When the San Francisco 49ers unveiled their latest stadium proposal this week, there were a lot of Xs missing in the play calls — not the first for an organization that has gone from super to stupor in the last decade.
But it’s still curious why the 49ers would call an audible to showcase their future home when it appears that much of the building design is still unknown or possibly even unworkable. The announcement even took the Mayor’s Office by surprise — showing that the players on The City’s team are not the most cohesive group.
And it’s not the kind of thing you want to stage in three acts, like an opera. Little details like the actual cost, the amount and type of housing that will be located near the stadium or even what the exterior of the ballpark will look like are missing — facts that team officials say will be released in September. Is it a prayer for the faithful or just another in a string of incompletions? Tune in for the second half.
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the team’s unexpected announcement is that the initial preview actually contains a lot of good news that fans and taxpayers could embrace but has left observers with a whole host of questions. For starters, team officials said they would not be using the $100 million in bond money voters narrowly approved in 1997, instead choosing to use private financing to pay for the $600 million or $700 million or $800 million stadium. And when was the last time any major league sports team walked away from the public trough?
The new stadium plans also remove any idea of a mall — the dreaded, trumped-up feature under the old proposal that team officials used to try and sell voters on its funding scheme. Somehow the idea that people would drive out to Candlestick to get a nonfat frappuccino and shop for a new pair of chinos was never quite believable. Yet desperate times call for desperate measures, and anybody who remembers the arm-twisting campaign staged by Eddie DeBartolo, Carmen Policy and Willie Brown back then knows how even dead voters were rounded up to help out the red and gold.
So instead of being able to build support for two solid aspects of the proposal, people are asking whether the team wants to escape from the contract inked under the old deal, which covered everything from community jobs to zoning waivers, or whether the organization needs to go back to the ballot for voter approval.
It seems fairly obvious that under legislation being pursued by the team in Sacramento to fast-track any legal reviews of its plans, the organization is hoping to avoid another official blessing from voters. But since the team’s owners are relative novices to The City’s politics, I can spare them the stress of waiting. The new plans, whenever they’re formalized, will have to go to the ballot box because here, everything goes to the ballot box. If you think otherwise, you’ve just chucked up a Hail Mary with only the opposition downfield.
But the idea of a new state-of-the-art sports stadium that could seat 68,000 or 80,000 spectators to replace a dilapidated, concrete monstrosity — a stadium that would be funded by team owners, the NFL, a housing developer and any other deep pockets within reach — should be a relatively easy sell, given that The City has been waiting nearly 10 years for the 49ers to kick off.
One word of advice — if the team really, really wants to build its dream home along the shores of San Francisco, it needs to drop the clause that says it may bolt to Santa Clara if officials don’t get their way. People didn’t react well nine years ago to the team’s threat that it would move if voters didn’t support the stadium bonds, and that’s when the team was good and popular and season tickets were harder to catch than Jerry Rice. Team spokeswoman Lisa Lang told me that the mention of our South Bay neighbor wasn’t really a threat, just a sensible backup plan and that “all of the team’s focus was on Candlestick Point.’’
But I don’t object to the implied threat only because I want the team to succeed and stay here. I actually feel sorry for Santa Clara, which has been the subject of every team relocation plan on the West Coast for the last 20 years — a perpetual civic maiden in waiting.
“We’ve been courted by everybody, the A’s, the Giants the (former San Jose, now located in Houston) Earthquakes,’’ Santa Clara Mayor Pat Mahan told me. “We’ve been the bridesmaid more often than the bride.’’
Poor Santa Clara — the 49ers need to come up with a better proposal than that.