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Golfers practice at the driving range at the Santa Clara Golf & Tennis Club on Sunday afternoon, April 7, 2013, even as a developer is proposing to pave over the golf course and adjacent BMX track to build a 230-acre entertainment project north of the new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Staff)

SANTA CLARA -- Bolstered by the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium and Joe Montana's planned hotel, Santa Clara is now considering the next major piece of its plan to create Silicon Valley's hottest entertainment destination: 230 acres of Santana Row-style shops, restaurants and homes.

City leaders on Tuesday will begin reviewing a developers' proposal to build the entertainment hub across from the new stadium as soon as late this decade.

Developers want to pave over part of the city-owned Santa Clara Golf & Tennis Club and a nearby BMX track and replace it with a "vibrant city center" on a property five times the size of San Jose's Santana Row and 10 times the size of the new stadium site.

Related California, an affiliate of Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross' $15 billion Related Companies, is set to receive exclusive rights to negotiate a lease of the land from the city and eventually would foot the bill for several hundred million dollars in private funding. The company already has the initial backing of the 49ers, Montana and top city leaders.

"This is exactly what we expected would happen after we built the stadium," Mayor Jamie Matthews said Monday, noting 49ers fans, Great America theme-parkgoers and others "need to have some other reason to come there."

But backers face several hurdles, starting with figuring out how much of the site can actually be built on since it's laid out over a former landfill.


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While spending several years and millions of dollars clearing bureaucratic and environmental hurdles, backers would have to deal with upset golfers and BMX riders who fear their favorite courses will be dismantled without adequate replacements. Officials will consider building a smaller BMX track and a 9-hole executive golf course either on the site or somewhere else, but seasoned golfers characterize those smaller courses as for beginners only.

"My guess is, my club would no longer exist." said Ken Gerard, 54, president of the Santa Clara Golf Club, a tight group of several dozen friends who have been playing the par-72 course since it opened in the mid-1980s.

"It's a shock,'' said fellow golfer and Santa Clara resident Kevin Lane, 54. "It doesn't make any sense to me to have a downtown Santa Clara in the middle of nowhere."

The plan would span across two city-owned properties near Tasman Drive and Great America Parkway, across the street from the $1.2 billion stadium scheduled to open in 2014. And it would be adjacent to a luxury hotel, upscale restaurant and sports bar planned by a group backed by Montana, which has until June to finish a year's worth of negotiations with the city to lease the seven-acre section of vacant land between the stadium and golf course.

"Even if there were no stadium at all, this site makes great sense for the location of the development," said Related California President Bill Witte, citing nearby freeways and light rail stops and the lack of a destination-center in the area. "The stadium is kind of icing on the cake."

Montana and the 49ers released statements Monday praising the developer and its plan.

"Our proposed project along with the Related Company's potential development will be great additions to the North of the Bayshore area," Montana said, predicting the area would become "a first-class destination place."

Larry MacNeil, executive vice president of development for the 49ers, said: "The city of Santa Clara selected an excellent partner to explore the best use of the area north of the stadium."

The Santa Clara City Council on Tuesday is expected to vote to begin exclusive negotiations with Related, a process that would last 18 to 30 months, starting with five months to determine whether the project is even feasible. The entire planning phase could take up to four years, and construction would take several more years.

Related would pay for the planning, starting with a $200,000 deposit, and expects to privately pay for the entire development. Both Witte and Matthews predicted funding would not be an issue.

The city expects to turn a money loser into a profit maker: Despite hosting 81,000 rounds of golf per year, the course currently loses a net of $2 million a year to operate. Leasing the land to the developer would yield a profit, though the terms of the deal still need to be worked out. Matthews said the city also foresees increased tax revenues from the operation of new shops, hotels and multifamily homes in the area.

Witte said his group was initially approached by local business leaders. Then, his team examined the site and met with city officials, who seemed eager for a redevelopment proposal. His firm is behind the 43-story Paramount tower in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood and the proposed downtown Los Angeles revitalization effort called Grand Avenue, among dozens of other mostly mixed-use projects.

Matthews said the city, as with the Montana proposal, decided to pick Related for exclusive negotiations because it did not want to miss an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot with an interested, experienced developer. But others think the site should be opened up for everyone to bid on.

"How do they know what's in the best interest of the city if they don't explore all the possibilities and put (the site) out to bid?" said Deborah Bress, a spokeswoman for Santa Clara Plays Fair, an anti-stadium group that opposes the current city administration "Put it to a (public) vote."

Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.