Shortly after the San Francisco Giants baseball team moved to suburban Candlestick Park in 1960, they started pining for the city.

The difficulties in doing so were manifold, including leasing issues, a lack of viable locations and funding. There were worries about parking and transport infrastructure.

Hey Auckland, sound familiar?

After lobbying intensified in 1993, the Giants found location, in a little-used corner of the downtown waterfront, and they found their funding, private equity rather than public money, and built their new home in time for the millennium.

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Job done – now it's easier to find a Los Angeles Dodgers fan in their clubhouse than it is to find any San Franciscan who thinks the AT&T Stadium is anything other than a great idea.

"It's been very successful," says Giants executive vice-president of administration, the department that oversees ballpark use. "It has re-established downtown San Francisco as a central gathering place."

Aucklanders are bracing for more debate on the merits of a waterfront stadium as the manifest problems of its current stadia plans become more obvious.

Just this week it was revealed that the Eden Park Trust has asked Auckland Council to take over a $40 million loan and provide $64m for maintenance over the next decade. One council source described it to the Weekend Herald as a "$100m bailout".

This is all the more frustrating to those who believe there are viable, more attractive options in the city.

AT&T Stadium is an example of what can happen to a city with a major sports venue on a downtown waterfront site. Photo / Mike Scott
AT&T Stadium is an example of what can happen to a city with a major sports venue on a downtown waterfront site. Photo / Mike Scott

Just before Christmas, the Auckland Waterfront Consortium announced it was "pushing ahead with its proposal for a waterfront stadium alongside Bledisloe Wharf". It insists it can be completed by 2029 at no costs to rate- and taxpayers.

Consortium chairman Dave Wigmore says they have had plenty of support for the public as they continue to wait for an indication from council as to whether it wishes to begin the detailed feasibility work for the 50,000-seat, partially sunken, enclosed stadium.

Part of that process would be rigorous comparisons with waterfront stadia worldwide.
There are differences, both subtle and obvious, between the San Francisco situation and Auckland's.

The Giants' stadium might be downtown and it might be on the harbor, but before they moved in it was a rundown precinct of warehouses and vacant lots. It wasn't so much inaccessible to the public as it was uninviting. In that respect, there was only scant resistance from those who believed a view-blocking stadium was an inappropriate use for waterfront land.

Another significant difference was the cornerstone tenant. The Giants are guaranteed 81 home games per year and it can go north of 90 if you make and progress through the playoffs. Each match typically lasts between three and four hours. It is not difficult to attract and clip the ticket on money-making concessions under that scenario.

Graphic / Supplied
Graphic / Supplied

Combine the All Blacks, the Blues, the Warriors, the Auckland men's and women's NPC teams and throw in an A-League team and you still fall well short of that type of usage.

Even given the extraordinarily high summer usage, the Giants have found ways to create a year-round attraction. The park houses a driving range through the winter months, the parking lot is the home of Cirque du Soleil, while the compound hosts science and tech fairs, corporate days and weddings.

Throw in several blockbuster concerts, including Springsteen, Beyonce, the Rolling Stones and Ed Sheeran and you get an idea how heavily employed the 42,000-seat stadium remains.

AT&T Stadium is a prime example of what can happen to a city when building a large sports arena harbourside.

"You tend to think of stadiums in terms of their primary use," Felder says, "but if you get it right with design and location, you can host all sorts of events."

Felder says one of the most gratifying aspects of the modern ballpark is not so much that it has reconnected San Franciscans with the Giants, but that it has reconnected them with their city.

One of the truly clever innovations the park designers pulled was to build a waterfront promenade around the outside of the park. During games those walking can see into the ground for a certain amount of time for free. It is a way, Felder says, of thanking the city for their support and to win new fans that might pay next time.

The back of AT&T Stadium in San Francisco includes a waterfront promenade where the public can watch parts of the game for free. Photo / Mike Scott.
The back of AT&T Stadium in San Francisco includes a waterfront promenade where the public can watch parts of the game for free. Photo / Mike Scott.

Set on a narrow peninsula, urban sprawl has sent many San Franciscans over the Bay Bridge to Oakland and its surrounds, or south beyond Silicon Valley and San Jose. AT&T Park has lured them back downtown in a way cold and windy candlestick never could.

Rows and rows of condominiums have sprung up in the area.

"People are buying those, they're not rentals. We didn't necessarily anticipate that trend," Felder says.

They're not the only new neighbours the Giants are welcoming. Next year, the Golden State Warriors, who have been located in Oakland for close to 50 years, will relocate just down the road from the Giants. With offices, retail, restaurants, a public plaza and a waterfront park, the complex has not been without controversy, but it's getting done.

They looked at the Giants and knew a waterfront winner when they saw one.

As Auckland's decision-makers contemplate their next moves on stadium and waterfront strategy, they should at the very least cast their eyes to the Bay Area to see how it can be done.

The back of AT&T Stadium in San Francisco includes a waterfront promenade where the public can watch parts of the game for free. Photo / Mike Scott.
The back of AT&T Stadium in San Francisco includes a waterfront promenade where the public can watch parts of the game for free. Photo / Mike Scott.