SANTA CLARA — Jed York stuck a gold shovel in the ground, planted his right foot on top and took a ceremonial step to plant the San Francisco 49ers — and the NFL — into Silicon Valley.
So long, San Francisco.
Under clear skies and a setting sun behind the mountains towering in the distance, the 49ers CEO and Santa Clara leaders made history at 6:53 p.m. local time, touching off a confetti-filled and champagne-flowing celebration on the future 50-yard line that took parts of three decades to make happen.
"I see a team building with a shovel in one hand and a sword in the other," a loud and proud 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh declared to a crowd of about 3,000 fans, team executives and past and present players.
The move some 40 miles south of Candlestick Park sets the stage for the NFL's debut in the technology-rich region.
York hopes to open the stadium for the 2014 season — with strong incentives for builders to meet the deadline — and bid for the Super Bowl in 2016 and 2017 with hopes of landing one. The $1.2 billion project calls for a 68,500-seat stadium featuring 165 luxury suites, 9,000 club seats and even a green roof-top deck that includes solar panels and harvested herbs for some on-site food preparation.
"I want this to be a showcase of technology that enhances the game experience," York said. "And I want it to be something unique to Northern California."
The makeshift football field, stage and suit-and-tie ball was stuck in the middle of what has been a gigantic construction zone for months.
A sign advertising the franchise's "new home" welcomed guests on a paved path surrounded by dirt, and oversized inflatables of a 49ers helmet and football — with the official signature of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — stacked at least a story high. Cranes and chain-link fences still surround the team's adjacent facility, and a news helicopter hovered overhead.
"This is pretty special," tight end Vernon Davis said. "There's never been a better time to be a 49er."
A colossal cake of the stadium served as the center of the party that moved indoors, and renderings of the facility were posted along the walls. Some of the drawings even included a banner of current All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis among the 49ers greats.
"I'm honored," Willis said "This day is huge. So many people have worked on this for so long, and this day is all about them. It's finally here."
The 49ers tried — and failed — several times to keep the team in the city by the bay.
In 1997, San Francisco voters approved a ballot measure to build a new facility in the city. The deal later crumbled, and when former owner Eddie DeBartolo — York's uncle — was forced to cede control of the franchise in 2000 following a corruption scandal in Louisiana, momentum for future projects in San Francisco struggled.
The shovels also signaled the beginning of the end for the team's tenure on San Francisco's shores.
Crisis care: The new mental institutions
Sonoma County has a chronic shortage of psychiatric hospital beds. As as a result, a growing number of mentally ill residents are ending up in local emergency rooms and in the jail system. A four-part series, run on four consecutive Sundays, examines the causes and ramifications of the current state of the county’s mental health system, and the people who are impacted the most.
Aug. 6 — Hospitals: The closure of two psychiatric hospitals in Sonoma County has left a gaping hole.
Aug. 27 — Your response: Readers share their stories about Sonoma County's mental health system.
Ongoing coverage: www.pressdemocrat.com/crisiscare
Share your story
We want to hear about your experience with local psychiatric emergency services. What do you do when you or a loved one faces a mental health crisis? Have you or a loved one sat in a hospital bed waiting to be transferred to an out-of-county psychiatric hospital or other mental health facility? Have you or a loved one received psychiatric services in the Sonoma County Jail’s mental health unit? Please send a brief account of your experience to Martin Espinoza at email@example.com.