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San Diego wanted a floating stadium 50 years ago

Instead of a floating stadium, San Diego ended up with what is now Qualcomm Stadium in 1967 (Photo by Alan Band/Fox Photos/Getty Images). Instead of a floating stadium, San Diego ended up with what is now Qualcomm Stadium in 1967 (Photo by Alan Band/Fox Photos/Getty Images).

Rendered as the greatest stadium achievement since the dome, San Diego was on the cusp of okaying a floating stadium in Mission Bay, attached to Fiesta Island. And that was 50 years ago.

But it was a climbing price tag—up to $41 million and just double the original estimate of $20 million—that sunk its chances and instead gave us San Diego Stadium, now known as Qualcomm Stadium, in 1967 for a mere $27 million. Oh, what could have been.

Floating was where the future was headed, if you believed city council members and supporters in 1964. Proposed by businessman Barron Hilton, the 53,000-seat proposal would have featured the Padres in an MLB park, an adjacent football field for the Chargers and the ability to host aquatic events in the water around the fields.

Boyle Engineering, as the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in ’64 and author Richard W. Crawford explained in a book, wanted to anchor a 13,000-seat main grandstand, which would also serve as the main stadium behind the baseball field’s home plate. From there, the field would jut into the bay and two separate 20,000-seat grandstands could float to attach to the landlocked portion of the seating or move to straddle the football field just down the way. In the plan, the two floating stands could reposition for sailing or other boating events.

The idea really was a three-in-one stadium.

With a working name of All-American Stadium, an initial feasibility site encouraged the $20 million project to investigate Mission Bay, even if there were concerns of Candlestick-like chills during evening events.

To keep the process moving, the city hired Frank L. Hope and Associates to provide further data on the stadium, Crawford writes. That data didn’t come back all that favorable, with the architects saying the engineering and construction costs would balloon the final price.

That scuttled the floating stadium, instead giving us what we have now in Qualcomm, which was home to the Padres from 1969 to 2003 and still hosts the NFL’s Chargers. Floating sounds like so much more fun.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.  
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