Citizens Bank Park: A Decade in the Stadium We Didn’t Want

With the team’s fortunes (and attendance) falling, it’s worth asking: Was there a better location for the Phillies’ home?

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Out at home? CBP attendance dropped last season. Photograph: Aero-Imaging, Inc./Newscom

The first 10 years of Citizens Bank Park, I think we can all agree, have been pretty great. Five division titles. Eight winning seasons. One magical night in October 2008. Many fans will claim 11th and Pattison as hallowed ground long after global warming turns it into a beach.

But do you remember when the decision to build in South Philly seemed like not just a defeat — but a complete failure of civic imagination? In the early days of the debate on replacing Veterans Stadium, folks were hot for a Camden Yards-style retro park smack-dab in the middle of downtown. Fans whimsically debated putting a new park at the old Schmidt’s brewery, near 30th Street Station, even on the waterfront. Politicians talked more realistically about two locations: North Broad at Spring Garden, and in Chinatown at 12th and Vine.




But each proposed site was eventually sunk by some combination of community or political NIMBYism and logistical or infrastructural clusterfuckery. So the new stadium arose in the shadow of the old one, in the expanse of parking lots and nothingness we call, as if it were an affliction, the “sports complex.”

When the Phils were the best team in town, it didn’t much matter where their stadium was. But last year, attendance dropped by half a million fans. And we may face another dismal August in South Philly. It’s worth asking: Did we blow it?

“I think 10 years ago we would have seen a tremendous amount of activity on North Broad Street: entertainment, restaurants, etc.,” says Paul Levy, president of the Center City District. Levy figures a stadium at Broad and Spring Garden (a site derailed in part by former state senator Vince Fumo, who didn’t want a ballpark near his Fairmount mansion) could have provided a long-sought connector between Center City and Temple University.

“It’s a lost opportunity that would have been fantastic for Philly,” agrees developer Bart Blatstein. “You can just imagine the impact for the 275,000 people who work in Center City to leave work, have dinner, and go see a game.”

Still, Blatstein says the ideal site was actually 12th and Vine. That was then-mayor John Street’s preferred location, too. But opposition from the Chinatown community was intense. Helen Gym, known now as agitator-in-chief for Philly’s public schools, was then part of a group called the Stadium Out of Chinatown Coalition. “Arguably, it was not that nice 10 years ago,” she says of the site in question. Had city officials bothered to ask, though, she says, they’d have discovered that a coalition of groups hoped to expand Chinatown over the expressway. (Indeed, Chinatown has pushed north through a series of community-based initiatives.)

It could be the only true winners in the stadium deal are the Phillies themselves. Thanks to the revenues produced by the new stadium, they went from behaving like a small-market team to outspending just about everyone but the Yankees — a move that paid off in wins (as well as higher ticket prices).

But now that the Phillies appear to be on the downside of the success cycle, will they pay a price for playing their games in a part of town that’s just no fun? “Fans like to be able to go to a bar or a restaurant district, get loaded, and then go home,” says Kevin Quinn, a professor at Wisconsin’s St. Norbert College who studies the economics of sports. “Once you’re inside the stadium, all $9 hot dogs look the same. The experience [of a downtown stadium] can be a substitute for your team playing well.”

But so what? The stadium is where we put it, right?

Yes, it is. But as Levy notes wryly, it probably won’t be that long before we go through all of this again.

Follow @brianghoward on Twitter.

First appeared in the April 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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  • http://www.philadelphiafleamarketnews.com Philadelphia Flea Market News

    It’s funny that this website has done so many articles on Philadelphia’s supposed inferiority complex–several centered around the opening and premature closing of the flea market Brooklyn Flea Philly–yet pro-stadium politicians and journalists cite Camden Yards as the reason Philly should have had a downtown stadium.

    Why would Philadelphia, the fifth largest city in the country, the second largest city on the east coast, want to imitate Baltimore–a city a little more than a third our size–a city that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain doesn’t even consider a real city?

    You say “When the Phils were the best team in town, it didn’t much matter where their stadium was.” By the same token, it could be said that if the Phillies are losing it won’t matter where the stadium is.

    • What?

      What does the size of Baltimore or Anthony Bourdain’s opinion of the city have to do with its baseball stadium?

