A weblog covering the San Diego Padres.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Petco Park, From The Outside

Yes! I finally made my way down to Petco Park today. After finally stopping at Grab-And-Go Subs and dropping a friend off at the airport, I drove down Harbor Drive, and through Downtown, to Petco.

I parked at a meter near the outfield picnic area, and walked over. Construction work is still happening, and they looked about halfway done with the new Picnic/cheap seat area, as there was grass, some trees, and a few other random buildings (hopefully concessions and restrooms), plus a lot of workers and bulldozers.

The rest of the park is basically finished, and looks incredibly sterile. Obviously, I could not enter the park, but I made sure to walk around the entire perimeter of the place, starting at the outfield. There's a lot of grass, trees, and immaculately kept sidewalks outside the park. Most of the facade is a mix of steel and this beige/orange/brown brick. Near the main area of the park, on the bay side, is the main structure. What's interesting is the use of the bricks in the original structure as well as some architectural elements.

Near the home plate area I think it's the Padres' corporate offices, where a pyramidal structure arches into the park, all made out of this brick. There's a lot of interesting layering and design, reminiscent of both Horton Plaza, with its blended levels (am I on the first floor, or second? Or am I inbetween? How do I get out of here?) and Escher-esque visual fantasy, and an nod to the Getty Center in the simple brick facades.

Either way I think this is one of the highlights of what I've seen so far, as a fan can have a lot of fun just looking at the ballpark's exterior.

The Northern side of the ballpark is the most developed in terms of blending in with existing neighborhood structures, but it's still relatively undeveloped around the perimeter. But the immediate neighborhood to the North is growing up fast, as it is very close to both Petco and the Gaslamp District. There are some restaurants and many many many condominiums and trendy apartments just a few blocks away.

It looks like the park is going to be about a 5-minute walk from the Western edge of the Gaslamp. What hurts the ballpark right now is that it is at the extreme south of the current Downtown area. The East Village is fairly undeveloped, and with Gaslamp a fixture on the North side, I have my doubts as to whether it can develop as a commercial area. I think housing will be the main area of growth, but even that will be troublesome, as the area is heavily industrial, near rail lines and the Southern edge of the convention center, close to some seedy areas near the Coronado Bridge. That's just something to watch.

Back to the sterility factor. The ballpark is immaculate. I hope that changes, as I felt a little uncomfortable with its newness. Just as the trendy new condo and apartment areas feel incredibly sterile, I'm a bit weary of walking by them. I'm much more comfortable in the Gaslamp, as everything's clean, but you can tell it's been used, and made familiar by a lot of people. It's an internal thing with me and I don't know if others have that same kind of feeling. But it would be nice to see the park go through a year's use, and show just a touch of age, so it isn't so shiny and untouchable.

I have a feeling the ballpark and downtown will work together fairly well, but not as perfect as it is being sold by Padres management. I remember hearing or reading either Moores or Towers saying the ballpark will bring people to Downtown who haven't been there before. That sounds nice, but I think a good majority of San Diegans regularly trek Downtown. San Diego is a fairly wealthy city, with plenty of people who use the Trolley and their cars, and are familiar with the whole region from North County, to the beach cities, to the South Bay, to Coronado, to Downtown. So I'm a bit skeptical of such claims.

What I think will happen is that those who regularly make use of Downtown will incorporate the ballpark into their experience, which is only marginally helpful to Downtown business since they're already spending money down there. Especially since ticket prices and parking have both had price hikes, fans may be relunctant to spend the big bucks downtown. But I could be wrong. Again, San Diego is a wealthy city, but for families the ballpark experience is already a costly experience. I'm curious to see if the Padres are marketing themselves more to wealthier, younger patrons than before, which could make more of a difference than the traditional fan.

Sadly, I have not been to many Downtown ballparks, but I think this one will be one of the more successful ones in all of sport. I stopped by Camden Yards when I was in Maryland over Christmas break, and can now see the comparisons between the two parks. But I also felt Baltimore's park was not as strongly situated near its active, public areas of Downtown as San Diego's is. Petco Park is in just the right area of Downtown San Diego, and the only better location would have been smack dab in Horton Plaza. But that's only a 7-10 minute walk away as it is.

I sound like I'm contradicting myself here, but I do think Petco is in a great spot, only it isn't surrounded by much. The exterior is fairly spartan and I wonder if the right mix of restaurants and shops will open up, or whether a more industrial and/or apartment-like growth will happen. I'd like the former but suspect the latter. While it isn't surrounded by much, it is VERY close to everything else.

As for traffic into and out of Petco... I don't have a clue how that is going to work out. The main lots nearby are behind the park, and I'm guessing most people will enter by driving through Downtown and the Gaslamp areas, which both have fair amounts of non-game traffic. I think it could be a mess for a year or so, until most fans get their bearings and figure out shortcuts in their gameday travels. Additionally, if more people spend time before and after games in Downtown, that will significantly alleviate traffic as several thousand fans will have already parked and gotten off the roads and lots before the main traffic rush begins. We shall see...

That's what I have to say about Petco for now, it's impressive, I love its intimate feel, its near a lot of fun things (can't wait to go to Gaslamp before a game, get a few drinks and eats, and walk over, how trendy ha!), and its fun to look at.

In Other News

Eventually I will get to Baseball on here, but I'm having fun for right now with commentary and miscellaneous details. It's especially hard when Spring Training games aren't well televised and there's so many names to keep track of.

The one Padre item I have for today is a funny Jerry Coleman moment. While driving home from Petco this afternoon, Coleman said on the radio that one of the Padres' aids had offered to drive him home from yesterday's game. Before they left she had to deposit some trash in a dumpster. While doing that, she inadvertently threw her keys into the dumpster. Next thing he knows, the elderly Coleman is side-by-side with the aide, digging through the dumpster looking for his keys. It's been that kind of a week for Coleman, who also had his rental's windshield broken into, forgot his apartment gate code, and had to have his car towed to Phoenix because nobody in Tucson could do windshield repair over the weekend.

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