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CLEVELAND, BALTIMORE ARE SHINING EXAMPLES OF STADIUM-LED ECONOMIC REVIVAL

Here, the yuppies are starting to creep eastward, toward Little Italy, expanding their renovation of old warehouses and can factories into condos far enough from the Inner Harbor to where you can barely smell the fish and fudge and barbecue cooking.

In Cleveland, Prospect Avenue again houses working people, who walk at night among the new streetlights and just-opened restaurants in buildings that only three years ago were about 90 percent vacant.

You want a glimpse of an American city might look like with a stadium in its downtown? Take a walk from the pretty-as-a-picture stadiums in the towns that were involved in the American League Championship Series.

Count the 29 new businesses around Jacobs Field since it opened in 1994. Watch the Inner Harbor at lunch hour or, better yet, watch it on the night of an Orioles game.

People. Families. Activity. Vibrance.

Money, money, money.

"When I first worked here, it was nothing but empty warehouses and boat slips," said Gene Bracken, director of the Committee for Greater Baltimore.

"It was all poor, run-down housing," Dave Nolan, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Cleveland, said of the spot where pristine Jacobs Field now stands. "I've seen America's most unbelievable comeback story."

I know, I know -- these guys are paid to say these things. These guys are also paid to respond to questions about cost overruns and taxpayer burden by asking, "What do you mean?"

You know what? I don't blame them. I just turned 39, but that's not too young to remember Cleveland as an eerie ghost town, particularly at night, particularly on weekends, when I sometimes went there to cover football games.

It was only 19 years ago that Cleveland, with a hemorrhaging job base and $111 million in debt, became the first American city since the Great Depression to go into default.

"We lost 130,000 jobs to the suburbs," Nolan said.

And with them went its soul.

Today Cleveland is a happening, hopping place -- the only American city on Travel and Leisure magazine's 1997 top 10 list of destinations, and yes, Nolan told me that.

Hey, it's his job.

Warehouses have been converted into condominiums. A populace of young professionals has created the need for more restaurants, more dining, more theater. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is here, as is a nice science museum. But Jacobs Field -- more officially the Gateway project, which includes nearby Gund Arena -- has been, in Nolan's words, "the catalytic project" that has converted a good chunk of the city from ghost town to Disney-like attraction in an incredibly short amount of time.

"This kind of thing can only work if there is a full economic revitalization plan to go with it," Nolan said. "These projects need to generate big cash from Day One, not 10 years down the road."

"Many of us were skeptical about Camden Yards," Bracken said. "Especially since there was a lot of sentimental attachment to Memorial Stadium.

"But now you look back and realize Memorial Stadium was a commuter stadium. Cars came in, and cars went out. Now, you come two hours early and leave two hours later. You go to restaurants, walk to the Inner Harbor -- it's a full-blown event."

Baltimore financed Camden Yards largely through a state lottery and bonds. Jacobs Field was a private-public affair, the public funds coming via a countywide "sin tax" on cigarettes and liquor.

Both parks sell out nearly every game. Both parks have attracted their share of money controversies, too. Over the four years it took to get a new stadium approved and built, the Orioles were bought for $70 million and sold for $173 million. This year, the team will make a pretax profit of between $9 million and $17 million. The Indians are looking at similar numbers.

Meanwhile, the taxpayers -- at least the ones who drink, smoke and play the lottery -- continue to pay for the upkeep of both places. If you think that's ludicrous, you'll love this: Art Modell moved the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore two years ago and renamed them the Ravens because he could not get a football stadium built. His actions have led to the construction of two. They poured the first concrete in Cleveland on the morning of Game Five of the ALCS. The Ravens' new home is going up directly across the street from Camden Yards, where it is expected to open in time for the 1998 NFL season.

More people, more vibrance, more reasons to spend money.

Unlike Cleveland's Gateway, Baltimore's harbor was already developing when Camden Yards opened for the 1992 season. But nightlife, Bracken acknowledged, was nothing as it is now.

"The Inner Harbor had ambience," he said. "But Camden Yards had a more dramatic effect on the area than anyone anticipated.

"It expanded things. It connected things. It made the Inner Harbor a whole lot more fun."

"No one's laughing at Cleveland anymore," Nolan said.

(At least while they're visiting, they don't.)

No one's laughing at Baltimore, either.

Those who might want to can't stop drooling with envy.

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