San Diego Business Journal

Jack McGrory sizes up May as a critical month for the San Diego Padres' ballpark.

"We're getting to a pivotal point here," said the ballclub's executive vice president and chief operating officer, pointing to three important events for the Downtown construction project in the coming weeks.

While there is talk the Padres are exploring interim financing , something to keep the project moving while allowing the city to wait to sell bonds to finance it, all to help finish the ballpark by 2002 , McGrory dismissed such talk as "premature and speculative."

"There is no interim financing plan," said San Diego Assistant City Attorney Les Girard. "The City Council has not been presented with one."

May's events will put the Padres and the city in a better position to decide what comes next, McGrory said. The events:

- Two ballpark-related lawsuits could be decided in trial courts.

- The city's bond counsel will offer its opinion on a potential bond sale.

- City staff will offer an opinion on the kind of bond insurance the city can get.

Still undecided is the rating assigned to the city's ballpark bond issue, and by extension, what the city will pay in interest. The city is obligated to raise $225 million to pay its share of the ballpark project.

Depending on the interest rate, debt service on a bond issue could cost between $20 million and $23 million per year over 30 years, said Mary Vattimo, deputy director of financing services with the city. The ballpark is expected to cost $449.8 million, counting land acquisition, infrastructure and construction costs, she said.

If those who rate bonds perceive more risk, the city will have to pay more interest on the bonds , and pay more for bond insurance, said Scott Barnett, executive director of the San Diego Taxpayers Association, an organization that has publicized several concerns about the ballpark project.

Among the things influencing a bond rating are litigation over the ballpark and the city's overall financial condition, he said.

On the litigation front, the city and Padres claimed another victory May 1 when San Diego Superior Court Judge Vincent P. Di Figlia dismissed a lawsuit brought by Philip Zoebisch in March.

The suit took the city to task for not accepting signatures collected on a referendum challenging the ballpark finance plan.

The judge ruled in favor of the city and the Padres because the petitions were not left with the city clerk, the petitions did not have necessary attachments and the petition circulators were attempting a referendum on an administrative act rather than a legislative act, Girard said.

One lawsuit challenging the ballpark has been completely settled while 10 are in trial or in appellate courts or have the potential to be appealed, Girard said.

In other news, representatives of the Padres and the joint venture set to construct the project, San Diego Ballpark Builders, announced plans in late April to steer at least $39.2 million worth of construction contracts to minority-owned companies and other "historically underutilized business enterprises."

The plan is to award at least 20 percent of the ballpark's $196 million subcontractor budget to such companies.

"San Diego Ballpark Builders, the general contractor, shares the commitment to promoting economic advancement of small business, minority, women, disadvantaged, disabled veterans and physically challenged business owners through award of purchase orders, contracts and subcontracts," said McGrory in a prepared statement.

San Diego Ballpark Builders is a joint venture of the Clark Construction Group, Inc., Nielsen Dillingham Builders, Inc. and Douglas E. Barnhart, Inc.