The city of San Jose, the San Jose Earthquakes and a neighborhood conservancy group announced on Tuesday that they are “exploring a new partnership” to develop at $37-million, 44-acre, seven-field soccer project in the heart of the city.
In a joint statement, the city, the soccer team and the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy said the effort would “help meet the community’s growing demand for recreational amenities and enhance the downtown San Jose park.”
The idea for more soccer fields has been kicked around in San Jose for at least a decade, and city spokesman David Low said the council would finally be able to hear the concept for the first time at its regular meeting on Tuesday. The council voted to have staff return with a more detailed update on Feb. 9. There are 98 soccer and baseball fields combined in the city of nearly one million people.
But there are definite hurdles to overcome.
Namely, the Federal Aviation Administration would have to approve such a plan because the fields would be located on the approach to Norm Mineta San Jose International Airport. Not only would the lights of the stadium pose an issue, but Pat Pizzo brought this question up to the council: "Can you imagine the unthinkable? A plane crash upon landing or take-off during a youth league tournament?"
Then, there are nature lovers who would prefer to have gardens put in that undeveloped space instead of soccer fields. "The heart of any great city is a park," Shani Kleinhaus, environmental advocate for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society told NBC Bay Area after the meeting. "Sports are important, but a park is important to the spirit of the city and to all residents. It's a refuge."
Still other residents want the city to start building four soccer fields that were promised in a 2000 bond, instead of holding out for a much more elaborate plan. Pizzo, who represents the group "Let's Build it Now," also told the council that residents have been waiting for soccer fields for the last 16 years. The council on Tuesday was supposed to award a construction contract to build a four-field Coleman Soccer Field Complex with money from that bond, right behind the Avaya Stadium. That discussion was modified, however, to include talking about the new proposal.
The rest of the residents who attended the meeting and who sent in letters to the city, supported the effort. That includes Henry Cord of the San Jose Coccer Complex Foundation Board and Matthew Mahood, president of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, who are were both in favor of the joint Earthquakes plan.
There might be even more critics to the new plan, but it's hard to know, as this idea has largely been created behind closed doors.
"We're looking forward to this being discussed in public," said Leslee Hamilton, executive director for the Guadalupe River Park and Conservancy.
Finding ample space for kids and adults to play soccer in any city is a known problem; as evidenced recently with the neighboring Santa Clara Youth Soccer League losing a suit against the NFL over field space during the Super Bowl. And by chance, the Earthquakes offered up two fields at Avaya Stadium for the kids to play during the Big Game.
Low said the timing of the San Jose proposal was just a coincidence with the Santa Clara fight.
“This proposal could help expand the number of much-needed fields for soccer-loving kids in our community, while also advancing our vision of the Guadalupe River Park as a regional attraction that serves residents throughout our community,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said.
The city estimates that the cost of the potential project could cost between $32 million and $37 million. San Jose would allocate $12 million from a voter-approved parks bond that included funds for a new soccer complex. The Earthquakes are offering to cover the balance of the costs – at least $20 million - to make up the difference, which would also help build out its Soccer Academy. Like many cities in Europe, the Earthquakes run soccer academies for all ages, hoping to train young athletes and perhaps discover the next Lionel Messi. Currently, the Earthquakes hold their acadamy trainings offsite, in Danville and at San Jose State University.
The soccer fields are being proposed near the Guadalupe Gardens and are bounded by West Hedding Street, Coleman Avenue and West Taylor Street and the Guadalupe River Trail. There are some gardens and softball fields nearby, none of which would be destroyed with the plan. Other than that, the swath of land is mostly vacant. Matt Cano, assistant director at San Jose's Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, said the city's maintenance yard in the southwest corner of the site may have to be relocated.
Specific details of the proposed project are still being worked out, but the stakeholders hope the project would include:
- Four lighted artificial turf soccer fields for public use. The other three would be for the Earthquakes Soccer Academy.
- Enhancements to seven acres of public open space, including new trails, benches, trees and improved connectivity between the Heritage Rose Garden and Orchard and the rest of the park.
- Parking and concessions.
- Five additional acres of open space that could also be used for overflow parking on designated days to help ease parking and traffic in the surrounding area when there are major events.