      Clearly you are unaware that Camden Yards was the first stadium built in a retro baseball stadium revival movement, bringing some kind of architectural respect back to baseball stadiums that began to look like the cookie cutter concrete mess we had in the Vet. Or that it not only moved closer to resembling the palaces of baseballs golden years, but that it also was a return to the downtown stadium. It’s success in downtown Baltimore allowed other cities to see that they could return to the downtown stadium and stop locating their sports complexes in no-mans land, most likely a stones throw from the city airport.

      Camden Yards was a model stadium 19 years ago and could arguably remain a top 5 stadium today. You might want to get over your superiority complex before complaining about someone else’s inferiority complex.

      • http://www.philadelphiafleamarketnews.com Philadelphia Flea Market News

        The size of Baltimore has absolutely nothing to do with its baseball stadium but everything to do with the stadium’s location. Just because something works in a small city doesn’t mean it will work everywhere. Also, I find it extremely interesting that Camden Yards is the only example ever used of downtown-stadium success. Where are all the others?

        Clearly you are unaware that you sound like a snob who thinks that knowledge of baseball stadium buzzwords (retro, concrete mess, cookie cutter) means you know or care anything about baseball itself.

        I was at the Vet when two fans ran onto the field, got on their knees, and “hailed” Steve Carlton (a now iconic photograph in Philadelphia sports history). I was at the Vet in 1980 when the horses lined the field; when Tug McGraw pounded his glove on his thigh; when he subsequently struck out Willie Wilson to win the World Series. And you know what? Not once, during any of these moments, was I ever thinking: “boy, I wish I wasn’t surrounded by so much concrete.” Or, “God, this moment would be so much better if Veteran’s Stadium looked more like the one that Babe Ruth played in.”

        You can have your Camden Yards knowledge and history and I’ll keep my Veteran’s Stadium memories–concrete, cookie-cutter and all.

        • What?

          Whoa! Superfan.

          Camden Yards is the example used in the article, because Camden Yards was the model stadium 10 years ago when this debate was open.

          Still, the size of Baltimore has little to do with the location of the stadium. Downtown Baltimore is about the same size as Downtown Philadelphia. Demographic numbers will be different as Baltimore City remains independent from Baltimore county, whereas Philadelphia is no longer an independent city from the county. AT&T, PNC, Target Field and Coors Field are all successful downtown stadiums.

          Your Veteran Stadium memories are lovely. And I’m sure they mean the world to you, but the Vet was a terrible stadium for fans and players. I even had the privilege to experience playing their myself, and as a teenager it was still amazing to be in the Phillies stadium, I preferred some high school fields for actual play. Not to mention, for every awesome Vet memory you have, there are probably just as many, if not more, amazing memories from Connie Mack/Shibe. Which CBP is much closer to than the Vet.

          Maybe I need to use some more buzzwords for you to understand that your awesome memories don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of stadium construction, location or baseball itself.

          • http://www.philadelphiafleamarketnews.com Philadelphia Flea Market News

            You say that “the Vet was a terrible stadium for fans and players” but Phillies’ fans and players got a new stadium and you and the author of this article are still not happy. After ten years of overwhelming success, you guys are saying that the location is all of a sudden a problem. Also, wasn’t Citizens Bank Park voted the best stadium in the MLB a few years ago? The fact that it was not downtown, didn’t seem to bother those who voted.

            As Mr. Rambo touches upon, do you, Brian Howard, and Ed Rendell really believe that people will be more willing to leave work and spend close to a hundred dollars to watch the Phillies just because the stadium is in Center City? I mean, do you really believe that?

            Anyone who decides to go to a baseball game after work will go whether the stadium is at Broad & Spring Garden or Broad & Pattison.

            Let’s face it, the new stadium debate–retro or not–is a BS sales pitch by politicians to convince taxpayers that the city should spend hundreds of millions of dollars of public money to keep billionaire sports franchise owners from leaving town. It’s corporate welfare/blackmail and the irony is that most of the citizens who pay for the new stadiums can’t afford to go to the games.

          • Phil Perspective

            Let’s face it, the new stadium debate–retro or not–is a BS sales pitch by politicians to convince taxpayers that the city should spend hundreds of millions of dollars of public money to keep billionaire sports franchise owners from leaving town. It’s corporate welfare/blackmail and the irony is that most of the citizens who pay for the new stadiums can’t afford to go to the games.

            Wouldn’t the price tag been double had the stadium been built in Center City? And given Philly’s schools, how smart would that have been?

        • What?

          Also, baseball is history. Especially in this city. You cannot fully appreciate the stats of today, or the rules of the game or even the feel of CBP without first understanding the history. I think your memories of the Vet would agree with that.

