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Padres’ New Park Beset by Setbacks

June 27, 1999

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ The San Diego Padres were riding high in October, reaching the World Series for only the second time, with a new downtown ballpark on the horizon.

Crowds of up to 65,000 rocked Qualcomm Stadium for each playoff game. Thousands filled city streets for a downtown parade even after the Padres were swept by the New York Yankees.

Still playing on the emotions of fans, the Padres hit a home run two weeks later when voters approved a $411 million downtown ballpark, which club officials said was imperative to their financial survival and to keeping them in San Diego.

Things looked good.

Now everything seems an uphill grind.

Despite pledges that a new ballpark would allow the team to retain key veterans, there were big changes. Star players Kevin Brown, Greg Vaughn, Steve Finley, Joey Hamilton and Ken Caminiti were traded or allowed to leave as free agents within 3 1/2 months.

Injuries have helped put the team at the bottom of the NL West _ although they have won eight straight games _ and slowed Tony Gwynn in his pursuit of 3,000 hits.

On the ballpark front, the Padres are facing the political version of a rain delay.

This month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the city’s downtown warehouse district one of America’s 11 most endangered historic places, helping opponents who wanted the ballpark site moved or to at least save turn-of-the-century buildings within a 26-block ballpark development district.

Last week, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of a citizen’s group and said the city and the Padres violated state law by proceeding with land condemnations and utility work before an environmental impact report was finished. Those aspects of the project were ordered stopped until the city council certifies the report in mid-September.

Then the county grand jury accused Mayor Susan Golding with civil misconduct for securing $4 million in tourism marketing funds for a hotel-motel group in exchange for their endorsement for the ballpark measure last fall.

The action against Golding has no legal influence on the ballpark project, but the culmination of events since the World Series has raised public suspicion.

``If everything was laid on the table, the vote might be different,″ said Mike Hardy, co-owner of a tattoo shop. He voted for the ballpark, mostly because he’s a lifelong Padres fan, but now he has doubts about the project’s costs and benefits.

Raymond J. Keating, who authored ``Sports Pork: the Costly Relationship between Major League Sports and Government,″ isn’t surprised.

``When you start playing politics and get the government involved, sorry, this is the penance involved,″ said Keating, chief economist for the Washington-based Small Business Survival Committee.

Lawsuits and delays are common, but usually the projects wind up getting built.

``In the end, taxpayers are still on the hook for a good portion of it,″ Keating said.

The 42,000-seat Padres ballpark will be financed through $225 million in city bonds, repaid from a tourism tax generated from hotels, some yet to be built; $115 million from the Padres; $50 million from the city’s land development agency; and $21 million from the Port District.

The ballpark is the centerpiece of a $1 billion downtown development plan.

Padres majority owner John Moores formed JMI Realty to purchase about 85 percent of the property needed for the ballpark project and to oversee development. He said recent developments won’t stop the ballpark.

``There inevitably will be litigation by people who don’t care about the environment, but will try to achieve something in the courts they never achieved at the ballot box. But we’re not about to give up,″ said Moores, who moved here from Houston after making a fortune in the software business.

No one’s sure if the judge’s 90-day delay will be enough to push back the ballpark’s 2002 opening. Some in city government are worried because changes have to be made at Qualcomm Stadium as a condition for hosting the 2003 Super Bowl, and the work is easiest done if the Padres have left. The Padres currently share the stadium with the NFL’s Chargers.

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