poster child of urban blight." The 24,555-seat stadium is within a short distance of a 200,000-square-foot retail center that was built after the stadium.

"It stabilized the neighborhood," says James Schimmer, the city's economic-development administrator. "Private investors realized, 'Hey, this is an OK place.' "

Despite Columbus' success, economists worry that an RSL stadium will merely shift revenue from existing enterprises.

"Are we going to be able to get events that we otherwise wouldn't have?" Wood asks. "They have to show that they can, and they aren't just getting events that would otherwise be at the E Center or up at The Canyons in Park City. Otherwise, you're just stealing from Peter to pay Paul."

Some state lawmakers are convinced the soccer stadium won't boost economic development. They are pushing legislation to prevent cities from tapping Redevelopment Agency money for a stadium.

Others argue that a sports venue's real value extends beyond the bottom line. They note that high-profile events, like the 2002 Winter Olympics, and teams, like the Utah Jazz, heighten the area's national profile.

"Something like an MLS stadium may be another step in that continuum as Salt Lake becomes a more diverse and exciting place," says Robert Lewis, a consultant with Development Strategies in St. Louis. "It helps to retain and attract workers and business because . . . look at all the things you can do in Salt Lake City."



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