New Stadia: Cleveland, Texas, Denver

In 1994, Cleveland and Texas were the next to replace their aging facilities. Denver followed in 1995. Jacobs Field, The Ballpark in Arlington and Coors Field were heavily influenced by Camden Yards' acclaimed combination of retro styling and state-of-the-art facilities. No one in these cities was sorry to see the old parks go.

Cleveland's Municipal Stadium had been star-crossed from birth. It was built as part of Cleveland's bid for the 1932 Summer Olympics, which went to Los Angeles instead. The Indians inherited the 75,000-seat oval, but soon realized that the typical baseball crowd rattled around its vast expanses. From the mid-1930s until after World War II, the Tribe used Municipal Stadium only on nights and weekends, playing the rest of their home games at old League Park.

Soon after moving full-time to Municipal Stadium, the pennant-winning 1948 Indians set an American League attendance record that stood until 1980. By then, poor turnout had earned the Indians a permanent place on the Most Likely to Move roster.

"The Mistake by the Lake" was simply too big for the Indians. Crowds that would pack Fenway to the rafters left more than 35,000 empty seats, while on a typical night four out of every five seats sat empty. Since the Indians never sold out, fans had no reason to buy tickets in advance. Bad weather, or a bad team, gave them built-in excuses to avoid the park. To make matters worse, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell managed the stadium, rendering the Indians second-class citizens in a facility they used 10 times as often. With MLB's backing, the Indians told the locals that they would move unless a new stadium was built. (Ironically, several years later Modell would move the Browns from Cleveland, abandoning one of the NFL's largest and most loyal fan bases for a free stadium in Baltimore, constructed with proceeds from the same lottery which financed Camden Yards.)

After a bitter battle, in May 1990 Cuyahoga County voters narrowly approved a referendum to build the Indians a new park. The referendum actually failed in Cleveland proper, 56-44, but garnered enough support from suburban voters to squeak through by a 52-48 margin. Along with Jacobs Field, the Gateway Project, also called for a new basketball arena to lure the NBA's Cavaliers back from the suburbs. The money would come from new taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.

Voters were told that more than half the money for the new facilities would come from the private sector. It didn't. Voters were told that the new baseball park would cost $124 million. It cost $180 million, a 40% cost overrun. The added expenses included a $7 million building behind the left-field stands to house the Indians' offices, and an elaborate restaurant with plate-glass windows overlooking the diamond.

Sports, Jobs & Taxes estimates that the Indians ultimately paid about $63.5 million of the cost, or about 35%. Since moving to Jacobs Field, the club's revenues have climbed by more than that sum per year. Team owner Richard Jacobs separately paid the county, which owns the park, millions more to have the park named for him.

The team keeps all money from parking, signage, and concessions, as well as all the money from 2,400 premium club seats and 125 luxury suites. In return, they pay no rent for the first 1.85 million annual admissions, then 75 cents/ticket for the next 400,000 admissions, $1/ticket for the next 250,000; $1.25 per person over 2.5 million. Even though they have sold out every home game since June 12, 1995, the Indians thus pay less than $1.5 million per year in rent.

Those sellout crowds don't come just to see Jacobs Field. While the park was under construction, Cleveland GM John Hart developed the revolutionary strategy which has propelled the Tribe to five straight division titles. During the club's final, low-revenue years in Municipal Stadium, the Indians' payroll was $10 million less than anyone else's. Normally astute analyst Bill James lamented in 1992 that the Indians "have become the first team to abandon the hope of paying a competitive salary to a quality player."

But Hart was merely biding his time, dumping high-paid veterans to build around a phenomenal core of young hitters: Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr. Even before they were eligible for salary arbitration, Hart locked them up with long-term contracts funded from Jacobs Field revenue. The club given up for dead less than a decade ago now leads the AL in attendance and, according to Forbes, is worth more than any MLB franchise except the Yankees and Braves.

The Texas Rangers have been almost as successful since moving into The Ballpark in Arlington (TBIA). As in Cleveland, nobody doubted that the Rangers badly needed a new park.

When the Rangers arrived from Washington, D.C. in 1972, they moved into Arlington Stadium, a former minor-league park originally known as Turnpike Stadium. Arlington, a suburb midway between Dallas and Fort Worth, was best known for its Six Flags amusement park -- and for its long, hot, humid, miserable, mosquito-riddled Texas summers, which forced the Rangers to play home games at night even on Sundays.

And Arlington Stadium seemed to maximize every weakness. Nearly half its seats were in the outfield. Most of these seats were bare metal bleachers, perfectly designed for maximum heat retention. To make the park even hotter, the field itself was sunk forty feet below street level. It had no luxury suites, club seats or restaurants. Although everything about its construction screamed "temporary fix," the Rangers still played there 20 years after moving from Washington.

