The daily carpet-bombing of America with political ads has many pining for a day when…well, when November 7th will come around. Accordingly, I’ll happily distract you in these final days of the election cycle with something more fun: sports, and sport stadiums.
A refresher, for those of you who don’t care much about sports: sports involve fastballs, footballs, and foosballs. Stadiums hold all of those things, along with tens of thousands of crazed, screaming fans, overpriced beer, every form of fried and unhealthy food, and a grown person running around in an oversized platypus or armadillo outfit.
Why should we care about such things? Why should stadiums command the attention of public policymakers who can’t tell the difference between a slider and a slide tackle?
Well, here’s one reason: It’s not every day that you see 6,256 people toting 6,256 blue shovels, as you can see below –
The brainchild of San José Earthquakes President David Kaval, last Sunday’s groundbreaking of the new Earthquakes’ stadium created a memorable spectacle of all things blue. A Guiness Book of World’s Records official diligently stood by to verify and record that this seismic lovefest constituted the world’s largest groundbreaking–yes, right here in our very own Downtown district.
Of course, soccer has a storied history in San José, replete with championships, heroes, and heartbreak. Two years after securing their second MLS Cup in the past three years, the owners of the predecessor franchise packed up San José’s star-studded cast and moved to Houston in 2005, leaving thousands of disappointed fans behind. A small group of those fans, led by Don Gagliardi, Colin McCarthy, and the newly-formed Soccer Silicon Valley, beat the drum to resurrect the Quakes in San José. Now-owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher responded. Four years after their revival, Quakes fans pack antiquated, diminutive Buck Shaw Stadium to cheer a new generation of heroes, who enter the playoffs this week bearing the league’s best record. Soccer Silicon Valley, meanwhile, continues to support philanthropic work—particularly with kids– through soccer, and Quakes players spend hundreds of hours volunteering in the community.
Big deal, you say? Consider that the privately financed, $60 million stadium will create hundreds of construction jobs at a time of stubbornly high unemployment. The Earthquakes will also manage the multi-field soccer recreational complex adjacent to the stadium, offering thousands of kids and adults access to a public, world-class facility for exercise, competition, and camaraderie.
Consider also the case of another beloved local team, the San José Sharks. Two decades after the construction of the HP Arena, no building in the city has more success—consistently ranking among the world’s ten highest attended arenas—or brings more benefit to our General Fund (over $4 million a year in direct contributions alone). With the current National Hockey League lockout, downtown restaurants and entertainment venues suffer mightily.
What’s ahead? We should feel fortunate to live in a Valley where stadia sprout from the fertile ground all around us. A billion-dollar 49ers football stadium in nearby Santa Clara attracts its rightful share of “ooohs” and “aahs,” yet it will host games only 10 days a year. Many experts would agree that a more impactful attraction could be the proposed stadium for the San José A’s, which would draw millions of fans Downtown every year to its 81 major league baseball games.
Why should we hold our collective breath for a favorable announcement from Major League Commissioner Bud Selig, if we don’t care about baseball? The biggest reason: the transformative effect of baseball stadiums in revitalizing urban cores. Examples abound, in Denver, Baltimore, San Diego, San Francisco, and elsewhere, where abandoned industrial tracts are supplanted by a vibrant mix of uses: residential lofts, new restaurants, fashionable retail, and trendy entertainment venues.
In 1998, San Diego civic leaders published a consultant’s estimates of the amount of annual sales tax revenue ($1 million), annual property tax revenue ($4 million), and private investment ($300 million) that could be generated by new development surrounding the then- proposed downtown ballpark. The consultant missed badly. A 2010 report revealed that Petco Park (during the depths of the Great Recession) incentivized annual sales tax revenue of over $2.1 million, more than $17 million in property taxes, and $1.8 billion in private investment. Any visitor to the Gaslamp district today sees a streetscape unrecognizable to the resident a decade ago: shops, housing, and hotels abound, and live music pours out from every street corner.
With strong leadership and a supportive community, we can prompt that kind of revitalization here in San José’s urban core, on a set of industrial tracts adjacent to the Diridon Station. If you see 7,000 green-and-yellow shovels, you’ll know we’re on our way.