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Milestones: The Big Game

The “Big Game” was just that.

Filling the stands at Levi’s is the primary objective of StadCo, the 49ers stadium management company. They did that Monday night.

When the concept of building and paying for a stadium was first introduced to Santa Clara a decade ago, the big question was, “How will we pay for it?”

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It was one thing to host a billion-dollar football team and another thing to pay for a billion-dollar stadium.

Many of you remember the huge arguments and divisions that raised eyebrows and tempers as the stadium idea was batted around.

For or against the stadium, the issue came down to money. How would the stadium bill be paid?

Civic supporters were optimistic, and opponents were convinced it would be an albatross, leaving the City with a budget-busting blight.

Because of her enthusiasm and leadership experience, local activist Lisa Gillmor was made Chair of the Measure J campaign to carry the issue to the voters. Measure J assured Santa Clara of a stadium on a 60-40 vote.

While seat license revenue would produce tens of millions towards the debt, it was the convincing argument of ancillary events that would pay the rest.

Events like concerts, national games, the Super Bowl and major entertainment would come to town, drawing ticket-paying crowds to fill the stands.

In the first four years of operations, the stadium did so well it paid down more than a third of its billion-dollar debt.

Then, the atmosphere of partnership and cooperation began to change. Lisa Gillmor was appointed Mayor to fill the shoes of Jamie Matthews, who abruptly retired after Super Bowl 2016.

The one-time enthusiastic leader for the stadium became its strongest opponent.

The 49ers thought it would be of value to have the soccer fields that adjoin the stadium and thought they had the Council votes to acquire it. Gillmor, who lobbied for creating the fields in the 90s, was not about to have that happen. She called the soccer folks who showed up in the hundreds at City Hall to object. She won, the 49ers lost, and the partnership became contentious.

Rather than taking her win as an important business decision for the city and community, Gillmor turned on the 49ers, making them out as greedy billionaires wanting to run the City.

This one event led Mayor Gillmor to discredit the 49ers in the last two elections. She backed the passage of two ballot measures preventing the 49ers from ever relocating the soccer fields.

The ongoing bad blood relationship has been costly to the City. The stadium noise ordinance passed by our Council eliminated two huge stadium events a year. Lost revenue? About $1.6 million a year to Santa Clara.

The recent College Football Playoff at Levi’s cost the 49ers about $10 million in expenses. Our City paid nothing. Did the City win and the 49ers lose? The 49ers considered the money a great investment for their — and our — future.

Stadiums are big business as are NFL teams. It just seems a partnership that worked could make more money for everyone. That folks, is the “Big Game.”

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