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Thursday, May 04, 2006 | I must have missed the poll that named the top 10 major league baseball stadiums in America.

I heard that Petco Park wasn’t on it.

I assume, therefore, that the major poll criterion was “a great place to watch baseball.”

If the poll had asked for “stadium with the biggest, loudest speakers,” Petco would have made the list. If the poll had been for “blinding signage,” Petco would have been there. I have only been to Petco once, and mainly I remember the park for how loud and blinding it was. Not fan loud. Loudspeaker loud. You know the stupid commercial where the woman places a Kohler faucet on the desk and asks the world-famous architect, “Design a house around this”? John Moores must have plunked a pinball machine on the desk and said, “Design me a ballpark around this.”

I am still mad about Petco Park anyway. It is in the wrong place. Now that it is there, and attendance is in freefall, envision this: where Petco Park now sits, instead you see a state of the art 18,000-seat arena with manageable parking, connected by wide tunnel concourses under Harbor Drive to the Convention Center. The arena is a showplace annex into which any and all Convention Center events can expand. What would that do for the city’s convention site appeal?

Would the arena bring an NBA team to San Diego? Iffy. San Diego has shown not to be much of a basketball town. Hockey? Could be. Why a Pacific Coast paradise is hotter for hockey than basketball is an excellent seminar question for the master’s degree in marketing program, but that appears to be the reality.

Would the arena, as an annex to the Convention Center, bring national political conventions to town? Go figure. Rock concerts? My, my. Famous speakers and revivals? Lordy.

Well, the really world-class acts, like the Rolling Stones and Billy Graham, would still need a venue the size of Petco Park, which they would find off Sports Arena Boulevard, where the Sports Arena – excuse me, iPayOne Center – that splendid dump on the top 10 list of places making world-class artists sound like they were singing from the bottom of a bathtub, used to stand.

If there had been a single working synapse between the city planners’ ears, they would have contracted for a new arena where Petco now sits, torn down the old, vigorously despised Sports Arena, and directed the Padres to build their stadium on the Sports Arena site, with interstate access from three directions, parking all over, spacious arcades and concourses, and views to USD Ridge, Presidio Park and the downtown skyline.

Instead, we have Petco Park where it is, and the iPayOne Center. At least they aren’t the sorts of draws that pull air travelers into San Diego. They will never become factors in the press for an expanded airport. You could think of it as reverse planning in airport-capacity management, making the community so unattractive that no one would want to come here, maybe build a glass wall between the community and its No.1 draw, the Pacific Ocean, a strategy which in fact seems to be already under way, even in La Jolla.

Planners being planners locally, the potential of that strategy seems not to have registered in airport relocation circles. Projections continue to call for Lindbergh’s single runway to reach operations capacity between 2021 and 2023. What they might do is build a Phase I terminal north of the runway, where JimsAir and the tower now sit, tear down the existing terminals, shift the runway to the south, and complete the new terminal as a shorter runway for regional aircraft is being laid down north of the new terminal.

Or they could start thinking nationally, instead of locally. New York City authorities, worried that their three airports will soon crowd the approach lanes to capacity, are starting to wonder if a fourth, more distant, airport, should be considered. And LAX has begun making expansion noises.

We might think about expanding not the airports, but the day. Let the airlines develop 24-hour schedules, collect new revenue from corporations who now can make their managers work all day and fly all night, opening seating to the daytime leisure travelers at the same time it lets the airlines charge premium daytime fares. Lindbergh capacity is, overnight, expanded by a third, aviation demand makes fuel prices soar, forcing ordinary people into hybrids just in time before the world’s fossil fuel supply is exhausted and global warming has the Pacific surf lapping at the third floors of the San Diego coast glass wall, all by 2021, when Lindbergh reaches capacity.

Cynical? What can you be, after you’ve been to a game at Petco Park?

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.

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