After last week's public forum on changes to the Padres' plans for urban development fronting the new ballpark, one man associated with the development looked at the hubbub with 20/20 hindsight and said the Padres should have drawn pictures of huge skyscrapers back in 1998 when the team was selling the new ballpark idea to voters.
Had the Padres done so, folks like Barbara and Frank Glenski might not be crying foul. As is it, people like the Glenskis, diehard Padres fans and holders of season tickets at the new park, are arguing that the Padres sold voters on a proposal to front the park with a modest development called East Village Square, as well as something called the “Park at the Park,” but are now pitching something completely different.
The idea now is for three separate elements of East Village Square to include much taller buildings, including a high-rise, very-high-rent office tower straight out past centerfield. Meanwhile, the Park at the Park, which would sit between the office building and the stadium, had been sold to voters as an elevated grassy area with views of the field on a enormous TV screen. A few weeks ago, the Padres announced that the park probably won't be high enough for picnickers to see the action over the outfield wall, although they're currently hard at work trying to maintain some of the original elevation. And at this point, the big TV's a goner.
At last week's forum, Barbara Glenski stopped her knitting, stood up and said, essentially, that her beloved Padres lied to her to get her to vote yes on the ballpark.
Voila`-instant public relations disaster.
The Padres and their real estate-development wing, JMI Realty, are arguing that economic changes have forced them to alter their plans. They no longer believe they can develop two floors of retail space in East Village Square, which they would need to create an elevated park (the first level accessible from the outside of the square; the second level from the inside). They also say they need an office building-and the hundreds and hundreds of employees it would hold- to support the retail development on a year-round basis. Their arguments are plausible.
But because they didn't foresee this five years ago, the Padres and their developers now have to contend with Padres fans who got used to the idea of having a larger window to the outside world from within the stadium, and with people who fell in love with the notion of being able to watch a game for $5 from a grassy hill and with stadium detractors who'll pounce on any opportunity to say that the Padres are not operating in good faith.
The Padres and JMI are now saying there's misinformation floating about and false claims being made. But they really don't have anyone to blame but themselves-they oversold the project. They should have made it abundantly clear that the drawings they displayed and the ideas they presented back in 1998 were conceptual. They knew things could change. At least, they should have known. They knew they'd be sued by ballpark opponents, and that the court battles would be costly. At least, they should have known.
That said, the Padres and JMI are doing the right thing by listening to the public's concerns during forums like the one held last week. Continuing those forums, so that the public isn't surprised by whatever plans are presented to City Council next year, would be smart.
To the concerned public, we say: Even though the office space at the park will be for the richest businesses, it will free up office space elsewhere, and more downtown office space is needed. And it will help drive the retail business near the stadium.
Furthermore, an elevated park is not as great as it sounds. Fans will pay $5 to see tiny little men run around in the distance-about 600 feet away-on portions of the field. Meanwhile, part of the park would be fenced off from the non-paying public. It'd be better to have a free park for all to use-ballgame or not. And as for views outside the park from within, we say fans should get used to the idea that this is an urban park. Let's focus now on the design of the East Village Square buildings.