In 1989, a syndicate headed by future Governor and Presidential candidate George W. Bush bought control of the Rangers. Bush, who invested about $600,000 of his own money for about 2% of the club, was named managing general partner. Nine years later Bush received $14.9 million for his holdings. Even adjusting for an increase in Bush's share of the Rangers, he earned more than 300% on his investment. Most of this appreciation is attributable to The Ballpark in Arlington.

On January 19, 1991, the residents of Arlington voted, almost 2-1, for a half-cent sales tax increase, dedicating the proceeds to a $135 million stadium bond issue. The park ultimately cost $191 million, with private investors picking up the rest of the tab. By comparison to Cleveland, Arlington cut a good deal for itself. The tax, which more than covers the cost of debt service, will expire when the bonds are repaid. The Rangers pay about $5.5 million in rent so long as the bonds remain outstanding, and will continue to pay $2 million/year thereafter.

In return, the Rangers keep all ticket revenue; all money from parking, concessions and advertising; all revenues from non-baseball events; and as of this year, all revenue from the park's 120 luxury suites. The club also received free office space in TBIA, as well as additional space it could rent to third parties. The Rangers are also responsible for maintenance costs in excess of $2 million per year.

Like its contemporaries in Cleveland and Denver, TBIA is modeled after Camden Yards, with lots of brick on the outside, asymmetrical dimensions and unusually configured stands. Lone Stars adorn the facade; the covered porch in right field is modeled after Tiger Stadium. But while Jacobs Field and Coors Field blend into their urban surroundings, TBIA is an island in a sea of parking lots, its design as out of place as a glass-and-steel skyscraper on Beacon Hill. The Rangers would have been better served by a more modern design.

Actually, they would have been better served by a retractable-domed stadium similar to Houston's Enron Field. Even before the Rangers arrived from Washington, the Astros had learned that Texas in midsummer is no place for outdoor baseball. But maybe that's just the Northerner in me talking -- the locals seem happy, and for once, the taxpayers aren't complaining.

Denver had been waiting a long time for a major league team. The abortive Continental League of the late 1950s, which spurred the majors into their first expansion, had planned to play in Denver, but the Mile High City wasn't among the four locations chosen for expansion. In the late 1970s Charles O. Finley tried to sell the Athletics to Marvin Davis, who would have moved the club to Denver, but the deal died when Oakland wouldn't let the club out of its lease. As MLB began discussing expansion again in the late 1980s, Denver always headed the list of prospective candidates.

But first Denver needed a new stadium. Its Triple-A team played in 80,000-seat Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos, but MLB didn't consider Mile High a long-term option for baseball. Its expansion guidelines requested aspiring cities to have available a baseball-only park. In August 1990, two months after the National League announced it would add two teams for the 1993 season, Denver voters voted to finance a new stadium. The Denver referendum, which passed by a 54-46 margin, increased the sales tax in a six-county area by 0.1% for 20 years. The tax was projected to raise $168 million, or 78% of the $215 million cost of a new park, with the Rockies' ownership to pick up the rest. But $15 million of the "private" commitment came from the Coors family's purchase of naming rights to what became known as Coors Field. Although the park is owned by the State of Colorado, the Rockies have complete control. They keep all revenues, including money from club seats, advertising, concessions and the park's 62 luxury suites, and pay all maintenance and operating expenses.

While constructing Coors Field, the Rockies found themselves with a problem other teams would kill for. Coloradans' demand for baseball was so great, the club's marketing so successful, that the Rockies regularly sold out the gigantic Mile High Stadium. In their first year, 4,483,350 fans paid to see the Rockies, shattering Toronto's single-season attendance record by more than 400,000. The Rockies hastily expanded their design for Coors Field, raising its capacity from 43,800 to 50,000.

Like Jacobs Field and The Ballpark in Arlington, Coors Field's architecture was heavily influenced by Camden Yards. As in Cleveland, the baseball-only park was constructed near the center of the city, two blocks from Union Station, as the centerpiece of a plan to revitalize Denver's Lower Downtown neighborhood. A row of purple seats ringing the diamond marks one mile above sea level, reminding any pitchers who may have forgotten that the ball carries exceptionally well here.

From a financial perspective, the Rockies are MLB's most successful expansion franchise. Forbes estimates that the franchise which cost Jerry McMorris's syndicate $95 million is now worth $305 million. Playing in a metropolitan area of less than 2.4 million -- smaller than Minneapolis-St.Paul, about the same size as Pittsburgh -- Colorado led the majors in attendance for six years in a row. In retrospect, the Rockies could have been profitable even without Coors Field, but without the new park paid for by the taxpayers, Colorado would never have received an expansion franchise.

Copyright © 2000 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the June 2000 issue of Boston Baseball.

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