How Petco Park turned into a football stadium for the Holiday Bowl | MLB

SAN DIEGO — Bringing the SDCCU Holiday Bowl downtown didn’t require the Padres and bowl officials to move heaven and earth.

Just land.

And concrete. And seats. And grass. And part of the exterior wall. And …

This was all on top of contract language – a phrase informally known as the “Lucchino Clause” – which had to be eliminated before a football game could be played at Petco Park.

When they take to the field Tuesday night for the Holiday Bowl debut downtown, football players from North Carolina State and UCLA will have no idea how it all turned out. is produced.

How the Holiday Bowl debuted in 1978 at San Diego Stadium, but needed a new venue amid the aging stadium’s decline and eventual demise.

“We knew our days were numbered in this, so we had to think of other solutions,” said Mark Neville, CEO of Holiday Bowl. “Discussing with the Padres, this opportunity presented itself.”

Starting a new chapter in the 43-year-old’s bowling history for ‘this opportunity’ meant providing a new home for the holidays.

The Padres considered helping the Holiday Bowl a civic responsibility.

“If we didn’t step in and work with the Holiday Bowl to move it to Petco Park,” Padres CEO Erik Greupner said, “there wasn’t another place big enough in San Diego to keep the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.”

history lesson

There is quite a bit of history here dating back to Mission Valley and the old stadium.

San Diego Stadium opened in 1967 as a multi-purpose facility with the Chargers and Padres as major tenants.

Over the next 30 years, the stadium underwent several modifications. It peaked in 1997 with an expansion to 70,000 seats that may have made it suitable for Super Bowl football, but less attractive for enjoying a baseball game.

Amidst it all, the Padres were campaigning for a new home – a place where football wouldn’t be played.

When voters approved Proposition C in November 1998, the ballot measure included a memorandum of understanding between city agencies and the Padres for a “baseball park”.

The contract also included a clause that “no amateur or professional football matches will be played at the Ballpark.”

In some circles, it is known as the “Lucchino Clause”, a reference to former Padres President and CEO Larry Lucchino, who was the driving force behind the downtown ballpark.

Lucchino was smart enough to know that soon the Chargers would be coming to town to build them a new stadium.

The Padres were not interested in Petco Park becoming a multi-purpose facility similar to the old stadium.

And so the Lucchino clause was written into the contract.

Another subtle thing was done to keep football from being played downtown: when Petco Park was built, the plan included field dimensions that weren’t big enough to accommodate a football field.

Times change, and while a football-playing roommate isn’t welcome at Petco Park, a postseason college football game in late December is another matter.

In July, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to eliminate the no-soccer clause from the city’s stadium contract with the Padres, clearing the way for football to be played.

Removing a phrase from a contract was one thing.

Preparing the stadium for $2.2 million in modifications was something else entirely.

Land development

The two-month project began in mid-October, shortly after the Padres’ 2021 season ended.

The football field is positioned with one end zone in front of the Padres’ dugout and the other in left field.

The biggest problem was laying out the terrain, or, more accurately, the “buffer zones” behind the end zones.

Just as an airplane needs a long enough runway to land on, a receiver needs enough room to slow down after catching a touchdown pass without hitting a wall or landing in the seats.

To create a buffer zone at one end, 440 seats had to be removed and concrete hammered into the area at ground level adjacent to the Padres’ dugout.

Next, 93 cubic meters of concrete were poured and 462 seats (22 seats were added using space more efficiently) placed on 10 moveable structures that can be moved in and out as needed.

“These 10 pieces go in and out on a track system and we’ll have a special forklift designed to pull those pieces out,” Greupner said. “When we’re in baseball mode, which is the vast majority of the time, you can never tell the difference between what it was before and what it is now.

“When we convert the pitch to soccer mode or football or rugby mode, we have the option of bringing in this forklift and removing those 10 pieces.

“We can then grass where those sections were located to create the edge of the end zone and put the buffer zone in for safety.”

In the other end zone, the existing fixed wall in left center field has been removed and replaced with a wall that Greupner says is “just as strong and solid, but can be removed.”

