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

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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