Some Additions To The Downtown Arena Discussion

A Carolina Hurricanes hockey game at the RBC Center in 2010.

We talked about parking earlier in the month and now it’s time for another love affair of mine; the downtown sports arena topic. I just want to quote two articles that add to the ongoing conversation. For newer readers, a sports arena in downtown Raleigh is an idea that floats in every now and then and is by no means planned or even in concept at this time.

You could certainly argue that I think we’re not ready for an urban arena and that the location of the PNC Center is perfectly adequate. To add some points on the development topic, whether arenas spur it or not, Richard Florida asks exactly that with an article at The Atlantic Cities.

Sports boosters claim the new stadiums bring economic benefits and add to a city’s “big league” status. But objective academic studies have countered this view, noting that stadiums add little in the way of actual economic benefit.

*Do Basketball Arenas Spur Economic Development?

The study that Mr. Florida writes about does mention cities that had a positive affect on development and a rise in regional income. However, it’s possible that this rise in an area’s income is a result from the arena moving from the suburbs to the city. The net could be zero.

And then comes the taxpayer benefit from making the investment in additional teams and stadiums/arenas. Dr. Kurt Rotthoff of Seton Hall University talked on the radio at WAMC about how politicians may try to sell the idea that sports teams and using incentives to build venues are a catalyst for economic development.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on new stadiums, with the claim that they will create tens- or hundreds of millions of dollars of local economic impact; however, looking at county employment and incomes after a team enters or leaves a town, a co-author and I find mixed results on employment, with no overall impact, and mainly no impact on incomes, but a few cases of a negative impact. This means there is no impact, or possibly a negative impact, of bringing a team to town, and no impact, with the possibility of a positive impact, when the team leaves town. This primarily occurs because there is a shift in consumption, from restaurants and bars to the stadium, when these teams come to town and thus no net increase in consumption. Restaurants and bars do open closer to the stadium, but this is a result of them closing locations in other sections of town.

*Dr. Kurt Rotthoff, Seton Hall University – Economic Impact of Sports Arenas

One can just look at West Raleigh and see that development has not followed the PNC Center and it’ll be years before it does. Mr. Florida ends his article well with:

The present research is generally consistent with the notion that professional sports are not the cause of development so much as they are the effect.”

West Raleigh fans do have a lot to look forward to in the Blue Ridge Road District Study which may turn that street and all the areas around the fairgrounds and the sports complex into an active destination.

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  1. The big question would be who’s neighborhood are you going to destroy to build it? I am sure you would not your neighborhood displaced? And then the traffic that comes with it! You would not want it next to your neighborhood. Its much better off just where it is!

  2. Well I hate to say it but Raleigh and NC State both f*#ked up when they put it out there but there isn’t anything you can do now. Besides Raleigh is barely a city and when I say that I mean they don’t operate Raleigh like one. It might as well be a huge suburb! Too much suburban thinking and no urban thinking, that is the problem. Besides why would you all of a sudden want one in downtown now? The only way I could see one in downtown is maybe if we got an NBA franchise or something and I just don’t see that happening here any time soon. Plus there are too many whiney asses in Raleigh who would have something to say about it, they’d rather have it out somewhere in Cary or Wake Forest some damn where!

  3. If I’m not mistaken, more people in Raleigh live outside the Beltline than inside. It’s no surprise, then, that the PNC Center is where it is. Also, there are about as many people living in Cary, Morrisville, and south Wake collectively as in Raleigh ITB. The vast majority of those Wake residents are happy with the PNC location, too.

    It was only during the term of Charles Meeker that downtown Raleigh, for that matter ITB Raleigh, got any attention. Whether that continues to be the case under Nancy McFarlane and her successors, we’ll have to wait and see.

