18 June 2007

The 101 Rivalry

So this is what passes in the Bay Area as a bidding war. Two cities, separated by 40 miles on a major freeway. One is a world-renowned city with image and attitude to spare. The other is a much smaller suburb hoping to bring in entertainment and tourist dollars.

What do San Francisco and Santa Clara have in common? Both have two of the original missions founded by Father Junipero Serra. Both have Catholic, West Coast Conference universities. The City counts GAP and Bechtel among its corporate headquarters. Santa Clara has Intel and Applied Materials. And of course, both have pieces of the 49ers: SF has the history and current stadium on its side, Santa Clara has the current headquarters/training facility.

The media is painting the situation as a tug-of-war for the team, and the NFL is doing whatever they can to perpetuate this notion by having officials visit both cities on consecutive days. Gavin Newsom gave a pull today when he said there was "no way to justify" a potential $180 million stadium investment by Santa Clara. Great America's operator, Cedar Fair, also entered the fray by announcing their opposition to the Santa Clara project, saying that the stadium could adversely affect their operations. Cedar Fair left an opening for compromise.

There's a fundamental problem with all of this posturing: Nobody's offering anything. Since a report in April about the possible use of a utility reserve, Santa Clara has been skittish about pronouncing any level of financial support, let alone a method. Cedar Fair's position mucks up the works a bit because it is essentially a hand outstretched (enormous parking garage, anyone?) San Francisco, despite its bluster, hasn't really pledged anything except for a site, which may or may not be ready by the time the team wants to start construction.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, they're stuck with the economic reality. It's all too easy to compare the A's plans favorably (no cash outlay by Fremont, financing method fairly transparent). But let's keep in mind that the 49ers' stadium will be twice as big and twice as expensive as the A's. Value engineering won't net big savings. Uncertainty causes delay, and delay means money. The Niners are counting on a revamped loan program from the NFL to provide the bulk of funds, yet the NFL can't just rubber stamp a deal since the Raiders, Saints , and Vikings are still in play and they'll be looking for loans as well.

The Niners aren't perpetuating the bidding war myth. They've been upfront about Santa Clara as Plan A, while SF is a far off Plan B. That could be to curry favor with Santa Clara. Maybe not. Whatever the case, the reality is that it's too damned expensive to build a NFL stadium these days. I'm not a Niners fan, but for many of my friends' sake, I hope they stay in the Bay Area. I'm just glad I don't have to figure it out.