San Diego Business Journal Pads Promise $20M To Keep Work on Track Till Autumn

Work on the Downtown San Diego ballpark and associated redevelopment will continue until autumn with a $10 million infusion of city money.

With a $225 million city contribution to the project stalled by a delay in issuing ballpark bonds, the San Diego City Council last week advanced $6.2 million for ballpark construction and another $3.8 million for infrastructure improvements in the East Village.

The council voted after Padres President and CEO Larry Lucchino pledged his organization would put $20 million into the ballpark project.

All told, the ballpark and surrounding infrastructure is expected to cost $449.8 million.

The city's $10 million advance will be repaid by bond proceeds, city officials said.

Padres officials had raised the specter of demobilizing its team of architects, engineers and contractors because of lack of money, then having to pull the group together later. That as well as inflation in the price of labor and materials would add to ballpark costs, Padres Executive Vice President and COO Jack McGrory told the council.

Such delays would cost the partnership $1 million per month, said Mike Madigan, the city's consultant for the ballpark project. The city's share of those delays would be $700,000 per month, he told the council.

Roughly two dozen speakers representing Downtown interests and the construction industry urged the council to advance the funds. Several council members noted the stadium was the center of an entire neighborhood redevelopment project.

"There is probably a billion and a half dollars of real money waiting to invest in the East Village of Downtown," said Councilwoman Christine Kehoe.Several factors, including 11 lawsuits challenging the ballpark project and an investigation of 6th District Councilwoman Valerie Stallings, have put pressure on the city to wait on selling the bonds.

Stallings has acknowledged making a profit of about $7,600 on the purchase and sale of 350 shares of Neon Systems Inc. in March 1999. San Diego Padres majority owner John Moores is board chairman of the Sugar Land, Texas-based company. The district attorney is investigating the transaction.

Stallings left the council dais for last week's ballpark votes, saying she wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Prior to the council meeting, ballpark foe Bruce Henderson announced that if the council approved interim funding, he would file another lawsuit challenging council votes on the ballpark project and questioning Stallings' involvement in it.

The city manager's office recommended the council only approve $3.8 million, largely for ballpark-area building demolition, site cleanup and design of the Park Boulevard extension that will cut diagonally through the grid of Downtown streets. But the council, less Stallings, voted unanimously for the $10 million.

Last week's council vote was preceded by media accounts saying the Padres may leave town if the ballpark project stopped.

One account, based on an interview with Lucchino, interpreted Lucchino's comments to mean he could leave town if the council advanced only $3.8 million for infrastructure.

In interviews on the day of the council vote, Lucchino and Mayor Susan Golding said his comments had to be taken in their proper context.

The question put to him, Lucchino said, was what the Padres would do if the ballpark project stopped, and it appeared the ballpark would not be completed.

If his choice was to remain at Qualcomm Stadium , where studies say the Padres cannot make money , or to inhabit "a hole in East Village," Lucchino said his decision would be a "no-brainer": he would have to consider moving.