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Great America ride helped sway NFL to build 49ers stadium in South Bay

Amusement park ride helped sway NFL to build 49ers stadium in South Bay
Amusement park ride helped sway NFL to build 49ers stadium in South Bay 02:56

SANTA CLARA -- Former Santa Clara vice mayor Kevin Moore says there might never have been a Levi's Stadium if not for an amusement ride that stands head and shoulders above California's Great America.

"It's not a thrill ride but that day it was a thrill ride," Moore said with a grin.

Moore is talking about a day back in 2007 when Santa Clara hatched a plan to snag the 49ers.

It was just after talks to build a new stadium in San Francisco had fallen through, when team and city officials lured the NFL's Roger Goodell to take a look at Santa Clara. The commissioner only had a short amount of time to spend on the ground and some Santa Clara people wanted to show off everything.

"He had about 45 minutes. They were going to show him Intel and Great America, Santa Clara University, Stanford. I said 'you can't do it.' They said 'what do you mean?' I said 'you can't show him 20 places during the rush hour.' They said 'what should we do?' I said 'let's see if we can get into the amusement park,'" Moore remembered.

It sounded odd but Moore's plan was to take Goodell and other NFL officials on a ride: a one-stop shop to the theme park's Star Tower ride. It's a slowly rising and rotating observation deck that gently elevates riders 200 feet above the park.

Once on top, you get 360-degree views of Santa Clara and Silicon Valley.

"My job was to convince them to go to the amusement park. They said I was crazy, why go to the amusement park? I said that's going to give them the best views. I knew once we got them in there, Mayor Patty Mahan was going to close the deal," Moore said.

Mayor Mahan, who died of cancer in 2023, showed Goodell the lay of the land, the tech companies who would buy luxury suites and the infrastructure past city leaders laid down to make a viable stadium site, including light rail and wide, sweeping boulevards.

"Here was the 101 over here and, over there, was 237. Was he impressed? The commissioner? I think he was blown away. I looked at that moment as we're going to get the 49ers down here in Santa Clara. Patty had knocked it out of the park," Moore said.

Voters approved a stadium measure in 2010.

The stadium opened in 2014 and, two years later, it hosted Super Bowl 50.

"We worked on this for so many years. It's like a dream come true to see the stadium out there."

Moore, considered the godfather of the stadium effort, was once told by a former city manager that Santa Clara had a one in a billion chance of getting the 49ers.

After the meeting in the amusement park, Moore said, the odds had at least improved to even money.

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