In Fifth at Bat, Giants Try to Get Baseball Out of Candlestick Park
AFTER 35 years of swirling winds dropping fly balls in odd corners of the outfield and fans wearing winter coats in August, the San Francisco Giants are trying once again to escape from the infamously inclement confines of Candlestick Park.
San Franciscans have twice rejected proposals to authorize a new stadium, the last time in 1989, and two subsequent proposals to build a park in other cities further south in the Bay Area were also denied. But the Giants are hopeful of a victory in a vote next month.
What's feeding the optimism is that this time the Giants are asking for almost no taxpayer funding. This would be the first privately built and financed baseball-only facility since Dodger Stadium was put up in the early 1960s. This approach has been followed, however, in recent years to finance multi-use arenas such as Portland's new Rose Garden.
The Giant's proposal is sending ripples throughout the professional sports business. More than a third of the 113 teams in the four major-league sports (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) are seeking to change their facilities, according to a report from Fitch Investors Service.
In almost all other cases, the team owners are trying to force local and state governments to come up with all or much of the funding for a new facility. In Cincinnati, for example, voters are being asked in a March 19 primary to approve a one-half-cent sales tax increase to help finance two stadiums - one for the baseball Reds and one for the football Bengals, both of which want out of the dual-use Riverfront Stadium built in 1970. In Detroit, the Tigers, owned by pizza mogul Mike Ilitch, want the city and state to put up $95 million (the Tigers will kick in $140 million) for a new stadium.
''Teams in other cities are worried we're going to succeed,'' says Giants chief financial officer John Yee. ''Other cities will say, 'if they do it, why should we give you public monies?''' he says.
The Giants' current owners, who took over the team in 1992, propose to privately finance almost all the estimated $225 million cost of a new stadium, with the exception of a small $10 million loan from the city's redevelopment agency to pay for public spaces around the park. Some $100 million would come from corporate sponsorships and sales of permanent ''seat licenses'', with another $145 million to be borrowed and paid back out of operating revenues.
The ballpark itself is modeled on the highly successful retro-look downtown stadiums that have opened to capacity crowds in recent years in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Denver. The new proposed facility would move to a downtown bayside site, China Basin, currently largely undeveloped and serviced, unlike the current site, by rail, subway, and bus services.
Most important, the Giants have carried out extensive wind-tunnel and other studies to design a park at the site that they claim will not reproduce Candlestick's sometimes Siberia-like conditions.
The Giants still must pass the public-approval hurdle, needing a vote to change a city ordinance limiting the height of bayside buildings. They've lined up an impressive galaxy of backers, from the newly elected Mayor Willie Brown to independent conservative State Sen. Quentin Kopp. A recent poll showed the measure has a 2-1 backing.
But the poll also revealed that a majority of city voters don't trust the Giants' promises that the funding would not come out of taxpayer funds. This will probably cheer the small, but vigorous group opposing the ballpark measure, San Franciscans for Planning Priorities '96. They argue that the proposal does not take into account hidden costs, such as environmental cleanup and extra traffic.
Opponents accuse the Giants of pushing through a quick vote on the March 26 primary ballot. ''As people understand what this ordinance is and what they're voting on, they're going to say no,'' predicts opposition campaign coordinator Jim Firth.