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Playing Ballpark


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As 300 workers in hard hats grind steel, pour concrete and remain on high alert for shapely female pedestrians at the Padres ballpark construction site downtown, Jeff Phelps sits holed up in his dry-cleaning shop a couple of blocks away, dreading the daily mail drop.

His discount Continental Cleaners on 10th Avenue rests in the shadow of the as-yet-unnamed stadium—more accurately, across the street from where neighboring businesses will have to make way for some of the designated 4,000 to 5,000 new Padres parking spaces in the area. Those businesses—a printing shop, a produce supply outfit, a production tools wholesaler and the like —already have received condemnation notices and offers from the city for relocation compensation.

“I think any day now I’ll get my notice,” says the 40-year-old San Diego native. “I barely sleep at night.”

Continental makes most of its money from cleaning uniforms of San Diego Convention Center, theater and trolley employees, in addition to those of police officers, including Chief David Bejarano. Phelps fears relocating would land him outside the radius of this target-rich environment. And he knows that his business, a squat homage to prison architecture, complete with primer-gray bars on the windows, makes for a tempting deconstruction target.

The ballpark and 26 surrounding blocks, after all, represent the largest downtown redevelopment project in city history. And while civic leaders and Padres officials talk about a blend of residential and commercial uses for a revitalized East Village—a $1 billion urban nirvana the likes of which San Diego has never seen —Phelps can’t shake the impression that movers and shakers in town think upscale boutiques, bars, restaurants and residential units make more sense on this prime real estate than his blue-collar enterprise.

Padres owner John Moores, despite ongoing legal woes related to accounting irregularities at his Peregrine Software company, is building the Omni Hotel, a tony 512-bedroom complex, complete with 37 $1 million condos on the upper floors, that should be ready by baseball’s opening day in April 2004. The other major development under construction is Douglas Wilson Company’s nearby 120-unit Park Loft project, where 900-square-foot lofts will start at nearly $400,000.

Phelps believes escalating land values will squeeze out low-rent operations such as his. But, he adds, if he can just hang on until development is far enough down the road, then maybe, just maybe, he’ll be able to stay put. If that day comes, the bars will come off the windows and he’ll plop down the 30 grand for aesthetic improvements.
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