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The Urban Afterthought

Anaheim's A-town is reversing the process of building a ballpark to renew an urban core. Here, the ballpark's in place; the core's coming.

October 31, 2005|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Cleveland, Baltimore and San Diego have helped reinvigorate tired urban cores by erecting ballparks where worn-out buildings once stood. Anaheim hopes to turn that strategy upside-down by building a downtown to complement its ballpark.

The city long known mainly as the home of Disneyland plans to give suburban Orange County what it has lacked: a mix of high-rise buildings, lofts, restaurants and storefronts linked by pedestrian-friendly avenues where residents and tourists can eat and shop.

"The ballpark is certainly a magnet, a pulse, a heartbeat of the community," said Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle. "That's a modern inner-city success story in many cases."

The city hopes to surround the Angels' stadium with as many as 9,000 condos, lofts and apartments in an area now home to warehouses, office buildings and a handful of restaurants.

"The pulse of any community is the people who live there, not the people who are swinging through now and then," Pringle said. "While we can't build homes on the stadium grounds, we tried to bring them as close to the ballpark as the lease would allow, to the edge of the parking lot."

Scott Bollens, a professor of urban planning at UC Irvine, said he liked the idea of bringing a downtown to the stadium rather than the stadium coming to the downtown.

"I'm not sure this has been attempted," Bollens said. "It represents ... a filling-in of the county in places we built in a low-density style."

San Diego's downtown renaissance began in 1985 with the redevelopment of Horton Plaza into an outdoor shopping mall that brought shops and restaurants to the area known for tattoo parlors, Navy bars and strip clubs. San Diego's downtown redevelopment was well underway by the time Petco Park was built in 2004, as the Convention Center, Seaport Village and several restaurants and nightclubs lured people downtown.

But people didn't begin moving there until Petco opened. In the 26-block ballpark district, 65 residential projects are underway, representing about 3,800 units, and Petco has spurred about $1 billion in surrounding development, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

"There had already been some 15 years of positive redevelopment downtown; Petco simply sustained it," said Steve Erie, director of the urban studies and planning program at UC San Diego. "It's now the fashionable place to be."

Before the Cleveland Indians moved in 1994 from decrepit 63-year-old Municipal Stadium on Lake Erie to Jacobs Field and the center of town, the city's downtown was as seedy as San Diego's had been. In Cleveland, a retro baseball stadium was part of larger redevelopment strategy to provide jobs and bring housing to an area with vacant storefronts and run-down office buildings and warehouses.

The plan included the revitalization of Cleveland's decades-old theater district, plus two new malls, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Gund Arena, next to Jacobs Field.

Before the area was rebuilt, Indian fans headed home as soon as the games ended. But when "the Jake" was built, the atmosphere of the area changed.

"Downtown Cleveland isn't Rush Street in Chicago or 5th Avenue in Manhattan, but on any given night, there's thousands of people in the streets," said Tom Szoradi, whose Juniper Grille sits in the shadow of Jacobs Field.

He said the measure of a successful downtown is not the nightlife, but having enough customers so he can serve three meals a day.

"Before Jacobs Field, most businesses left downtown for the suburbs," he said. "Jacobs Field drew business, brought attention back to the area and helped create affordable living downtown. That means I have a stable clientele from people who work and live here and tourists that stay in the new hotels."

In Anaheim, the Lennar Corp. is hoping to create a similar dynamic with A-Town, the Platinum Triangle's centerpiece, an urban village including two parks, 11 residential towers, and lofts where people live and work. Bars and coffee shops will be mixed with day-care centers, schools, drugstores and grocery stores. Although Lennar officials hope to draw Angel fans to A-Town, they say their ambitious development won't depend on ballpark traffic.

"A-Town is for the person willing to live in a high-rise building and enjoy a different lifestyle than someone who would rather sit in their car and drive to their house in the suburbs," said Emile Haddad, Lennar's western regional president.

Anaheim's plan may be bold, but it isn't exactly new. Sportstown, the city's ill-fated dream of turning Angel Stadium's parking lot into an entertainment center, with an indoor extreme-sports park, restaurants and shops, died in the late 1990s when developers ran out of money. But Pringle, echoing what urban planners long have held about vibrant downtowns, argues that Sportstown's fatal flaw -- a lack of places for people to live -- will be the Platinum Triangle's strength.

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