Joy in Mudville

Stockton’s leaders may make the toughest decision in the city’s history next Tuesday. Drowning in debt and scrambling for ways to restructure or forgive that debt, the city is expected to decide whether or not to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Chapter 9 is an avenue set aside by the federal government for municipalities, and was most prominently almost twenty years ago when Orange County’s debts soared to an unsustainable level thanks to criminally poor fiscal management. Already, a $35 million building bought to be utilized as the next City Hall has been repossessed.

View across the channel from Weber Point toward ballpark (center) and arena (right)

A downtown bar featured in a LA Times article in March has closed. As I walked around during a weekday morning, I felt as if tumbleweeds were going to blow across the streets. Storefronts were frequently empty. The movie theater complex had little activity. The only places that felt alive were the local Starbucks, and, as I would find out within an hour, the ballpark.

The foul pole is a scant 300 feet from home plate.

The day game I attended was nearly sold out thanks to a number of elementary and middle school children who were in attendance. They were treated to the Ports’ 15-3 shellacking of the San Jose Giants. The win halted a Stockton 12-game home losing streak. The section I was in got coupons for In-n-Out Double Doubles thanks to a Max Stassi double, and the whole crowd got a free meal at a local Denny’s because of Chad Oberacker’s grand slam. I don’t know when I’ll be in Stockton again to redeem the vouchers. That’s life.

The only entrance to Stockton Ballpark/Banner Island Ballpark

Stockton Ballpark, as it’s officially known, was built by Swinerton and Frank M. Booth, the same company that built Raley Field. It’s very intimate, with 12-16 rows throughout the grandstand. Wedged between the channel and the arena, the left field foul pole is only 300 feet from the plate. There’s no second deck, no suite/press level cantilevered over the single concourse, and only a small club section. This was done to keep costs under control, which is a net positive in the end. There are plenty of concession stands down the first base line, very few down the third base line. A design quirk has an elevated bridge connecting the outfield berm area with the grandstand in the RF corner. To allow for service vehicle clearance, the bridge requires fans to take a flight up steps up and down. The berm wraps around to center, where it meets a Kinder’s BBQ stand. The bullpens and a seated picnic area are in left.

Exterior of arena facing channel

A road winds between the ballpark and the arena, connecting both to the waterfront. The 10,000-seat Stockton Arena is a clean, tidy affair, with decent concourse space and an auditorium-style layout for concerts. The side facing the water is glass, the other sides are concrete, metal, and wood panels, the latter of which are having their protective film fraying. No matter, it’s a decent looking building even if it towers over the ballpark and looks somewhat out of place in downtown Stockton.

As the City continues to fight for its future, there’s a lingering question of whether Stockton’s redevelopment efforts were worth it. California is unique in that it has a few cities that are the size of major league cities elsewhere in the country, yet places like Stockton, Fresno, Riverside, and Long Beach don’t get the kind of attention Cleveland, Buffalo, Milwaukee, or St. Louis does. Stockton saw a gravy train of new residents looking for cheap exurban housing and didn’t see the collapse of the housing market immediately behind it. They paid inordinate salaries and benefits to public employees, which put Stockton in the financial straits it’s in today. No one knows how exactly Stockton will get out of it, and what Stockton will look like when that happens. Chances are that the arena will be there. The ballpark will be there. And Dallas Braden will be there too by all rights. That can’t be all bad.


10 thoughts on “Joy in Mudville

  1. “They paid inordinate salaries and benefits to public employees, which put Stockton in the financial straits it’s in today.”

    The issues in Stockton are much more complex than this… but then the easy way is always to just blame civil servants.

  2. The theater complex actually does great business, but most of its patrons aren’t interested in upscale restaurants. The big parking garage across the street from the theaters is almost always full, either with downtown workers during the day or movie goers in the evening and at night.
    If you had seen that area before it got redeveloped I don’t think you’d question whether the effort was worth it. The mortgage lending frenzy certainly did the City in, although you’re also right about the irrational civil servant benefits — reports I’ve seen say that anyone who survived a month in a City position (the probation period, I guess) automatically received lifetime health-care insurance coverage.
    The ballpark is a nice place to see a game — but in the middle of the day?

