49ers to leave Candlestick, turn focus to Santa Clara

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers intend to replace dingy Candlestick Park with a state-of-the-art stadium -- and now they want to do it in Santa Clara.

After years of planning for a stadium in the city that has been the franchise's home for six decades, owner John York officially changed his club's focus Thursday from Candlestick Point to this Silicon Valley suburb 30 miles south of San Francisco.

While insisting the 49ers will never leave the San Francisco Bay Area or change their name, York cited several factors that made it impossible to continue the team's planning for a stadium and an accompanying commercial complex -- which would help fund the arena's construction -- on a thin strip of land in the Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco.

York is determined to open the new stadium for the 2012 season. But he claimed an extensive study of the Candlestick Point site proved it wasn't feasible, citing extensive costs for infrastructure, parking accommodations and other changes that would cost more than the stadium itself.

"We truly wish that the results were different," said York, who wrested control of the storied franchise from his brother-in-law, Eddie DeBartolo, in the late 1990s. "We were the last to be convinced. We made this decision as a family, and in the end we were able to come to this conclusion by thinking about the challenges from the fans' perspective."

Just four months after claiming the team was concentrating all of its stadium efforts on that privately financed stadium and entertainment complex on Candlestick Point, York called San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday night and informed him of the decision.

Now the 49ers are headed for the open spaces and burgeoning population of Silicon Valley, currently home to only the NHL's San Jose Sharks among major sports franchises.

The Oakland Athletics also seem determined to follow the money to the Bay Area's financial epicenter. They're expected to announce plans soon for a stadium in Fremont -- about 20 miles from both Oakland and San Jose.

For practical purposes, the 49ers' proposed move 30 miles south in the Bay Area will make little difference to the club's fan base. The team's training complex and offices have been located on Santa Clara's Centennial Boulevard since 1987, across the street from an overflow parking lot for the Great America amusement park amid acres of industrial parks and apartments.

But the 49ers' identity will be forever changed if the club moves away from Candlestick Point and its dilapidated, wind-swept stadium -- the home to several of the most memorable playoff games in NFL history during San Francisco's run to five Super Bowl championships in the past quarter-century.

Before the 49ers moved to Candlestick Park on the waterfront near the southern boundary of the city in 1971, they played their first 25 seasons at Kezar Stadium, a charming, cramped field that still sits in the heart of San Francisco, just a short walk from the Haight-Ashbury district. Coach Mike Nolan saw his first 49ers games there when his father, Dick, ran the club.