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Ballparks in West Offer D.C. Divergent Lessons

Since then, dozens of historic buildings in the surrounding blocks have been rehabilitated. And between 1991 and 1999, 59 buildings were renovated or built new, and 12 others were under construction or planned, according to data compiled by Seydel.

There are still vacant and shuttered buildings in the area, but it has become one of Denver's most fashionable places, a neighborhood that bears resemblance to Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria. Lofts can sell for more than $1 million, and the construction continues.

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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Planners and property owners say the ballpark was a key to that success.

"Lower Downtown was an area that had been unfamiliar to a lot of suburbanites," said Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover bookstore, which she opened in 1994 a few blocks from the park. "It looked like a war zone. It was seedy." Once the ballpark began drawing millions of fans, she said, the area "lost its scariness."

Koontz, the pawnshop owner, says the baseball field caused government leaders to focus on the neighborhood. "They didn't care about us down here before that," she said. "Then they began the sweeps and clearing people out. They chased out the riffraff."

Yet even the stadium's most fervent proponents concede that it is not clear how much of LoDo's resurgence came from the ballpark and how much from the development momentum that predated the stadium.

"Coors Field didn't make LoDo -- it was already happening," Hickenlooper said. "But it accelerated it."

Denver and its stadium soon became a popular destination for officials from other cities entertaining ballpark projects. Seattle's leaders made that trip when they were considering building a new home for the Seattle Mariners in the mid-1990s.

For their stadium site, Seattle officials selected a parcel of land south of the Kingdome, where the Mariners were playing.

"The experience of new baseball parks elsewhere shows that they have served as a stimulus for new commercial activity and redevelopment of neighboring areas," a report of King County's Stadium Alternatives Task Force said. "There is an opportunity for the new stadium to anchor the area south of downtown."

City leaders developed a separate zoning plan to encourage stores and restaurants in the neighborhood.

Today, five years after completion of the ballpark, not much has happened. Some old warehouses nearby are empty; other businesses include a carpet store, a construction supply depot and a junkyard -- nothing like the revitalized neighborhood that some envisioned.

Even the Mariners, who hold a permit to build a commercial property on an empty lot across the street from the stadium, haven't exercised that permit and don't plan to anytime soon. "Times have just not been right for project development," team spokeswoman Rebecca Hale said.

City officials and others offer various reasons why the building boom never occurred. Some point to the dot-com recession. Others say the lack of housing stalled the area's development.

Some argue that the ballpark is too far from Seattle's established downtown area. Moreover, most of the six blocks between Safeco Field and downtown is taken up by a new football stadium that replaced the Kingdome, making the baseball facility seem even more isolated.

"Seattle totally blew it," said John Pastier, a design critic and ballpark consultant who worked on that city's ballpark. "It was basically too far away from the downtown."

And some in Seattle are simply skeptical that a ballpark can by itself attract development.

"For landowners, the perspective is that you can't make enough money on events that happen on one in four days of the year," Seattle city planner Steve Pearce said.

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