Padres Magazine – September 1, 2008 – By Leslie Filson –
Padres ballpark project the genesis for JMI Sports.
Looking at PETCO Park and downtown’s thriving East Village, it’s hard to remember lonely warehouses, abandoned storage yards and sun-scorched parking lots.
But that was reality before the Padres moved to the neighborhood in spring 2004. And it’s a success story the people behind PETCO Park want to share.
“The business of sports is more than players on the field,” says Erik Judson, who spent nearly 10 years overseeing the PETCO Park project before founding JMI Sports in 2006. “Facility development is a big part of it.”
Judson and eight employees at JMI Sports — a John Moores planning, development and investment company — are managing two high-profile projects: the Goodyear Ballpark and Recreational Sports Complex, in Goodyear, Ariz.; and the University of Oregon Arena in Eugene, Ore.
“JMI Sports was an effort to take the amazing experience we gained from developing PETCO Park to other communities,” Judson says. “It’s such a great story, and we’ve got to find a way to communicate it.”
In Arizona’s Sonoran desert, near the Gila River and Sierra Estrella mountain range, the year- round spring training facility for the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds is nearly complete. Judson, whose office is upstairs at PETCO Park, doesn’t see the venture as ordinary: The Goodyear complex will serve as a town center and include a 10,000-seat ballpark, shops, restaurants, hotels and housing in a city named for the rubber and tire company that once grew cotton there. It’s the first time a “master planning and economic development” approach has been taken at a spring training facility, Judson says.
Goodyear seemed the perfect market for something unique. The city, about 20 minutes west of Phoenix, has a population of 58,000 with projections for 600,000. City leaders had tried to lure a Major League ballclub for more than 10 years but didn’t have the tax base, says Goodyear Deputy City Manager Brian Dalke. Now, with support from the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, two Major League teams from Ohio are on their way to the city named for an Ohio company.
“With two teams from Ohio, the fans will love to travel,” Dalke says. “It’ll be like having three teams here with the fan base they have.”
Bob DiBiasio, Cleveland Indians vice president of public relations, says the team is ready for the move. It’s a homecoming of sorts: The Indians trained in Tucson, Ariz., for 47 years before moving to Winter Haven, Fla., in 1993.
“There is a lot of activity at a 12-month facility,” DiBiasio says. “When the season ends we really do hope and we are actually expecting we’ll get a number of our players, Major and minor league, who will move to the area and access the facility.”
Ballplayers, trainers, coaches and staff will be greeted by a natural mix of concrete; wood; steel; and metal.
“There is some great modern architecture in Arizona,” Judson says. “We wanted something to reflect that community. I cut my teeth at PETCO and this place is so unique. We are trying to replicate that in Goodyear. This is a modern interpretation of Southwest architecture that celebrates their community.”
Judson’s team dreams big: The company web site opens with a stunning photo of the Colosseum, one of the greatest symbols in Roman civilization.
“We’re not interested in building sports facilities with four walls that don’t embrace the community,” says Judson, who once played baseball in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system. “The culture of sports and what it can provide is important for us.”
Preserving that culture can be a delicate operation. Take the Oregon Arena, the 12,500-seat future venue of Oregon Ducks basketball. It will replace historic McArthur Court, a beloved wooden structure dating back to the 1920s and one of the oldest on- campus arenas in use today.
“The University of Oregon project is different,” Judson says. “It’s really important for us for a few reasons. McArthur Court is a symbol of the university, and this is a new opportunity for us. There are numerous complexities in integrating it into the campus.”
Construction on the project is set to begin after the city, university and JMI Sports iron out land-use permit details; completion is scheduled for November 2010, Judson says.
University of Oregon Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny says a modern arena will give the team an advantage.
“Given the competitive nature of Pac-10 and Division I basketball, part of your ability to compete is determined by your facilities,” he says. “When you have an arena built in the 1920s, you don’t have any premium seating or an ability to create a club environment for fans who want those types of amenities. Of equal importance, special student athletes are interested in playing in venues that are state-of-the-art.”
Kilkenny, formerly of San Diego, loves what he sees at PETCO Park and trusts JMI’s vision at the university.
“PETCO Park embodies the intimate nature of baseball and also gives you the bene- fit of the modern trappings of athletics,” Kilkenny says. The Oregon Arena will provide that same ultra-modern, yet intimate, sports setting, he adds.
The arena’s design architect, Bob Thompson of TVA Architects, says its modern, clean lines are a nod to technology and the university’s future.
“The building clearly speaks to the future and also harks back to a lot of those elements of McArthur Court that are held so preciously and closely to the alumni of the university,” Thompson says. “We are designing a tight, intimate bowl with great sidelines and great acoustics.”
Judson understands well the need to respect the past. While building PETCO Park, the Padres worked closely with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Save Our Heritage Organization to identify 18 buildings of concern, notably the Western Metal Supply Co. building that sits proudly in left field. Since its completion, PETCO Park has been honored with nearly 30 awards, including some for historic preservation.
“What’s critical in this business is how you can translate a sports facility to the surrounding real estate,” Judson says. “We clearly showed the value of PETCO to downtown San Diego and want to do that with other projects as well. We don’t want to just oversee a project. We are about the development of communities.”
Working closely with communities, builders and designers is just part of Judson’s day. He honed his skills as the first person hired by the Padres dedicated solely to developing PETCO Park. He didn’t have a background in architecture, but a degree in economics and master’s in business administration. Yet he was involved in every aspect of PETCO Park’s development.
“I didn’t know what I was getting involved with in 1996,” Judson says. “It was an amazing ride. You don’t focus so much on original ideas, but take the best of the ideas you’re priv- ileged to be around.”
Judson says he was like a sponge, soaking in all he could from Moores, the Padres chairman and owner, and Larry Lucchino, the former Padres president who helped spearhead the ballpark effort in San Diego. Lucchino, now the president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, had the experience of helping raise Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
“These are people with such amazing knowledge,” Judson says. “If you can take away bits and pieces of knowledge, that is so valuable. It’s about the people I could learn from and the relationships along the way.”