If you were around when the Republican National Convention came to town in 1996, you might recall some of the grumblings from planners and network-television honchos about the San Diego Convention Center, where the GOP festivities were held.
Too small. Too many thick columns blocking views of the stage. Low ceilings that were as challenging for the standard spectacle of red-white-and-blue balloon drops as they were for creating the cavernous feeling preferred by TV talking heads perched above in makeshift sky boxes.
It didn't take downtown kingpin/Padres owner John Moores long after the opening of Petco Park to make allusions to his next Big Dream (well, after ramming down the throats of an unsuspecting electorate the idea of a switch to a strong-mayor form of government): convincing Alex Spanos, majority owner of the San Diego Chargers, that downtown-not Mission Valley-is the place to be when it comes to building yet another stadium.
From his perch at Petco Park, Moores has let it be known that he wants the city and Chargers, now that their marriage appears off the rocks, to take a good hard look at the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, which sits on 90-some-odd acres of Port District bayfront property just south across the railroad tracks from Moores' new baseball venue.
Moores sounds positively giddy when he talks to reporters. "I love the idea," he told a Union-Tribune sports columnist two weeks ago. "We've had enough early success at Petco to show there is validity to a downtown sports venue.... It makes sense to consider something near Petco."
The plan, as described by those with knowledge of Moores' thinking, would involve tying new stadium construction with a second expansion of the convention center, which boasts 450,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space but is still decried by tourism executives as too small to net the huge conventions.
There is precedent for such a thing. The pro-downtown folks note that St. Louis is home to the blandly named Edward Jones Dome, home of the NFL's Rams and part of a massive multipurpose convention complex known not so modestly as America's Center, which is said to offer a total of 502,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space.
Promotional material for The Dome shows endless rows of round tables set up banquet-style, thousands of boats arranged between wide swaths of red carpet, even a massive audience for a visit by the Pope and a concert by U2. The Dome, which hosted the NCAA Final Four in 2002, will do so again in 2005.
The Dome, press material points out, "provides multiple stadium configurations that can seat up to 67,000 people. Seating levels include: a private luxury suite level, a private club seat and luxury suite level, a concourse level (lower bowl) and terrace level (upper bowl).... The floor of The Dome seats up to 13,000 theatre-style and up to 10,500 for banquets."
Other details: "The Dome's main press box provides 150 working positions. Also available are nine broadcast booths and an ancillary press box for up to 100 additional positions." Sports writers love to be comfy. In addition, the lighting grid can be lowered for different effects and its so-called "Magic Turf" system, used for football games, can be rolled up in an hour.
Moores also mentions Vancouver as another example of a city moving toward such multipurpose venues. That city's convention-center expansion is expected to be completed by 2008, in time for the city's hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Why is Moores so stadium-crazy? People who've talked to him say he thinks the 10th Avenue terminal is a loser for the Port District-estimates of its cargo business put the red ink somewhere in the $1 million-a-month category. Moores also owns undeveloped land between the ballpark and the marine terminal, which he would undoubtedly like to see spruced up and making money.
Hal Sadler, chairman of the Centre City Development Corp., the city's downtown redevelopment arm, is said to be equally giddy about the proposal. Sadler's firm was part of the design team behind the first convention center expansion.
So, who would likely step in the way of Moores' dream? Some observers think certain port commissioners may be reluctant to give up on San Diego's woeful cargo business. Port Commissioner and one-time mayoral wannabe Steve Cushman, whose Cush Auto Group relies heavily on the port's car-import prowess (one of the few bright spots in San Diego's cargo business), apparently caused a bit of a port-staff ruckus when he asked that a resolution be docketed to keep Moores' mittens off the 10th Avenue terminal.
It didn't happen, but Cushman is said to be ready for battle to save the terminal, which underwent $26 million in improvements during his tenure as port chairman.
In the meantime, Mayor Dick Murphy and his November challenger, county Supervisor Ron Roberts, aren't speaking publicly about Moores' sports-complex dream, but nonetheless have "intermediaries" looking at the notion, a source close to Moores said.
Whatever happens, this could well be the next big slugfest royale-much more fun to watch than a balloon drop, or a presidential convention for that matter.
Write to spincycle@SDcitybeat.com