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California and the West

City's Dream: If It Builds a Stadium, They Will Come

Baseball: West Sacramento hopes to recapture former glory by creating a new home for the minor league Vancouver Canadians.

April 25, 1999|MAX VANZI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WEST SACRAMENTO — This little city just across the Sacramento River from the state capital has been in search of visitors and their money ever since the freeway bypassed the commercial center more than 40 years ago.

Residents and city leaders think they have finally found the right hook to bring back the crowds: baseball.

Getting the jump on its much bigger neighbor, West Sacramento may be close to landing a baseball team that competes in the cream of the minor leagues. A waterfront site has been picked for a $40-million stadium, and financial guarantees to build it from three local governments are in the works, city officials and team backers say.

Beginning as soon as next year, West Sacramento could be home to what may be the biggest revenue and attendance market in Triple-A baseball, said organizing partner Warren Smith, basing the prediction on the Sacramento area's 1.7 million population.

For a city of 30,000 that is short on glamour, the deal holds the promise of an economic lift and, finally, something to brag about.

"It will be like waking a sleeping child," said Sal Galvan, owner of a local Mexican restaurant. "We need baseball. We need it bad."

Professional sports executive Art Savage has bought the Vancouver Canadians of the Pacific Coast League and said he intends to move them to West Sacramento. Corporate sponsors have come forth. Fans are already checking the blueprints, picking out their season ticket seats.

But the baseball project is not a done deal.

Last week, the City Council across the river in Sacramento allowed another would-be builder to enter negotiations with that city to put up a stadium there.

In addition, a recent lawsuit by Sacramento attorney John Latini has challenged West Sacramento's stadium plans, asking for a more comprehensive examination of traffic, parking, noise and air quality issues.

West Sacramento officials say the lawsuit may delay, but won't halt, their dreams of restoring the town to its lost glory. Or at least taking the first steps.

In the 1940s, old-timers recall, the hotels along West Capitol Avenue bustled with visitors, and the likes of Clark Gable came to party at the swank Hotel Rancho.

But the glittering main drag began to fade in the 1950s once the freeway passed by the town's commercial hub. Tourists from San Francisco and points beyond stopped coming, and the Hotel Rancho eventually closed. Nowadays, the hotel houses a Buddhist colony and is surrounded by a fence. Many West Capitol Avenue motels are struggling. Still others cater to an adult clientele, advertising rooms for a few hours at a time.

"No one stops here anymore who's just passing through," said Bob Patel, owner of one of the better-maintained motels.

Truck yards, warehouses and light industry anchor the city's economy. City Hall is flanked by a bottling plant and railroad tracks. Nearby, cranes load locally grown rice and other cargo onto ships at the inland Port of Sacramento.

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, a Los Angeles native, notes that West Sacramento did not incorporate until 1987 and that improvements have come slowly.

Before cityhood, the 33-year-old mayor said, "Our roads were crumbling, our water was opaque."

City Manager Joe Goeden said City Hall will be moved soon from its industrial location to a spot near the motels on West Capitol Avenue in an attempt to bring new influences to the area.

But nothing raises hopes for the future like baseball.

Fans in the region last watched a home team play Triple-A ball 22 years ago, at a college campus in Sacramento.

West Sacramento's plans call for a small stadium, with a capacity of about 10,000, to capture the "intimate feel" of minor league play. It would be just south of Tower Bridge, a landmark yellow drawbridge, to lure fans from across the river in Sacramento and to attract new condo and office development along still-to-come river walks.

The sole distinguishing feature of West Sacramento's riverfront property today is the 11-story, pyramid-shaped regional headquarters of a loan company that is ablaze with lights at night, the city's only beacon to the region around it.

The new stadium would be built just a few blocks downstream. The as-yet-unnamed team would compete with 15 others from around the country and would remain an affiliate of the major league Oakland A's.

Despite the talk in neighboring Sacramento about building a baseball stadium there, Smith, the organizing partner in the West Sacramento project, is not worried.

"No one over there has a team," he said. "We have a team."

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