May 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions Playing the field May 1999 Current Issue
May 1999

Playing the field

These cities are betting new sports stadiums will lure meetings business

By Carla Benini & Mark Chesnut

In some cities, it’s the urban mall. In others, developers place their bets on a restored theater district or warehouse district to pump new life into a tired part of downtown. But for cities like Columbus, Nashville and Hartford, the hero many hope will come through for the local tourism and convention economy wears a helmet and a uniform.

Across the country, professional sports, and the arenas and stadiums in which they are played, are at the core of urban revitalization projects. Old stadiums are being razed and replaced with new ones, which are better equipped to attract corporate dollars through private suites and banquet facilities. Many of them are being built in downtown areas, easily accessible by public transportation, and are enhancing traditional ballpark cuisine with upscale eating options, such as chain restaurants.

Moreover, stadiums are being designed not only to draw more people inside but to encourage patrons to go outside. Nationwide Insurance Enterprises in Columbus, Ohio, is building an arena for the city’s new National Hockey League team, the Blue Jackets, as well as a district of bars and restaurants around it. “Most arenas are inwardly focused, based around the fan and his experience. Our [plan] was to have the arena energize the street,” says Brian Ellis, president and chief operating officer for Nationwide Realty Investors, the company’s development arm.

The combination sports venue/urban village most likely was inspired by the success of Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Cleveland’s Jacobs Field, which have attracted dozens of businesses to areas that once were quiet. “It has helped create a restaurant economy around the ballpark and sparked an interest in redevelopment,” says Tom Yablonsky, executive director of the Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corp., which was responsible for developing the area around Jacobs Field, home to baseball’s Indians.

A spokesperson for the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau hopes Nationwide’s project will have the “Jacobs Field effect” on the city.

Along with boosting the local economy, second-tier cities are betting the national exposure of a professional sports team will attract new visitors and conventioneers, ones who might not have bothered making the trip in the past.

Nashville hopes to augment its reputation as a music capital by adding a National Football League team to its amenities. The former Houston Oilers now the Tennessee Titans will begin playing at the city’s NFL Stadium this year.

And since Hartford, Conn., began talking with the NFL’s New England Patriots about leaving Foxboro, Mass., for a new home in 2001, interest from the convention industry is already on the rise, claims Scott Phelps, president of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Following is a sampling of new sports venues around the country that are planned, under construction or recently opened.

PSINet Stadium
Home to:
The National Football League’s Ravens
(410) 654-6200
Opened: September 1998
Capacity: 69,400
Meeting facilities: Club-level lounge holding 2,000; two others holding 700 apiece; 108 suites hosting 20 to 24
Special features: SmartVision scoreboards, 2,400-square-foot screens that can display 16 images simultaneously, at both ends of the stadium
In the neighborhood: The Camden Yards Complex, which includes PSINet Stadium and the Oriole Park baseball stadium, is in downtown Baltimore. Just east of the complex is the Baltimore Convention Center, two blocks from which is Inner Harbor, with shops, restaurants and the Baltimore Aquarium. An 850-room Grand Hyatt hotel is scheduled to open near Oriole Park by 2002.

Paul Brown Stadium
Home to:
The National Football League’s Bengals
(513) 621-3500
Scheduled opening: Early 2000
Capacity: 67,000
Meeting facilities: 104 luxury suites, available to groups
Special features: Bengals museum, NFL store and eight novelty stores

Reds Stadium
Home to:
The National League’s Reds baseball team
(513) 421-4510
Scheduled opening: 2003
Capacity: 45,000
Meeting facilities: 51 suites
In the neighborhood: Paul Brown Stadium and Reds Stadium will be constructed on the banks of the Ohio River, steps from a planned riverfront development that calls for retail, restaurant and entertainment facilities. The reconfiguration of Fort Washington Way, slated for completion in 2000, will free up another 17 acres of riverfront land for development.

