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City hopes stadium
scores for business

The hope is that a new stadium will boost attendance to Red Wings games and foster spin-off development of bars, shops and restaurants. But the experience of other cities that built new stadiums shows results can be mixed.
Terrance Slaybaugh, Monroe County Economic Development Division manager, is optimistic about the potential of this new Frontier. But he also says research shows the benefits do not come automatically.
“When we … looked at other facilities that had been built, like Pilot Field (Buffalo), like Camden Yards (Baltimore),” Slaybaugh says, “we found there wasn’t a strong track record for spin-off economic development as a result of building one of those facilities.”
He adds: “But I do think (a stadium) provides an opportunity for things to happen.”
According to economic-impact studies conducted by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues Inc., the average Class AAA team franchise pumps some $12.4 million per season into the local economy. And in 15 cities where new stadiums replaced old, the average attendance increased dramatically, more than doubling in six cities.
The Buffalo Bisons’ average attendance jumped 167 percent to more than 1 million after the erection in 1988 of Pilot Field. Bradley Owen, team information and operations coordinator for the Bisons, says he believes the stadium also spurred business development in the immediate area.
“At the (Main Place) mall, two blocks from us, a lot more businesses have gone in there,” Owen says. “I can’t put a number on it, but a lot of bars are very close to the ballpark.”
Whether Rochester’s Frontier Field will be built at all–much less spark commercial growth–remains an open question.
Faced with the decision of whether to revamp the 66-year-old Silver Stadium or build a new one, city and county officials in 1993 decided to go with a new downtown facility. A $30 million financing package was put together for a 12,000-seat park, Frontier Field. But one of Pataki’s first acts as New York governor was to eliminate $15 million in state funding for the project. Whether the appropriation will be restored or replaced remains unknown.
Slaybaugh envisions Frontier Field as supporting the High Falls/Brown’s Race area’s goal of becoming the place to go in Rochester.
“I got this idea when I went to Dallas for the winter baseball meetings,” he says. “Dallas has an area called the West End. It’s an old industrial area where buildings have been rehabilitated, like at Brown’s Race, and they’ve turned it into an entertainment district. They have a dozen or so restaurants and bars.”
Slaybaugh believes the stadium will enhance the High Falls and Brown’s Race areas’ attractiveness both to new restaurants and bars, and to some struggling in other neighborhoods. However, he adds that even if annual attendance at Red Wings games improves to 500,000 or more, it won’t be enough.
“The biggest crowds will be for baseball but that’s for 70 nights and that alone is not going to cut it for retail,” he says.
Jeffrey Carlson, chief of staff for the city of Rochester, says the city wants development in the High Falls/Brown’s Race area to include residential as well as commercial enterprises.
“The stadium is important because it’s a catalytic piece, a very visible entity that’s going to have a magnetism,” he says.
To that end, Carlson says, the city is pulling together a package of incentive programs, including grants and low-cost loans, for the High Falls and east-end areas.
Adds Slaybaugh: “Economic development is not going to happen in the High Falls district purely as a result of the sports facility. With the addition of the sports facility and the 140-some events we hope to run there, hopefully it will create new opportunities to get the High Falls area off the dime, and we’ll see more commercial and retail development.”
Three retailers now operate in the High Falls/Brown’s Race development–the Phoenix Mill restaurant, the Triphammer Grill restaurant and The Creator’s Hands Too gift shop–in addition to the Centers at High Falls museum gift shop.
“The development of the area has already sparked economic interest, and I can only believe the stadium will help to stabilize that interest and motivate potential interest,” says Lydia Boddie-Neal, director of the $25 million Centers at High Falls.
“One of the things we hope is that people will want to stay downtown much longer than they do now,” she says. “In the summer, especially, when the laser show can’t begin until 9:30, 9:45, it will be nice to know there’s a resource such as a game that will have people in the area.”
Boddie-Neal wants to see the High Falls/ Brown’s Race area get a restaurant that caters more to families. Phoenix Mill and the Triphammer lean toward fine dining.
The signs are positive, Slaybaugh says. Some dozen business interests have inquired about locating in the area near the stadium.
The only one he would specify, however, was Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, who is considering opening a sports bar.
The city’s vision, Carlson says, is for several new businesses to come into the High Falls/Brown’s Race area at the same time.
“One bar’s not going to make it down there,” he says.
Slaybaugh says the fire hall on the corner of Plymouth and Pratt streets as well as the Genesee Refrigeration Supplies building will not be demolished.
“We’re looking at the fire hall real hard as a potential for a bar. We would either operate through our not-for-profit program or lease it out.”
Plans are for the Genesee Refrigeration building to be used for sand volleyball courts.
“The added investment of the sports facility, combined with the investment already made in the High Falls area, is going to force people to pay attention to that area,” Slaybaugh says.
And if the Pataki administration does not come through with funding and there is no stadium?
“People would bitch and moan for a while,” Carlson says, “and life would go on and the High Falls would still be the High Falls. It would still be a destination place, there would still be laser shows.”

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