  • Chris

    I’m OK with the stadium as is. I just wish they’d tear down that stupid sign/tower out by the Holiday Inn that wrecks any remaining views of the Philly Skyline!

    • azzurri28

      your wish has been granted Chris! they are in the process of doing that now….well its just being lowered so its half the height it was and out of the outfield sight lines…

  • Nadine Bonner

    Ironic that your “expert” comes from a city where the team owner — baseball czar Bud Selig at the time — refused to build the new stadium downtown or on the waterfront. Not only is Milwaukee stadium out in the boonies, there is no access by public transportation. It is a total island. There is absolutely nothing around the stadium, and they check your bag so you can’t bring anything in — no snacks, no food. They hawk beer and hard liquor nonstop. If you want to see really disgusting fans, visit Milwaukee. Philly will look really great in comparison.

    • Kevin Quinn

      Nadine,

      Miller Park is not downtown, but the rest of your post is false. I’m not in the habit of shilling for the Brewers or any other team, and generally don’t post in comment areas, but I feel the obligation to correct the misinformation you provided.

      1. St. Norbert College is in the Green Bay area, where I live, which is slightly farther away from Milwaukee than Philly is from Manhattan.

      2. The Brewers organization is very welcoming of fans who either tailgate with their own food and drink, as well as of many bars and restaurants that run shuttles to and from the game.

      3. Here is the Miller Park carry-in policy, which I suspect is the most liberal in MLB: “Fans may not bring into Miller Park any
      cans, glass containers or alcohol. Soda, water or juice must be
      contained in factory-sealed plastic bottles. Guests may bring food items
      into Miller Park using appropriate containers. All bags, purses, fanny
      packs or soft-sided coolers must be 16″ x 16″ x 8″ or smaller and are
      subject to inspection. Hard-sided coolers are not allowed in the
      ballpark. Only food purchased within Miller Park will be allowed into
      Suite areas.” http://milwaukee.brewers.mlb.com/mil/ballpark/information/index.jsp?content=guide

      4. Many bars and restaurants are well within walking distance to the park, although not immediately next door to it. The stadium is also accessible along the Hank Aaron Trail, which runs along the Menominee River, right past the ballpark.

      5. There is a huge line of public buses and vans out front before and after games, as well as a parking lot for private buses. Here is a link that explains how to get to Miller Park via public
      transportation:
      http://milwaukee.brewers.mlb.com/mil/ballpark/transportation/index.jsp?content=public_transportation

      6. Alcohol is sold at Miller Park in a manner that appears to me to be identical to pretty much every other ballpark in MLB.

      Good luck to you, and be well.

      Kevin Quinn

      • Nadine Bonner

        I spent 8 miserable years in Milwaukee. I know where the stadium is; i know where Green Bay is. I have had food confiscated from my backpack. Tall-gating was permitted, but no food was allowed into the old County Stadium — maybe they have changed that policy. The Milwaukee Public Transportation system is poor to begin with — I can’t see anyone going through that much hassle to get to a game. We often remarked that we never saw a person of color in the park. A downtown stadium would have enabled people from all classes to attend games.

  • Richard Michael Lucas

    FYI, you can work in center city and jump into a cab/subway/bus/bike to see a game with little-to-no-effort.

    • Johnny Domino

      I often park in Center City and take the subway to steer clear of the tailgating liquored up fools leaving the lot. Home faster , cheaper and safer every time.

  • Denise Rambo

    If tickets prices were cheaper I’ll bet more people would go to the games even IF the Phillies weren’t having a winning season. Some people would go just to take their kids to ANY ballgame. As it is, the Phillies would rather sell NO tickets at the inflated prices than sell SOME tickets at lower prices. Makes no sense to me.

  • Earl J

    The actual stadium is perfect, I just wish they put it at Broad and Spring Garden.

    • Johnny Domino

      Ballpark good, over the railyard at 30th Street better

  • Northeaster

    Helen Gym, scourge of the city.

  • https://twitter.com/EpicEuropean Kreft

    I’m just happy it’s in the city limits. One of the few things I love about Philadelphia is that (almost) all the sports teams play within the city. Would be nice if the Union did but what can you do. Would it be nice if Citizens Bank Park was downtown or near either river? Sure, but what can you do now. There is some small nicety in having most of the teams in one spot as well. What can be done however is investing in the area and adding lots of places of interest.