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Escondido revives ballpark plan for one last pitch

Tucson PadresEscondido officials are working to revive a $50-million plan for a new ballpark for the relocating Tucson Padres (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) by wooing foreign investors.

The North County Times is reporting the move, which was also recently tried unsuccessfully by Oakland officials to attract capital for a downtown Oakland A’s ballpark. It calls for foreign investors to pay for the ballpark. In return, the investors get to the front of the line for U.S. citizenship, a purely legal way (it’s called the EB-5 plan) to buy their way to the United States. 

The EB-5 program has been used to varying levels of success. First, it’s limited: an investor can only put in $1 million, so the city would need to find multiple investors. Second, this would be a way only to finance the ballpark: that $50 million must be repaid somehow, and it’s safe to say no MiLB team would sign a lease that calls for $50 million in rent over 30 years. And with the city losing its redevelopment powers, it makes it even more complicated for the city to find sources of funding to replay those investors.

From the North County Times:

[Escondido Mayor Sam] Abed was optimistic enough about the EB-5 program, which gives permanent resident status to foreigners who invest at least $1 million in this country, to send a letter to San Diego Padres owner Jeff Moorad in late February seeking to revive the ballpark, which would be home to the Padres’ Triple-A team.

In the letter, Abed said the city would be eager to meet with Moorad if private investors come up with a viable financial model. But he conceded in the letter and a phone interview last week that significant hurdles remain to creating a financial pact among foreign investors, the city and Moorad.

“There are discussions about how to get the funding, but we don’t have an actual proposal,” Abed said last week, adding that he was worried that Moorad, who owns the Triple-A team with partners, might sell it to investors outside California before Escondido was ready. “We don’t have anything that’s close to what’s needed.”

And there’s another complicating factor not discussed in the North County Times article: T-Padres owner Jeff Moorad has withdrawn his application to buy the San Diego Padres. The move to North County makes sense for the Padres with Moorad owning both teams. Moorad, a former agent, doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who really sees MiLB ownership in his long-term future, so the next question will be whether he wants to follow through on any ballpark plan anyway. He has reportedly talked with multiple groups seeking Triple-A ballpark for their city, including Boise investors. Given the challenges of finding investors coupled with the fact Moorad hasn’t actually signed off on the plan, we’d rate this as a long-shot — at best.

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