Tonight, a Golden State Warriors team boasting the best starting lineup in the league will kick off its season against the San Antonio Spurs. Fans will fill Oracle Arena, the Warriors’ home in the Bay Area since 1971, and erupt into raucous, eardrum-rupturing cheers from the moment small forward Kevin Durant makes his debut as a Warrior to every three-point shot that point guard Stephen Curry launches.
And, if all goes according to Warriors’ owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber’s plan, the game will mark one of the final opening games that the Warriors will play in Oakland — a plan that has exemplified a model path of stadium-building negotiations.
This summer, the Warriors overcame environmental concerns — one of their largest hurdles — in their plan to build a new arena in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco. With this victory, the Lacob and Guber dream of relocating the Warriors to San Francisco and building a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue in the city becomes more attainable. It also marks a possible resolution of a political battle that has stretched across years and holds key lessons for any plans to build stadiums in the future.
The Warriors announced their plans to relocate the team from Oakland to San Francisco in May 2012. Lacob and Guber’s vision involved a multi-use arena in the space between Piers 30 and 32, just south of the Bay Bridge and north of AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants. The Warriors agreed to invest $75 to $100 million dollars to repair the two piers, and in exchange, the City of San Francisco would lease the land to the team for free.
The plan had one shining advantage to it: The Warriors’ new arena, with costs estimated at $450 to $500 million, would be privately funded. With publicly funded athletic stadiums getting a perpetual beating in news media, Lacob and Guber did well to avoid this skirmish from the get-go.
Though the plan received the support of the likes of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and California Lieutenant Governor — also former San Francisco mayor — Gavin Newsom, it was also met with swift backlash.
A neighborhood association expressed concern about the arena’s impact on traffic and crime. Former San Francisco mayor Art Agnos publicly denounced the arena, arguing it would worsen traffic in the city and mar views of the San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge.
In December 2013, an initiative called the “Waterfront Height Limit Right to Vote Act” was proposed to limit the height of buildings along the waterfront and effectively prevent Lacob and Guber’s dream from being realized.
Nearly two years later, the Warriors owners made a calculated decision to pivot from their initial plan. In October 2015, Golden State bought a 12-acre plot of land just south of AT&T Park in the Mission Bay district from Salesforce.
The waterfront property sits diagonally from the medical center and children’s hospital of the University of California, San Francisco. The arena, called the Chase Center, is projected to cost roughly $1 billion, doubling the initial amount needed for the arena. However, the arena would still be privately funded.
The Warriors’ thoroughness was the key to assuaging many of the public’s concerns. This time, when the Warriors announced their intention to build a sports and entertainment venue nearby the UCSF campus, it did so with the blessing of a neighbor and concrete plans to help alleviate traffic.
Complaints about the structure blocking the view of the Bay Bridge and the Bay were addressed. UCSF branded the arena as a “win-win” move.
And again, if this was not obvious, the Warriors’ commitment to keeping the venue privately funded was as important as its flexibility on the arena’s location.
Amid controversies across the country in every professional sports league — including San Francisco’s own 49ers of the NFL — publicly funded stadiums are easy targets for public ire. Avoiding this conflict altogether surely helped the team in its bid for San Francisco real estate.
While the Warriors still face some opposition from neighborhood associations, the end is more certain than it has ever been. And for the Warriors, that end means prime and pricey real estate — with a really great view — for years to come.
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