The game’s not over yet, but on Wednesday the San Francisco 49ers struck a deal with the city of Santa Clara to build their new stadium there. After more than two years of discussions, the city council approved the terms of a new $937 million facility, to be designed by Kansas City-based architectural firm HNTB.
The 49ers have been itching to get out of their dilapidated digs at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park for some time. Last year, San Francisco voters signed off on a sweeping redevelopment plan for the Hunters Point neighborhood, including plans for a new stadium, with developer Lennar agreeing to chip in $100 million towards the new facilities. But the 49ers were already deep into talks about moving 40 miles south, where its headquarters and training fields are located (and where there was much more room for parking and far fewer road improvement issues), leaving San Francisco at fourth and long.
In an intricate investment and revenue-sharing deal, Santa Clara will contribute an amount similar to San Francisco’s proposal: $79 million from redevelopment funds and another $35 million from a special tax at local hotels. After an environmental impact review is completed in the fall, the plan will go to residents for a vote next spring.
The proposed locale is a 15-acre overflow parking lot for the Great America amusement park. “The city planned for an entertainment center right in a core of business parks, so a stadium fits very nicely into that concept,” said assistant city manager Ron Garratt. He anticipates that the project, slated for completion in 2014, will attract new hotel development on seven open acres nearby.
The plans by HNTB, which envision the stadium as more of a multipurpose space, will go through a public design review in the next few months. “The challenge that our owners have set for the architects is to create the next generation of stadium design,” said Steve Fine, director of business communications for the 49ers. “We wanted to create a dynamic concept that wouldn’t date itself quickly.”
The plans reflect the latest thinking in stadium design, replacing a section of the traditional tiered bowl with a stack of suites and club spaces. Instead of ringing the mezzanine level, the suites are all on one side. Four levels of club space beneath are designed to double as extra meeting spaces for the convention center across the street or for other events. On either side of the block of suites, large plazas open the stadium up to surrounding views; they can also be outfitted with temporary seating to expand the stadium’s capacity from 68,000 seats to 75,000 seats.
The stadium is designed for good views from all seats, with a larger percentage of seats in the desired "lower bowl" than any other NFL stadium. Open concourses are designed so that fans can still see the field while buying their refreshments. In the initial designs, the vertical wing will also have a green roof. Solar panels, a paperless ticketing system, and energy-efficient building controls are all envisioned. The vertical facade, which faces the freeway just west, can be used as a scrim to project attention-catching graphics.
With the clubhouse forming its façade, the stadium from a distance will resemble one of the area’s office complexes. It might not be the most distinctive structure, but that could be to its advantage in Santa Clara. Meanwhile, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is sowing dissent, publicly remarking that Santa Clarans should be putting public money into schools, rather than stadiums.
Can Newsom come up with a hail mary to keep the Niners in town?