Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lucas Oil Stadium

Tonight I am watching the first regular season Colts game vs. Chicago Bears. Here are my thoughts:

The overhead shots of the stadium are impressive. I do agree that having an NFL franchise, as well as a state of the art facility are positives for the region as it does shine a spotlight on Indy and says to the rest of the nation that we are a world-class city. While it's true that it doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes-like investigation to realize that the world-class city facade crumbles quickly upon venturing outside of downtown, the stadium does promote a positive image of the city to would be transplant residents and businesses. Retaining an NFL franchise won't diminish the high crime rate, won't repair and replace the long deteriorated infrastructure, and won't raise the education level of the local workforce, but it does provide an amenity to attract potential highly-educated and highly-skilled workers that will attract high-paying jobs and increase the local tax base which can directly address the third deficiency of the City, while providing an increased tax base to address the first two.

The retractable roof, as well as the sliding window oriented toward the downtown skyline, are engineering marvels, and likely add to the thrill of attending an event (I've yet to enter the facility). I was surprised to hear during tonight's broadcast on NBC that the field has no drainage capability whatsoever, thus presumably requiring the roof to be closed at the faintest threat of precipitation. While the inclusion of a roof was necessary to ensure that other events can be held at the stadium, I find it a little disappointing to deduct that the rood will likely be closed any time it's not clear and warm outside. The thought that Colts games might be subject to a little rain or snow was something to which I had been looking forward.

I walked around the exterior of the stadium the other day, first along sidewalk, from South to McCarty, from Capitol to Missouri, etc. I was really struck by the immensity of the site. It took about 20 minutes to circle the block. It seems a lost opportunity that the neither the State, nor the City, saw it necessary to maintain Merrill Street, which previously bisected the site, traveling east to west, from Capitol to Missouri. Although the diagonal orientation of the building would have required the street to be shifted slightly to the south, retention of the site would have made circulation for both pedestrians and vehicles much easier, especially on the 330 or so days of the year on which there is no significant event taking place at the stadium. I wouldn't expect a flurry of redevelopment in the area south and west of the stadium in large part due to the gigantic parking lot south of the building and the superblock created by the elimination of Merrill Street. The vibrant urban development in other parts of downtown, such as the Wholesale District and Massachusetts Avenue, depend upon the pedestrian scale environment, created in large part by the relatively small block size which is fundamental to any city. .

The Convention Center and the RCA Dome (soon to be razed and replaced with a convention center expansion) have already created one superblock that had effectively created a barrier to expansion of the downtown core prior to development of Lucas Oil Stadium. Obviously, the multiple rail tracks just north of South Street provide an additional impediment to development to the south, as anyone who's walked under them along Delaware, Pennsylvania, Meridian, Illinois, or Captol knows that these long underpasses do not exude an inviting ambience. However, if the Convention Center expansion were to somehow be designed to provide an attractive entrance from the south, unlike the imposing, uninviting behemoth of an urban structure that was the RCA Dome , it could help encourage development south of South Street.
impediment to future development.

Presumably, it would benefit the city to see high-density redevelopment of condominiums, apartments, more retail and restaurants, offices, etc. in the area south and west of the new stadium, both to increase the city's tax base and to provide additional areas for tourists and conventioneers to visit. However, in walking around both the stadium and parking lot, I didn't sense that the urban fabric necessary to spawn such pedestrian-oriented redevelopment was in place. It doesn't seem to me that it would've impeded development of the stadium or required any significant alteration to the design to maintain Merrill Street between the stadium and the parking lot, but it would've made a tremendous difference in maintaining the perception that the area is intended for pedestrian activity aside from the couple dozen annual event days. It also might have better facilitated future redevelopment of some portion of the stadium parking lot if parking garage were to ever replace some of the surface spaces.

The Colts Pro Shop is located at the northeast corner of the stadium, which would provide some activity on non-event days, however, it would have been nice to see a couple other tenant spaces built into the street level of the building, such as a couple of restaurant/bars. I don't know how the interior of the building is laid out, but from walking around the stadium it would appear that adding in such uses might be quite difficult.

My overall asssessment is that it is an attractive building as far as football stadiums (or is it "stadia") go, but given it's downtown location, a few small design considerations could have greatly increased the chance of development of a vibrant district surrounding the facility, rather than a long continuation of numerous parking lots and scarce pedestrian traffic.

As a sidenote: I find it amazing the speed at which this project moved from initial planning to completion. For example, I recall that it took the San Francisco Giants about ten years and several failed ballot initiatives before a financing plan was approved, which required that the majority of funding come from the team. The Minnesota Vikings have been attempting unsuccessfully to get Minneapolis, the State, or other local branches of government to replace the Metrodome for about a decade. Yet from my recollection this plan was put together, approved by the state, and the governing bodies of seven of eight metro counties, and underway in less than a year. There may have been some previous discussion about need for a new stadium, but I don't recall any actual plan being proposed.

Setting aside the debate over subsidizing professional sports franchises, it is a testament to the ability of government to get something accomplished in a short time period. I think the only reason it was able to occur so quickly was the combination of the Colts' popularity and the the fact that the local citizenry is generally very uninvolved in the land development process. Although there was no public review process for the design of the proposed stadium since the state is not required to comply with local land use regulations, I would suspect that in many other locales, citizens would have demanded a role in the planning process before giving their elected officials their blessing to raise their taxes for the project. Had this process not moved so quickly, perhaps, an even better design would have been accomplished.

Am I in the minority in my criticisms? Will I be proven wrong and are my concerns unfounded? Or has the City missed a golden opportunity to spur redevelopment of a long neglected and underutilized part of downtown?


The Urbanophile said...

Indiana has traditionally lacked a strong culture of voter approval of major projects or taxes. Perhaps with the new referendum requirements in the property tax relief law, this will change.

El Fuser said...

Remember that a host of new projects have been proposed for the area between Lucas Oil and the Lilly Campus. Lucas was just the anchor that the area south of the railroad needed

Besides I am willing to bet those parking lots will be eaten up eventually some thing that will generate more $ for the City/State and the Colts (think parking garages with retail/food fronts).