Escondido: Ballpark Called Risky, but Loaded with Potential

North County Times – September 23, 2010 – By David Garrick –

Moorad consultant tells chamber that team would draw 500,000 fans. 

A minor league ballpark would draw an estimated 500,000 people per year to Escondido, boosting local businesses, helping the city’s arts center and building momentum behind a proposed creek walk, a consultant working with San Diego Padres owner Jeff Moorad said Thursday.

But the consultant, Erik Judson, said bringing a team to Escondido would also be somewhat risky for Moorad’s investment team, which would pay about $20 million for a Triple-A team it would move from Oregon, and for the city, which would pay about $50 million to build the ballpark.

Speaking to nearly 100 people gathered at the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, Judson said the success of the project would depend on significant support from the community and careful planning of development projects near the ballpark.

“It’s a bold move,” said Judson. “I’m not going to give you the impression today that it’s not without risk. You can’t just roll the balls out and say it will be successful.”

But Judson said Moorad and his investors were confident that the region could support three baseball teams —- the Padres in downtown San Diego, the Single-A Lake Elsinore Storm and a Triple-A team in Escondido.

He also said Escondido would be an ideal place for minor league baseball because it has a defined downtown with many amenities, the Sprinter rail line and the junction of Interstate 15 and Highway 78.

He said such attributes made it much more likely that Escondido’s ballpark would spur the same kinds of restaurants, shops and other development that sprouted around downtown San Diego’s Petco Park after it opened in 2004. Judson said he played a key role in making all of that development happen.

In response to a question from mayoral candidate Joe Bologna, Judson said he was not concerned about the region’s affinity for professional sports despite the failure of the San Diego Clippers basketball team and the relatively low Padres attendance during this summer’s pennant chase.

When real estate agent Bill Effinger asked Judson whether Moorad’s group would be willing to pay for part of the ballpark or make other financial concessions, Judson said numerous options were being discussed with city officials, but that he could not disclose them.

“The city has asked time and time again for us to take on more risk,” said Judson, explaining that such requests have made a deal elusive.

Moorad and his investors have been trying to buy land near a handful of possible Escondido ballpark sites in recent weeks to persuade the city that the ballpark would spur significant connected development.

But city officials have said Moorad’s investment team has insisted on keeping all revenue from concessions, ticket sales and naming rights.

Judson said a quick resolution was extremely important, noting that Dec. 1 is a target date for finalizing Moorad’s purchase of the Oregon team.

But Judson said Moorad would also be patient about allowing necessary “public debate” and that he had no plans to “draw a line in the sand.”

He said Moorad wants the deal to be a “win” for the city.

“We don’t want to extract something from the city they don’t get a return on investment from,” he said.

Judson was particularly upbeat about connecting the ballpark project with a proposal to transform the city’s concrete flood control channel into a lush creek walk, noting that most of the possible ballpark sites are located along the channel. He said the investment team had read an analysis of the project compiled recently by students from Cal Poly Pomona.

He also said the team plans to have concerts and an occasional farmers market at or near the ballpark, noting that Escondido is surrounded by abundant agriculture. He also said the stadium’s design would reflect the area’s rustic nature and ranchlike topography.

Judson mentioned the need for public support numerous times, and he said evidence that support was building is the Web site launched recently by two local residents.

He said one of Moorad’s reasons for adding a Triple-A team in Escondido was strengthening the Padres’ relationship with North County, noting that 21 of the 25 players on the Padres’ roster have spent time with the Oregon team.

“We’d like you to develop a relationship with the next generation of players,” he said.

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