Mixed Use Developments

The former Richmond Braves have moved into their new place in Gwinnett, Ga. (with a quote by JC Bradbury of The Baseball Economist and Sabernomics).

As Richmond continues to debate its baseball future, Gwinnett County and its residents celebrated the opening of the $64 million stadium that was built in about nine months.

The aggressive schedule contributed to a $19 million cost overrun but was necessary after the Braves announced early last year that 2008 would be the team’s 43rd and final season in Richmond. Officials had grown frustrated over a lack of progress on a plan to replace The Diamond on North Boulevard.

“In some regard, it’s been a six-year trek that wound up in Gwinnett. It wasn’t designed to be that way. It’s just the way it worked out,” said G-Braves General Manager Bruce Baldwin, who helped pitch the idea of a new stadium in Shockoe Bottom in 2003.

That’s left the Richmond politicians trying to figure out plan B.

Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones is now considering a different proposal for baseball in Shockoe Bottom. A group of developers led by Highwoods Properties has proposed Shockoe Center, a $318 million mixed-use development that would be anchored by a ballpark near Main Street Station.

These mixed-use developments seem to be the norm now that the cat is out of the bag regarding the economic impact (i.e. job and income creation nature) of subsidizing sports stadium construction. But are these developments catalysts for economic growth or are they little more than attachments to stadiums to get sufficient voter approval*?

The public goods aspect of sports is certainly in play here. To the extent that sports generate public goods, some type of stadium subsidy is warranted. But the non-sports portion of these mixed-use developments is typically used for shops, restaurants, bars, and condos/apartments, stuff that falls squarely under the umbrella of private goods and where subsidies are not warranted. If a private good needs to be subsidized to get produced, it’s probably not a good investment.

*Which came first: the stadium or the attached development – a chicken-or-the-egg problem?