Sports: A Hole in the Fabric of Downtown

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The Missions ballpark, Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium at Highway 90 and Callaghan Road.

The Missions ballpark, Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium at Highway 90 and Callaghan Road.

Garrett HeathThis weekend, the Texas Rangers face off against the San Diego Padres, billed as the Big League Weekend at the first-ever Major League Baseball game at the Alamodome. This is only a spring training game and won’t count towards regular season standings, but that won’t stop fans from coming to see their favorite players in person. Moreover, the game will call attention to what’s missing from the downtown landscape: a professional sports team.

The Spurs didn’t just leave the ‘Dome for AT&T Center’s greener pastures, they also left a big gaping hole in the fabric of downtown. I moved to San Antonio after they decided to relocate to the new East Side arena, but I did have the opportunity to attend a couple of Spurs games at the Alamodome.

alamodomeBball

Basketball at the Alamodome. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

The atmosphere at the ‘Dome was dramatically different than what you experience at the AT&T Arena today. Instead of fans hopping in their cars and immediately driving home, there was more of a lively air as everyone poured out into the Sunset Station area and downtown. That downtown magic simply can’t be replicated by a cover band playing the Bud Light Courtyard as fans scurry out to try and beat traffic.

Rowdy and friends warm up the pregame party.

Tailgate time: Rowdy and friends warm up the pregame party for UTSA football. Photo by Robert Rivard

What was gained with a new facility on cheap land was lost for the fan. Unless they work, live or are just a huge fan of downtown, most people only make the obligatory visit to the River Walk when friends or family are in town. This was shocking to me; coming from a small town, I love being in the heart of the city, surrounded by tall buildings and urban life. My lifelong San Antonian friends found it strange that I often went downtown, knowing every twist and turn of the one-way streets even better than they did.

Whether you enjoy sports or think it is a waste of time, the fact is a professional sports team playing downtown is an anchor for a city. The Spurs in the ‘Dome brought people together from Stone Oak to Southtown and everywhere in between.

I get aggravated every time a major sporting event, like the Big League Weekend or NCAA Tournament, comes to San Antonio. I see how a simple game can bring together an entire city. I can’t help but wish the Spurs had never abandoned downtown for a stadium surrounded by distribution centers and ticket scalping stands instead of restaurants, bars and the river.

Already there has been a little buzz about moving the Missions to a new stadium downtown. Graham Weston, chairman of Rackspace Hosting, was quoted back in December in the Express News as saying, “It is a missed opportunity to not have sports downtown.” He went on to say that “there’s zero chance I will build a stadium. I am a believer of baseball downtown, and there are areas of opportunity. But I’ll likely build housing and other things that would go around a stadium.”

I hope that the Big League Weekend can fan this flicker of a flame.

The Missions ballpark, Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium at Highway 90 and Callaghan Road.

The Missions ballpark, Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium at Highway 90 and Callaghan Road.

Having an investor, especially one so devoted to San Antonio, willing to develop around a potential stadium should be music to the ears of the Missions ownership. With the rising cost of land and increasing population in the urban core, building a stadium would be an expensive endeavor. However, with the right vision and collaboration between team owners and real estate investors, both the franchise and San Antonio could reap major benefits.

In 2004, I lived near downtown Memphis for a summer internship and got to experience games in a downtown ballpark first hand. Folks from all over Memphis, from Midtown to Germantown, would come in to see the beloved Redbirds play. Just to our West, investors are bringing a AAA affiliate of the Padres to El Paso in new $50 million dollar stadium designed by the same architects of the new Yankee Stadium. I can only hope to see San Antonio on this list in the near future.

When Texas Tech played in the 2010 Alamo Bowl. Yes, I am a Red Raider. Photo courtesy of Garrett Heath.

When Texas Tech played in the 2010 Alamo Bowl. Yes, I am a Red Raider. Photo courtesy of Garrett Heath.

There is something about baseball. Sitting in the stands on a perfect summer’s night, eating nachos and watching the hometown team is euphoria. A downtown stadium will not only help to bring our community together, but also get locals exploring downtown on a regular basis.

If a downtown stadium is built, as Terrance Mann the reclusive in Field of Dreams says, “People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Yes they will.

 

Garrett Heath blogs for Rackspace and is the Average Joe that started SAFlavor. He loves San Antonio, especially eating at mom and pop Mexican food restaurants. Find him on TwitterFacebook, Pinterest and Google+.

 

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13 thoughts on “Sports: A Hole in the Fabric of Downtown

  1. Garret…great post! I’m dating myself here but before the Spurs played in the dome they play in the old Hemisfair Arena. That was a great place to watch a Spurs game. Nothing rivaled the intimacy of the arena in spite of some obstructed views. The Baseline Bums, the noise were incredible! I agree with your comments that once the Spurs moved to the AT&T Center downtown has never seen the kind of vibrancy once the hallmark of pre and post Spurs games. I live on the near Eastside so it’s always great to see the St Paul Square area come alive for the UTSA football games and other sporting events. As a baseball fan I think your notion of a downtown baseball stadium has merit and would dovetail nicely into the current push to vitalize downtown.

