Now more than ever, the Bay Area needs a blueprint for a new generation of sports facilities that can meet the needs of all our professional teams and bring economic and community benefits throughout the region. The days of one-team, city-financed stadiums are long gone. The future of professional sports lies in the creation of innovative, multipurpose facilities that are developed with fans in mind, in partnership with the region, and with the strong support of the private sector.
The San Francisco 49ers will probably be the first Bay Area team to benefit from a “next-generation” stadium. While the team continues with plans to build its own stadium in Santa Clara, a shared 49ers/Raiders facility is looking more and more likely. Serious discussions are now under way to bring the two teams together under one roof in a deal with the National Football League. Three cities — Santa Clara, San Francisco and Oakland — are actively putting plans in place to develop a state-of-the-art, joint-use stadium once a deal is inked.
What does the Bay Area have to gain from a shared football arena? Just ask the New York Tri-State Area, which last year opened the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The $1.6 billion joint-use stadium — home to the NFL Giants and Jets — is delivering economic benefits in its first year, and recently won its bid for the 2014 Super Bowl, estimated to bring in $550 million alone in economic stimulus. Seattle’s Qwest Field — home to the NFL Seahawks and Major League Soccer’s Sounders — is another multipurpose stadium delivering substantial economic and community impacts to the broader King County region in the Pacific Northwest.
But the Bay Area needs to think about more than professional football. In a region that is home to 11 professional sports teams and more than 7 million people, we will need “next-generation” facilities for basketball, soccer and other sports. There are many possibilities. The Warriors could join forces with the Giants to develop a world-class basketball arena near AT&T Park. The antiquated Cow Palace could be demolished and the site used for tax-paying residential and commercial development and many of its events relocated to the Oakland Coliseum Arena and other venues.
As the 49ers continue to move ahead with plans for a single-team stadium in Santa Clara, the Bay Area is getting its wake-up call when it comes to the future of professional sports.
Economic times, fan expectations and financing models have all changed. It’s time for our region’s teams, mayors and regional planning agencies to create a blueprint for a new generation of professional sports facilities that will benefit all Bay Area residents and communities for years to come.
Steve Falk is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.