Concord moves forward with feasibility study for ­downtown stadium

The possibility of a soccer stadium in downtown Concord inched closer to reality as the City Council voted 4-1 to enter into an Initial Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (IENA) with Hall Equities Group on Jan. 22.

Mark Hall first brought the idea to the council last spring, after obtaining the rights for a United Soccer League championship team for the East Bay. The current proposal includes a mixed-use, soccer-specific stadium, hotels, a convention center, multi-family housing and retail or commercial development.

“What we’re really talking about here is a city center, in a very real way,” Hall told the council.

For the stadium to be profitable, he said it needed to be a “very flexible workhorse for many different public events: music, performing arts, sports.”

The project would include city-owned properties along Oak, Mt. Diablo and Laguna streets and Monument Boulevard – as well as BART-owned property. Hall also needs to acquire approval from BART for the bulk of the 33½ acres.

Many residents spoke out against the project, saying they didn’t want to “take away from the small-town atmosphere” and turn Concord into “a metropolis” while emphasizing the “urgent” need for affordable housing. BART director Debora Allen, speaking as an individual, was the only member of the audience to show support for the plan.

City Council members noted that the IENA does not guarantee the project will move forward.

“We’re not saying we’re sold and it’s a done deal,” said Councilman Tim McGallian. “We are trying to figure out that next phase for the downtown.”

“I would like the community to give this proposal a chance,” added Mayor Carlyn Obringer. “I think the housing helps to meet a need, and there are opportunities for economic development and different kinds of jobs.”

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister voted against the IENA, citing concerns about the city’s current investment in the Pavilion, traffic and a “changed vision” for downtown. “I haven’t heard an uprising from our community that yes, we want to go in a different direction,” she said.

The IENA gives the developer 18 months to conduct market studies about the soccer stadium and convention center concepts. Hall Equities will pay costs of studies, consultants and city staff time. The council could still reject the plan even if the studies show its feasibility.

With BART owning much of the land targeted for housing, the city would not have control over that component. BART requires that at least 35 percent of housing on its land be affordable.

Hall told the council the housing would be “a very unconventional approach” utilizing “new technology,” without providing any specifics. However, he said, moving forward, his team will have a “much higher public profile” about the plan’s details.

“We also share the broad view that it’s not just about dollars and cents. … It’s about the impact on the community at large,” he said at the meeting, where the council and community members emphasized the need for more public input.

“I’m heartened to hear that the developer has gone on public record as understanding the importance of public engagement,” Assemblyman Tim Grayson said, noting he was speaking as a Concord resident. “Let’s get all the information to the public so they can be engaged.”

Then, Grayson said, the council should make a decision based “on facts, on truths, on studies.”

In October, Hall named Joe Garaventa as president of Hall Sports Ventures. Garaventa was the CEO of Concord-based Garaventa Enterprises, a family-owned recycling, waste management and real estate business. According to Hall Equities, the Garaventa Family Foundation was the benefactor behind the Sil Garaventa Sr. Soccer Field at St. Mary’s College in Moraga as well as a major contributor to the University of Portland’s soccer field.

Because the Garaventa family has given campaign donations to several City Council candidates in Concord, the city is amending language in the INEA to prohibit lobbying and campaign contributions from the “developer parties.”