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California and the West

San Diego Deal to Build Baseball Park Is Reached

Sports: Padres owners and mayor agree on $411-million package to keep the team from leaving the city. Voter approval will be needed.


SAN DIEGO — After weeks of hardball negotiations, Mayor Susan Golding and the owners of the San Diego Padres announced a tentative $411-million deal Tuesday to build a 42,000-seat downtown ballpark and keep the baseball team from leaving the city.

Padres owners, whose lease at city-owned Qualcomm Stadium expires after the 1999 season, have insisted that they are losing money and that only an "intimate" park like those built recently in Denver, Baltimore and Cleveland will put the team in the financial black.

The deal, which must be approved by voters in November, calls for the city and its redevelopment agency to put up about 70% of the money and the Padres 30%. The city's share would come largely from hotel-motel taxes with no property tax or sales tax used.

The city-owned park would be built in the eastern portion of downtown, which is now dominated by vacant lots and warehouses and has not enjoyed the revival seen in other parts of downtown.

In addition to paying a portion of the ballpark expenses, Padres owners Larry Lucchino and John Moores pledged to take the lead in finding private investors to build in the area surrounding the park--possibly hotels, shopping centers or office buildings.

If the City Council is not satisfied by April that Lucchino and Moores are developing a sufficient amount of so-called "ancillary development," the council has the right to scrap the deal. And if the owners renege on agreements after that date, the city would have a lien on the baseball franchise.

The deal still must be approved by a citizens task force and the City Council before being put on the ballot. But that approval seems assured, although some details may change. Seven of eight council members joined the mayor and Lucchino at a news conference.

In the past, Padres owners have said that they need approval for a new ballpark in November or they would have to immediately shop for a new home, possibly in Virginia, Mexico City or Vancouver, B.C.

At the news conference, Lucchino declined to be pinned down on what he and Moores will do if voters reject the deal in November.

"Knock on wood, we'll win in November and in October," said Lucchino, the latter reference being to the World Series.

Despite the optimism of Golding and Lucchino, the proposal faces an uncertain future at the polls.

There is also lingering controversy over the expansion of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, later renamed Qualcomm Stadium. Critics insist that the city was not tough enough in negotiating with the football Chargers, chief beneficiary of the expansion.

Under the deal announced Tuesday, the ballpark would be ready by 2002, the Padres would agree to remain in San Diego at least another 30 years and would be responsible for any cost overruns on the project. The Padres could use the facility 125 days a year, the city 240 days, and the city would retain majority ownership of the facility.

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