“Behind we have built a permanent wall,” Greupner said. “So when we go into football mode, all we have to do is take that wall down, put it away and behind it we now have a fixed wall.

“And similarly (for the other end zone), lay some grass there to give us that buffer zone around the west end zone.”

Another football peculiarity was to erect three tiers of side seats in right field that could accommodate 478 people, located in the middle of 38 suites in groups of 10 to 20 seats.

Proximity should provide a unique visual experience.

“They’re going to be right on the sideline,” Greupner said, “just high enough that the team on the sideline won’t cause any obstruction of view.”

Capacity is expected to increase from 41,000 to 50,000 (including standing room) for football.

The installation of the goal posts and the protective net behind them was carried out on December 13 and 14. The installation of new sod – at a cost of approximately $200,000 – was completed over the weekend. The field was scratched and the end zones painted — appropriately, “UCLA” on the west and “NC STATE” on the east — Monday and Tuesday. A tarpaulin was then removed to protect it from the rain expected for several days before kick-off on Tuesday.

While the grass field is immaculate for baseball, the interior dirt areas are problematic for soccer. And then there’s this mass – the mound – in the middle. It takes about four hours to remove.

Each turf section is 42 inches wide and 50 feet long. This is a 1 1/2 inch thick cut of overseeded Bermuda grass.

“It’s a much thicker cut turf that we’re going to lay down for the Holiday Bowl (than for baseball),” Greupner said. “It’s like a big heavy carpet that you roll out.

“It will not be grass that you will grow and stay in. It will just be grass that you use for the time we have it in football mode and then that grass will come back.

“We want to make sure for football, for a bowling game, that we put our best foot forward, no pun intended, in terms of the playing surface.”

While busy with the annual details of hosting a match, Neville this year has the added anxiety that comes with a change of venue.

Things like making sure game clocks are working, referee mics and coaches’ communication lines are properly wired, and connectivity for the Fox Sports broadcast is good.

But Neville is all smiles with the new decor.

“There’s so much excitement around Petco Park,” he said. “The Gaslamp Quarter, East Village, Little Italy and all the surrounding entertainment districts.”

This energy will be multiplied as the game approaches.

The day before the game, bands NC State and UCLA will play on Fifth Avenue and Market Street and a concert featuring bands from the 1980s will take place in Gallagher Square.

Game day begins downtown with a 5k run and parade in the morning. Afterwards, fans can congregate at various restaurants and bars before heading to Petco Park.

“It’s known to be one of the biggest sports venues in the country,” Neville said. “All of the amenities he has in the park and all of the expertise of the Padres in producing events and working with them has been excellent.

“I firmly believe that the experience at Petco Park for our bowling game will be better than any bowling game in the country.”

When Proposition C, the campaign measure that paved the way for Petco Park, was introduced to voters in 1998, it came with a slogan: “More than a ballpark.”

The reference then was that the Padres’ new home would be a catalyst for downtown redevelopment.

Obviously, that means something more now.

“The way we always understood it was that this stadium had to be more than just a site for 81 home baseball games,” Greupner said. “He had to be an economic engine for our region and the only way to do that was to take seriously the responsibility of activating the site all year round, not just with 81 ball games.

“The implicit trade with the Padres is that we wanted to take very good care of the place, which we did, and we had to find ways to fully activate it so that we could provide good paying jobs to San Diegans and bring the people in the area outside of San Diego, which helps our economy.

The Padres’ 2021 home schedule didn’t even make up half of the events held this year at Petco Park.

It has also hosted three dozen private events, 19 concerts, 18 graduations, 16 Friday Parties in the Parks, five virtual events, four drive-ins, three fitness events, two film shoots, two weddings, two Bar Mitzvahs, a trade show, a month-long holiday event, a week-long golf event, a beer festival and a school dance.

The Padres have made it a priority to keep the facility shiny and new. A $7 million renovation of the ballpark’s nearly 70 suites is the latest project to maintain and improve the venue.

“Our goal for Petco Park is for it to be San Diego’s singular iconic location,” Greupner said.

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