Bay Area football fans might not be seeing a Super Bowl contender in this season’s 49ers. But at least they can now enjoy the spectacle of a good old-fashioned business war between team owners John and Denise DeBartolo York and the Ohio-based management of Great America theme park, holders of the long-term lease on parking lots needed for building a new $854 million 49ers stadium in Santa Clara.
Cedar Fair Entertainment, corporate owner of Great America, this week formally stated its final opposition to turning over any parking to the 49ers — after previously backing, then opposing and then adopting neutrality on the project. Of course, Cedar Fair also started indicating interest in selling the entire theme park, which was assessed last year at $114 million.
And with 49ers officials almost desperately eager to play home games by 2012 in a 21st century stadium offering luxury boxes galore, the team is also saying it would consider buying Great America. Or another possible outcome — yet to be discussed publicly — is that the theme park might simply be playing its strongest cards for raising the ante on a parking lot sublease. With Santa Clara averaging $5.3 million in yearly revenue from Great America, the city government is not about to force the theme park to cooperate unwillingly.
John York started playing hardball with Mayor Gavin Newsom last November when he announced that the 49ers were no longer interested in replacing grungy old Candlestick Park anywhere near isolated and windswept Candlestick Point. Instead they preferred to move the team to the fast-growing South Bay’s sunnier climes.
However, the Yorks may have been disappointed to discover that Santa Clara city officials were not exactly rushing to give them large sums of money for constructing a 68,000-seat stadium alongside Great America. Now, with a 49ers South Bay relocation looking more expensive than ever, one potential result — though admittedly a long shot — is that San Francisco’s latest proposal to put the stadium on the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard might start appearing to be a better alternative.
Team officials originally expressed interest in Hunters Point only as a potential backup site. They were dubious about San Francisco’s ability to improve public transportation into the area and complete a timely environmental cleanup of the polluted soil. But with work already under way on redeveloping the entire 771-acre former Navy base into an urban jewel, the idea might be an easier sell.
Since we love the 49ers, we’ll keep watching this season for signs of improvement from the young and struggling team. But the better action might be in the boardrooms and legislative chambers, where their eventual fate figures to be decided.