By Philipp Gollner
SAN JOSE, Calif., March 5 A judge on
Monday handed a victory to the San Francisco 49ers pro football
team and backers of a new billion-dollar stadium in Santa Clara,
California, by rejecting a bid to put the project's complex
financing up for a vote by residents.
The ruling by Judge Peter Kirwan of Santa Clara Superior
Court clears the way for the start of construction on the
68,500-seat stadium this summer. Opponents of the project argued
the stadium's $850 million debt financing was too risky for the
city of 119,000 and had not been approved by residents when they
gave the go-ahead for the stadium in 2010.
Kirwan agreed with attorneys for the 49ers that the
financing agreements were administrative, rather than
legislative, acts, and so not subject to voter approval.
Supporters, including a majority of city council members, said
the financing was only carrying out the intent of a 2010
initiative, Measure J.
The city has said it is bearing almost none of the project's
financial risk, which is being assumed by the 49ers and the
Santa Clara Stadium Authority, an entity whose board is made up
of city council members but is legally separate from the city.
The 49ers have long wanted to leave San Francisco's
Candlestick Park, an aging facility that opened in 1960 and has
been plagued by parking shortages, game-day traffic jams and few
modern amenities. The new $1.02 billion stadium will have 165
luxury suites with about 20 seats each. Much of the financing
will come from the sale of seat licenses - some costing $20,000
to $30,000 - that give holders the right to buy tickets.
A residents' group called Santa Clara Plays Fair gathered
enough signatures to put two key stadium financing contracts up
for an initiative vote in June, yet the city refused.
Matthew Zinn, attorney for the residents' group, said
he had not decided whether to appeal.
"This is a really unfortunate situation for the voters
of Santa Clara," said Deborah Bress, spokeswoman for Santa Clara
Plays Fair. "The risk of these loans does not go away for the
citizens of Santa Clara."
The project, 45 miles south of San Francisco, is being
financed with loans from Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Bank of
America Corp and U.S. Bancorp to a so-called
Stadium Funding Trust, which in turn is lending $450 million to
the stadium authority and $400 million to a 49ers-owned entity
known as StadCo.
The National Football League is lending $200 million to the
49ers for stadium construction.
The loans would be repaid from revenue sources including
naming rights, licenses to buy seat tickets and luxury suites,
and non-football events and concession rights. The stadium would
be owned by the stadium authority while the 49ers would pay $30
million a year in rent and operate the facility during the