Escondido can restore its claim as the economic hub of North County by taking advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a minor league ballpark in its strategically important but aging urban core.
This week, the Escondido City Council is scheduled to take up whether to invest $50 million in future redevelopment revenues in a 9,000-seat stadium that would become home to the Portland Beavers baseball team. San Diego Padres co-owner Jeff Moorad and a group of investors plan to buy and relocate the Triple-A franchise. The city would build and lease the facility to Moorad, using a portion of its existing public works yard and an adjacent parcel.
More than any single factor, the proposed ballpark’s location is its greatest virtue. Located at the intersection of Interstate 15 and state Route 78, the site is arguably the most strategic venue in all the region, next door to the Sprinter’s eastern railhead and a regional bus terminal and a quick drive from downtown Escondido. The newly expanded I-15’s managed lanes literally drop exiting vehicles at the site. Little wonder that Moorad would be keenly interested in locating there.
Home Field Advantages
There are myriad advantages to having a minor league baseball franchise in the San Diego region, most of which are obvious. Existing baseball fans would have access to professional-caliber baseball at the fraction of what it costs to attend Padres games in San Diego.
There are only 71 home games a season, so what about the rest of the year? The ballpark would be an ideal venue for concerts, business or professional conclaves requiring seating for several thousand as well as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for youngsters from throughout the region to play baseball where the pros play.
The real advantages to having a minor league ballpark in Escondido lie beyond the facility itself.
For years now, the city has struggled with how to redevelop the site’s surrounding location. Predictably, it’s been difficult to do so without somebody assembling land parcels to develop into the employment centers that the city desperately needs to expand its base of tax revenues.
In the last couple of years, we’ve had significant interest from biotechnology startup advocates and others in locating life science and high-tech facilities in the general vicinity of the site. Reasons cited include Escondido’s transportation infrastructure, its proximity to a skilled work force, and a supportive political climate — factors that aren’t always in play elsewhere. Last month, the City Council approved leasing the city’s old police station to the San Diego North Economic Development Council to use as a business incubator facility where technology startups can get assistance and advice. The new incubator site is literally a stone’s throw from the proposed ballpark location.
A Catalyst for Growth
So, what’s the connection between all this and a ballpark?
What’s needed is a major catalyst to spur the redevelopment of the surrounding area. It’ll take more than a single corporate entity to do so, much the way it took Petco Park to incite the interest and the redevelopment of downtown San Diego’s East Village neighborhood. There have been similar experiences in ballparks being positive generators in Oklahoma City; Reno, Nev.; and other cities where they turned blighted areas into employment centers.
Escondido is not as big a city as those cited, but the principles of economic development still apply. As has been the case in those municipalities, a ballpark will create the immediate need for retail and other consumer services, even a small hotel or two. The ballpark would create a better opportunity for employment centers which might not come to pass without the impact generated by the presence of a professional sports venue. The site’s proximity to our city’s downtown also promises a highly positive impact that, again, isn’t going to happen on any timely basis — if at all — without such a “generator.”
A minor league ballpark is Escondido’s opportunity to hit a home run to become North County’s economic center.