Ballpark Infrastructure Project hits a grand slam

Project secures consensus, creative financing, and effective maintenance strategies

Maroun El-Hage, P.E., Senior Civil Engineer/Ballpark Infrastructure Project Manager, City of San Diego, California

Keith Gillfillan, P.E., Senior Vice President, Berryman & Henigar, San Diego, California

When 46,000 fans enthusiastically wait for the first pitch in April 2004 at the San Diego Padres new $453.4 million ballpark, few will know that a dedicated team of stakeholders worked closely together for more than three years to not only ensure that their Opening Day experience at the ballpark will be memorable, but also that getting there will be seamless and easy.

Concurrent with the ballpark construction is the $35 million Ballpark Infrastructure Project, comprising an adjacent 26-block area (originally a warehouse and produce district) that is being redeveloped. Several historic buildings were also preserved, and one, the Candy Factory, a non-reinforced three-story concrete structure, was even moved 200 feet and situated behind right field.

Achieving consensus
The infrastructure project has more than 50 separate design and engineering tasks involving relocation and reconstruction of water and sewer systems, new streets, underground utilities relocation/demolition, drainage improvements to correct flooding conditions and provide for a storm drain collection system where none existed before, historic structure preservation, parking lots, landscape and streetscape enhancements, permitting, ADA compliance, building demolition, and railroad modifications.

Many large infrastructure projects such as this one require consensus from a wide variety of public and private sector stakeholders. Community relations played a critical role in promoting consensus among stakeholder agencies for the ballpark project. Consensus was developed on improvements as well as alignment and geometric configuration to Park Boulevard, a new pedestrian-friendly gateway to the ballpark, historic Gaslamp Quarter and San Diego Bay.

Seventeen alternative alignments were prepared and five stakeholder workshops were conducted to reach consensus. Stakeholders included the City of San Diego, San Diego Padres, Port of San Diego, Centre City Development Corp. (the City's redevelopment corporation), Gaslamp Association, East Village Association, Metropolitan Transit Development Board, Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and numerous private developers. Key engineering consultants included Berryman & Henigar and Sverdrup.

Financing the ballpark
The financing of the ballpark utilized a combination of both private and public funds from the City of San Diego, the Redevelopment Agency of the City, the Padres, and the San Diego Unified Port District. When the project was originally conceived the estimated cost of the project was $411 million; however, due to numerous lawsuits seeking to stop the project, the project was delayed for several years and costs escalated to $453.4 million.

  3D rendering of the project

A portion of the City's contribution to the ballpark was provided through the issuance of tax-exempt lease revenue bonds. However, the litigation on the ballpark had another negative consequence: Because cases remaining at the time the bonds were issued caused some uncertainty over the validity and tax-exempt status of the bonds, the City's co-bond counsel issued a qualified opinion regarding the validity and tax-exempt status of the bonds; issuing bonds with such an opinion is extremely unusual. This served to increase the interest rate on the City's lease revenue bonds, thus increasing the cost to finance the project. In addition, although the City secured a municipal bond insurance policy covering the bonds, such a policy only insures the principal and interest payments due on the bonds. The policy does not cover the risk of potential tax liability and the risk of loss in bond value. As a result, the City utilized a limited placement structure to issue the bonds, under which the City received indemnification for the aforementioned risks.

To help mitigate financing cost increases resulting from the litigation, the City cash-funded a significant portion of its contribution, which served to reduce the amount that needed to be bond-financed. Additionally, the City included a three-year call option on the bonds, versus a traditional 10-year call option, so that, depending upon market conditions, the City could refinance the bonds at a lower interest rate once the outstanding litigation was favorably resolved to the City and bond counsel could issue an unqualified opinion on the refunding bonds. The City is currently working on such a refinancing, and, based on current market conditions, it is estimated that it could produce approximately $2.9 million in savings annually.

Maintenance strategy
Designing a maintenance strategy for major infrastructure projects was an essential element. A successful maintenance strategy was not a "given" but would require mutual cooperation and a true team effort. In addition, implementing an effective maintenance strategy would also help the community at large as the tasks completed today will continue to have an impact on the area for many years to come.

One of the maintenance strategies used for the ballpark project was an innovative drainage design of underground detention basins. Existing drainage facilities in the area are minimal and often undersized. The new ballpark replaces several blocks of grid pattern street configurations and acts as a blockade to drainage that would normally flow south down 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th Avenues.

A detailed hydrologic analysis determined expected runoff during a major storm event in order to appropriately size detention basins, storm drain piping, and curb inlets surrounding the new ballpark infrastructure. The analysis indicated that existing drainage systems could only handle a five- or ten-year storm event.

