SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) - The city of Santa Clara and the San Francisco 49ers marked a major milestone Thursday evening when they broke ground on the team's new stadium.
The groundbreaking event for the $1.2 billion, 68,500-seat facility began around 5 p.m. at the site of the future stadium at Centennial Boulevard and Tasman Drive in Santa Clara.
Cable cars shuttled attendees from a Great America parking lot to the construction site, which was covered in artificial grass and made to look like a football stadium, with stands for guest seating, inflated 49ers helmets big enough to walk through and Gold Rush Cheerleaders tousling their pompoms.
After performances by local talent, including the 49ers Academy Band and the Wilcox High School Cheerleaders, city and team officials addressed the crowd from the future location of the 50-yard line.
A visibly excited Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews summed up the significance of the stadium.
"No one will ask in the future, where's Silicon Valley, because it's here," Matthews said. "Let's get a shovel in the ground. And let's play some football."
49ers President and CEO Jed York said that the 49ers had set out to create a "smart" stadium, as compared to one that was "big" or "expensive," and said that would translate into a better door-to-door experience for fans. York, along with city officials, stuck ceremonial gold shovels into the ground around 6:50 p.m.
Planners said the 1.9 million-square-foot stadium will have 165 luxury suites and 9,000 club seats. It will boast 40,000 parking spaces and twice as many women's bathrooms as Candlestick.
It will also be the first professional football stadium built in California in 50 years, York noted.
The stadium will feature an environmentally friendly, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certified design, wireless capability, and bike parking.
York said that he will put in a bid for the stadium to be the site of the 50th NFL Super Bowl. "I'd love it to be here," he said.
Vernon Davis, tight end for the 49ers, said he was looking forward to playing at the stadium because it would be less windy, and players "won't have to track those passes down as much."
Joe Staley, 49ers offensive lineman, said that although he has great memories of playing at Candlestick Park, the new stadium will be more fan-friendly, "there's not going to be a bad seat in the place."
Two-thirds of stadium seating is planned to be in the lower tier area, making it the largest lower bowl in the NFL, York said.
Al Guido, vice president of 49ers New Stadium Sales and Service, said that although the 49ers have not yet settled on the future price of tickets for their new venue, prices would be higher than at Candlestick. He added however that he believed there would be "a price for every fan."
Although the stadium is being built for the 49ers, the team said it can be used for other events, including concerts, soccer games and motocross racing.
York acknowledged that the day was "bittersweet" for some fans who were loathe to see the team leave San Francisco but added that he and the team would continue to work with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to maintain ties to their home city.
Before the ceremony, Matthews said Thursday's event would mark an important milestone for a visionary project that had strong community support.
"It's something that should be celebrated as a community event because it really only happened because the community voted for it," he said.
Even as the groundbreaking for the new 49ers stadium took place, opponents held out hope a court would block the project.
KCBS' Mike Colgan Reports:
Deborah Bress, a volunteer with Santa Clara Plays Fair, hastened to point out that not everyone would be celebrating what Matthews hailed as a job creating project.
"There's a lot of people in the city of Santa Clara that are very disappointed, that are unhappy about the whole decision," she said. "People who live on the North Side are looking at having their lives disrupted for a couple of years, at least, while they're building it, and then forever after it's there."
A judge ruled in March the project could not be put up for another public vote. Bress said an appeal of that ruling could still stop the project, even if construction had begun.
"There's still a right to appeal that's still on the table. They might be putting shovels in the ground, but they may be digging their own graves," she said.
City officials approved final deals for the stadium last month, including $100,000 in extra loan money and a non-relocation agreement that requires the 49ers to play its home games in Santa Clara for at least 40 years.
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