Editor’s note: This is part one of a two part series.
I was in San Francisco recently and aside from riding every form of urban transit imaginable (cable car, light rail, subway, bicycle, and commuter rail) I took the opportunity to explore a few of the city’s up-and-coming neighborhoods particularly, South of Market (SOMA), Mission Bay, and South Beach. Of particular interest on this visit was the urban development sprouting up along the China Basin, home of AT&T Ballpark where the San Francisco Giants have played since 2000. AT&T Ballpark and the new Muni Metro transit line which accompanied the stadium have served as catalysts for new urban development.
Having visited a number of America’s Baseball stadiums, what really strikes me about AT&T Ballpark is its connectivity with the surroundings. From the boardwalk along the famed McCovey Cove to the King Street Walk of Fame, this ballpark was designed to be as much of destination during the off-season as it is when the Giants are in town (Note: when I visited the Giants were on the road). This is a true urban ballpark; warm and inviting with some restaurants and bars within the ballpark opening up to Willie Mays Plaza. The Plaza, of course not only pays homage to one of baseball’s greatest players, but creates a sense of space and grand entrance to the ballpark. It’s important to note that AT&T Ballpark was the first privately financed ballpark in Major League Baseball since 1962. Noticeably absent from the area surrounding the stadium is parking, a good segway into a brief discussion of the transit service that was built to connect the region.
The T third street line is a modern light-rail system completed in 2007 at a cost of $648 Million. The 5.1 mile transit line is the newest addition to the SFMTA in 50 years and connects the existing Muni Metro system and AT&T Ballpark with some long neglected neighborhoods including Potrero Hill, Bayview, Hunters Point, and Visitacion Valley. Today, new development dots the landscape around the T third street line including the Mission Bay Development, an emerging bioscience hub anchored by the UCSF Mission Bay campus as well as an abundance of dense, urban, development (see: Avalon, Edgewater, and Strata). It’s also important to note that the T third street line was funded largely through the city of San Francisco’s Proposition B, a ½% sales tax levied to support transit projects.
Visiting AT&T Ballpark (and the surrounding neighborhoods) allowed me to more fully comprehend the shortcomings of the Marlins new Ballpark currently rising in the heart of Little Havana. The new Marlins Stadium is beautiful feat of engineering; it is sleek, shiny, and futuristic, much like Miami itself. Once inside, watching the home team play will be a pleasure, no doubt, but its interaction with the surrounding host community is, like much of Miami’s development, designed with a certain air of indifference for neighboring land uses.
Constructed at a taxpayer cost of $360M, one would think that we’d be unveiling a trophy piece of civic infrastructure next season; one whose public investment would outweigh the costs by spurring new urban growth, tourism, and economic development in the heart of the Magic City. One would also think that the additional $100M of public investment in transportation infrastructure would be designed to alleviate an already stressed infrastructure rather than exacerbate the problem, right? Wrong. This is Miami, here we spend $100M building four massive, structurally deficient parking garages.
Having visited AT&T Ballpark and the surrounding neighborhoods it’s difficult not to think of what a $100M down payment for a new transit line akin to the T third street line could have looked like. It could have linked EXISTING parking in downtown or the civic center urban centers with the Ballpark. Think of the opportunity lost to spur new development and provide a reasonable modal alternative to the residents of a largely lower-middle class neighborhood. Think of the pedestrian-scale development that could have risen alongside the stadium instead of parking garages. Imagine paying a nominal $2 transit fare to access the ballpark rather than shelling out upwards of $30 for parking (there are, after all, only 5,700 spaces available).
It’s an interesting juxtaposition in my eyes:
- AT&T Ballpark was built without a single cent of public financing and is one of the most inclusive, consciously designed stadiums in all of major league baseball. Coupled with a sound investment in sustainable transit, the stadium has spurred ongoing economic development in the surrounding neighborhoods.
- On the other hand, the heavily subsidized Marlins Ballpark is beginning to look like a full-blown assault on Little Havana, replete with the loss of public open space, parking structures which isolate the stadium from the surrounding community, and a guarantee that at least 81 days of the year the congestion in this area will be a nightmarish hell with little, if any, net positive impact to local businesses.
This is part one of a two part series. Part two will be published over the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
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