There's been a lot of talk lately about sports teams moving to downtown San Diego, but one conversation seemingly came out of nowhere-and from a most unexpected source.
At last Monday's City Council meeting, David "Smokey" Gaines stepped forward with a proposal to locate the San Diego Smoke, his recently acquired American Basketball Association expansion team, in the heart of downtown. It's an idea Gaines, best known as the coach of the San Diego State University men's basketball team from 1979 to 1987, believes could be the solution to the city's temporary problem of what to do with Golden Hall, part of the city's civic center, for the next several years while grander redevelopment options are considered.
The fate of Golden Hall and the Community Concourse have been in question since the City Council decided it could no longer afford the $1.5 million subsidy that the San Diego Convention Center Corp. required to run and maintain the aging facility. The city will assume responsibility for the venue in July.
While the City Council has yet to make any decisions regarding how the hall will be used after the keys are turned over, city officials did discuss Gaines' proposal on Monday in closed session.
"His timeline was such that we really needed to get some direction from the council whether they wanted to negotiate with him exclusively or put it out to some competitive process," says Will Griffith, the city's real estate assets director. "The direction out of closed session was to have an open-session council hearing sometime in January, and the recommendation that came out of the [City Council's] Rules Committee in September was to go ahead and issue a [request for proposals], so we will go to the full council in January with that recommendation to go out to the marketplace and see who else is interested."
To date, Griffith says, the North Park Apostolic Church is the only other group to formally express interest in renting the facility.
Waiting for a decision that could come as late as June, Gaines told CityBeat that if he can't secure the venue, he may have to scrap his plans altogether.
"If I don't get Golden Hall, then I won't play anywhere else," he said, adding that unlike a packed high school gymnasium or the cavernous Sports Arena, the hall's 4,000-person seating capacity is exactly what he's looking for. "I really do believe that Golden Hall would be the perfect, perfect place for triple-A basketball. This is going to be a nice, intimate setting."
But basketball isn't all Gaines has in mind. He told CityBeat he hopes to host concerts, boxing and other events in the venue and says he has the backing of several big-time sponsors willing to make it happen. A lobbyist for the North Park Apostolic Church says his group is also hoping to use the venue for similar activities.
Gaines, a former Harlem Globetrotter, says he has firsthand knowledge of Golden Hall's basketball potential, noting that he played there in 1964 when "the floor was still slippery."
The ABA has established other teams in San Diego in the past, including the Conquistadors and the Sails in the 1970s, and, most recently, the short-lived San Diego Wildfire-which Gaines coached-played one season at the San Diego Sports Arena in 2000 before folding.
Today, says ABA co-founder Joe Newman, the league has been retooled and is rapidly expanding. With more than 20 expansion teams in the works, the league currently has 36 successful franchises playing in locales nationwide, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Orange County and Tijuana."San Diego will have an ABA team on the condition that [Gaines] is able to get a venue that's affordable," says Newman. "We want this to happen."