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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.


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.

20 Responses to Frontier Field a Failure?

  1. Great discussion, but I’d like to hear more. Such as, why did it work in Baltimore and Denver, but not in Rochester. And I’m sure it’s NOT the size of the city as there are probably mid-sized city examples of where this has worked… So what then? Rochesterians just hate baseball? I don’t think so.

    You point out the lack of “density” and “urban experience” around Frontier Field. That’s painfully obvious. Both Baltimore and Denver have it. In Rochester, people seemed to be obsessed with parking rather than making a high-quality urban experience. Yes folks, you might have to walk a few blocks, or God forbid, PAY for parking, like they do in many other cities so that the vast open pavement can be used for something other than parking.

  2. April 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm zubalove responds:

    I agree with Adam. I would imagine that looking at specific demographic information. A crosstab of Age with income would probably be the most enlightening bit of information. Basically, young people with money will roll out after a game and hit neighboring bars. I know I did 13 years ago when I went to a baseball game and then…. oh! What was the name of the micro-brewery and Cajun joint down there?

    • April 8, 2012 at 1:02 pm Rachel responds:

      High Falls should have been the destination for baseball fans, but it never took off. I think the parking lot gulf and lack of family-oriented restaurants contributed.

  3. As I think about it, you are right, the lack of family-oriented restaurants is probably the biggest factor. People will make the 3 block trek if they know there’s something cool to do… And how much cooler can you get than a restaurant near a GIANT waterfall??? I just don’t get why that didn’t work? Maybe the ball park needs to build a huge “Bounce it out” at High Falls. 🙂

  4. April 8, 2012 at 1:50 pm Carlos Mercado responds:

    One of the sites considered for Frontier was the open land behind Sibley’s. I thought thaqt would be ideal. I’m not sure why it got rejected.

    High Falls is too isolated from the rest of downtown to compete with more synergistic places like St. Paul; East Ed; and East/Alexander. But it’s doing well for offices and residences.

    If a stadium makes financial sense, team owners would want to own it.

    There was a plan for a sports bar at Frontier, but the building got torched.

  5. April 8, 2012 at 4:03 pm James responds:

    Biggest issue is that the Redwings play AAA baseball and those other teams play major league baseball, which is a significantly bigger draw that can bring people downtown.

  6. April 8, 2012 at 8:21 pm Brett responds:

    I also think a lot of it has to do with the demographics between AAA and MLB. MLB crowds tend to be a bit younger, less family oriented, and just a lot more likely to patronize an entertainment district. When families are your bread and butter, I think, unfortunately, you’re just a lot more likely to get people driving in, watching the game, and leaving. I suppose there could be spillover to a family-friendly restaurant, but they’ll need support from more than just baseball fans to survive, and the fact the Wings have affordable concessions and nice variety poses some competition too. Back when High Falls was an entertainment district, the spillover was minimal (as in a table or two) at places like Jimmy Mac’s and Bru when I visited before games for dinner.

    It actually would be interesting to see AAA cases, assuming there have been successes with fueling entertainment districts. I know a number of urban stadiums have been built. I think the Knighthawks seem to have the most spillover to restaurants and bars from what I’ve seen, and it’s not surprising given their somewhat younger fan base with more strength in the 20-30 segment.

  7. Not necessarily. Pulled the average attendance for the Orioles and the Red Wings from 2011. Baltimore averaged 21,943, while Rochester only 6,493. Making the math easy if 20% of the people who attend stay in the area either before or after the game for Baltimore that’s about 4400 people while in Rochester it’s only about 1300. Running a business whether in a small market like Rochester or a big market like Baltimore is still going to require a certain number of customers to be profitable much easier to hit that number with a larger amount of people around. Should point out I just pulled 20% out of thin air could not quickly find an estimate of people who go to games that use surrounding amenities as well.

  8. Ironically, the very reason many teams demand new stadiums (to gain access to new and better revenue streams) runs contrary to the idea of the businesses surrounding the stadium benefiting. The stadiums are designed to keep that money in house. Yet, they throw that idea out there to get the stadium built on the public’s dime and it typically works.

    Also, for there to be spillover benefits greater than opportunity cost of the money dedicated to the project, you need the idea to scale greater than what minor league baseball can typically draw.

  9. Maybe the end of Kodak and MCC moving in will cause the parking lot along State St would be developed into housing and services.
    If done at the right scale, you could have an attractive little neighborhood that would connect High Falls and the stadium and provide the atmosphere that is needed to properly integrate the ballpark into the urban fabric.
    Now, it is adrift in a sea of asphalt that, save the view of downtown, could be in Greece.

