Wrapped around the old Western Metal Supply Co. building in the heart of East Village’s morphing warehouse district, Petco Park is certainly “take-me-out-to-the-ballpark” retro.
Aside from driving to the games, fans can be seen taking trolleys, buses, riding bikes or walking. Throw in peanuts and Cracker Jack, and many who root, root, root for the home team apparently really don’t care if they ever get back.
According to managers at two of Downtown San Diego’s largest hotels, local residents are taking mini-urban vacations on game nights, particularly on weekends.
After crunching the numbers at the end of last summer to see where guests staying at the 511-room Omni San Diego Hotel were coming from, its general manager, Ed Netzhammer, was surprised to learn how many resided within the county.
“Last year on game nights, 29 percent of our leisure business was from within San Diego County,” Netzhammer said. “That really surprised me.
“I think people who came to the games just decided to make a night out of it. We had a much higher volume of business due to the games. Many were season-ticket holders and some were coming from other cities.”
Receipts from the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, McCormick & Schmick’s, also showed that it raked in about 35 percent more revenue when the Padres played home games than on non-game days, he added.
The Omni San Diego, which opened in the spring of 2004 as the only hotel in the nation connected to a major league stadium by a skywalk, sold about 800 guest packages that included room rentals and Padres tickets last summer, Netzhammer said.
Expectations are that demand for the packages will equal last year. However, since the hotel focuses on conventions as well as baseball, group business has picked up during its second summer in operation, and there may not be as much availability for leisure business, he added.
Not Sweating The Tourists
The Padres don’t seem too concerned with the team’s tourism draw. According to the ballclub’s public relations department, no studies have been done on how many game-goers come from outside the county, and ticket sales don’t tell the story, since much of it is done online.
But Netzhammer says he was able to project, through registration information, that the Omni’s guests who came from outside the county to take in games accounted for roughly 7 percent of overnight stays last summer.
While some teams, particularly the Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers, tend to “travel well, meaning they draw a large following of their fans,” Netzhammer said there are plenty of local fans who attend the games.
Since a lot of San Diegans are transplants with loyalties to other teams, they go to games at Petco Park, the Padres’ $411 million ballpark that opened last spring, and cheer for that team.
“Rarely does a team come to town that doesn’t have fans in the stands,” Netzhammer said.
Meanwhile, the 1,625-room Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego hotel is also experiencing the phenomena of locals vacationing Downtown to see a Padres game, said its marketing manager, Rob Cameron.
“The games are drawing people from the northern and southern parts of the county, and instead of trying to find parking and wrestling the traffic, people are staying in the hotel,” Cameron said.
While the Manchester Grand doesn’t wrap room rentals with ticket offers, it does provide free parking to guests going to games.
But as Cameron points out, Downtown has become a packaged entertainment deal in its own right. Padres baseball only enhanced the package.
“Locals will park at the hotel and take a pedi-cab to the game, and after the game they’ll go and dine or hit a couple spots with live music,” he said. “They’re rediscovering Downtown and the Gaslamp. It’s a brief getaway for them. They’re not on a schedule.”
Aside from its baseball schedule, Petco Park also hosts weekly tours of the facility and may be rented out for non-game events, such as corporate meetings and parties. On Nov. 11, The Rolling Stones are scheduled to perform to a sold-out house.
According to the Padres’ Web site, the 42,000-seat stadium drew more than 3 million guests in 2004 , a franchise record. As of May 1, the Padres had sold 2 million tickets for this season’s 81 regular-season home games.
“Absolutely, the ballpark is bringing more people to Downtown,” said Reint Reinders, the president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. “But it’s the package of all that Downtown has to offer that’s bringing people, including the Gaslamp and the ballpark. They come to see the transformation.
“If you looked at the East Village five years ago and then today, there has truly been a transformation from an area of near slums to one of high-quality retail, restaurants and entertainment, including the ballpark.”
Admittedly, Reinders said, there were many Downtown eateries and retail outlets that complained of game-day traffic and crowds interrupting their usual flow of business last summer.
“But I think each year it will get better,” he said. “Last year was the transition year that caused some reduction in revenue at certain restaurants because of fears of not being able to park and the unknown.
“This year, however, I expect you will see growth in food and beverage sales overall in Downtown.”
Ingrid Croce, who owns and operates Croce’s Restaurants and Bars, including Croce’s Top Hat Bar and Grille on Fifth Avenue in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, agrees with Reinders.
“The first year of the new ballpark, people had to find out how to get around during game nights and where to park or whether to take trolleys,” Croce said. “This second year, it’s better.”
While she expects business for Downtown’s dining venues to improve in the second season of baseball at Petco Park, she also said that their sheer numbers alone creates a problem.
“At one time there were only three restaurants in Gaslamp, now there are 130,” she said, referring to Downtown’s redevelopment spurt that began in the late 1980s.
“Now we’ve got the ballpark and the House of Blues and condos. But as the Gaslamp grows out, we need to create more housing that will bring more people.”
Steve Zolezzi, the executive vice president of the San Diego Food & Beverage Association, said he thinks that the new ballpark has spurred competition among Downtown’s eateries, which in turn will improve the public’s overall dining experience, particularly in hotel restaurants.
He pointed to the Altitude bar and Soleil @ K restaurant in the 306-room Marriott Gaslamp, as well as the J Bar and J Six restaurant in the 235-room Hotel Solamar San Diego that recently opened in East Village.
“The public is always interested in new options,” he said.
Cohn Restaurant Group’s Blue Point Coastal Cuisine, Rox, Mister Tiki Mai Tai Lounge, Dakota Grill & Spirits and the Gaslamp Strip Club are among the more established Downtown venues that offer “variations,” Zolezzi said.
“It’s always better to have a mix that includes a consistent, long-standing stable of restaurants than to have those that are hit and miss,” he added.
“There’s a lot of competition. But Downtown should do well. The economy is back on an even keel. People will find places to park.”