By storing the 100-year flow in concrete box structures and slowly releasing the flow into the existing storm drain basins serving the ballpark area, the City was able to save more than $1.5 million. City maintenance staff and the engineering team worked together to devise a self-cleaning and maintenance-free detention basin. In addition, large access hatches were incorporated into the design to allow easy entrance of equipment if a more rigorous cleaning program was needed.

These underground detention structures will provide a number of benefits. Tributary runoff from development in the area can be safely contained in the basins with minimal upgrades to downstream drainage systems. The reduced downstream outflows improve any potential inundation problems caused from the existing undersized storm drains. Lastly, costly offsite drainage improvements and the possibility of encountering contaminated soils (a concern when constructing any new outlet to San Diego Bay) were avoided.

Historic preservation
Another major effort in the Ballpark Infrastructure Project was preserving a number of historic structures in the area. Various City Department staff, the Centre City Development Corporation and the Historical Site Preservation Board coordinated efforts to complete a Resource Protection Ordinance application, required in conjunction with protecting historically significant buildings. Historical permits were obtained for seven buildings, which included:

  • San Diego Gas & Electric building at Imperial & 11th Avenue
  • Western Metals building on 7th Avenue (over a century old and located near the left field foul pole)
  • Candy Factory on "K" Street
  • Simon-Levi building at 7th & "J" Street
  • Bundy Lofts
  • Rosario Hall
  • Kvass building

A detailed process was also implemented to determine the disposition of each structure:

  • Photographs were taken of each building to be demolished for records purposes.
  • Site surveys were performed to ascertain whether certain historic components should be saved, relocated, or demolished (e.g., window/doorway entry construction or facade).
  • Negotiated at the staff level to determine which buildings would be preserved, moved or demolished.
  • Presentations were made to the Historical Resources Board regarding a mitigation plan for each historic building.
  • Presentations were made to the Planning Commission and City Council for plan approval.

What could have been a very time-consuming process resulted in a well-received mitigation program and approval within three months of the initial meeting.

Redevelopment places a high priority on pedestrian-oriented communities. The ballpark, with its high pedestrian volumes on event days; adjacent hotels and Convention Center; extension of Martin Luther King Promenade; and public transit systems (bus and trolley) presented several pedestrian accessibility challenges:

  • Devising manageable access that was workable for non-event days as well as event days.
  • Conveying large volumes of pedestrian traffic across major streets and two separate railroad crossings.
  • Providing safe and efficient pedestrian access from trolley stations, parking lots, buildings, and Linear Park.
  • Providing manageable access from planned bus stops within the Ballpark District.

The expertise and advice of two local access bodies were sought—the Trolley Access Committee (TAC) and Subcommittee on Removal of Access Barriers (SCRAB). As a result, several state-of-the-art facilities not commonly employed were incorporated into the ballpark infrastructure design as well as changes and modifications to standard facilities. Key access improvements include:

  • Additional pedestrian ramps at curb returns to provide straight lines of travel between ramps from one side of the street intersection to the other.
  • Installation of raised tactile strips at railroad and trolley crossings.
  • Adding raised tactile strips in crosswalks that do not align at 90 degrees across a street.
  • Installation of ceramic disks (similar to Caltrans lane separators) at each pedestrian ramp.
  • Installation of additional signage to re-route all pedestrians to a safer and more efficient thoroughfare.
  • Adding landscape features to provide a noticeable texture difference to guide the blind or visually impaired at meandering or curving sidewalk locations.
  • Crosswalk signals near the ballpark will employ state-of-the-art audio technology that tells visually impaired people what intersection they are at. The buttons have Braille and are touch-activated.

Ongoing communication was paramount to the success of the Ballpark Infrastructure Project. Monthly meetings were held with stakeholders to maintain continuity, and a Quality Control Program implemented at the onset carefully monitored the work plan, budget, schedules, cost controls and resource allocations.

  Ballpark under construction

The net result is that the project has stimulated over a billion dollars worth of development in downtown San Diego and will also generate millions of tax increment dollars, which can help pay for additional rehabilitation projects in the surrounding area. What was once an underdeveloped part of the City will soon resonate with the sounds of "play ball!"

Maroun El-Hage, P.E., is Senior Civil Engineer/Ballpark Infrastructure Project Manager, City of San Diego. He can be reached at (619) 533-3160 or at Keith Gillfillan, P.E., is Senior Vice President of Berryman & Henigar. The company provides municipal management consulting, civil engineering, public finance, building safety, asset management, and program and construction management to public agencies. He can be reached at (858) 451-6100 or at