  4. Agree with the comments, but we have to change our mindset and become an URBAN city (enough sprawl). First, we do not need an NBA team to have an arena downtown. Canes, State and downtown universities will more than support a new downtown arena (+, you can have the NBA, just like NFL, felons – we have three Basketball teams in Triangle – and they can all beat the Boobcats and other NBA joksters). The arena in downtown Raleigh will completely change the urban feel of this sity and bring foot traffic 7 days a week.
    McFarlane needs to table this topic and start planning for a downtown arena (by the way, surface parking for tailgating is a MUST, retail, and a indoor public ice rink, DO It Right, this needs to be an entertainment complex)!

  5. Everyone is entitled to voice and opinion, but why does an anti-spreader agenda — although that’s not really the issue here — automatically prevail? This has to be a matter of democratic due process, and the fact is there are a lot of folks who think downtown has gotten enough of a push already and now it’s time for downtown to live or die based on its own merits.

    As for sprawl, there won’t be much more sprawl in Raleigh per se because there is nothing left to annex. Suburban development in the rest of Wake County, however, will carry on regardless of what the City of Raleigh decides. Ultimately the free market, not even politicians, will decide how much sprawl we see going forward.

    In any event there won’t be a new arena in Raleigh anywhere for another 20 years, nor is the NBA coming to town.

  6. Anthony, you just said something that’s a contradiction. First you advocated for an urban arena, then you said there needs to be surface parking… how many urban arenas do you know that have lots of surface parking? The idea with a real urban arena is to get rid of surface lots…Even where the stadiums are fairly close to the city centers, like in say Baltimore or Pittsburgh, there are giant parking lots that give it a very suburban feel. If we’re going to have tailgating, it’s not really meant for downtown. An arena with parking the size of the PNC Arena’s would be a dead zone most of the time.

    Also, I’d like to point out that arenas don’t bring foot traffic 7 days a week. At the very peak of the season (November-Feb) there will maybe be 4-5 events a week, with State and the Canes going full tilt, but that’s only 1/3 of the year, the rest of the year it’s more like 1-3 and many weeks, especially in the summer, have no events. I’m not opposed to a downtown arena, but I think it’s a misconception that they create all kinds of pedestrian activity. Plus, if a large number of people are tailgating, they won’t be visiting local shops and would thus eliminate the benefit of a downtown arena. I think as long as PNC is functional, there’s no reason to spend a lot of money on an arena.

    Also, you mentioned the downtown universities, by which I’m assuming you mean Shaw and St Augs. While it would be fine to have them play at a bigger arena, let’s not pretend like Shaw is going to draw sell out crowds in a 20,000 seat arena. State has trouble selling tickets and they’re a 2x national champion. I think if we’re going to have a downtown arena, it needs to be urban. We can have some parking decks nearby, hopefully wrapped in other uses, but I think it’s a bit silly to think that having a downtown arena will enhance downtown any more than say a beautiful water feature (which would be 24/7) or another fancy gathering place that could be built for less than $200 million or whatever an arena would cost.

  7. One would think that this topic died a long time ago, but here we are discussing it again, without taking the facts in consideration. So, let’s do this again.

    * The City of Raleigh had very little saying on the decision, so stop blaming the city leadership. NCSU is the one who put the pressure. Besides, there was a nice area plan in place for a somewhat urban development in West Raleigh, a plan that developers wanted, but failed to execute. Again, the city leaders are not to be blamed.

    * Bringing the arena downtown, even to this day, has to overcome some huge obstacles. Parking (surface, decks, underground, etc.), NIMBYs, excessive traffic, land availability… The list can grow a lot longer if we put our minds to work.

    * Downtown Raleigh had become the focus before Meeker, so let’s stop talking as if there was momentum before him. The Warehouse District, Glenwood South, Moore Square were in place and provided focal points for promoting our downtown as a great place to visit and have fun. DRA was already there to promote downtown as a great place to live, work and play. Unfortunately, there were also many NIMBYs who simply didn’t want to deal with the additional traffic. Hell, these people protest over 4-story buildings. Do you think they would allow an arena to “pollute” their area?