  10. April 9, 2012 at 9:27 am Jim Webster responds:

    You are 100% correct on this. The demise of the High Falls entertainment district is also to blame.
    Contrary to Bob Matthew’s opinion (probably the biggest booster of Frontier), we could easily have had the Fenway of minor league baseball instead of Frontier.
    So now that we have both Frontier and Sahlen’s, maybe the advent of the new Genesee Brewery Pub will spur some life into the area.

  11. April 9, 2012 at 10:42 am Ben C. responds:

    Well, R, you got a good one going on the stadium issue.

    If memory serves me, there were a few alternative sites for the ball park: Henrietta Dome area, along the 390 way out in Rush(?), and behind Sibleys.

    The Sib site got nixed by residents and advocates of the Gibbs St./Eastman preservation oriented downtown neighborhoods who figured cramming a statium in a tight site near them would detract from their particulat choice of cutural enhancement and life-style.

    The secretely negotiated K site was considered a marvelous compromise. But could it have been just another ego satisfying development decision that catered to the owners and loyal fans who’ll go anywhere to see a ball game.

    Modern urban planners and inexperienced public development officials are prone to think that one big development or public improvement will auto spawn another (I think they call it synergy). What they don’t recognize is that the modern consumer cares more about walking around in inclement weather, in areas that don’t already have stores and facilities that are open, well lit and have reasonable prices than synergy(and, then there’s Fenway which is a classic urban fit of a stadium that puts up with a short left “green monster”).

    The reason why suburbanites take convenient paths to their cars after going to the War Memorial, The Aud, The Eastman and Frontier Stadium is that whether with or without kids, they can do more for less after the event along the route home than they can around the venue visited.

    And, that includes over at the East End and Park Ave districts. There’s always a noticeable inflow of traffic in Park Ave. after an Eastman or Aud event.

    Your aerial pic of the stadium makes the point. The stadium sits in a pocket surrounded by a RR, X-way and industrialfacilities and parking lots. What would you expect, tail-gate parties for a minor league ball team?

    And, oh yes, repeat after me: Everything outside of the Inner-Loop (and some stuff inside it) is not downtown. You can keep pretending that it is, but the walk at night below or over the Loop and RR is not what folks want. Now, even the Kodak lunchers don’t even make the State St. trek in daylight.

    I suggest googling Jane Jacobs on this and stop catering to individual development egos who corden off their compounds because they fear what’s out there on the sidewalks for themselves and their employees.

  12. April 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm Kevin Yost responds:

    The High Falls District did go downhill after the initial success with Frontier Field. Of course, it is only a seasonal venue and things got worse after our pro outdoor lacrosse and soccer teams moved out of F.F. to the more isolated and insulated Sahlen’s Stadium.

  13. The issue of major-league city vs. Triple-A is legit.

    A fair percentage of fans at an average major-league game our out-of-towners willing to do the full-bore “tourist thing.” They’re looking to take in the scenery, visit attractions and dine at restaurants before/after games (in addition to staying in nearby hotels).

    That makes it worthwhile for a business to set up near the stadium in Baltimore or San Fran as opposed to Rochester or Syracuse, where the stadium clientele is literally 99 percent local yokels on any given night.

  14. So glad I grew up in the neighborhood of Good Old Red Wings statium (errr Silver Statium), we all walked over a mile on sidewalks to the ballgame or parked on the black coal-like stones or church parking lots. Knot hole games were packed, entertainers threw out first pitches, the scoreboard was manually set with scores, fireworks burst after scores, the food was excellent, the bathrooms had attendants filling papertowels, sweeping up floors. Program sellers sold out booklets before the National Anthem began, beers were cheap, texas and pork hots loaded with toppings, souvineer stands filled with “gotta-haves”, seaters knew your names, wiped off seats, kept others from sitting in your seats while you made a food run. The players signed autographs, everyone went home with a banner (Red Wing flannel flag on a wooden pole).
    Entire families went and enjoyed a game waving at Luke Easter. You can’t replicate that near Kodak. I hope the High Falls restaurants regain a foothold after parking lots become free parking for them. The Falls is fantastic, it can and should work when making the area accessible becomes real.
    Hell, I miss Sibley’s.

  15. April 15, 2012 at 1:24 pm Jim Webster responds:

    So here’s an idea. Since Matthews was such a proponent of a downtown stadium, and it’s been proven Frontier is a bust as a growth venue for downtown, lets tear the damn thing down.
    Sell this property as part of a business growth area, since Kodak won’t be needing it anymore. Maybe even MCC could succeed there.
    Then build a new, retro style stadium around the Clinton/Mortimer area. Maybe even include it’s own Green Monster, but give the place more personality then Frontier, which shouldn’t be hard. Then get a former local Red Wing to replicate Boog’s place behind Camdem Yards. And get the popular East End establishments to sponsor post-game parties.
    Come on Mayor Richards, get behind this idea!

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