In some way, they will always be the San Francisco 49ers. But the team will only play two more seasons in its namesake city, if all goes as planned for a new $1.2 billion stadium in Santa Clara.
In what he acknowledged as a bittersweet moment for The City, team CEO Jed York and Santa Clara city leaders officially broke ground at what will become the 50-yard line of the new site — hailed as the first NFL stadium to be built in California in a half-century.
A small mock version of the venue was built for the Thursday evening event, held in a sweeping parking lot near the Great America theme park. The soiree was attended by owners, fans, players and coach Jim Harbaugh, who said he looks forward to seeing the “great football cathedral” rise from the ground. Harbaugh said the team will not forget its history or what makes it the 49ers.
“That team includes the city of San Francisco, the city of Santa Clara, the Peninsula and the Bay Area,” Harbaugh said. “It includes the past, the present and the future of the San Francisco 49ers.”
Before the event, York thanked Mayor Ed Lee for his understanding throughout the team’s departure, which he said has been going on in earnest since 2006. York said the event should eradicate any lingering doubt about the team’s new direction.
“This is the culmination,” he said. “Is it going to happen? Is it not going to happen? I don’t think there’s any question anymore.”
York said the team’s Silicon Valley location puts it in touch with the best high-tech companies “that ever existed,” and the stadium will become a “showcase of technology that improves the game day experience.” He said the team has its sights on hosting either the 50th or 51st Super Bowl in 2016 or 2017.
Although there had been talk of the Raiders sharing the stadium, York said the 49ers are open to the idea, but have held “no significant discussion.”
While the team’s current core was well-represented — Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Alex Smith and Joe Staley attended — the event lacked big speeches from legends such as Jerry Rice, Joe Montana and Steve Young.
Davis said he will always have fond memories of the aging Candlestick Park, which is bound for a quick demise after the team leaves, according to the site’s housing developer, Lennar Urban. But Davis said the team will continue its storied legacy.
“Jerry Rice, Joe Montana — they left their mark on that field,” Davis said of the ’Stick. “We’ll leave our mark on this field.”
Details about the 49ers’ new Santa Clara stadium:
9,000 Club seats
165 Luxury suites
1.85M Square footage
$1.2B Estimated cost to build
2014 Estimated opening