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A floating stadium for San Diego

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Stephen Dunn

I've heard the idea kicked around for a Chargers stadium to be built out on San Diego Bay a few times over the past decade. Until today though I'd never known that the idea was seriously considered and that drawings from a 1964 proposal actually existed for a floating multipurpose stadium.

The floating stadium would be perfect for San Diego, particularly if it was located in Mission Bay. It's the first novel idea in stadium-building since the dome. -Barron Hilton, October 1964


You can read an old article from the San Diego Union, that became a chapter in the book The Way We Were in San Diego by Richard W. Crawford. He tells us the idea came from Barron Hilton who wanted to build the stadium out on Mission Bay with portions of it attached to Fiesta Island.

At the time, the stadium was estimated to cost about $20 million to build which was comparable to the price of a conventional stadium, but it provided adaptability to switch between baseball, football and unnamed aquatic events. The plan for the stadium called for it to be built from 3 huge sections that floated on pontoons. The best part of the idea though was the suggestion that the sections be moved into place using circus elephants. Genius.

Apparently there was a feasibility study that was commissioned and released in 1964 that gave the idea high marks, ruling out other potential sites such as Westgate Park and Kearny Mesa because of the high property costs. The benefit of the Mission Bay site was that it was already city owned.

Even the namesake of the current landlocked stadium Jack Murphy loved the idea:

"In the long run, the floating stadium would be cheaper to maintain, there’s better parking and it would be a bigger tourist attraction than the Houston dome."

I guess the commission didn't take into account other factors though, since the idea was eventually rejected based on cost. An architect was brought in and he estimated the real cost would be $41 million, twice the amount originally thought. Certain phases of construction were deemed to be extremely expensive.

After several attempts to keep the dream alive, all hope was eventually lost. Jack Murphy was crushed.

"It will be a conventional stadium," conceded Jack Murphy, "conventional in the sense it won’t float."

The city council soon voted for a Mission Valley stadium to be built instead and there the Padres, Chargers and Monster Truck Jam made their home. Fiesta Island remains a deserted wasteland to this very day, just waiting for another enterprising visionary to build a floating stadium on its shore.