Build it at 30th Street - they’ll come

When Doug Glanville (EAS’92) and I wrote our essay proposing that the Phillies build their new stadium in the 30th Street Station vicinity, we hoped that it would open up the debate over the new stadium and give better information to many people who do not understand the issues surrounding its location.

Many people think that if you just put the stadium anywhere, it will work. That’s not true. It’s also not true that if the problems with the Broad and Spring Garden site mean the stadium should not be built there, then we will lose a downtown stadium completely. There are other locations -- in fact, there are better locations -- for a stadium that should be given more attention.

Putting a stadium in the central city has a great potential and a great danger. The potential is that you can stimulate commercial development, raise property values and generate spinoff activities. But that can be done only if the stadium doesn’t have a physically negative impact on the area. And that impact depends mostly on the mode of travel people use to get there.

Access matters

The mode of access to a stadium is terribly important and can make the difference between a downtown stadium’s being a big success or becoming a problem that will destroy an area. The car is just not designed to bring tens of thousands of people together in one place, and that’s true even if the place is not in the heart of the city.

In Washington, Jack Kent Cooke Stadium was built in the suburbs, and it paralyzes the area on game days, because even in the suburbs, it’s very hard to handle 20,000 or 30,000 people who come by car to one place all at once.

Meanwhile, the MCI Arena in the same city was built on top of the intersection of two subway lines. The latest figures I received from arena officials are that usually more than half, and sometimes more than 60 percent, of the patrons arrive by Metro, and a good number of the remainder walk, take a bus or a taxi.

Who stops and shops

The MCI Arena people also tell you that these are the people who go around shopping or sightseeing before or after a game. Which is why we want the stadium downtown in the first place, and why it needs to be accessible mainly by mass transit. People who drive to a game tend to just drive in before the game and drive home afterwards. But people who walk from the train to the game can linger somewhere nearby afterwards and catch a later train. In other words, transit is more compatible with lingering downtown.

The 30th Street area is not only the most accessible place in the region, it’s probably the most accessible in the entire Northeast. And it’s that tremendous accessibility that makes it a potential site for offices or commercial development. I think there would be some synergy between such development and a new stadium.

When Doug examined the subject of a 30th Street ballpark for his undergraduate honors thesis, he looked at several sites, some north of Market, others south of it, even south of Walnut. But when the University came out against a 30th and Walnut location, our civic leaders and the Phillies simply gave up. They shouldn’t have. I’ve spoken with University officials, and they are not absolutely against any development in the 30th Street Station vicinity -- in fact, Penn would like to have a more lively 30th Street Station area.

Doug and I did not have a specific location in mind when we examined the idea, and we still think its feasibility should be analyzed more thoroughly. There are a number of possible sites in the area.

Vukan Vuchic is UPS Foundation Professor of Transportation in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Vuchic and Glanville’s essay appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer Aug. 27.

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Originally published on September 30, 1999