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SF leaders, Warriors celebrate ground-breaking for Mission Bay arena

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From left, Warriors President and COO Rick Welts, Warriors owner and CEO Joe Lacob, Warriors co-owner Peter Guber, Warriors forward Kevin Durant, Chase Consumer Banking CEO Thasunda Duckett and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr participate in the official groundbreaking for the future Chase Center in San Francisco’s Mission Bay on Tuesday. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Mayor Ed Lee and the Golden State Warriors broke ground on a new arena in Mission Bay at an extravagant ceremony Tuesday afternoon, just hours after a legal challenge against the project was defeated in court.

The ceremony, held in a large tent on the site of the future Chase Center at Third and South streets, marked the beginning of construction on a project that has faced years of adversity from some neighbors and donors to the nearby UC San Francisco.

“Oh happy day,” the Glide Memorial Church choir sang at the beginning of the ceremony to a crowd that included the who’s who of San Francisco politics.

“No longer will San Francisco stand alone as the only city of its size without an indoor venue with 10,000 or more seats,” Lee said from the stage.

The California Supreme Court denied Tuesday morning an appeal from the Mission Bay Alliance, which hoped the court would hear its case challenging the validity of the environmental review for the project. The San Francisco Superior Court and Court of Appeals had previously ruled against the opponents.

Warriors President Rick Welts said the timing of the decision was lucky.

“The last level of appeal was to the California Supreme Court, and this morning the California Supreme Court said that they have no interest in taking the case,” Welts said. “So that’s the end of the litigation path.”

However, the Mission Bay Alliance said it will continue to challenge the arena “on other fronts.” The alliance has raised concerns over traffic congestion that the arena could cause, in particular for patients headed to UCSF in an emergency.

The decision “has set the stage for money and greed to supersede patient access to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, rational traffic planning, ongoing medical research and thoughtful environmental leadership established by our legislature,” the group said in a statement.

Among those in attendance at the ceremony were eight members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as well as former mayors Willie Brown and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.

Newsom said building the arena will come with a “huge economic upside” for San Francisco, which has lacked an indoor multi-use venue like the Warriors arena until now. At present, the most popular entertainment acts in the world perform at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View or the Oracle Arena in Oakland.

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“It’s a big deal beyond the Warriors,” Newsom said. “This will just reinforce San Francisco’s international iconic status.”

The mayor praised the Warriors for paying for the arena. When it opens in 2019, Lee said Chase Center will be the only “100 percent privately financed arena in the entire country.”

“The Warriors are paying for this venue… on the land they purchased themselves,” Lee said. “This is quite an accomplishment that speaks volumes for this ownership group.”

The Warriors plan to build the 18,000 seat arena, two office buildings and restaurant and retail space on the 11-acre site in Mission Bay. The team hopes to open the arena in time for the 2019-20 NBA season.

The ceremony ended with an oddball performance from a troupe of acrobats who flipped to the stage and bounced on trampolines as a pair of construction cranes, positioned behind the stage, danced and dropped Warriors-branded beach balls from the sky.

Afterward, Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob told reporters that the Warriors decided to pay for the arena because he did not want to place a financial burden on city government and also because of the delays that come with public subsidies.

“It might just take forever to get referendums and this and that,” Lacob said. “I wanted to get it done in my lifetime.”

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who was at the ceremony, called the arena a “civic priority for San Francisco” that is “widely supported and has been thoroughly vetted.”

“A small group of opponents had threatened to litigate ‘until the cows come home,’ despite losing in court every step of the way,” Herrera said in a statement. “Well, guess what? The cows have come home.”

S.F. Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer contributed to this report.

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