    I think that Steve made some very good points, and I agree with him. Which is also why I don’t care if a new arena ends up in DT Raleigh. My personal favourite area is actually South of MLK Blvd, near the Beltline, between S. Saunders and S. Wilmington Streets. We can place the parking decks – or surface lots – near the highway and the actual arena facing a more urban setting, assuming the landscape allows us to do that. Eventually, this area will become downtown and much new development will find its way there.

    Of course, there are many more options near downtown. One of the most important features will be public transit, so wherever we decide to build the new arena, it should be accessible by a [future] light-rail line. To avoid complains, the arena has to be built first, followed by offices and hotels, and then add any residential components to the area. If we make the mistake to put residents in that area first, rest assured we are going to face challenges in the future.

    Just my 2 cents…

  8. I don’t disagree that DRA was active pre-Meeker, but I think it’s fair to say that the Fetzer/Coble regime — and Upchurch before that — had a laissez-faire attitude toward downtown in terms of direct governmental intervention and money. If development took place through natural factors, fine; I’d it didn’t, that was fine too.

  9. “Ultimately the free market, not even politicians, will decide how much sprawl we see going forward.”

    Ehh, not really true. Growth patterns have always been the dependent upon government policies. The reason suburban sprawl happened all over this country to begin with were policies such as highway building, homeowner subsidies, auto subsidies and euclidean zoning.

    I used to really beat the downtown arena drum. I still do, but to a lesser extent. If the arena district was to actually see development take place and was linked to downtown in a legitimate transit network, my complaints would fade pretty easily. I also think there is a lot to be learned from these studies that have looked at the economic value of arenas with a skeptical eye. If a downtown arena is built it has to be in a way that prevents it from becoming a black hole in the street grid. The fringe of downtown would seem like a good compromise; walkable, yet not taking up valuable land in the middle of the city.

  10. CT: agree with you, but your being polite. I attended ALL the ESA meetings prior to approval and location selection (a number of people pushed for a downtown location).

    Fetzer/Coble/ and that lapdog Briggs (I may have his last name incorrect, but he is a family member fo the Briggs Hardware Store, he was insignificant, other than following Fetzer ON EVERYTHING – just a yes man), the three of them were a laughing stock to this city. They could not speak for themselves, they spoke through their campaign contributors.

    When the building was approved to go ahead, we in the audience errupted for 10 minutes, Fetzer tried to stop the joy as he did for all his terms, but we clapped till he turned blue and almost ran out of the room crying like a child.

    These three Stooges set Downtown Raleigh back decades. Meeker had more vision than the three of these jokers combined. Now Coble is a Wake County Commissioner member, who votes for this clown (he is the same as always, preventing progress)

  11. I believe the interactions between growth patterns and gov’t policies are more bidirectional than JH argues. The converse is just as likely: governments built roads and otherwise facilitated suburbia because that’s what voters wanted. People I’ve spoken with who remember the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s say how much they wanted to escape the city — and how much they wanted to move from rural areas without having to live in concrete canyons. Such were the attractions of suburbia at the time.

    “Subsidy” is a tricky word. Downtown Raleigh’s water and sewer pipes require massive replacement over the coming 25 years — because, in part, they aren’t sized for the population density that downtown boosters want to see. It will be very expensive. Should we call this a “subsidy” of downtown by the suburban majority, many of whom have no connection to downtown? No, I’d prefer to think of it as just another infrastructure need. My point is that one man’s subsidy is another man’s prudent expenditure, and the weather vane can point in either direction.

