Sunday, December 4, 2011

Revisiting Cincinnati Stadia

 Cincinnati Riverfront Master Plan
+ Overview of proposed Smale Riverfront Park.

There's been a lot of talk lately about how to make the operations for the recently built stadiums on the riverfront profitable (or at the very least balanced) - with the funds annually threatening red, resulting in secret backroom deals, general anxiety, and who knows what else.  Since the plow hit the soil, it seems, questions persist as to whether the county received a bad deal (+), and whether stadium construction in general creates the substantial societal and financial impact that the public is promised.

Having taken the guided behind-the-scenes tours of both new riverfront facilities, and attended numerous events in all big four local stadiums, I've come away with these general observations of the existing Cincinnati mega-stadiums (click on any image for a larger view):

Great American Ballpark was designed comfortably - enjoyable just to meander throughout, with unique lures / stopping points spread between each section - and feels like part of a neighborhood, even when closed.  The attached Hall of Fame Museum adds to the stadium's perception of year-round accessibility, but the fact that the season is 6+ months long alone lends to its true viability.  When not watching the main event, there's plenty of family-oriented + adult-centric things to do to enjoyably bide the time.

Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati riverfront.
First-generation rendering of the new riverfront ballpark.
Image source: UrbanCincy + Hamilton County.

Lindner Family Tennis Center is actually comprised of four stadiums (Center Court, Grandstand Court + 2 additional with seating) + many other satellite courts. Located in Mason, there's room for growth indefinitely, and with its continued expansion (through bricks & mortar + tournament building) its relevance on the world stage is continually amplified. Even with its roomy suburban digs, the grounds are oriented so that meandering between matches on several different courts is easy, with the stadiums themselves airy and comfortable.  Great food, shopping and tennis facilities overall draw fringe jocks to socialites and everyone else in between, resulting in a vibrant mixture during the day or evening daily sessions.  It also doesn't hurt that the complex sidles the Jack Nicklaus-designed Kings Island Golf Center + Kings Island itself, among other attractions.  A veritable playground.

Lindner Family Tennis Center, Mason, Ohio.
The latest master plan expansion for the burgeoning Cincinnati tourney.
Image source: W&S Open.

Nippert Stadium is shoved so tight within UC's campus that it's hard for it to breath, so expansion proposals are often unique concepts (rarely ever actually realized) - though, this restriction is a blessing in disguise: Walking around a huge stadium without encountering acres of parking asphalt is a godsend.  Instead, it's surrounded by some of the most amazing architecture and a vibrant student population, which makes it feel like a lively city within a city, which is very cool.

Nippert Stadium, University of Cincinnati.
Nippert is just one part of UC's huge sports complex, which hosts
a ton of teams' fields, courts, etc.

Paul Brown Stadium - a huge leap from the Bengals original home in Nippert Stadium (1968-69) - is architecturally significant and provides great aerial shots, but when inside, the Brutalist-like concrete interior on cold game days kind of makes you feel like you're on the movie set of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich...or maybe a zoo holding pen.  It would be nice if pre- or post-game attractions were built into the stadium somehow to extend its gameday (or potentially game-week) life, but I'm not familiar with them (if they exist).  For the most part, tailgating is stuck to the underpasses and the rest to the bars, but I'll bet that those living in the Club-level have a much different take on this.

Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati riverfront.
Designed by NBBJ Sports and Entertainment Architects of LA.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Anyway, it's ironic that of all the stadiums in town, Paul Brown Stadium was the most expensive to build, has produced the least-winning teams, is used the least period of time (just 10 days/year for the Bengals), and most importantly, is the most shut off from the surrounding environment even though it lives in arguably the most prominent neighborhood in the city: the Riverfront District.  I'm no fair-weather fan and am glad we have a pro team, but... well, I'll leave it at that.

Still, overall, I'd say yes, the stadiums impact the city in a socially and financially significant (usually positive) way - its hard to imagine what the city would be without them. Not only do they draw international interest, but enliven the residents, and overall, make the city money.  They make our mid-size city feel much much larger, and frankly, we're lucky to have these assets.

The X-factor, of course, is the main event: whether we win or lose.  Even when the city went through massive renovation and growth (business and construction) primarily in the late-70's to 80s, I've heard some say that the optimistic air surrounding that "boom time" was attributed greatly to our dominance in pro sports.  That's the perception, and as a result, perhaps the true value of the stadiums - the city's collective attitude buoys with the teams' successes or failures, and thus, sometimes how the structures themselves are received.

Nevertheless, bucking the long-standing perception of Mark Twain (et al.) that the city is intolerant or slow to change, no matter the population numbers, economy, team scores, or outcome of concept, Cincinnati never ceases to dream big, which itself makes this this relatively small town always feel like a promising metropolis.

So, riding this optimistic wave of idealism, here's a short retrospective of some of the great initial, conceptual illustrations of these behemoths + fantastical stadium visions that never got off the drawing board:

Cincinnati Riverfront Rehabilitation proposal (1926).
Note the rudimentary football/track field in the middle, obviously unbuilt.
Image source: Cincinnati Transit.

Cincinnati Riverfront Redevelopment plan (1948).
Another unbuilt stadium proposal for another unbuilt riverfront concept (view larger).
Image source: Cincinnati Transit.

Cincinnati Riverfront Development proposal (1961).
Including an unbuilt baseball stadium concept (more info).
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer (2/19/63).

Riverfront Stadium concept (1966). 
A proposed domed stadium on the site of the then Riverfront Stadium.
Image source: Visual History Gallery.

Cincinnati Riverfront Redevelopment concept (early 1990s). 
Commissioned by the then-city manager during the city boom era & early talk
of The Banks, this shows the stadiums on opposite ends of the city from where they exist now.
Image source: UrbanOhio.

Riverfront Stadium / Cinergy Field renovation proposal (1997).
This plan would've saved some bucks by retrofitting the existing stadium
instead of building the new one we have today.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Cincinnati Reds stadium proposal, Broadway Commons (1998).
A failed attempt to move the new stadium to Over the Rhine.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Great American Ballpark, early concept (1998).
In the fight against the Broadway Commons proposal, the Reds released this rendering of
keeping the stadium on the river.  It obviously was built here, but with a different design.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Paul Brown Stadium + Great American Ballpark vision (1998).
A broader view of the riverfront with the Reds Stadium concept shown above.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Nippert Stadium expansion proposal, University of Cincinnati (2008).
Very cool unbuilt concept that fits in with the contemporary feel of the new campus.
Image source: UrbanCincy + Trahan Architects.

Cincinnati's 2012 Olympic bid, event facilities (2000).
A proposed retrofitted, domed Nippert Stadium would've hosted gymnastics.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Cincinnati's 2012 Olympic bid, master plan (2000).
This grandaddy of all Cincinnati master plans showcases a transformed riverfront which
would've included an Olympic Stadium, left, and other supporting fields/stadiums.
Image source: Cincinnati Enquirer.

Read more about the general impact of stadiums: 
Do New Stadiums Have an Economic Impact? from Diehard Sport
Sport, Jobs, & Taxes: Are New Stadiums Worth the Cost? from Brookings Institution
The Stadium Gambit and Local Economic Development from Regulation Mag / CATO Institute
The Economic Impact of Sports Facilities from The Sports Digest
Corporate Welfare, Publicly Funded Stadiums (+ comprehensive link list) from AK Dart

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