If there was ever a bittersweet moment in the San Francisco 49er history, it was last weekend when the team clinched the NFC West title — just two days after an announcement that $850 million financing for the proposed new $1.2 billion Santa Clara stadium seems to have been secured.
San Francisco’s die-hard 49ers fans who spent the last decade suffering through horrendous loses while shivering in the wind and fog of Candlestick Park are seeing sunnier days — but apparently an hour away in the South Bay.
San Francisco officials insist The City fought hard to keep the team here. But was enough done to retain the 49ers, and could revived municipal efforts still succeed?
An obvious starter conflict was the battle of egos between incoming team owner Dr. John York and then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. The San Francisco Examiner’s veteran sports columnist Glenn Dickey says York started out intending to build a new stadium adjacent to the existing Candlestick Park, but repeatedly complained that Newsom didn’t return his calls. Dickey theorizes that the mayor might have tried to avoid being pressured by York for politically impossible stadium funding contributions by The City.
Nonetheless, negotiations continued, picking up the pace somewhat when San Francisco could present the new option of a privately funded stadium as part of the Lennar development at Hunters Point. However, York’s last-minute call to Newsom on the eve of The City’s bid for the 2012 Olympics saying they would not support a stadium at Hunters Point seemed to highlight exactly where relations were between the two. The stadium at the newly developed shipyard was the linchpin of the Olympic bid and forced Newsom to pull The City’s application.
The Yorks have made it clear that they are looking at the Hunters Point offer only as a possible backup in case the Santa Clara project somehow falls apart. But the fact is that the South Bay deal could still crash and burn despite Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and U.S. Bank lending $850 million to the Santa Clara Stadium Authority.
Additional necessary steps must be accomplished before the Santa Clara 49ers stadium is a done deal. It seems a foregone conclusion that the Santa Clara City Council, packed with stadium boosters, will vote acceptance of the loan as early as Tuesday. However, pockets of organized resistance still remain among Santa Clara residents and a lawsuit or demands for a new referendum could be forthcoming — on grounds that the potential debt load is becoming much greater than specified in the first citywide measure.
Even more of a potential obstacle could be obtaining endorsement from the NFL — which would include a league contribution of as much as $150 million. Discussion of the 49ers project could begin Wednesday at an owners meeting, with important issues being the financing package and the league’s recent preference for shared, dual-team stadiums (49ers and Raiders).
The bottom line is that the 49ers — now headed by Dr. York’s son, Jed — could still need to resume serious negotiations for a San Francisco stadium site. And if it happens, this time City Hall had better be genuinely prepared to hammer out a deal that keeps the team in its established hometown without burdening San Franciscans fiscally.