Padres owner strikes riches near new ballpark

Originally Published: May 16, 2004
ESPN

SAN DIEGO -- Two years ago, San Diego Padres owner John Moores' software company, Peregrine Systems Inc., imploded in a massive accounting fraud, resulting in the convictions of a former chief financial officer and two other executives.

Since then, Moores has emerged as a powerful player in the city's 5-year-old downtown construction boom, led most famously by the Padres' new Petco Park.

Moores is a major landowner and developer in the area that was once a seedy collection of residential hotels, offices that had seen better days and red-light zones catering to passing sailors. Downtown San Diego is being reborn into an area of upscale restaurants, clubs and boutiques and a newly expanded convention center that's helping to make the city a top business destination.

The results of its extreme makeover are everywhere:

-- In the last three years, about a dozen hi-rises, with more than 3,600 apartments or condos, have been completed.

-- After a decade-old office glut, construction is under way on downtown's first new office tower since 1991, a 23-story granite and glass high-rise.

-- Moores is building a five-tower, 2-million-square foot complex of shops and housing, set to open by 2011, that will sit next to the city's planned 10-story main library.

-- San Diego's redevelopment agency estimates there is $3 billion of construction underway or on the drawing board downtown, including $1.4 billion near the ballpark.

It wasn't long ago that "there were a lot of parking lots and not much more" in the downtown area, said builder Nat Bosa, who will begin work next month on his seventh downtown San Diego hi-rise since 2001. "It was like seeing a garden with the soil already raked, just waiting for flowers to be planted."

Moores is one of the main growers.

Since 1999, he has bought more than 21 acres of land near the ballpark. He developed or sold more than half the land. He's holding onto 9 acres intended for shops and housing when the market ripens further.

It is a striking comeback for the 59-year-old Moores, who had to fight off 17 lawsuits to get the Padres' ballpark finished.

The native Texan is a computer nerd with a folksy demeanor. Wearing slacks and Padres polo shirt, he introduces himself to a reporter by saying, "How ya' doin', bud?" and quizzes a photographer about his camera equipment, noting that his father also made a living as a shutterbug.

Moores struck riches in Houston by founding BMC Software Inc. in 1980. He became chairman of San Diego-based Peregrine in 1992 and bought the Padres in 1994.

He initially wanted to return the team to the downtown site it had abandoned decades earlier for Mission Valley, an area that became a hotspot for hoteliers and homebuilders in the 1950s, hastening downtown's decline.

Instead, the city steered him toward another downtown spot in need of renovation -- the "East Village" area dominated by produce warehouses, a long-shuttered electric plant and a large homeless population. San Diego voters approved the ballpark financing in 1998, shortly after they won the National League championship.

In exchange for getting the city to shoulder most of the $458 million cost of the ballpark, Moores agreed to ensure about $300 million of private investment in the neighborhood.

It wasn't so long ago that Moores' business dealings seemed to be unraveling.

In October 2000, the city halted ballpark construction amid legal challenges from stadium opponents. Work didn't resume until February 2002.

During the delay, Moores was caught in an ethics scandal for giving thousands of dollars in gifts to City Councilwoman Valerie Stallings. She pleaded guilty to receiving unreported gifts and resigned in 2001.

Soon after, Moores' Peregrine software company began to crumble. Prosecutors say senior managers engaged in a variety of gimmicks starting in 1999 -- from selling a phony $19.6 million invoice to a bank, to posting millions of dollars in revenue that was uncertain to materialize.

Since late 2002, three executives, including former chief financial officer Matthew Gless, have pleaded guilty to charges of fraud.

Moores -- who sold more than $600 million in Peregrine stock between 1997 and 2001, most of it shortly before the accounting irregularities surfaced -- has never been charged with criminal wrongdoing.

Moores declines to comment on Peregrine's downfall, citing his attorney's advice. The company emerged from bankruptcy organization in August.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE MLB HEADLINES