  12. Face it fellow Raleighites, Raleigh just doesn’t have the momentum or aggression that other cities have. Ernest I got a question, how the hell does something as big as the PNC Arena not get any say so from Raleigh city leaders I mean the city built it right? WHy and how would NC State have so much say so? If this was the case then how the hell did Raleigh allow them to have so much power in the decision making to the location of the arena, that’s just plain stupid. If they did have so much as so then to hell with them and Raleigh needs to build one for it’s own purposes I mean I can’t stand the fact that nobody hardly plays there except the Hurricanes and NC State!? All the major concerts always bypass Raleigh for Charlotte or Greensboro which is so annoying I shouldn’t have to drive there for certain things I want to see… I realize that there are alot of implants here in Raleigh who moved here because its safe and quiet or whatever but I am a native and I want to see my city thrive before I turn 40!! I can easily see how the younger crowd choose Charlotte over Raleigh because there is just more momentum there for them. I honestly believe a new arena would bring way more urbanity and foot traffic continuously to dt, Lord knows we need something here exciting other than the State Fair!

  13. It was NCSU alumni and boosters who first proposed a new arena. The State already owned the land, and the General Assembly created the governing authority with the express purpose of putting NCSU in the driver’s seat. The City got only minority representation on the governing authority. Wake County put up just as much money as the City did, and NCSU boosters raised roughly the same amount. (Remember Wendell Murphy?)

    All this happened before inquiry was made about relocating the Hartford Whalers NHL franchise to Raleigh. Mayor Fetzer supported the relocation, but the effect was that the soon-to-be-called Hurricanes were given tremendous say in how the arena was to be designed, built, and operated. In short, the City’s already small role in the arena was diluted further when the Hurricanes came in.

  14. In what way are we not thriving? We’re at the top of all the good lists and the bottom of all the bad ones. Downtown is substantially better than it was 10 years ago, which has been mirrored in G’boro, Durham and Charlotte. I’m not convinced a downtown arena is really that essential, many of the best arenas (Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Wrigley, Dodger Stadium, Miller Park, to name the ones I’m familiar with) are located outside the city center. It won’t be that long before the Blue Ridge Rd. Area is much more developed (starting with the road improvements the city is planning) and it’d be a waste of city money to move the arena. I’m neither a hockey nor a State fan so I never go out there, but among the ‘Canes fans I know the arena is very popular and among the State fans the biggest complaint is that the arena isn’t on campus, which wouldn’t be solved if we moved it downtown…Thriving city centers are created by restaurants, bars, music venues (small music venues that attract different types of crowds), residences, art galleries, specialty stores, RETAIL and good public spaces. We’d be better off trying to put more residents downtown and fixing the few public places we have (Moore Square) than trying to spend a lot of money to replace an arena that still works just fine.

  15. Count me among those who would rather have more residents and and retail downtown rather than an arena. Raleigh’s DT footprint is not huge and to suck up a huge piece of it for an arena is the wrong decision IMO.
    Give me residents who are in the area EVERY day instead of interval traffic for games/events where, frankly, everyone is contained in giant facility until they get in their cars and leave.
    Some things that I’d like to have DT instead of an Arena include:

    1. More residents (we are on the right track)
    2. Multi-screen urban movie theater
    3. Shopping including and an Apple Store, grocery store, urban department store, etc.
    4. Lucky Strike Bowling Alley (seriously…)
    5. A better/permanent amphitheater
    6. Some sort of urban water (open a creek or artificial lake)

  16. ct, nobody was anti-downtown prior to Meeker. That is a myth that has been circulated strictly on people’s political beliefs. After having spoken to pre-Meeker people – in person – I have very little doubt about the intentions. Meeker was definitely a positive force for downtown, plus he actually lived downtown, but many great things were already in place for him to build upon. Simply, downtown was a tough sell and nobody could promote it as THE place to live, work and play. The decision to develop and connect the edges of downtown (i.e. Glenwood South) with the rest of Raleigh was a huge step to the right direction.

    Kenny, ct already provided the answer. In addition, there was a ton of interest for developing and urbanizing that area and the interest was serious at the time, which made the city leaders happy. If that had happened, we would not be having this conversation today.