Browns Stadium
Home to:
The National Football League’s Browns
(440) 891-5000
Scheduled opening: August 1999
Capacity: 72,000
Meeting facilities: 116 suites and two 50,000-square-foot lounges
Special features: A heating system installed beneath the all-grass football field, to keep the ground soft and prevent snow from accumulating during winter storms
In the neighborhood: The stadium neighbors the hip Warehouse District, with restaurants, cabarets and live jazz and blues venues.

Columbus, Ohio
Nationwide Arena
Home to:
The National Hockey League’s Blue Jackets
(614) 540-4625
Scheduled opening: September 2000
Capacity: 20,000
Meeting facilities: 76 suites; a 10,000-square-foot restaurant; 5,000-square-foot and 10,000-square-foot lounges; a lounge/bar that accommodates 350 for receptions; additional flexible banquet space
Special features: A separate practice rink that will be open to the public when not in use by the team
In the neighborhood: More than 200,000 square feet of restaurants, shops and entertainment spots will be built on the former site of the Ohio State Penitentiary. The new neighborhood will link the arena and the Greater Columbus Convention Center, less than two blocks away, to the city’s downtown. Nationwide Boulevard, a cobblestoned street lined with shops, bars and restaurants, will serve as the main strip. At the western entrance to the arena will be Arena Square, with more entertainment options. A three-acre park will stretch from the arena to the banks of the Scioto River.

Comerica Park
Home to:
The American League’s Tigers baseball team
(313) 962-4000
Scheduled opening: April 2000
Capacity: 40,000
Meeting facilities: 102 suites, each accommodating 18; party suites for 50, available on a game-by-game basis; a 20,000-square-foot ballpark club with a 300-seat restaurant, 200-seat bar area, cigar bar and banquet facility; a planned 16,000-square-foot open-air beer garden behind third base, with an adjacent enclosed microbrewery and banquet space
Special features: An open-air outfield offering spectators unobstructed views of the downtown skyline
In the neighborhood: Comerica Park will be joined by a new 65,000-seat football stadium, home to the Lions, scheduled to open in 2005. The two stadiums will co-anchor what now is called the Avenue of Fun entertainment district. Already in the area are the renovated Fox Theater and Second City improvisational troupe, which performs in the Detroit Comedy Theater. Hard Rock Cafe has announced plans to break ground on a restaurant this year. Other theme restaurants, bars and coffee shops are expected as well.

Hartford, Conn.
(Stadium as yet unnamed)
Home to:
The National Football League’s New England Patriots
Scheduled opening: September 2001
Capacity: 68,000
Meeting facilities: Club-level meeting rooms that will be available for group use
In the neighborhood: The stadium will be part of the Adriaen’s Landing complex, which also will feature retail space, restaurants, a hotel with at least 700 rooms and a $182.5 million convention center with about 150,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 16,000-square-foot ballroom and 40 meeting rooms. The convention center will be constructed directly across Columbus Boulevard from the stadium. The stadium plans were approved in early April.

Conseco Fieldhouse
Home to:
The National Basketball Association’s Pacers
(317) 263-2100
Scheduled opening: Fall 1999
Capacity: 19,000
Meeting facilities: 66 suites, a theme restaurant and a 4,900-square-foot club-level restaurant
Special features: A design reminiscent of a ’50s-style high school field house, with an arched roof, exposed girders and roll-out bleachers in one section; concourses throughout the venue that will be lined with displays paying tribute to Indiana’s sports heritage
In the neighborhood: The stadium will be a few blocks from both Circle Centre, a four-story downtown mall, and from the Indiana Convention & RCA Dome. The city is hoping to lure some theme restaurants.

NFL Stadium
Home to:
The National Football League’s Tennessee Titans
(615) 341-7627
Scheduled opening: June 1999
Capacity: 67,000
Meeting facilities: Club levels with 200,000 square feet of space for special events and functions
Special features: Scoreboards with video screens at each end of the field; seating capacity that can expand to 75,000 for nonsports events; 60 concession stands
In the neighborhood: The open-air, natural-grass stadium will occupy 105 acres across the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville. Scheduled for construction near the stadium in about two years is a riverfront, multiuse complex and marina. A pedestrian bridge, to be built next year, will link the growing stadium area to downtown.

