Magazine article Sunset

San Diego Plays Ball

Magazine article Sunset

San Diego Plays Ball

Article excerpt

A new downtown stadium anchors burgeoning East Village

I found my favorite seat at San Diego's new Petco Park, a little down the line between third and home in a row fairly clinging to the uppermost rim of the stadium.

A bighorn sheep from nearby Anza-Borrcgo Desert State Park would love this seat. First I clambered up a steep, cantilevered bowl. Then, finding my perch, I all but hovered over the field. By merely turning ray head, I could look across the historic Gaslamp Quarter and out to the waterfront, the ocean, the sunset, infinity. This, I thought, is what baseball should be all about. You can see a game, but you get to watch a city.

The anchor of downtown San Diego's emerging East Village scene, the Padres' Petco Park opens another inning in the city's history. New hotels, stores, restaurants, offices, and live/work lofts have sprouted up. A revamped Park Boulevard better links downtown to Balboa Park. And red light-rail trolleys zip through the new neighborhood, soon to disgorge many of the more than 42,000 fans expected on April 8, the park's opening day.

It makes a village

The Padres' Petco Park is at the heart of a sprawling 26-block redevelopment area adjacent to the city's well-known Gaslamp Quarter. Parts of the ballpark district were once roll-your-sleeves-up enterprises: produce warehouses, dry storage, light manufacturing. Working artists loved the huge spaces and cheap rents offered by old, drafty, long-empty buildings. And much was down-and-out: a lost-soul zone reminiscent of the 19th-century days when the adjacent Gaslamp was known as the Stingaree-a place where hustlers stung you worse than any rays out at the beach.

After a contentious process that included a citywide vote in 1998, the ballpark got the go-ahead. Change happened at a frenetic pace. The curvaceous new Omni San Diego hotel now towers over Petco Park, linked to the stadium by a skywalk bridge so guests can get to games without descending to street level. Across Harbor Drive, the new second tower of the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego looks like a mast of the cruise ship-size San Diego Convention Center and its sail-like roofs. And several new loft/condo developments have opened up in the vicinity and offer tours of model units.

As I walked the neighborhood one evening at dusk, I turned a corner to the north of the park and saw the red neon sign atop tiny Cafe Noir dueling with Petco's stadium lights. At this 118year-old former house, where strong Java pours freely, young proprietors Zoe Poore and Riff Tressan greet customers with a decidedly bohemian flair-she in a Borsalino beret, he in a porkpie. "The stadium looks like the spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind," chuckled Poore, who grew up in a nearby loft. "But don't get me wrong. We moved here because of the new park. I think it's great."

The blossoming East Village is not quite yet a destination on its own. But combined with the hugely popular Gaslamp Quarter only a few blocks west, where the sidewalks are literally jammed with restaurant- and club-hopping visitors at night, East Village shows promise-even on a day when no baseball is in town.

Game day

"We did not want to build another great Eastern ballpark here in the Southwesternmost corner of the country," said the San Diego Padres' vice president of development, Erik judson, as he stood at the park's main entrance and ushered me in. …

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