SAN FRANCISCO — Cities from San Jose to Tampa prepared Wednesday to woo the Giants away from San Francisco, where voters Tuesday turned aside a proposal for a privately financed downtown baseball stadium that owner Bob Lurie said was essential to keeping the team in the city.
An advisory plebiscite on the proposed stadium, a 42,000-seat baseball-only park atop a little-used railroad yard in the southern end of downtown, was rejected by 53.2% of the voters, even though developers said it would be built at no cost to the city.
The Giants' lease at chilly, windswept Candlestick Park--at 27 one of the oldest ballparks in the National League--extends through the 1994 season. Team officials have made it clear that they will not stay beyond that date.
Lurie said Wednesday that he has "a strong preference" for keeping the Giants in the Bay Area and is looking for a new stadium location south of the city, perhaps in San Jose, 60 miles away.
That remark was welcomed by San Jose Mayor Thomas McEnery, who has directed millions of tax dollars into rebuilding his city of 700,000 residents and moving it out of San Francisco's shadow. Earlier this year, he helped a group of business owners make a grab for the team but was turned back by San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein.
McEnery said in a statement Wednesday that the Giants would be more than welcome in his city, noting, "They are a regional asset and are very important to our citizens."
He even suggested a potential stadium location--a 57-acre, freeway-accessible site north of the city--but said the city will not be able to contribute toward its construction.
Other cities, however, were not counting themselves out of the race for the team, which won the National League's Western Division title this year.
Civic boosters in Sacramento, for example, have begun construction of a $40-million, 65,000-seat stadium on speculation. Similar civic zeal helped Sacramento lure the National Basketball Assn.'s Kings from Kansas City in 1985.
"If they really want to relocate, sure, we'd be interested in them," said Maurice Read, spokesman for the investors building the stadium.
Denver, Phoenix, Vancouver and Tampa also have expressed an interest in the Giants, who moved to San Francisco from New York in 1958. These cities could have a tough time wooing the team, however, since Lurie has clearly said he wants to keep the club in California.
Still, officials in those other cities were undaunted.
Don Hinchley, administrator of the Denver Baseball Commission, noted that Lurie looked to Denver as a temporary home for the Giants two years ago.
"He knows the situation and what we're capable of doing," Hinchley said. "We'll be in touch with the Giants as soon as next week."
Tom DuPont, one of a group of private businessmen seeking to bring baseball to the Tampa Bay area, declined to discuss any specific strategy but added, "It'd be hard not to be interested in the Giants."
Lurie is convinced that Candlestick Park is to blame for the team's consistently disappointing attendance. This season, the Giants drew 1.8 million fans, the most since moving to California. That still put the team in the bottom half of the league in season attendance, however, and Lurie said that a modest profit this year will not make up for massive losses of the past--especially 1985, when the Giants lost 100 games.
He contends that Candlestick is not only uncomfortable--chilling winds blowing in off the bay are legendary among players and fans alike--but also aging, ill-maintained and inaccessible.
Critics of his downtown stadium plan have noted that the Bay Area may simply be too small to support two major league teams. Across the bay, the Oakland Athletics have also been having attendance problems. Although San Francisco is the hub of the country's fourth largest metropolitan region, it is the smallest market with two teams.
Critics also have noted that despite the city's efforts to improve Candlestick Park, it remains undesirable.
"A lot of improvements have been made," Giant catcher Bob Brenly said. "But you can't put earrings on a pig. It's always going to be windy and it's always going to be cold."