The idea of selling or leasing the Cow Palace 77-acre site for some sort of updated mixed-use development seemed to come from out of the blue last week, as a developer group appeared before the facility’s board of directors to pitch their proposal for the state-owned property.
The plan’s reception was chilly. Cow Palace CEO Walter Haub called the proposal from Pro Sports Venture Capital LLC “very general” and said it was not necessarily more serious than other approaches made through the years. Board President Henry Kuechler added, “We’re really not interested in selling the Cow Palace.”
Although the concept of doing something more contemporary on the 66-year-old entertainment arena property is admittedly a long shot, now that the topic has surfaced it certainly seems like something worth considering. It has been decades since the rundown 16,500-capacity arena was competitive for the biggest nonstadium events coming into the Bay Area.
The days when superstars such as Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, U2, Santana and Prince proudly played the Cow Palace are long gone. Nobody is booking championship boxing or presidential conventions there any more either, not when they could go into bigger, newer coliseums in San Jose and Oakland.
San Francisco, the Peninsula and the underserved Bayshore district would all be better served with a 21st-century arena surrounded by attractive mixed-use destinations — a more compact and feasible version of those earlier plans to replace the old Candlestick Park stadium.
One thing we can definitely agree on with Pro Sports Venture attorney Ivor Samson is, “It’s a very large piece of property that by any standards … is underutilized.”
Among the daunting number of obstacles to any rebuilding on the Cow Palace site is that the property is under the distant control of two state bureaucracies; the General Services Administration and the Fairs & Expositions division of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Also, Pro Sports Venture’s big idea is to build the new Cow Palace in Vacaville or Dixon, which is a definite “No, No, No.”
Here is what an ideal renovation for the Cow Palace acreage might look like: The centerpiece is, of course, a state-of-the-art arena that becomes the automatic first choice for any top attraction playing the Bay Area.
But that still leaves plenty of underutilized surrounding land. Multilevel parking garages would open up more of the current parking lots for much-needed local retail malls. There could be a smallish hotel, some condo housing or an office campus.
And if our fantasy includes a possible land exchange, there is a nearly outmoded stadium at Candlestick Point that could well become vacant in a few years. That chilly, windswept site would be highly suitable for an indoor arena, thus freeing up the Cow Palace site for higher-density housing and mixed-use.