Step right up: entertainment is hot property

When Chuck Berry performed his first goose-step move across the stage eons ago, who would have thought that the music known as Rock 'N Roll would be institutionalized in a formal Hall of Fame. Earlier this month, over Labor Day weekend, the stars turned out for the gala grand opening of the I.M. Pei-designed structure on Cleveland's Erie lakefront.

The opening marks another chapter in the continuing saga of entertainment development that is sweeping not only the United States, but the entire world.

Stampede for sports

Look around most any major U.S. city these days and at least one thing is likely to catch your eye -- a gleaming new stadium or arena. Call it a stampede, because sports has become one of the biggest businesses in this country in the last five years. It's just not hard to spot the newest landmarks, and their impact on the municipalities to which they belong.

Baseball owners have been on a recent tear -- Baltimore has its critically-acclaimed Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Dallas/Fort Worth has the new $189 million Ballpark in Arlington, Denver has the new Coors Field and Cleveland has its new $170 million Jacobs Field.

In basketball, Chicago has its new United Center (named after United Airlines). Boston has a new replacement for its venerable Boston Garden, the $160 million FleetCenter (named after Fleet Bank and opening later this month). Philadelphia is getting a new Spectrum II. Cleveland has a new arena. So does Anaheim, Calif. You get the idea.

In football, there are several proposals floating around for a proposed new Bears stadium. San Antonio has the Alamodome. St. Louis is about to finish a new stadium for its St. Louis Rams, which just made the move from Anaheim.

The list goes on, but this activity represents billions of dollars of new construction that adds to tax rolls and attracts thousands of old and new fans alike to the traditional ball-and-stick sports.

Sports development also adds to new development opportunities surrounding these new venues. In Boston, for example, Meredith & Grew has been awarded the exclusive contract to sell the 2-acre site of the old Boston Garden. Plans call for a 1.5 million sq. ft. mixed-use project.

"The Boston Garden site is a timely and highly visible opportunity for a mixed-use development," says Kathleen Driscoll, director of research for Meredith & Grew Inc., Boston. "Not only are market conditions proving supportive of the project, but the massive infrastructure improvement adjacent to the site and its proximity to the CBD and North Station (one of the city's major transportation nodes) will make this a highly desirable commercial address."

Another example of how entertainment development can piggy-back on existing property is taking shape down Florida way. Ever the leader in new concepts, Walt Disney Co. has decided that sports and its theme parks are a good synergistic mix, one drawing on the other. When that happens, you can count on it to jump in with both feet.

The result is a planned $100 million, 200-acre amateur sports complex on its Disney World property in Orlando, Fla. Amateur athletic events will be held there year-round in conjunction with the Amateur Athletic Union. Professional activities may also be in the cards.

The complex is to include a 7,500-seat spring training ballpark, a 6,500-seat field house, other playing fields for softball, soccer and football, as well as volleyball and tennis facilities. The complex is scheduled to open in spring 1997.

Start your engines

Another big business, recently featured on the cover of that most venerable of sporting publications, Sports Illustrated, is auto racing. Following the "if we build it they better come" philosophy, half a dozen new multi-million-dollar racing facilities are under construction or planned from Florida to California.

Homestead, Fla., has just seen the completion of a new 1.5-mile oval track built for Indy car and stock car racing. Las Vegas will soon have a new oval. Texas Motor Speedway and its 1.5-mile oval with initial seating capacity of 160,000 will be completed shortly near Fort Worth. And motorsport titan Roger Penske has finalized plans for a new oval track just outside Los Angeles with seating for 85,000.

Once again, Disney has jumped on the bandwagon with a new one-mile oval now being completed just inside the gates to its Disney World park near Orlando. Next February the Walt Disney World 200 Indy car race, a 200-lap affair, will be held there.

Why all the interest? Forbes recently estimated stock car racing's attendance grew 47% from 1990 to 1994. Last year's 33-race NASCAR series drew an estimated 5 million attendees. Worth the attention?

Let's get civic-minded

Cleveland, Ohio, has been racing ahead to regain its status as a healthy city, thanks to an infusion of investment capital to build a new arena, a baseball park a new science center and of course the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame, all in or near the city's downtown core.

