4 keys to creating compelling entertainment and stadium districts
May 20, 2021
May 20, 2021
Turning the area near an urban stadium into a year-round destination often includes hotels, workspace, and restaurants
Downtown stadiums can be a huge boon to cities, drawing tens of thousands of people, potentially multiple times per week for several months of the year. But have you ever been to the neighborhood around a professional football stadium when the team isn’t in season? What does the area around an arena feel like on days when games aren’t being played? If the word deserted comes to mind, you’re not alone.
It’s no wonder then that in the homes of sports teams across the country, we’re seeing a growing trend toward creating more intentional urban stadium districts that incorporate varying uses, from retail and hotels to offices and housing.
Teams across the country are envisioning new opportunities to make these areas a year-round destination. We’ve seen it at our work on 1101 West Waveland and The Park at Gallagher Way near Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois, to Victory Park outside American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, to other projects.
With this year’s completion of McGregor Square, Denver, Colorado, joins the roster of cities with a dedicated stadium district. The development adds a 176-room hotel, 200,000 square feet of office space, and 103 condos in a two-tower development just steps from Coors Field, where the Colorado Rockies play.
In the case of McGregor Square, our team was fortunate to be working with one of the last undeveloped parcels of land in the downtown area. Our master plan for this district encompasses nearly 700,000 square feet of new development designed to create a compelling urban district from what was formerly a parking lot.
McGregor Square is quickly becoming the pre- and post-game gathering place for Rockies fans. But beyond baseball, it will serve as a new “outdoor room,” a year-round destination that can host neighborhood concerts, festivals, and other public activities.
By turning the area around a stadium into a multiuse district with shopping, dining, and hotels, team owners … can turn ample, but often seasonal, foot traffic into a year-round revenue generator.
By turning the area around a stadium into a multiuse district with shopping, dining, and hotels, team owners—and the developers and cities they partner with—can turn ample, but often seasonal, foot traffic into a year-round revenue generator. Including office and residential uses creates a captive pool of consumers who spend time in these areas daily, patronizing the businesses and adding to the vibrance of the stadium district 365 days a year.
Creating a stadium district that feels connected to both the team and the surrounding neighborhoods is a massive undertaking. It involves many stakeholders and spans years. While each city will be working with a different set of circumstances, from our experience on the projects above, as well as marquee projects such as LA Live and London Live and the New York Islanders UBS Arena Entertainment District, there are a few key ingredients to a truly compelling stadium district master plan. Following are four of those ingredients.
The lowest-hanging fruit for a stadium district is the game-day audience, so the first thing to consider is the flow of people to and from the stadium. Each entrance means a stream of thousands of people coming and going at once.
Design and construction choices should be focused on orienting and directing the flow of those people as they move into and out of the stadium. For McGregor Square, we knew we wanted to create a strong visual connection to home plate—both to reinforce the connection to the team and to capture the natural flow of traffic.
Beyond connecting the stadium to the district’s activities, it’s important to consider how the district can strengthen connections between the surrounding urban environment and the stadium. To that end, we created a parklike pathway leading up from Denver’s Union Station along the third base line.
Everyone who walks through the district should feel the hum of activity there, no matter the time of year. When designing, we think of the public realm as not just the ground level but extending as much as 30 or 40 feet into the air.
The mix of uses is essential to creating that constant perception of activity. The rooftop patios of the office tenants, the balconies of condo tenants, the hotel amenity deck—all of it contributes to the impression of liveliness just as much as street-level establishments. Floor-to-ceiling windows can offer a look into indoor spaces where people are dining or shopping, ensuring the feeling of vibrancy regardless of weather.
Including several uses in a single district means that the design and programming of public spaces must also be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of activities. Think of it like a dial you can turn up or back, depending on the size of the event and the level of the activity.
The best way to attain this dynamic is to keep the infrastructure flexible and to avoid making choices during the planning process that would limit what events or uses are available in the public space.
We visualized 15 event types in the process of designing the main public square in McGregor Square. Then we put in the elements to support that range of event types—from power and lighting to speakers and screens.
What all these ingredients have in common is that they all contribute to the most important element in a great stadium district: connection. Connection between the team and the fans, between the city and the stadium, between sports and non-sports uses, and most importantly between the people who will use the spaces.
When people feel connected to the experience, when they feel like there is something there for them year-round, that is when you have a grand-slam development.