  2. Thank you for saying what i’ve been shouting for years. Downtown is getting the life sucked out of it by all the development around it. These sports events would have been a huge benefit.

  3. The fact is, that downtown land could be better utilized by building a high-rise condo or office building (which is why no investor, no matter how much he personally wants a sports team in the downtown SA area, will even begin to touch the idea of building a stadium).

    The DFW area does just fine with its sports teams, and its stadiums are outside of Dallas’ city limits! The Mavericks tried to build a stadium close to downtown, but the development around the stadium failed miserably (albeit in part due to the idiot Ross Perot).

    The fact is that a thriving downtown doesn’t begin and end with a sports team – in fact, it isn’t even aided by it. While it is nice, there is no guarantee that a sports team will revive a downtown area. Get the people there first – then the sports team MIGHT follow.

    • John-

      As far as Dallas goes, what about the American Airlines Center, home of the Mavericks? I think that stadium is what I am talking about; you might not be able to be at the geographical center of downtown, but there are some places around the fringes that is close enough for people to still walk to restaurants and bars afterwards. The Alamodome is a great example of this.

      If I was building a minor league stadium in SA, I would eye the area North of Martin Street.

  4. What about a soccer stadium? Soccer is quickly growing in popularity. A Downtown soccer stadium and the atmosphere the game brings with suppurters groups would be amazing. There are several sites that could work, such as the Lone Star brewery. The Scorpions will be playing in their new stadium on the North East side of town, but perhaps they can be convinced to move downtown.

  5. This past December my Girlfriend and I moved Downtown. As a kid it was always a dream of mine to live downtown. When the opportunity popped up, I convinced my Girlfriend to follow me. Every day since, she has thanked me for the move. It is so nice to be able to walk or bike to all of the little events that we discover online. The dining in South Town and the Pearl Brewery area is awesome, and the art galleries are also all around for us to enjoy. I agree that not having a sports team downtown is a major bummer. I miss the days of HemisFair Arena, and watching the Bruise Brothers go to work! Or seeing the Ice Man glide to the basket. Sure we have the Talons (lots of fun!), the Roadrunners, and all the other passing sporting events. But it would be nice to have the Spurs back downtown. It would be awesome to walk to The Rampage in the winter, and then to walk to the Silver Stars in the Summer. And what would be even cooler was if we had a baseball stadium just like Oklahoma City has in their Bricktown district downtown. Going up there for games rocks as afterwards you can hit the bars and restaurants. Just like it used to be after Alamodome Spurs games as you so elegantly pointed out. I agree, having Sports downtown should be a something that this city should invest in. The residual effect before and after games would put money right back to the investment via the taxes collected on those sales. Great article, and I am so glad that I am not the only one who feels this way!

    • Thanks for your comment, Manny! I’m not even really into professional sports myself, but I could warm up to the idea of watching a game if it came with a community experience before or after in the surrounding neighborhood. What neighborhood did you convince your girlfriend to move to?

    • Manny –

      Absolutely! Walking around downtown Memphis and going to the bars on Beale Street or grabbing some ribs at BBQ joint was the highlight of the Redbirds game. While I may be a dreamer, I am glad I’m not the only one. Here’s to having a minor league stadium downtown in the future!

  6. the scorpions won’t move downtown after just building a new stadium that is about to open up this season. that opportunity is gone. only possible sports franchises to build a stadium downtown is baseball or football.

  7. I don’t get it. We have a stadium! It’s just not downtown. The article even has a picture of ours but no reference to it anywhere else in the article. If one is to be built downtown, tear the old one apart and at least use parts of it in the construction of a new stadium to save materials. Otherwise, the one in the underdeveloped west side will be a complete waste.

  8. The point you properly make is the result of quite simply the WORST decision by local government in at least 25 years. Thank you NOT–Judge Wolff, Ms. Krier, the Mayor (then–guess whom), and City Staff. Of course, the Spurs ownership deserves plenty of credit, too for taking greed over value to the city.

  9. I like the idea of sports downtown, but pulling it off successfully isn’t easy. While sports can be a great opportunity to bring people downtown, the fact is that large stadiums often don’t fit into the human-scale development that many planners and residents desire.

    I’ve seen examples like Denver, where it has worked well, but for every Coors Field there are many more examples where promises that a stadium would bring economic revitalization to the surrounding area go unfulfilled.

    In a city like San Antonio, the desire by ticket holders for acres of surface parking lots surrounding the stadium almost predetermines the outcome, and makes it very difficult to combine a stadium with a lively, walkable, mixed-use entertainment district that can thrive even when there isn’t a game.

    Professional sports downtown should be seen as a potential opportunity and amenity, not a panacea that will solve all of our other economic development challenges.

  10. The reason the spurs left was the concession contract.
    ARAMARK is being pushed at the ATT center to “perform” better.
    It is all about the money, always was.
    Like it or not, revenue that might go to the Alamodome gets drained out of the Alamodome.
    Again, looking only at the revenue, and sarcastic at that.

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