The Padres’ Gallagher Square Park Renovation Is Up For An “Onion”

The nomination in the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s “Orchids & Onions” program is directed at the city’s review process
A rendering of the San Diego Padres’ renovation plan for Gallagher Square Park. (Courtesy photo)

The San Diego Padres are having a foul season. On and off the field. The latest off-field indignation: “Onion” nominations for the redesign plan of Gallagher Square Park in the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s Orchids & Onions recognition program.

Gallagher Square Park is adjacent to Petco Park. The East Village public green space is owned by the City of San Diego and managed as a concert venue by the Padres. Both share profits from music events held at Gallagher Square.

Earlier this year, the Padres announced a $20-million renovation plan for Gallagher Square Park. The new design is promised to a better reconfiguration of the park as a concert amphitheater. It also eliminates shade trees and replaces part of the grassy lawn with artificial turf.

Numerous East Village residents opposed the plan. They’ve complained for years about decreased access to the park and excessively loud concerts held on the park’s Sycuan Stage. Some concerts attract 5,000-plus attendees.

The SDAF’s Orchids & Onions program shines a light on positive and negative design practices in the community.

Orchids are positive designations. They exemplify “good place making” and are “…skillfully and thoughtfully detailed and crafted–showing respect for materials and the community,” according to the SDAF website.

Onions are “the opposite of an Orchid,” the SDAF site notes, calling them: “A missed opportunity. A blight or eyesore that shows a lack of commitment to quality design and our community.”

There’s always an air of mystery surrounding the SDAF’s final list. The “winners” are not named until the annual awards ceremony, which will be held on October 5.

The SDAF received more than 100 nominations this year. Less than 10 percent were for Onions, reports SDAF Orchids & Onions committee member Roger Showley.

“I can say that Gallagher Square Park got two nominations but only one was considered as a finalist,” says Showley, a highly regarded former journalist who spent 44 years covering growth and development for The San Diego Union-Tribune.  

A nomination for the redesign plan for the park was thrown out, he says. The other nomination for the policy that allowed the park to be permitted by the city without public comment was considered and is a possible finalist. 

Residents Concerned About Noise From Gallagher Square spokesperson Joseph Sims says he wasn’t familiar with the SDAF’s Orchids & Onions program, but isn’t surprised by the nomination.

“It shows people are paying attention to this, found it important and have raised it to this level,” he says. “We’d had multiple meetings with the Padres and were not told how extensive the renovation was going to be. Within weeks the city gave its approval.”

Three members of The Padres communications and public affairs departments did not reply to multiple emails from The Sun seeking comment. 

A concert crowd at Gallagher Square Park.

The Padres have the third-highest team payroll ($253 million) in Major League Baseball. The team entered the season with huge expectations but has a losing record and is on the verge of being mathematically eliminated from the postseason. 

After a bad plate appearance, TV cameras recently caught Padres superstar Manny Machado repeatedly slamming his bat into a dugout cooler. The moment was illustrative of frustration by players and fans over the team’s on-field performance. 

There are glaring off-field embarrassments, too.

A fake nonprofit organization, Chula Vista Fast Pitch, has allegedly been running numerous concession stands at Petco Park. Voice of San Diego reports the group may have collected hundreds of thousands of dollars this year, and has been operating at the park for nearly a decade.

Additionally, a 26-seat luxury box at Petco Park that’s owned by the City of San Diego has gone unused since 2018. The skybox has been vacant due to conflict-of-interest concerns over elected officials’ ability to give out free tickets, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune

The San Diego Sun has chronicled the The Gallagher Square imbroglio. The Padres sought a “ministerial” review of their renovation plan. It was quickly and quietly granted by the city. That type of city approval allows the Padres to expedite construction and avoid public comment and a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. 

The Padres have said they hope to finish the renovation during the coming offseason. The construction schedule is unknown.

There are music concerts scheduled at Gallagher Square Park through November 4.

The Holiday Bowl college football game is scheduled to take place inside Petco Park on December 27.

The next MLB Opening Day is March 28, 2024.

The Sycuan Stage at Gallagher Square Park.

Most of the nominations for 2023 Orchids & Onions are labeled with a project’s name, such as Orchid nominations for: “Radian,” “The Lafayette Hotel & Club,” and “Seaport Village Revitalization.”

Gallagher Square’s Onion nomination title is long-winded: “City’s policy to unconditionally expedite redesign of a city owned park: improving private revenue concert venue but denigrating neighborhood use without public input or outside professional review.”

Indeed, the redesign approval process flew well under the public’s radar.

José Ysea, Public Safety Media Services Manager/PIO for the City of San Diego, wrote in a June 15 email to The Sun: “Staff from the City’s Development Services Department have completed their land use consistency review of the proposed building construction application for the renovation of Gallagher Square and determined it is consistent with the approved land use documents…”

The city checked off on: the addition of landscaped turf that functions as an amphitheater; ADA accessibility; flatter topography to enhance functionality for games and non-game events.

Ysea’s email pointed to proposed renovation enhancements to park amenities, including: an improved and expanded playground, an off-leash dog park, an improved wiffle ball field, pickleball courts, and other play equipment. He wrote that the proposal also includes artistic features which celebrate Padres history, a variety of concession areas and an increase in the total number of trees.

The city’s Development Services Department noted community concern about concert noise but opined those concerns were not related to the renovation plan.

Padres officials have publicly promised to abate any excessive noise that stems from future concerts at Gallagher Square. 

During a July meeting of the East Village Residents Group, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria stated: “Yes, I will ask the Padres to do an independent study…yes, we should enforce noise ordinances.”

To date, the city has not required the Padres to do a third-party sound analysis. 

The Padres have not explained what portions of the redesigned park will be open to the public, or how often the whole park will be closed for events.

The Onion nomination is essentially directed at the city’s decision to approve the renovation, Showley says.  

He adds that the SDAF committee is very sensitive to Onion nominations and strives to take them seriously.

“We’re not out to be flippant or superficial about this,” Showley says. “We try to be as serious and reasoned as possible. The overall goal is to educate the public about good design practices.”

The Orchids & Onions designees will be revealed during an SDAF gala scheduled for October 5 at Venue 808. The event hall (located at 808 J Street) is right across the street from Gallagher Square Park.  SDSun


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