  3. Posting because of the DCFC reference.

  4. I worked in Stockton for 6 years. I have frequented the area on game nights. Saw my first AFL II game (Stockton v Bakersfield, I think) in that very arena.
    The last time I was there at night, it was pretty dead. I remember when both of the places first opened, there was a nice ripple effect for about a block. Meeting with the Chamber of Commerce there, it was as if they expected major league returns for a minor league facility (or a pair of minor league facilities).

  5. The same guy who pushed the Stockton ballpark through went to work in Reno next, and did the same thing there, building a park and luring an AZ team to move north. Small cities like minor league teams. I did a lot of work in Stockton for about five years.

  6. Yeah but there is a big difference between what a Single A baseball stadium can do for the surrounding area and what a Triple A stadium can do. I know many folks in Stockton who feel like Banner Island Ballpark is a disappointment when ti comes to how it impacted downtown and that is entirely based on perception, because impacting a few block radius is really more than anyone could have reasonably expected.

  7. Speaking as a current resident of Stockton, our new ballpark is significantly better than our old Billy Hebert Field. The evening games there are incredibly pleasant with the delta breeze to cool things off. Echoing off the previous post, if you would have seen downtown Stockton before the ballpark, arena, park, and movie theaters you would agree that what we have today is, by comparison, a slice of heaven. Okay, heaven may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s pretty nice. Like any other economic downturn, Stockton will someday rise from the ashes and when that happens we’ll be able to say we built a sparkling new ballpark downtown, something that some other cities can only dream of.

  8. Bill, you are not really comparing building a single a baseball park to building a major league stadium?
    Although I agree, wayyyyy better than the old joint by the ice rink. Is the old one on Alpine? I forget the name of that street. I used to work at Pac West Telecom, right around the corner.

  9. Sactownbull writes “”The issues in Stockton are much more complex than this… but then the easy way is always to just blame civil servants”.
    The portion of the civil servants that are served by unions and the unions themselves are getting a sizable share of the blame — rightfully so. While it is the politicians who signed off on these deals that are more to blame, the union’s political muscle was as responsible as anyone for those politicians being elected. The unions filled the coffers of certain politicians (and used their ‘feet on the ground’ organization muscle too) and in turn those politicians virtually rubber stamped the union contracts. That is an equation that by any fair assessment equals blame for the unions (and by proxy its membership).
    So with these costs being frighteningly unsustainable, there are three options left: 1) Raise taxes significantly 2) cut budgets significantly 3) redo the contracts to make them a sustainable percentage of the budget. As Stockton heads toward almost certain bankruptcy, it would seem 3 is a no brainer. Nope! the unions are calling in their political friends from all over the state to make the bankruptcy option impossible (check it out, the truth is appalling). So we are going to do #1? Awesome thing to ask the private sector to pitch in more while their wages are stagnant or going down and their net worth is stagnant or going down. How about #2? Having decent infrastructure, decent services, and things like parks for little league baseball and etc etc etc need to be axed. So which one is it? Maybe that can be answered after the red herring of “it’s the easy way to blame public servants” it said enough times?

  10. @TW

    The City of Stockton has already set a precedent for union busting. Declare a fiscal emergency and contracts can be broken so that impositions can be made. The city will file Chapter 9 very soon. All this talk that the public employee has broken the financial security of all municipalities is galling. In the city of Stockton, there is just a skeleton workforce left, bare bones! Twenty five percent of the fire department was laid-off, fire stations closed, cops are leaving as fast as they can and their staffing levels are down about twenty percent and salaries and benefits have been cut. The cuts have already been made and bankruptcy is still coming. The only people who have not taken pay cuts are those in management. City Manager Bob Deis has hired his own cronies at real inordinate salaries, not to mention his own ridiculous salary. The State Controller is investigating the city’s financials after he caught Deis in a couple of lies during a meeting. There has been rampant abuse of City coffers. Taking money from one department’s budget to pay for someone else’s pet projects. The shell game has been going on in Stockton for decades. The city has over 750 million dollars in bond debt and none of that is the employees fault. The former Washington Mutual building was purchased to house the new city hall at a time when revenues were declining and the budget was already in the red. That also was not the employees fault. The public employees are not to blame. Sorry for the rant ML!

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