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Ballparks in West Offer D.C. Divergent Lessons

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2004; Page A01

SEATTLE -- John Kazdal and other property owners thought their ramshackle industrial neighborhood was about to be reborn when it was selected as the site for a new major league ballpark. County leaders said the stadium would trigger commercial investment, just as supporters of a new D.C. ballpark say their plan will transform the Anacostia waterfront.

But five years after the opening of Safeco Field here, Kazdal's plan to remodel his old, brick warehouse into a fancy three-level brew pub has gone nowhere. He still is selling used restaurant equipment from his building. And the streets around the ballpark remain marked by empty buildings, covered windows and "For Lease" signs.

When Seattle chose a new ballpark site, John Kazdal planned to remodel his nearby warehouse into a brew pub, but his plans have not materialized. (Patrick Hagerty For The Washington Post)

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"This would be the perfect place to loosen your tie and have a couple of brewskis before a game, you know?" he said last week, looking out from his rooftop, less than a block from the stadium. "I thought this area would take off."

Some 1,300 miles away, merchants and property owners near Denver's Coors Field have a markedly different perspective on what a stadium can do for a city.

They believe that their nine-year-old ballpark has contributed to the revival of the surrounding neighborhood, a community of restaurants, loft apartments, offices, hotels and tony shops that has become one of the city's most popular sections.

"A ballpark can be a giant marketing engine," said Denver Mayor John W. Hickenlooper, who closely watched the effects of Coors Field as the owner of a brew pub two blocks away.

"The ballpark was the perfect project, at the perfect place, at the perfect time," said Karle Seydel, a Denver area planner, in an interview at his office a few blocks from the ballpark, where the Colorado Rockies play. "It helped turn this area around."

As Mayor Anthony A. Williams lobbies for D.C. Council approval of a publicly financed stadium, one of his primary arguments is that the project would stimulate billions of dollars in development around the site.

Yet the experiences of Seattle and Denver show just how difficult it is to predict a stadium's role as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization.

The ballpark projects in Seattle and Denver are roughly similar to the one that Washington's leaders are considering. Both stadiums relied largely on public funding, both were built in run-down areas near downtown and both inspired hopes that they would spur the turnaround of those neighborhoods.

Now, the Denver and Seattle ballparks symbolize the two extremes in a national debate over the economic benefits of building stadiums. Boosters of stadium projects cite Denver and a few other cities as success stories, while skeptics list a group of cities that includes Seattle.

A closer look at what happened in those two cities suggests that to some extent, the widely differing results involve factors that city planners and politicians could not have foreseen. Seattle officials note, for example, that Safeco Field opened as the dot-com recession was hitting.

Some reasons for the different outcomes, however, now seem obvious.

Coors Field was built in 1995 at the edge of Lower Downtown, a historic neighborhood where blocks of turn-of-the-century brick buildings had obvious potential for commercial and residential renovation. Safeco Field, two blocks from the waterfront, is near less-attractive industrial port buildings; the closest commercial center, historic Pioneer Square, is six blocks away.

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