|By Mike Swift, San Jose Mercury News,
Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 13, 2010--Former 49ers great Joe Montana and ex-owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. are two of the most storied names in franchise history. Now they're maneuvering to participate in the 49ers' most ambitious real estate venture ever: the $937 million stadium the team hopes to build in Santa Clara for the 2015 season.
Montana, DeBartolo and a third business partner, Connecticut developer Kurt Wittek, want to build a luxury hotel, sports bar and entertainment complex on two parcels of city-owned land adjacent to the site of the planned 68,500-seat stadium. The Hall of Fame quarterback and his partners capped a series of meetings with Santa Clara officials with a written request last week for an 18-month exclusive negotiating agreement to complete a deal.
City officials said Sunday that the City Council won't take any action until after the new year. But the concept proposed by Montana and his partners has significant support on the council, and it appears to fit with Santa Clara's long-standing plan to develop land around the stadium site as an entertainment district.
A decade ago, the city had hoped to have a hotel built on the same site, which comprises two parcels north of Tasman Drive totaling just under seven acres, but abandoned those plans after the dot-com bust.
"This is an absolutely perfect fit for what we would like to see develop around the stadium as a supporting use, and having the cachet of Joe Montana raises the stakes for this being a
destination," said Jamie Matthews, a City Council member whose four-year term as mayor starts Tuesday.
Outgoing Mayor Patricia Mahan, who will retain her seat on the council, called it "a great idea." And Councilman Will Kennedy, an opponent of the stadium's $114 million public finance plan approved by Santa Clara voters in June, said the proposal is the "type of thing that we're interested in seeing in Santa Clara, particularly at that site."
The 49ers are also on board. The team, which under a clause in the development agreement with Santa Clara has the right to enter its own proposal for any real estate project on the site, has told city officials it will waive that right for the Montana-DeBartolo plan. Neither Montana nor DeBartolo has any direct role with the team, and their project would be financed and run separately from the stadium.
Still, "We think this is terrific news," 49ers spokeswoman Lisa Lang said of the project. The new stadium "would be a premier destination in the Bay Area, and a new development nearby that creates more entertainment options for fans will only enhance that overall experience."
The project could put DeBartolo, who lost control of the 49ers to his sister Denise DeBartolo York in 2000 after a bitter legal battle following his guilty plea in a corruption case linked to a former Louisiana governor, in a position to help finance the stadium -- another sign that his relationship with the York family may be thawing.
Hotel taxes are a key revenue source the city hopes to use to help finance its share of the stadium. A new luxury hotel -- Montana told city officials he hopes the hotel would open with the stadium -- could reduce the need for the 49ers to advance some of those tax receipts in the early years after the stadium is built, said Ron Garratt, assistant city manager.
Montana did not return messages seeking comment Sunday. But Matthews said Montana contacted him this fall, first detailing his interest in meetings with Wittek.
"The thing that impressed me the most was his eloquence and his passion related to the project," Matthews said Sunday. "He knows it's a premier location for a premier attraction, and I think he's looking to make his mark here in Santa Clara."
A letter the developers delivered to city officials last week said the project "may include a luxury hotel, sports bar, upscale restaurant and entertainment venue." That venue, Matthews said, could be a concert facility or some other entertainment attraction. "It's all conceptual at this point," he said.
The city won't sell the land, officials said, but instead would consider a long-term lease to the developers. Santa Clara has repeatedly used that strategy for past development projects, including the Great America theme park.
Although Montana is best known for his football exploits, the former quarterback is also a partner with Wittek in a $300 million mixed-use residential and retail development project near the South Hayward BART station. Adding the clout of the DeBartolo family, a leading national name in retail development, would help ensure the ability to finance the plan, officials said.
Like DeBartolo, Wittek has also had legal issues. Court records show that in the early 1990s he had a federal bank fraud conviction in North Carolina, which was partially overturned on appeal. Robert L. Mezzetti II, the developers' San Jose lawyer, did not return calls from the Mercury News on Sunday.
In November, the Santa Clara council approved a package of zoning changes for the proposed entertainment district around the $937 million stadium. But 49ers President Jed York -- DeBartolo's nephew -- recently revealed that opening the stadium has been pushed back a year, to 2015, because of delays in securing financing.
That financing depends on the National Football League and the players union reaching a new collective bargaining agreement. Those negotiations are not expected to result in a labor deal until the end of the current NFL season, at the earliest.
Not everyone is a fan of Montana's proposal. Bill Bailey of Santa Clarans Play Fair, an anti-stadium group, said the land should remain zoned for industrial development, and he said he is "skeptical that a restaurant with Joe Montana's name on it would be that successful."
"This just sounds like another sweetheart deal for the 49ers," Bailey said.
Staff writer Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report. Contact Mike Swift at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/swiftstories.
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