Oklahoma City
Southwestern Bell Bricktown Ballpark
Home to:
The Pacific Coast Minor League’s RedHawks, baseball farm team to the Texas Rangers
(405) 218- 1000
Opened: April 1998
Capacity: 13,066
Meeting facilities: Four suites available for groups; a bar holding receptions for 150; a meeting room accommodating 150; Coach’s Chop House and BBQ, holding 300
Special features: Club seating, which is not often available in minor-league stadiums but is commonly found in the majors
In the neighborhood: The revitalization of the city’s Bricktown neighborhood was patterned after the West End in Dallas, which, like Bricktown, was a warehouse district. The park is surrounded by almost 20 restaurants. About 10 to 15 annual events take place in the neighborhood.

St. Paul, Minn.
The St. Paul Arena Center at RiverCentre
Home to:
The National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild
(612) 333-PUCK
Scheduled opening: September 2000
Capacity: 18,600
Meeting facilities: 74 suites that range in capacity from 12 to 36 people; when required, overflow trade show space for adjacent RiverCentre Convention Center, which has 250,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space
In the neighborhood: Some of St. Paul’s most popular tourist attractions are within walking distance, including the 1,800-seat Ordway Theater, home to two orchestras, the Minnesota Opera and traveling Broadway shows; the Minnesota Club banquet facility; the turn-of-the-century Saint Paul Hotel; and the Landmark Center, a public events venue that originally was a federal court building. The Science Museum of Minnesota will open this fall just south of where the new arena will be.

Tampa, Fla.
Raymond James Stadium
Home to:
The National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(813) 879-2827
Opened: September 1998
Capacity: 65,000
Meeting facilities: Two 65,000-square-foot club lounges with four sports bars and two buffet areas, as well as large-screen televisions; 75 luxury suites with private bars, rest rooms and theater-style seating
Special features: Wide spectator concourses; 65 percent of seating on sidelines
In the neighborhood: The stadium complex next to the 30-year-old Houlihan’s Stadium, which is being razed also is home to Buccaneer Cove, a 20,000-square-foot replica of an early-1800s seaport village that is available for private group functions. Also nearby is Legends Field, which is home to a farm team as well as the spring-training site for the New York Yankees. Across the street is Tampa Bay Center, a two-level mall with more than 140 specialty shops, three department stores and a 500-seat food court.

Olympic-Size improvements
If sports are good for a meetings destination, then the Olympics must be even better. In the case of Atlanta, which hosted the 1996 Olympics, and Salt Lake City, which is gearing up for 2002, the event has resulted in new development and more options for planners. Olympic-size improvements Hosting the Olympics is a great excuse to build new facilities and to raze or modernize old ones. To prepare for the 1996 event, Atlanta built the Olympic Stadium next to the existing Fulton County Stadium. After the Games, the city demolished Fulton and converted the Olympic Stadium into Turner Field; the Olympic Park still welcomes visitors to the Georgia Dome, a major meeting center for the city.

The scandal surrounding Salt Lake City’s securing the 2002 Winter Olympics has not deterred its preparations, particularly the expansion of Rice Stadium, which features club levels for private group functions, from 32,000 to 46,634 seats. The “E” Center, designated venue for the Olympics’ ice hockey events, has 15,252 square feet of meeting space.

Beyond new facilities, the experience of hosting the Games is a boon in itself, according to Pat Holmes, vice president of marketing for the Salt Lake City Convention & Visitors Bureau: “If we can handle the Olympics, we can handle a lot of things.”


Complex battles in New Jersey For some cities, getting a major sports facility is no easy task. In Newark, N.J., a proposal by a group of private investors to build a new sports complex has come up against two competing plans.

The entity that operates the $450 million Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J., is seeking to add a 20,000-seat arena for basketball and hockey events. Further complicating matters, the principle owner of the New Jersey Devils hockey team wants an arena to be constructed in nearby Hoboken.

Now the issue is in the hands of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. A decision was not expected until spring at the earliest.


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