49ers Next Great Play May be in Santa Clara

Friday, May 21, 2010  |  Updated 4:15 PM PDT
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49ers Next Great Play May be in Santa Clara

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9 Jan 1988: A San Francisco 49ers fan plays a banjo during a playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. The Vikings won the game, 36-24. Mandatory Credit: Mike Powell /Allsport

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If ever there's another landmark play like The Catch, which marked the beginning of an era of excellence for the San Francisco 49ers, it may not be in the City that hosted that and many other storied NFL moments.

Voters in Santa Clara -- about 45 miles south of San Francisco -- will decide on June 8 whether to lease property to the team adjacent to California's Great America theme park to build a $937 million stadium to replace Candlestick Park.

Except for financing for the project, a yes vote would appear to all but guarantee the 49ers will move from the city where Joe Montana and Jerry Rice helped rewrite NFL record books.

The team has expressed its desire to relocate to the site, spent about a million dollars in support of the proposal known as Measure J and received the backing of the NFL.

"We've been fully focused on Santa Clara," said Lisa Lang, the team's vice president of communications and government relations. "This is our best chance of keeping the team in the Bay Area."

The 49ers have played in San Francisco since the franchise was established more than 60 years ago, and it has seen them make five successful Super Bowl runs. Candlestick Park was notably the site of The Catch, Montana's TD pass to Dwight Clark at the end of the NFC championship game in January 1982 that sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl.

But team officials have more recently complained about rusty light towers, clogged concession stand drains and other maintenance problems at the aging, city-owned park.

"We need a stadium," Lang said. "We have one of the oldest in the NFL."

The team's supporters in Santa Clara include the chamber of commerce and numerous current and former elected officials, who say a new stadium would create jobs and bring in millions of dollars in economic activity to the city and region. And the best part, they say, is that the 49ers and National Football League would cover the majority of the costs for the 68,500-seat stadium.

"When I saw this financing plan, I was really impressed that our city staff and our city council negotiated such a tough deal," said Lisa Gillmor, spokeswoman for the 49er-backed pro-stadium group, Santa Clarans for Economic Progress, and a former city councilwoman.

Under preliminary terms with the team, the city and area hotels would contribute $114 million to the project.

The rest of the money is supposed to come from the team, the NFL and a city-run stadium authority, which will sell naming rights, vendor contracts and licenses and levy a surcharge on tickets.

But critics, including two city councilmembers, call the economic projections rosy and say the costs to the city in public funds, lost revenue and traffic woes would far outweigh the benefits.

"We are not getting nearly as much out of the stadium deal as the 49ers are promising," said Bill Bailey, treasurer of the opposition group, Santa Clara Plays Fair.

Great America's owner, Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., has also raised concerns that traffic from the stadium, which would be built on a parking lot adjacent to the theme park, would hurt its business. The company has sued the city and 49ers, saying the environmental review process for the stadium was inadequate. City and team officials dispute that.

Bailey raised concerns about the stadium authority's ability to meet its financial projections, saying naming right and seat license sales can be shaky.

Bailey's group has so far raised only about $2,000 compared to more than $1 million by Santa Clarans for Economic Progress, which received most of its money from the 49ers.

The ballot measure comes four years after the team announced it was abandoning a decade-long attempt to build a stadium and a commercial residential development on Candlestick Point, its home since 1971, in favor of Santa Clara.

The team says the Candlestick site would need costly infrastructure and public transit improvements.

It has also raised concerns about freeway access at an alternative site proposed by San Francisco officials on an old Naval shipyard nearby.

San Francisco officials say they are not giving up.

Michael Cohen, director of the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development, expressed "uncertainty" about the 49ers' ability to secure financing for a stadium in Santa Clara.

"Ultimately, we believe that the final chapter in this story is a long way away from being told," he said.
 

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