A Trip Down Memory Lane with Levi’s® Stadium Builder Jonathan Harvey

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Few people outside of the York and DeBartolo families have been involved in the San Francisco 49ers stadium search as long as Jonathan Harvey has. 

Try 1997. 

That’s when the now-construction vice president at Devcon started representing the 49ers in talks with the San Francisco city officials about a “Mills Corp” plan next to Candlestick Park that never came to pass.

“This is the career project,” Harvey said. “I started at Devcon 20 years ago. This has been a part of my life for the majority of my professional career. To be able to do work at Candlestick and the training facility and be a part of this, I’m very honored and very lucky.”

Devcon has actually worked with the 49ers since 1987, when president Gary Filizetti, a longtime suite-holder at The ‘Stick,’ built the team’s Santa Clara training facility.

Harvey starts us out further along the timeline that ultimately leads to Levi’s® Stadium. “The short of the story, and I’ll try to be short, and it’s hard for me to be short with this history,” he began…

Staying at The ‘Stick?

Harvey, a Pennsylvania transplant that went to Los Gatos High School and Santa Clara University, grew up going to Giants baseball games and 49ers football games at Candlestick Park, so he knew firsthand about the fans love-hate relationship with their aging ballpark. 

Devcon would look at potential improvements that could be made to The ‘Stick, the 49ers home for 43 seasons. A redesigned lower bowl? A new frame around the outside of the building? What about new suites? How to widen the concourses? 

“When we did those estimates and looked at making those improvements,” Harvey said, “it didn’t make sense to repair the old car. It was time to get the new car.” 

“It wasn’t beyond repair, but it was beyond the value of repairing it.”

He didn’t know he was in for a two-decade run at a stadium to replace it. 

“Some of my friend skeptics said, ‘Dude you’ve got to move on,’ and there were times where it was like, ‘This is never going to happen,’” Harvey said. “Deep down, though, I remained optimistic. I knew there was great leadership. And by ‘06, I knew that this was going to happen.”

RELATED FEATURES: Farewell Candlestick | Behind the Building | Milestones

Focusing on Santa Clara 

Nearly every summer, Devcon did some sort of side project at Candlestick. When the Giants left The ‘Stick after their 1999 season, for example, Harvey and Co. moved the 49ers locker room to the Giants larger, better space.

It was in the spring of 2006 that the 49ers and Devcon began the bidding processes to hire a construction firm (Turner) and an architect (HNTB). There were estimates and conceptual drawings, and there was hope of keeping the 49ers in San Francisco. 

“I remember it was about Thanksgiving when we finished that effort; we had worked on it in the fall and submitted it,” Harvey said. “Then we heard it wasn’t going to happen in San Francisco, that we were going to focus our efforts on Santa Clara.”

In the interim, Harvey was managing other projects. He would work on the stadiums for his college alma mater, Minor League Baseball’s Reno Aces and Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes.

But he knew a completed 49ers stadium – no matter where it ended up – “would define me and my career.”

An Accelerated Timetable 

The 49ers were hoping to have Levi’s® Stadium up and running in time for the 2015 campaign. Then executive vice president of stadium development Larry MacNeil and the team wondered aloud in the summer of 2011.

Can we deliver the project a year earlier by stacking design with both off-site and stadium construction.

Harvey phoned Filizetti to strategize. 

“Gary’s immediate reaction was, ‘I know we can do it,’” Harvey said.

Turner superintendent Dave Masel was as confident because he had a plan to divide the construction site into four, concurrent jobs. By Labor Day weekend of ‘11, the speed-up plan was in place.

While Masel was in charge of managing the construction, it was on Harvey to ensure everything – including the sheer steel and other materials – were in place to start work. 

“We started establishing milestones, working backwards,” Harvey said. “We were down to measuring days.”

Securing the Financing

In the 49ers defensive meeting room, Harvey and Turner builder Dave Masel went on the offensive when helping the organization convince bankers to help get the project off of the ground.

“We tag-teamed it,” Harvey said. “Dave was adamant that he could build it in the fashion we proposed. I was adamant that we would have cost certainty.

“There was a 2,500-line estimate; we knew every item that was going to be in the building.”

Harvey had learned from former 49ers project executive John Wasson, who gave way to Jack Hill in 2011, that every decision came at a cost. He had spent many Friday nights in Wasson’s kitchen over the years, figuring out the finances. 

Without any “budget surprises,” the construction moved ahead. 

A Passion Project 

There are eight white file boxes with “Jon” scribbled on their front stacked in Harvey’s portable office. He estimates that he’s had a dozen different offices since his connection with the 49ers started, but his files have followed him. The plans, drawings and contracts stored therein have now been realized in Levi’s® Stadium, which stands across the street.

“It’s overwhelming. As I lead this team,” he said, pointing out of his door, toward his Turner/Devcon colleagues, “I tell them, ‘We leave who you work for, what company signs your paycheck, and you become a part of this team. With that, you work hard, and it doesn’t happen just by showing up.” 

Now that much of his work is done, however, Harvey hopes to be able to show up and sit down for the 49ers Sept. 14 home opener opposite the Chicago Bears. He has two seats in row one of section 235. 

“I’m going to be able to take my kids here, my family, my grandchildren one day,” said Harvey, whose favorite stadium spot is the Levi’s® 501 Club. “That’s going to be rewarding for the rest of my life.”  

–Andrew Pentis,

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