03 January 2007

49er dilemma

The PR fight between San Francisco and its football team continues with the release of correspondence between the two parties. Mayor Gavin Newsom has reopened the idea of the stadium at Hunters Point Shipyard, an idea that was rejected earlier by the 49ers because of uncertainties regarding cleanup of the seriously toxic Superfund sites there.

The Navy pledged $120 million towards cleanup nearly three years ago. Cleanup is expected to take the better part of a decade to complete, which makes a 2012 opening date for a new stadium rather optimistic - to which 49ers owner John York concurs.

In addition, a new public park and wetlands refuge is being created out of Yosemite Slough, the inlet that separates Hunters Point from Candlestick Point. York points out in his response to Newsom that an engineering firm recommended the construction of a six-lane bridge over the slough to properly route traffic coming from the 101-Candlestick exit. In this Chronicle article, Lennar is supposedly going to pay for infrastructure related to the stadium, but the bridge has to give one pause. At 0.35 miles in length (accordingly to my Google Earth), the bridge would be one-half the length of the new Carquinez Bridge, which was a $200 million project. A direct comparison isn't fair, but size of the new bridge could be $50 million or more. And if they're talking infrastructure, they really should consider a light rail spur from the new T-Third line, since the location would presumably only have bus service under the current plan.

Even with these challenges, a Hunters Point stadium sounds a lot more feasible than a Candlestick Point stadium. I've heard that to facilitate construction under the previous plan, all manner of staging would've occurred on offshore barges. Yikes! The biggest problem now is that the mayor has given the team only until the end of March to review and approve the project. The deadline has already rankled York, and the optimistic schedule pushing such a deadline may be a ploy to save face by presenting a somewhat realistic looking proposal - lest they look like Oakland. Newsom even offered to set aside land for new 49ers training facilities - certainly an arrow across the bow of Santa Clara.

Still nothing was mentioned about how anyone's going to pay for a $800 million stadium.

For selfish A's-related reasons, I'd rather see the 49ers stay in SF. Bringing them down to Santa Clara would create a situation in which three teams would be located in Silicon Valley. The Valley is rich, but how well can it economically support three large teams? I've always considered the Bay Area a fairly fluid place when it comes to consumers looking for entertainment, but when it comes to hard numbers and competition for premium seating, I don't think having three South Bay teams is a favorable situation for the A's, 49ers, and especially the Sharks. Keeping the 49ers in SF would create a better balance, with two in SF, two in Oakland, one in SJ, and one straddling the East Bay/South Bay border. It's that kind of geographic distribution that could make it easier on all local major sports franchises.