Photo by Tristan Whitehouse
Long-time local political insider Mike Madigan may be overseeing work around the ballpark district in East Village, but it will be from the perch of his new condo and not in any official capacity for the city.
Anointed with much fanfare in 1999 by then-Mayor Susan Golding as the so-called “ballpark czar” to coordinate the biggest redevelopment project in city history, Madigan told CityBeat this week that he is leaving the $200,000-plus-a-year job in coming weeks so that he and his wife can complete their home purchase at Parkloft, an award-winning, massive brick-and-tan, loft-style development at 8th and Island avenues-less than two blocks from the quickly rising ballpark.
Despite political rumblings to the contrary, Madigan—a retired executive with Pardee Construction, a top homebuilder in town—insists that he made the decision to step down himself. His contract, which made him the highest-paid city staffer (even topping the city manager), attracted a good chunk of criticism for its generosity.
He called the condo purchase within the district he once reigned over “at least potentially a conflict, I suppose, to live there.” He said he will resign shortly out of “an abundance of caution.”
City Hall insiders, however, claim Madigan, whose intimacy with city leaders dates back to the '70s and Pete Wilson's mayoral dynasty, was asked to resign weeks ago after his purchase plans were discovered. One insider suggested that Madigan had threatened to sue the city over the flap, leading to a standoff with good friend Mayor Dick Murphy.
The mayor issued a succinct statement this week: “We appreciate Mr. Madigan's past service on the ballpark project but believe his departure was appropriate given his decision to purchase a condo in the ballpark district.”
Insiders said the controversy erupted while construction languished in the $1 billion redevelopment district as folks wrangled over several lawsuits pertaining to the project. The city prevailed on all legal matters, but during that time Madigan “did nothing but cash checks,” one insider said.
Madigan said the city is still paying him for some consulting work on the City of Villages plan and other “as-I-depart kinds of things, nothing long-term.”
The silver-haired, congenial Madigan admitted that his experience as ballpark czar was “frustrating,” but he said the project is proceeding along so quickly that his services really are no longer needed. He said he'd be surprised if a new czar were chosen.
“Certainly, you will have people in the city who will watch it,” Madigan explained, “but also at some level the ballpark is becoming an Erector Set at this point.”
He praised the work to date and predicted that “the ballpark is going to be a terrific addition for downtown San Diego.” Madigan also said he hoped the redevelopment project would do for the East Village area what Horton Plaza did for downtown proper more than 20 years ago, when he was a key player in those plans.
As for his future, Madigan said he is talking to a few people and plans to return to the private sector. He declined to be more specific.