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Sixteen years after opening, it’s perhaps time to say Frontier Field has been an economic development failure.

It’s a huge success in attracting fans and it’s a major quality-of-life asset for Rochester. But the stadium hasn’t done much to generate downtown business. If you don’t believe me, read USA Today‘s piece on successful urban stadiums:

Twenty years ago, the Baltimore Orioles did something that at the time ran counter to every trend in baseball stadium construction: They built their new ballpark in the heart of downtown Baltimore.

That not only proved beneficial to the Orioles, who continue to draw crowds to their gorgeous ballpark (despite years of putting losing teams on the field), but also to Baltimore businesses, who got a boost from the revitalization that Camden Yards at Oriole Park helped spark.

(snip)

The Orioles’ success with Camden Yards spawned downtown stadiums in Cleveland, San Francisco, Denver and elsewhere. Teams have found the synergy works in their favor as well.

For instance, in San Francisco, AT&T Park draws fans to a once industrial area now surrounded by shops, restaurants, and the latest outpost of Lucky Strike, a hip new chain of bowling alleys — or as they prefer to call themselves, a “gastro pub fun house.”

There aren’t many businesses within walking distance of Frontier Field. In fact, there are fewer today than there were 10 years ago when High Falls had more bars and restaurants.

Fans get into their cars and leave after ball games. The “sprawl” issue undermined the prospects of Phoenix’s downtown stadium, The Atlantic points out:

…Chase Field must attract suburban residents who come for the game but don’t stay for the city. This ” ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality” failed to consider barriers to pre- and post-game downtown activity like travel time…

The lesson for other cities considering a downtown stadium…is to understand beforehand whether or not the mega-structure fits the urban form, and if it doesn’t, to design a development plan that enhances whatever impact it might have on its own.

In other words, you can’t build stadiums in a vacuum.

Frontier Field lacks walkability and the surrounding area lacks density. The vast parking lot separating the stadium from the street is also a barrier to development. Too bad Frontier Field wasn’t built in the East End.

With this in mind, let’s not even discuss Sahlen’s Stadium.