As I look out my downtown office window onto the majestic view of our new Petco Park, I find it hard to imagine that six years have passed since East Village was chosen as the site for San Diego's future ballpark.
They were a challenging six years, fraught with debate and uncertainty as to what benefit this ballpark would ultimately bring to San Diego. In the end, fortunately, reason prevailed. Thanks to the proactive decisions and sound negotiations made over these years by San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy and the San Diego City Council, together with the Centre City Development Corp., the Padres and private enterprise, we now have a revitalized neighborhood downtown that can only be described as the ultimate "win-win" situation.
Everybody wins in this game -- our local economy, the downtown redevelopment effort, our tourism sector and professional sports in San Diego.
From the standpoint of San Diego's visitor industry, the ballpark project is a critical link to the future health of our convention and meetings business. Six years ago, East Village was a prime example of urban blight. Many visitors and convention delegates expressed surprise and disappointment that they encountered an urban wasteland just a few blocks from the convention center. This was, obviously, not the type of cosmopolitan experience that visitors look for when visiting a city that prides itself on being one of the nation's finest.
Just as we knew it would, the ballpark has been a catalyst for the development a whole new live-work area right in the heart of our city. The neighborhood, once built out, will be filled with shops, restaurants, art galleries and revitalized pedestrian zones for residents and visitors to enjoy equally. Instead of looking out over an urban wasteland just a few blocks from the San Diego Convention Center, hundreds of thousands of convention delegates will gravitate to this new, exciting corner of our urban core -- where they can spend their visitor dollars supporting a wide variety of local businesses and services.
The ballpark's importance to our visitor industry -- San Diego's third largest -- goes without saying. It has provided an anchor to help support the development of this area as a visitor destination. Thanks to the successful negotiations with the city, the Padres and their development partners agreed to build some 747 hotel rooms as part of the total project.
The 32-floor Omni Hotel adjacent to Petco Park, now open for business, boasts 511 of these rooms. These hotel rooms are desperately needed to help house the increased numbers of delegates who continue to attend conventions in our expanded and extremely popular convention center. Additional hotel projects are in the planning or construction phase and once completed will provide even more choice accommodations for visitors and delegates within walking distance of the convention center.
In addition to these valuable hotel rooms, Petco Park will also stimulate the development of thousands of square feet of office and retail space, parking spaces and residential housing units -- creating an urban experience that combines the excitement of a business and retail district with the "down home" feel of a diverse neighborhood. It doesn't matter whether you live in San Diego or are here as a tourist -- people simply like to visit, have fun and spend money in an attractive, safe and entertaining setting.
And speaking of money spent, the estimated annual economic impact of future ballpark events on the San Diego economy will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. We're not just guessing at these potential benefits, either. There are several examples of the urban metamorphoses generated by the construction of a downtown ballpark in cities across the country. New ballparks have woven their economic magic in cities such as Baltimore, Cleveland and Denver, becoming tourist attractions and destinations in themselves while turning urban blight into vibrant, healthy neighborhoods.
When there are no Padres home games, the ballpark can generate even more revenue as a convention-related special event and corporate entertainment venue. Meeting planners are always looking for fresh and unique places to hold a memorable event for their convention groups. Petco Park, with its several special event venue options, would be a perfect choice for such an experience, not only due to its proximity a few blocks from the convention center, but also because of its overall ambiance and layout. Just imagine the fun and excitement of holding an annual meeting, awards banquet or convention gala in the center of a ballpark, surrounded by the sparkling lights of San Diego's dramatic skyline!
While we know what appeal the ballpark will have for our convention delegates, we're also certain that many leisure travelers will want to visit the ballpark district and that it will develop into a "site to be seen" in its own right. Shopping, dining and just strolling around the ballpark will eventually become a popular activity for the millions of annual San Diego visitors. Several downtown hotels are already actively booking ballpark packages that combine tickets to a ballgame with a hotel room, dinner, various tours and other activities for visitors to San Diego who want everything planned out for them in one transaction.
Incidentally, these same tourists and convention delegates who spend their dollars in San Diego are ultimately helping to finance the ballpark's construction. For the next 30 years, transient occupancy tax dollars, paid by visitors who spend the night in area hotels and motels, will be allocated by the city for this purpose.
Again, as I gaze down on this dazzling addition to our downtown skyline, I'm overwhelmed at the incredible renaissance triggered by the ballpark project. As the excitement of the major league baseball season continues and more people become familiar with the transformation of East Village, it will be more and more evident that Petco Park has done much to place San Diego on yet another level as an incredibly attractive and exciting destination for visitors and residents alike.
Reinders is president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. E-mail him at email@example.com.