25 YEARS OF SAP CENTER
Jim Goddard, to examine the proposed
arena drawings. They loved the five-story
atrium and viewing angles. They did not
love the projected capacity (15,000) or
the seating (plastic, not cushioned) or
the luxury suites (relatively few).
“We went through it all page by
page,” Goddard says. “And we came to
the conclusion that it was significantly
shy of what we needed for an NHL team.”
Jirik, an affably persuasive man,
politely informed San Jose officials that
their dream arena was not adequate.
New negotiations commenced with the
Sharks’ Art Savage, the Gunds’ financial
manager and future team president.
“We actually negotiated based around
what we would build rather than what
it would cost,” Goddard says. “And we
worked out the cost and who would pay
for it after we both had what we wanted to
build. When I saw how the city dealt with
all that, I knew that we were going to get
it done. Both sides took the high road.”
There was another unforeseen
problem: A ground survey indicated
that a portion of the arena property was
contaminated by toxic lampblack, the
residue of San Jose’s first oil-burning
power plant which had once occupied
the site. The answer was to entomb and
bury the lampblack in the north arena
parking lot, an expensive task. Ultimately,
San Jose officials agreed to pony up
another $25 million for all the changes
and permit the Sharks to operate the
arena. In exchange, the Gunds agreed to
kick in $20 million of their own.
“If those changes had not been
made,” Munro says, “we would have built
a structure that was out of date and
antiquated within 10 years. It was such
a benefit to have the Sharks become the
On a practical basis, however, this
meant that the new arena would now open
in 1993 rather than 1992. So as the Sharks
played their first two seasons at the Cow
Palace in Daly City, construction began.
Throughout 1991 and 1992, Goddard spent
as much time in Denver at the architects’
offices as he did in San Jose. Sink redrew
his creation. He pushed up the roof to
create more capacity. He expanded the
upper deck luxury suites, creating the
now-familiar semicircular rings that push
out from the sides of the building.
One new feature was implemented because of a car ride conversation. Goddard has
a vivid recollection of traveling somewhere with Jirik and Sink. Jirik posed a question to
“If you could do one thing to improve what we’ve got on the drawing board,” Jirik
asked, “what would it be?”
“I’d put terrazzo tile in the concourse,” Sink quickly replied.
Jirik and Goddard looked at each other, nodded and made notes. The concourses
were originally going to be polished concrete. The classier-looking terrazzo would be
a costly upgrade. But the San Jose Redevelopment Director, Frank Taylor, had bent
for quality. He greenlighted the terrazzo. The same with individual urinals rather than
trough urinals. The same with a blueprint alteration that moved club seats from the top
of the lower bowl to the bottom.
Work continued in earnest. The opening date was scheduled for September 8, 1993,
with a performance by the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus.
“Two weeks before the opening, it was down to the wire,” Goddard says. “I remember
Frank calling in the various subcontractors and saying, ‘If it looks like it needs to be
done, don’t wait to go through the process of asking us and then waiting for us to tell
you to do it. Just take care of it.”
The circus came off without a hitch. This became true for the next 25 years, through
three name changes – San Jose Arena to Compaq Center to HP Pavilion to SAP Center
– and hundreds of events.
With the anniversary celebration underway, it’s a shame that Panopulos, Dando, Jirik,
Savage and George Gund are no longer alive to enjoy the festivities. Happily, most of the
other principals in the project are still around to do so. Goddard succeeded Jirik as the
arena’s vice-president and general manager. Munro believes that if the city had not built
downtown in 1986, a private venue would have been constructed 10 years later in North
San Jose or Santa Clara. McEnery thinks San Francisco might have built its own arena
and become a NHL city.
“It’s still a mini-miracle that it all worked out the way it did,” Munro says.
“I believe the people of San Jose always end up doing the right thing,” McEnery says.
“They did so in 1988.”
In other news, Downtown Datsun is not missed.
Mark Purdy was a San Jose Mercury News sports columnist from 1984 until his retirement in 2017 and covered
the Sharks beginning with their startup 1991-92 season. He is now a freelance writer who still has opinions on
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