Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Great America owner says 'no' to Niners stadium


Great America owner says 'no' to Niners stadium in Santa Clara
Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross
Tuesday, October 9, 2007

(10-09) SANTA CLARA - If the San Francisco 49ers want to move to Santa Clara, they may have to buy the Great America amusement park as well.

Cedar Fair Corp., which operates Great America - and whose main parking lot the Niners have been eyeing for their dream stadium - has told team officials that they oppose the $853 million project, the 49ers said today.

The company said that once before, then backed off its opposition. This time, however, it's official.

Cedar Fair is preparing to issue a statement Wednesday saying it has concluded, after months of study, that the 49ers' plan to build a 68,000-seat stadium east of Highway 101 won't work for Great America because of the loss of parking, traffic disruptions and the overall negative impact on theme park customers.

Officials in Santa Clara, which collects $5.3 million a year in revenue from Great America, say they consider Cedar Fair's support of the stadium essential for the deal to go forward. The company's plan to announce its opposition came as news to City Hall, where officials said Cedar Fair was continuing to negotiate with Santa Clara as late as today.

"Cedar Fair would need to cooperate with the proposal," Assistant City Manager Carol McCarthy said. "The land is leased to them."

The question is whether Cedar Fair's latest pronouncement is meant as a deal killer, or just the start of intensive negotiations to force the 49ers to buy the amusement park, whose assessed value last year was $114 million.

Cedar Fair wasn't doing much today to clear up the question - company representatives declined to elaborate in advance of Wednesday's announcement.

Team spokeswoman Lisa Lang noted that Cedar Fair has been "flip-flopping" on the stadium - first backing the idea, then saying it was against it, then taking a neutral stance before going negative again - and that the company's real goal may be to sell Great America.

In fact, Lang said, company officials broached the subject with the Niners during recent negotiations. Team officials believe that by announcing its opposition to the stadium deal, Cedar Fair may be looking to drive a harder bargain.

The 49ers, desperate to escape Candlestick Point by the 2012 season, aren't ruling out a Great America purchase.

"It's not how we approached this project originally, but if it's something we need to consider to move this project forward, we will consider it," Lang said.

Lang said the team is also willing to consider other options - including moving the stadium to a 17-acre parking lot just east of the current proposed site. Great America uses that lot for overflow parking.

That plan, however, is less attractive to the Niners because the stadium and its parking lot would be separated, forcing fans to walk farther to get to their seats.

"We don't feel it creates as much of an entertainment district," Lang said.

Bottom line, Lang says: "There are a number of site configurations (Cedar Fair) could look at if they are serious about wanting to go forward with the project."

But she said the company has been sending "litigators" rather than planners to recent meetings.

"From our perspective, it's just flip-flopping noise we will continue to hear as we negotiate with them, and you have to recognize that for what it is," Lang said.

Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross appear Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. Phil can be seen on CBS-5 morning and evening news. He can also be heard on KCBS radio Monday through Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Got a tip? Call them at (415) 777-8815 or drop them an e-mail at matierandross@sfchronicle.com.

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