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Petco Park 2014: More Than A Ballpark But Not All That Was Promised

Aired 4/2/14 on KPBS News.

Ten years ago, ballpark boosters said Petco Park would be a spur to development that would transform downtown San Diego. Ten years later, those promises appear to have been half true.

As the Padres took the field for Tuesday’s game with the Dodgers they were celebrating the ballpark’s 10-year anniversary.

The $474-million Petco Park opened in 2004, following years of debate over the $301-million taxpayer subsidy San Diego contributed.

Ballpark boosters said it would be more than a ballpark. It would be a spur to development that would transform downtown. Ten years later, those promises look like they were at least half true.

“I think you can absolutely draw a connection between the opening of the ballpark and how it energized downtown,” said Erik Bruvold, president of the National University System Institute for Policy Research.

Bruvold’s research group did an economic study of downtown San Diego, before and after Petco Park. Released last week, it showed some positive signs of growth, but it also contained many qualifications.

Fun facts about Petco Park

April 8, 2004: First Padres game played at Petco Park.

471 feet: The longest home run hit at Petco Park. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez (then a Padre, now a Dodger) crushed on April 26, 2009.

0: Triple plays have been made in the ballpark.

$2.7 million: The amount Petco pays each year for naming rights to the ballpark. The deal runs through 2026.

The upside has been housing. The study showed that since the opening of the ballpark more than 15,000 new residents have moved downtown and the area has added about 14,000 housing units. An East Village district that used to be filled with derelict buildings has been turned into a thriving neighborhood.

The downside has been employment, at least if you assumed the ballpark would be a draw for economic activity.

“We found no change in downtown employment. When the ballpark opened we had about 64,000 people working downtown, now, 10 years after, the same number of people work downtown,” Bruvold said.

The mix of jobs downtown has skewed toward lower-paying hospitality industry jobs since Petco Park was built. Bruvold said he’s seen a trend in high-paying service jobs — real estate firms and law firms in particular — moving from downtown and relocating in the suburbs over the past 10 years.

“I think there was an expectation that downtown would see a gain in the net share of employment because of this ballpark, and that’s yet to be a fulfilled promise,” he said.

Petco Park attendance

2004: 3,016,752

2005: 2,869,787

2006: 2,659,754

2007: 2,790,074

2008: 2,427,535

2009: 1,919,603

2010: 2,131,774

2011: 2,143,018

2012: 2,123,721

2013: 2,166,691

Academic research by people such as sports economist Andrew Zimbalist have long shown that investments in new sports stadiums don’t bring a net economic gain for cities. Major league games are patronized by local fans and don’t court many customers from out of town.

But people who were involved in the development of Petco Park are pleased with how things have turned out.

Kris Michell is president of the San Diego Downtown Partnership, but years ago she was vice president for government relations for the San Diego Padres. Michell managed the successful campaign for Proposition C, which won voter approval of public funding for a new Padres ballpark.

“When I worked for the Padres, I walked the area with (Padres president) Larry Lucchino,” she said. “So we walked 23 blocks. I remember the razor wire, the chain-link fence, as well as the syringes in the street and the urine smell. You contrast that with today, and it is dramatically different!”

Asked about the lack of job growth downtown, Michell cited the slowdown brought on by the Great Recession. As for the sluggish growth in retail and commercial activity, she said the retail typically follows residential development, and she predicts that it will.

One thing everyone agrees on: The performance of the Padres has been disappointing, and that has had an effect.

“Petco Park didn’t transform San Diego into a baseball town,” Bruvold said. “We saw an initial spike in attendance at Petco Park. But it’s fallen down to a (per season) average of about 2 million, which is where they were before they opened the new ballpark.”

More wins on the field mean more fans in the stands, more foot traffic on downtown streets and more money in cash registers.

Greg Shannon, a development consultant who helped plan Petco Park and the ballpark district, said the East Village has not developed in quite the way he had hoped and expected. But he does hope the area will turn into the neighborhood he once imagined.

“Before Petco Park, there were very few ballparks or stadiums that were really part of the city. They were just islands in the city that were just used for their events,” Shannon said. “It’s about building a community, not just building a ballpark.”

Who paid for Petco Park

The ballpark cost $474 million, with $301 million coming from taxpayers. Here’s the breakdown:

San Diego: $206 million in equity and bond funding.

Redevelopment agencies: $95 million.

Padres: $173 million.

