When the Greensboro Grasshoppers threw out their first pitch at their new stadium on April 3, 2005, it was still uncertain what the impact of the stadium would be on the greater downtown. The Joseph M. Bryan Foundation of Greater Greensboro took a leap of faith in building the $22.5 million stadium in hopes of spurring economic growth in a part of downtown that had been stagnant for decades. The Foundation decided to fund the stadium’s construction after a bond referendum did not look promising and other partnerships for the project fell through.
The 7,500-seat stadium is now an integral part of the downtown area, featuring 16 luxury suites, 20 grandstand boxes, a grandstand party deck, a playground area, and concession areas offering 39 points of sale. It hosts multiple other events outside of The Greensboro Grasshoppers games, including setting three records at the 2012 ACC Baseball Tournament matchup between North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina. With 10,229 in attendance, it was the largest crowd in the history of First National Bank Field, the largest crowd for a collegiate baseball game in North Carolina, and the largest crowd for an ACC baseball game. While the stadium is impressive in and of itself, its impact on the surrounding area is worth examination.
Looking to the right from home plate, The Carroll at Bellemeade, a $70 million mixed-use project, is popping out of the ground. Along with 300 luxury apartment units and a 110-room Hyatt Place hotel, the City of Greensboro has constructed a $30 million parking deck with 1,000 spaces. But this project is not the only activity around the stadium, or even the only project by local developer Roy Carroll of The Carroll Cos. Across the street, Carroll is also working on a 150-room Aloft Hotel slated to open in 2020. More recently, local developers GEMCAP Co and Carolina Investment Properties announced a mixed-use, 110,000 SF office complex to be built adjacent to the ballpark entrance. The 9-story $24 million project will start construction this fall offering ground-level retail and office space with views of the field.
This is just the latest round of developments around the ball park. When the economy started to rebound in 2011, Lowmax Properties and Bellemeade Development announced and broke ground on the first of many projects surrounding the stadium. The Greenway at Fisher Park, a $10 million 196-unit luxury apartment building, was the first of its kind in the area featuring amenities typically found in luxury downtown apartments. When the project leased up quickly, brothers Jim and Steve Jones set out to do it again, building a sister property across the street. The Greenway at Stadium Park, a $6-million 68-unit complex, was similar and offered amenities such as a lounge and kitchen opening into the resort pool, cabanas, and a fourth-floor lounge looking right over the stadium. With 100% lease-up in 60 days, it appears to have fulfilled an unmet need in the market.
As one of the few privately developed and owned baseball stadiums, this project appears to have had a positive impact on its environs. This project, along with other iconic projects such as the $78-million Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts, has given new life and prosperity to downtown Greensboro, which appears to fuel further development.
However, there are a number of factors that have contributed to downtown Greensboro’s revitalization, and it is very difficult to directly correlate the stadium’s success with downtown economic activity. Each community is unique and large investments in sports stadiums should be carefully considered. Some research indicates that, generally speaking, the economic impact of sports stadiums is overstated:
Some studies have that stadium development may have a minimal, or in some cases even a negative impact on the local economy. Communities should cautiously evaluate these types of investments and seek technical assistance during the decision making process.
Robert Smith is a MBA candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. He is also a Community Revitalization Fellow with the Development Finance Initiative.recre