SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP- The San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Athletics have started a new gold rush, south to the open spaces and financial bounties of Silicon Valley.

The 49ers have abandoned their decade-long attempts to build a new stadium and a massive commercial-residential development on Candlestick Point, their San Francisco home since 1971.

Owner John York has decided he wants a stand-alone stadium built on 20 acres across the street from the team’s longtime training complex in Santa Clara, a suburb 30 miles south of San Francisco.

“I think it’s just an accepted fact that our fan base has grown out, and there are a number of our fans throughout the Bay Area,” York said.

Meanwhile, the A’s have reached a deal with Cisco Systems Inc. to build a new ballpark in Fremont, about 25 miles south of Oakland.

The field is expected to be the home of a Major League Soccer franchise as well.

The A’s hope to open their park by 2011, while the 49ers have much more work to do to meet a self-imposed 2012 deadline to replace the NFL’s oldest unrenovated stadium.

The teams’ intentions spotlight the geographical migration of money, power and influence in the Bay Area in the six decades since the 49ers were founded: Everything is going south, where the NHL’s San Jose Sharks currently are the only major sports franchise.

The South Bay region is anchored by San Jose itself, already the biggest Bay Area city with more than 900,000 residents, and among the fastest-growing in the county. Its residents have the highest per-capita income of any big city in the United States, due largely to the region’s role as the high-tech hub, home to the headquarters of Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Apple Computer Inc. and dozens of other marquee companies.

York insisted the 49ers never will leave the San Francisco Bay Area or change their name. But he cited several factors making it impossible to continue planning for a stadium and an accompanying commercial complex – which would help fund the arena’s construction – on a thin strip of land in the Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco.

“We truly wish that the results were different,” said York, who wrested control of the storied franchise from his brother-in-law, Eddie DeBartolo, in the late 1990s. “We were the last to be convinced. We made this decision as a family, and in the end we were able to come to this conclusion by thinking about the challenges from the fans’ perspective.”

Still, York said he wouldn’t completely “slam the door” on the possibility of a stadium in San Francisco – an indication the 49ers have years of planning to do before construction could begin.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said he hasn’t given up hope that the city will be able to keep the 49ers. “Every time the city has been needed to secure the future of the team, the city has stepped up to the plate,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Donald Strickland, a defensive back who grew up in Hunters Point and signed with the 49ers last week, is among the locals with bittersweet emotions about the announcement.

“It’s been there for my whole lifespan,” Strickland said. “That’s all I’ve known. It was always a place I wanted to play in, and that’s what I used to train myself for. I used to run around the whole stadium and up the hill during my childhood, ever since Pop Warner. I really don’t want to see it leave from that area.”

The proposed move also jeopardizes San Francisco’s quest to host the 2016 Olympics. The stadium was to be used for opening and closing ceremonies and track and field.

“We’ll look at any and all options,” said Jesse Blout, San Francisco’s director of economic development. “The mayor wants to win these Olympics.”

The 49ers will meet soon with Santa Clara officials who seem surprised and flattered by the club’s intentions – but wary of the plan’s vagueness. The club provided few details of the project’s potential financing but insisted no tax increases or city money would be necessary.

“The only downside is the unknown,” said Steve Van Dorn, the president of the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce. “We still don’t know how this is going to be financed, so there’s still serious work to be done.”

The A’s will make a formal announcement Tuesday of their plans for a stadium – dubbed Cisco Field – in Fremont. City officials there have many of the same questions about financing and resources.

That field also is expected to be home to an MLS franchise if the A’s ownership group follows through on its plan to move a club to the Bay Area. There’s even been quiet talk that the NBA’s Sacramento Kings would consider a move to San Jose if they can’t get a new arena in California’s capital, though other areas seem more likely.

A’s owner Lew Wolff presented diagrams of the future stadium in meetings with four Fremont City Council members Wednesday, but details were not discussed, Mayor Bob Wasserman said Thursday.

Wasserman said the city doesn’t know how much money it will ask for from the A’s.

“We have to get enough to make it feasible for us,” he said. “It’s going to require a lot of services. It’s going to require a lot of things from the city. … I don’t have a dollar figure, but it’s the kind of thing I’ll know when I see a good deal.”

The 49ers’ proposed move will make little difference to the club’s fan base. The team’s training complex and offices have been located in Santa Clara since 1987, across the street from an overflow parking lot for the Great America amusement park amid acres of industrial parks and apartments.

But the 49ers’ identity will be forever changed if the club moves away from Candlestick Point and its dilapidated, wind-swept stadium – home to several of the most memorable playoff games in NFL history during San Francisco’s run to five Super Bowl championships in the past quarter-century.

Before the 49ers moved to Candlestick Park in 1971, they played their first 25 seasons at Kezar Stadium, a cramped but charming field in the heart of San Francisco, a short walk from the Haight-Ashbury district.

“This legendary football team has called the Bay Area home for 60 years,” York said. “We intend to stay exactly where we belong. … In 2012, we will go from the oldest and worst stadium in the NFL to the newest and best stadium in the league.”

AP-ES-11-09-06 1803EST



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