How stadiums are giving mixed-use developments a winning edge

 —  Article by Natalie Holmes
Crowd of people in front of a sports stadium
Image credit: Shutterstock

Traditionally, mixed-use developments might feature a few restaurants, a handful of shops, a hotel and maybe some office space or modern apartments.

In the United States, there’s now a new ingredient being thrown into the mix: sports facilities—especially those catering to amateur and university sports. Participation in youth and amateur sports is on the rise across the country as soccer, lacrosse and rugby gain traction alongside more traditionally popular sports such as basketball and baseball.

“When you look at what’s happening with amateur and university sports in the U.S., it really is a booming area for destinations,” says Dan Fenton, Executive Vice President at JLL Hotels & Hospitality Group. “There’s no end in sight in terms of the growth there.”

A dose of healthy competition

With this growth comes a surge in demand for hotels and other local amenities as teams and their families travel the country to participate in and watch tournaments. According to Don Schumacher, Executive Director of the National Association of Sports Commissions, the direct economic impact of amateur sports tourism in the United States has been growing steadily and is expected to exceed $9 billion in 2016, with hotel bookings set to increase by 4 percent this year over 2015.

“Major amateur sports organizers are telling us there really aren’t enough venues to handle the demand for the types of things that they do,” says Fenton. Mixed-use developments that incorporate accommodation options alongside a well-equipped amateur sports arena can alleviate this pent-up demand.

Moreover, the ability to cater to a variety of different sports gives projects an additional advantage. “A flexible facility can be prepared for many different purposes and can instantly leverage that,” adds Fenton. A further bonus of mixed-use developments is having lots of eating and socializing options on the same site, as sports organizers increasingly look to remove transport needs from the equation.

“We’re currently working with the South San Francisco Conference Center on the development of a new 100,000 square foot multipurpose facility that will be designed to be a youth and amateur sport venue as well as appeal to trade shows,” says Fenton, whose team has conducted market interviews to an overwhelmingly positive response, with many organizers already making commitments. “One youth sport organizer told us that she could book 15 to 20 weekends with tournaments that would bring in nearly 2,000 participants and families. We estimate nearly 70,000 room nights just from this organizer.”

Hitting the big time

Professional sports including major league baseball, American football and hockey are also creating a buzz at mixed-use developments, bringing in big crowds of local and visiting fans to watch the games.

“The success of a mixed-use project hinges on activity. The more people that are walking around, using the space and engaging with it, the more it creates an inclusive atmosphere and people want to be there,” explains David Demarest, JLL International Director and Southeast Market Leader.

In Detroit, the community aspect of sports plays a key role in a vast new mixed-use development, with the city’s Red Wings hockey arena serving as its nucleus. The family-owned team’s proprietors have invested over $1 billion so far, not only in the arena itself, but also retail, office, residential and hotel spaces in the surrounding area, dubbed “District Detroit.”

Memorable events

Indeed, for many visitors, it’s not just about catching a game, it’s about enjoying unique and engaging experiences.

In Atlanta, a joint venture between Omni Hotels and the Atlanta Braves combines a brand new stadium and hotel to attract experience-seeking conference groups and leisure travelers alike. When the baseball season is on, guests lounging on the hotel’s pool deck will be able to watch the Braves play.

As Mike Garcia, CFO and SVP of acquisitions & development at Omni Hotels tells Skift: “You’ll feel like you’re part of the Braves’ organization. I think, and I really do believe, that groups and meeting planners are looking to us and saying, ‘Let’s do something different.’ I think we’re offering something different.”

The location also seems to be fulfilling an unmet demand. Demarest adds: “Another benefit is that the project is located in a close-in thriving commercial district and is doing a great job of activating another quadrant of the area – from retail and entertainment to office and multi-family.”

In Texas, the Omni brand is involved in another joint venture – a luxury mixed-use complex incorporating an American football arena for the Dallas Cowboys and a 1000-room hotel. The meeting space in the hotel has been designed to allow business travelers attending conferences can watch the Cowboys during their practice sessions.

And while such perks are the icing on the cake, what makes a successful mixed-use development is getting the right balance of facilities and space. From vibrant, walkable green space and diverse dining options to an authentically multipurpose district, “Destinations that can offer experiences that go beyond the tournament ultimately have the edge,” concludes Fenton.

“Sports event organizers and travelers are drawn to destinations doing more than just providing the right facilities.”

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