Whenever the results of an economic impact study concerning a sports facility, or a call for using public funds to support a renovation or construction of a sports facility are announced, a “stadium debate” will undoubtedly follow.
A sports facility must be more than a space to view a sporting event. The facility must become a catalyst for urban transformation and revitalization, and bring renewal to blighted areas, environmentally hazardous sites, and aged communities.
A sports facility is a centerpiece for an entertainment district: it is a destination, a bundling stimulus, and a place where people can work, eat, watch, congregate, buy, and socialize.
Real estate development has become a central component of sports facility development; the results of such development may be as important as the building of the sports facility itself. What goes on outside of the facility may be as important as what goes on inside of it.
One of the best gauges of judging the economics of public investment in sports facilities is the venue’s present or future ability to catalyze future development by combining the needs of the sports franchise with the needs of the community to create a district or a sports community.
The Green Bay Packers experienced the power of real estate development when it reconfigured Lambeau Field in 2003 utilizing the Atrium concept. You do not need to be an avid Packer fan, or even a football fan, to enjoy the Atrium, as it offers 360,000 square feet and five stories of entertainment activities, including a Fan Zone, the Packers Pro Shop, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, Curly’s Pub, a host of other restaurants, and meeting and event facilities. The concept was simple—bring money into the Packers organization 365 days a year by attracting two to three million visitors a year to the area who will likely spend money.
The Lambeau Field Atrium was only the first step in a much larger vision. The Packers organization has quietly acquired 66 acres of property valued at $49 million to the east, west, and south of the stadium. In some instances it spent more than fair market value for properties that surround Lambeau Field for a future planned real estate development called the “Titletown Development District.” The proposed uses of this district that have been discussed include, but are not limited to, a sports complex, a health and wellness facility, a hotel and exhibition hall, winter attractions, more retail, high-end dining, condominiums, and other entertainment facilities. Cabelas, a Nebraska-based sporting goods superstore chain anchors the gateway site to the Titletown Development District by occupying a 21-acre site on the southeast corner of the intersection of Lombardi Avenue and US 41. The Packers are prognosticating that the Titletown Development District is likely to attract an estimated seven to eight million people into the area per year. Regarding a “Titletown District,” Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy said “I think it makes a lot of sense—and especially for us. It’s all about making Green Bay and Lambeau Field even more of a destination than it already is.”
What we have in Green Bay, Wisconsin is what I have referred to as a staged sports community. Subsequent to the construction of the sports facility, team owners who own additional land surrounding the stadium or are part of a receptive community that enables them to acquire the land, or governmental units that see the benefit of real estate development near, adjacent to, or surrounding sports facilities, have begun creating multi-use entertainment districts adjacent to their sports venue.
Real estate development has become a practical necessity for owners to keep their teams economically viable. Most professional leagues have some form of revenue sharing requiring the teams to share national media, licensing, and gate receipt revenues; however, stadium revenues and revenues generated by auxiliary real estate development generally are not shared. As a result, team owners have sought to enhance and maximize their revenues by making their professional sports venue the anchor and constructing additional revenue-producing facilities near or around it. These facilities are not necessarily sports related; rather, they are traditional retail, entertainment, and recreational facilities capable of attracting large crowds to a sports venue. A good example of this is what the family of Saints owner Tom Benson has done with respect to the land and buildings adjacent to the Superdome in New Orleans. The intention is simple: to create a sports entertainment district.
When team owners have not undertaken such opportunity, governmental units have. The Bricktown District in Oklahoma City and Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle are examples of governmentally motivated developments adjacent to sports facilities.
Real estate development as a part of sports facility development increases the visitor population to an area, revenue for the team, assessed valuation, produces both real estate and sales tax revenues, and helps the local economy by creating jobs. Thus, the Green Bay Packers should be saluted for undertaking the creation of the Titletown Development District as a long-term and worthwhile payback for the public funds invested in Lambeau Field.
 Seifert, Kevin, ESPN, “Inside Slant: Packers Cashing in at Lambeau, July 29, 2014, http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/133068/inside-slant-packers-cashing-in-at-lambeau