Last Saturday morning, my quiet communion with The New York Times crossword puzzle was interrupted by an ad hoc marching band tootling its way down our street before the Big Game. After this Saturday’s final home football game against Washington, there will be a year of silence on my street and many others in Berkeley. Memorial Stadium, home of the Cal Bears since 1923, is closing for a long-awaited seismic retrofit and renovation. During the 2011 season, Cal will play its home games across the Bay, in the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park.
The loss of six or seven home games won’t just mean quieter streets, however. It also means a loss of business in Berkeley’s hotels, restaurants and stores on the days when extra thousands flood into the city to support the Bears.
For restaurants and stores, the loss of increased business on game days will hurt. For hotels, the problem is more significant. Home games are a major source of room nights for Berkeley hotels — the local equivalent of winning a major convention or trade fair.
“It’s certainly a significant loss,” said John Caner, executive director of the Downtown Berkeley Association. Caner and his counterparts in the city and the Berkeley Convention and Visitors Bureau are at the early stages of discussions on how to mitigate the impact next year.
“We’ve talked about strategies to capture a part of the market next year,” said Michael Caplan, head of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development. Caplan points out that the capacity of AT&T Park is far below Memorial Stadium: 45,000 compared to 71,000. “There might be an opportunity to do something in Berkeley with large screens or something. We’re looking at ways to capture the Berkeley experience that a lot of alumni in particular want.”
Whether that Berkeley experience can lure some of the missing thousands to Berkeley remains to be seen. Fortunately, the fall of 2012 will bring a renewed migration of Bear fans back to Strawberry Canyon and Berkeley’s hotels, restaurants and stores.