    With regards to the suburban development explosion, we are only kidding ourselves if we think that it will stop if the city places restrictions and puts more rules in place. The majority of people in our area prefer to live in non-central location, plain and simple. The ONLY thing we can hope for – and I am a strong advocate of – is the end of those extreme suburban patterns of development, with cul-de-sacs all over the place, unconnected neighborhoods, cookie-cutter developments, clear-cutting, and many other characteristics exhibited in today’s suburbs.

    I am preaching to the choir, but a good public transit system – that is not yet-another money pit – has to be implemented. Good connections between downtown and other important locations is a MUST, along with strong commitments for redeveloping the areas along the future light-rail lines in an urban fashion. Once we have successful projects to point to, it will be a lot easier to make a case for better designed suburbs and denser core. Until then, suburbs will be attracting more residents and downtown will continue to have an uphill battle to fight. Oh, let’s not forget that without major employers moving to downtown, we cannot make a strong case for additional support for our city’s core. Free market will eventually reward our efforts, but it won’t be easy.

    Steve and John, well said, gentlemen!!!

  17. I never said that Fetzer/Coble were anti-downtown. What I did, and do, say is that they were not interested in promoting or facilitating downtown’s renaissance. Whether you call it benign neglect, active indifference, or simply letting the free market take its course, I think it’s an accurate description of what happened during their terms.

  18. Ernest,

    Believe what you want but Coble/Fetzer’s lack of support and vision for downtown was just as bad as being ‘anti-downtown’. Their idiotic support for an arena in a parking lot while the rest of America, including most cities and towns in North Carolina were all aggressively moving towards placing their sports venues downtowns because they knew the economic impact that would be generated versus placing a facility in no-man’s land. To try and place all the ‘blame’ for the ESA/RBC/PNC/ABCXYZ on NC State is a falsehood. Coble and Fetzer both had ample opportunity to persuade the authority to move it downtown, particularly since the City and the County paid the biggest portions of the tab to build the thing.

  19. Not many hotels, restaurants, bars, or anything for people to do at the PNC. They need some more attractions in the area. The PNC is in a good place if the City were to build up the area around it. If that isn’t going to be the case then it needs to be closer to downtown. That arena would have an impact. As of now, people come in to watch games, concerts, plays, and then leave and head home. If the arena was downtown, then those same people would spend more money and help boost the local economy. Those arena and ballparks the dude named earlier all have the area catered to the arena. However, this isn’t the cse in Raleigh and it doesn’t seem like it’s ging to happen. Therefore, the best option would be to put it downtown.

  20. @JT: A bit late on this, but you are wrong. Fetzer had NO SAYING, whatsoever, on the whole PNC Arena mess. His role was less than minimal and if he agreed was because there was a promise of urbanizing the surrounding area. I remember well those visions and promises, so let’s not blame the wrong people for this decision. Even I, who is an extremely pro-downtown Raleighite, didn’t want the arena downtown back then – still think it was the right choice at the time.

    Anyway, I prefer downtown to be used for additional residents and more business and retail destinations for now. There are areas to consider for a future arena that will be done right and connect nicely with downtown. Think of locations South of MLK Blvd, near I-40. The advantages are HUGE, but it will require vision and guts. Raleigh has neither at this moment, whether we like it or not.

  21. @ct – I adamantly disagree with stepping back and letting downtown languish again. By your own arguments, the taxpayers want to improve the urban atmosphere of the city’s core.

    Raleigh is a rapidly growing city and that growth has to be managed with new infrastructure paid for and planned by the city government. If people want that growth to be more urban than it has been, then i think they have every right to vote for it.

    Charlotte had a business community that wanted to improve the character of their city, and they invested millions of dollars in that city’s downtown. A lot of businesses in Raleigh could care less about anything except their bottom line, they have no civic pride, and they seem to fail to grasp the reality that no great city has ever existed that didn’t have a great downtown. The citizens of Raleigh feel differently. It’s those citizens’ tax dollars and if they want to use those tax dollars to fund improvements to downtown that private companies are unwilling to invest, I say let them.