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Avatar for user 'td'

td | April 1, 2014 at 7:11 p.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

How much of downtown's resurgence can be attributed to Petco Park? Other cities' downtowns have bounced back over the past ten years too, and they all didn't have new baseball or football stadiums. Los Angeles added thousands of new residents downtown over the past ten years (some of that gain is probably due to the LA Live development). I'm sure that Petco Park can be credited with some of downtown's resurgence, but I think downtown would have improved without a new stadium, and maybe developers wouldn't have overbuilt condos in the short term.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 2, 2014 at 12:11 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

The problem is that Petco park doesn't bring people downtown who are interested in really establishing a dynamic community, it attracts people who come to drink, party, yell, and leave.

Between the Gasslamp district and petco park, we have developed what is arguably the most immature, culturally-void "frat boy" downtown atmosphere of any major city.

What type of idiot thinks a ballpark attracts people who actually care about the good of the neighborhood? They want to use it as their rowdy stomping ground and then go home often times leaving their garbage behind.

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Avatar for user 'tbsdca'

tbsdca | April 2, 2014 at 3:47 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

I left San Diego to attend graduate school in Minneapolis in the early 80's. I watched the same thing happen there when a stadium was built downtown. Promises of jobs...yeah, right.... if you count all the openings created for bar servers and parking attendants. Trying raising a family on that economic level.

Fast forward to Petco Park. I told people ... just a repeat of the Minneapolis let down. Political selfishness and dynasty building (as egotistical as Pharaohs and Pyramids - and Petco Park is no Pyramid.)

The $474 million would have been far better spent improving the pathetic state of of primary and secondary education in San Diego. In 2014, it is a sad testament to our lack of student achievement in STEM - science, technology, engineering and math. Don't begrudge the disproportionate numbers of foreign talent needed to sustain San Diego's science and technology. At the graduate level we are dependent on foreign talent to survive in tech and biotechnology.
Why? We were too gullible to the slippery sale pitches by politicians and developers into agreeing to build a 'pyramid'.

I grew up in San Diego and know that we are a beach town, always have been, always will be. That doesn't mean that we're ignorant. But turning a complacent blind eye to our problems while we bask in our weather wonderland - take pause - and think about what WE have allowed to happen.

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | April 2, 2014 at 8:01 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

the problem with down town is its a pain in the ass to go there, park and find anything worthwhile to do to compensate for the hassell if going downtown.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | April 2, 2014 at 8:55 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

We're talking about the same town which lost an NBA franchise at the dawn of the Jordan-era, right? One can only imagine what could have been in the Midway District had the Clippers not bolted. San Diego is a front-running town when it comes to baseball. Mediocre attendance for a mediocre team. A World Series or LCS appearance would easily push attendance past the 3-million mark, but the Padres will never attract top-flight players.

No discussion on Petco Park is complete without referencing the Lucchino/Moores/JMI Realty plan for building the team in time for Prop C. It was a textbook example of design and luck. It's not a coincidence that the Padres haven't been anywhere near the World Series since then.

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Avatar for user 'rkenvin43'

rkenvin43 | April 2, 2014 at 9:14 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

I enjoy taking in a game as much as the next guy, but still have some mixed feelings. Having lived and worked in this neighborhood for 25 years heres my two cents: post Petco this whole area caters to the CCDC's conceptualized target market of sports fans, partiers, and tourist/conventioneers. Fine. That's important economically in New Orleans just as it is here. But its gotta be balanced with the rest of our civic needs. Like a historic downtown district that doesn't insult us with its blatant fakery. The area is over saturated with Disneyfied booze-pushing restaurants, etc, 90% of which fail because locals won't give them their business, for good reason. When Petco came in downtown's once vital local community fled to North Park, South Park, New York, LA, Oakland, SF...anywhere but here. Most of my friends from the old days won't be caught dead down here. These days, downtown only exists in the context of the CCDC concepts I mentioned above. Maybe its time to bend over backwards to keep the Croce's in and keep the Coyote Uglies out. Not the other way around, as has been the case. As for the 301 million bucks, shoulda let Bob Sinclair put it to use. He had the true vision for downtown.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 2, 2014 at 10:39 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

rkenvin43 - very well said! I agree 100% with your post, you nailed the essence (and problem) with DTSD.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | April 3, 2014 at 9:17 a.m. ― 2 years, 11 months ago

I agree with a lot of people here. Downtown is ruined. It is trash. During the day it is full of psychotic homeless people pooping and peeing wherever they happen to be, and drug dealers or drug addicts wandering around smoking pot, fighting, screaming and yelling at people, etc.

In the evenings, all the idiots pack into the streets and it becomes like the inside of a bar in Pacific Beach - chests puffed, a bunch of male roosters looking for altercations. I don't know why people think that is fun. Oh and wear a gas mask or you will choke to death on cologne fumes.

I stopped going to the gaslamp five years ago. I will never go there to eat or "enjoy" an evening in San Diego. Let the kids go there and have their fun.

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