Many are calling attention to this type of development as a form of urban renewal, where civic projects create new "destinations" for people to come back downtown after work or on weekends to congregate (and spend money). All of which creates a sort of urban vitality that has been lost or missing from many of the country's major cities in recent years.

Libraries and performing arts centers have also become de rigueur in city planners' minds as new ways of revitalizing downtowns. New libraries have risen in Denver, San Francisco and San Antonio, for example, in just the last year. And two of the latest performing arts centers are taking shape in Miami and Fort Worth, the latter of which broke ground on June 1.

Retail: See and be seen

Another major development frontier has opened in the retail arena.

One of the largest examples of the newest in destination-oriented retail entertainment concepts is now taking shape in The Irvine Company's 3,600-acre Irvine Spectrum master-planned business community in Orange County, Calif.

The Irvine Entertainment Center is the 250,000 sq. ft. initial phase of The Irvine Company's plan for an urban district at the heart of the Irvine Spectrum. Slated for completion in November, more than half of the center encompasses a 6,300-seat 21-screen cineplex housed in four amphitheaters, taller than most three-story buildings.

Rooms with a view

One of the biggest consumers of pure entertainment facilities is tourists. Where do tourists stay? Hotels, and they aren't just for sleeping anymore.

As you might guess, the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas, is leading the way in new hotel construction built around entertaining themes, each trying to out-shine the other.

The latest designs to make it into construction starts are by Bally's for a 2,500-room hotel designed around a Parisian theme, complete with a 40-story replica of the Eiffel Tower. Another hotel, the New York New York, will feature room towers designed after New York City's office buildings, as well as a Statue of Liberty marking the entryway.

Taking the gaming/hotel theme beyond traditional Nevada venues, Carnival Hotels and Casinos (CHC), Miami, has successfully built on its strong cruise-oriented gaming establishments with a large riverboat gambling operation in Baton Rouge, La. CHC's Gaming Group launched Casino Rouge, including licensing coordination and financing construction of the three-deck riverboat with 30,000 sq. ft. casino and a dockside facility with restaurants and shops.

Every now and then a young talent is recognized for their prominent work. On the entertainment scene, that someone is David Schwarz, 40, head of David M. Schwarz Architectural Services in Washington, D.C. His recent work has included the new Arlington, Texas baseball park and the Fort Worth Performing Arts Center. We talked with Schwarz about the concepts behind entertainment architecture and how he has become so successful in selling his designs to developers and civic leaders.

Q: With the ballpark and the Fort Worth PAC, how do your designs meet those audiences' needs, expectations and desires?

A: The audiences aren't as dissimilar as one would think. One of the things we try to do with our entertainment architecture is to make it an invitation to as wide a range of audiences as possible. We've tried to make the Fort Worth hall as accessible as possible to the people at large. That's a tall order for a cultural facility and I don't know if we've succeeded, but time will tell.

When people go out, there are rituals to being entertained. I view buildings as being frameworks for memory. When most people call something to mind, they have a picture of it. The first thing that comes to their memory is a picture. The physical space in which that occurred generally becomes a frame for that picture. When we did the ballpark, we wanted a frame for the memories of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons. When we did the performing arts hall we did very much the same thing, only in quite a different context.

Q: Why have stadiums become such hot commodities these days?

A: Part of it is because people love baseball, and I think part of it is that in the later part of the 20th Century we've finally grown to understand how dehumanizing architecture affects the quality of an experience. Baseball was one of those human endeavors which had an enormous amount of unfortunate things happen to it architecturally from the '50s to the '80s, and it got to the point people didn't really like to go. It's one thing to go to a sea of asphalt, walk through 10,000 cars, end up in a concrete donut, walk back through the sea of asphalt, and go home. The trick is to get wives of diehard baseball fans to come, to get them to bring their daughters and kids to turn it back into a family experience where the experience of being in the ballpark itself is a pleasant one. The point was to get people to see and be seen. People watching is one of the great human endeavors. We like to be around other people.

The same is true with the performing arts center. You consider what you wear, you dress in a way you don't normally dress.

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