    Economically, the sprawling pattern of the 90s won’t work anymore. The young professionals we want to attract to all these tech companies increasingly want more activity, more urban environments. The appeal of the bedroom community has faded because americans no longer see the inner city as the industrial crime-ridden wasteland that it was seen in the 1950s. Now it’s seen as a source of culture and entertainment that you can’t get living in a car bubble. Unless Raleigh makes continued strategic investments in its downtown, its growth with cease as it’ll lose out to the Portlands, Denvers, and Austins of the country that will be much more appealing to 20 and 30-somethings looking to relocate.

  22. For all the sincerity of these thoughts, I’ve done the math. Reality is, only 14% of Wake County’s population lives ITB Raleigh — and many of the 14% don’t share a glorified vision of downtown because they live in poverty (indeed, they are being priced out of ITB as it gentrifies). Also, a significant number of the 14% are NCSU students who don’t care where they live, as long as they aren’t far from their classes. The vocal advocates of downtown living actually constitute less than 10% of the county population.

    Fact is, the percentage I’m quoting is falling, not rising. For each high-rise residential building in downtown, there is far more housing being built in the county — much of which is high-density, not the stereotyped single family homes on R4 lots.

    No one wants to see downtown die again, and I believe that most people who live OTB are satisfied with the outcome of projects to improve downtown. However, that does not provide advocates of downtown carte blanche to give every development initiative in the city a downtown orientation… certainly not a replacement arena, which is what triggered this thread.

    Certainly there are people who want the downtown residential lifestyle. I’m delighted that they now have a choice here, and I hope that those choices expand in the future. But they’re still the minority, and I think the demographic arguments implying that ITB will have 200K or 300K people someday are total nonsense.

    Charlotte is a special case. Employment in Charlotte is downtown-centric… the legacy mainly of three banks. Aside from state government which is a zero-growth endeavor, employment in Wake County is not downtown-centric. Perhaps it could be with a mass transit system, with people working in downtown but not (for the most part) living there… a traditional model like you see in DC. Unfortunately we have reached a Catch 22 situation where the majority of Wake County residents who would be taxed for a mass transit system see little relevance of such a system to their current daily lives. A mass transit system might happen here but it is far from a done deal.

    A more insightful comparison than Charlotte would be Atlanta, where spending billions (literally) on downtown infrastructure hasn’t enabled downtown to keep pace. The population of the city of Atlanta has begun to rise again, but it now represents less than 10% of metro population and is not gaining ground relative to that number — that’s why the Atlanta Braves are moving to the burbs. FYI, the first house I ever bought was in an gentrification-in-progress neighborhood there, inside the city limits.

  23. Employment in Charlotte is not downtown centric contrary to what all the boosters in Charlotte claim. Walk around in the middle of a weekday and you can hear pins drop. If anything, they have tried to make it an entertainment district.

  24. Well the damage is done so stop with all the whinning Guys. Let the City and developers try to create Offices/Hotels/apartments near and around the PNC Arena. If you create enough business out there and a City Bus route then West Raleigh can be just as exciting than Downtown.

  25. PNC will need to be replaced before any new development goes up. Ernest is dead on about the saunders/wilmington area perfect for arena. between wheeler & saunders?
    CT we spend more on infrastructure outside downtown than DTR. The W/S lines are old and need replacing anyway. The city is about to start next phase of Crabtree Creek sewer outfall which will be more than twice as much as Pigeon House sewer outfall. Is the old infrastructure holding back development? Yes. cause sometimes the upgrades are put on the developer. DTR is growing which is great but some of these apartments are ugly and waste of space. They will be empty soon as too much inventory coming online.

  26. Just to follow up here…. a downtown sports arena is (hopefully) going to be in the new 10 year plan. They’re calling it “Gateway Center”

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