Caught Between a Rink and an Art Space
SAN FRANCISCO—Wouldn't it be convenient if someone had clear, intelligent answers to most of your CRE-related questions? Problem solved. Nina J. Gruen, a.k.a. Ms. Real Estate, a.k.a. the principal sociologist overseeing market research and analysis at Gruen Gruen + Associates, is here to answer readers' questions.
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Dear Ms. Real Estate:
I am the chair of a citizens’ committee charged with investigating whether a hockey sports arena or a 20,000-square-foot contemporary art museum would induce long term economic benefits through encouraging regional tourism.
I reside in a suburban community located within a major metropolitan region. The site envisioned for either a sports arena or museum is located in close proximity to our city’s downtown. Our downtown is doing moderately well, with approximately 250,000 square feet of retail and office uses and a growing residential population, which now includes about 800 households.
In order to induce either and arena or an art museum use to locate in our city, we would offer to pay for all needed infrastructure, including adequate parking, as well as provide tax relief for the first 15 years.
What advice do you have for our committee’s work? Specifically, what questions should our committee be asking?
—Caught Between a Rink and an Art Space
Dear Caught Between,
First, I would like to commend you for asking the right question. To sum up from Ms. Real Estate’s long experience, both options are very iffy – unless under some very special circumstances.
If the question was between a major league ball team or a potentially world famous museum like the Gehry-designed museum in Bilbao, Spain, past experience shows clearly the museum is the way to go. First, because it attracts daily visitation, and more importantly, is successful in attracting worldwide tourism. Bilbao is a tourist destination. Ball games, unless they're bowl games, rarely attract destination tourism, and sports teams do not play all year round.
But your situation differs significantly. Some communities, like Glendale, AZ, have continued to struggle to attract sufficient attendance to have a profitable hockey team. I would advise you to contact the NHL to see if they will provide attendance numbers for all their U.S. locations. Then try to gauge which locations are likely to be most similar to your own with respect to location and demographics.
You will also need to obtain answers to some critical questions vis-a-vis the museum option. First, will the city be the owner, or will the museum be under the auspices of a university or well-funded non-profit? Will the capital costs be primarily paid by philanthropic businesses and/or individuals? It is important to ascertain whether the facility will be used to house outside exhibitions or its own unique collection. The latter, of course, is more expensive, since it involves the care, upkeep and storage of the collection.
Finally, last but by no means least, are there primary sports teams and art museums already located in the central city of your region, as well as within competing suburbs? To the extent there are, the most critical question your committee needs to answer is what is the probability that your hockey team or museum option is likely to be able to successfully compete, and in the case of the sports team, be allowed to transfer their franchise to your location?
Sorry I couldn’t be more positive in my response, but better to forsake a dream than live a nightmare.