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Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006 | San Diego’s home-field advantage for keeping the Chargers expires in less than three months. But local leaders said they aren’t frantically scrambling to pitch their stadium proposals as the deadline approaches.
Outside cities have been expected to bull rush the Chargers’ front office with stadium proposals come Jan. 1, when the football club can entertain offers from outside San Diego County. But officials from the faraway cities that are most likely to court the Chargers have said they don’t have any current plans to do so.
Until the New Year, the team is currently limited to pursuing stadium talks with cities inside San Diego County. So far, the most organized suitors to come calling have been Chula Vista and National City. The team says Qualcomm Stadium is antiquated, and they want a new stadium.
The team said it would like to have the luxury of shrugging off distant suitors come Jan. 1 if it is encouraged by progress locally.
“When another city calls from outside the county, our goal is to say, ‘We appreciate your call, but we’re not interested because we have at least one site we’re working on in the county,’” Chargers spokesman Mark Fabiani said.
Officials for both South Bay cities say they aren’t worried about the Jan. 1 starting date for other cities.
“I think the options in the county are either real or they’re not,” Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla said. “Deadlines aren’t going to change that one way or the other.”
Unable to strike a deal with the team, the city of San Diego, Qualcomm’s landlords, permitted cities within the county to begin cozying up to the Chargers earlier this year. That has allowed National City and Chula Vista a head-start before outside cities can begin wooing the team.
But with just a few months before the team can start shopping outside the county, the cities that have said they’re interested in an NFL team say they aren’t itching to pitch themselves to the Chargers.
Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Antonio are contemplating runs for professional football, but representatives from those cities said they aren’t currently eyeing the Chargers. Las Vegas city officials, who contacted the team as recently as April, would not comment for this story, but representatives of the desert city’s booster groups said there has not been a lot of discussion locally about attracting an NFL franchise.
Additionally, representatives from cities that have been mulling a push for a National Football League franchise say they are not interested in subsidizing the construction of a team’s stadium – a signal that local governments, for now, won’t have to stave off other cities in a bidding war for the Chargers.
A Los Angeles city official said the NFL is considering Southern California to house a team. A clearer picture is expected to emerge after team owners gather later this month to discuss a strategy for a region that had three teams as recently as the mid-1990s. But the city appears to be counting on an expansion team rather than convincing another team to relocate.
“We are not trying to court an (existing) NFL team, but we’ve asked the NFL to provide us with an NFL team,” said Darryl Ryan, a spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
In Los Angeles, the Coliseum has emerged as the frontrunner to host any new local team.
But a crucial grant from the state of California, one of the agencies that oversees the Coliseum, prevents one of the three NFL teams from inside California – the Chargers, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers – from moving into the facility.
Another California city, Anaheim, is advertising its ownership of 53 acres adjacent to the city’s baseball ballpark as a possible site for professional football.
A spokesman for Anaheim said the city thinks the site could be packaged as a multi-faceted development project for an NFL team owner who would purchase the land from the city, build a stadium that seats between 65,000 and 75,000 people, and use the receipts from a nearby development project to pay for it.
In addition to the stadium, the Anaheim site could accommodate a hotel, 700 residential units, and a retail shopping complex, according to city spokesman John Nicoletti. He stressed that the city would only sell the land at fair market value and would not convey it for free.
In San Diego, the Chargers have been looking for a partner in a mixed-use stadium development of that sort. Anaheim officials said they currently aren’t pursuing teams, but rather waiting to see if someone comes calling.
Outside the state, Las Vegas and San Antonio have expressed interest in courting a team as well.
In Las Vegas, a spokeswoman for Mayor Oscar Goodman declined to comment on whether the team would try to lure the Chargers. Fabiani said Goodman tried to contact the Chargers earlier this year, but the team sent a letter back to the mayor telling him that the club was prohibited from discussing a possible move until 2007.
Outside of the Mayor’s Office, Las Vegas’ business and tourism marketers said they were unaware of any attempts to tout the city as an NFL destination. The boosters said professional sports “would be embraced by local residents and visitors,” but to be sure, they said Las Vegas would be cool to a taxpayer subsidy for the stadium.
“If there were any type of public financing, we would really be very hesitant to support that,” Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Cara Roberts said.
In San Antonio, Mayor Phil Hardberger has listed attracting a professional football or baseball team to the Texas city among his priorities. He’s specifically mentioned getting the Chargers to town.
Harberger spokesman J.J. Saulino said the city’s 65,000-seat Alamodome could house a football team, but he echoed other cities’ sentiments that the city of San Antonio has “no interest” in building a football-only stadium with taxpayer money.
The Chargers said they are not expecting a public subsidy, but the city’s history with professional sports subsidies has City Attorney Mike Aguirre and others skeptical.
Subsidies for professional sports has stung many locally who remember the $36 million the city of San Diego lost because of the Chargers ticket guarantee or the $200 million payment the city footed for Petco Park, where the Padres play baseball.
In lieu of a direct subsidy, the Chargers initially proposed a deal that required a land gift from the city of San Diego in exchange for a new stadium and massive infrastructure upgrades.
The team would have been required to build the stadium as well as make parkland and transportation improvements to the surrounding Mission Valley area in exchange for 60 acres of the 166-acre Qualcomm site so the organization could develop condos. The proposal, which was anticipated to be placed on this November’s ballot, fell apart earlier this year.
The same concept of funding a stadium’s construction with the profits from accompanying real estate development plays into the two current local bids.
Chula Vista officials are trying to broker a deal between the football club and HomeFed Corp., a private developer that holds land in eastern Chula Vista near Lower Otay Reservoir. National City is eyeing an industrial parcel of bayside, port-controlled land to offer the team.
Fabiani said the Chargers are not expecting the local cities to submit final proposals by New Year’s Day, when the head start expires. Rather, the team hopes to know by then whether the Chula Vista and National City sites are plausible.
In National City, officials are awaiting the Unified Port of San Diego’s study of a 52-acre parcel of industrial land that city officials want to see developed. The study will rate a stadium’s potential impact on the surrounding maritime jobs and traffic and determine whether the plot of land is big enough for a stadium and a parking lot.
If the study’s results show that the proposal is feasible, the team will begin “more intense planning” for the site. If the proposal costs the port a significant number of harbor jobs or shows the site to be too small, the idea will likely be scrapped, Fabiani said.
The Chula Vista pitch is a “whole separate set of issues,” Fabiani said.
There, HomeFed Corp., a residential home builder, must determine whether a development deal is profitable. A new stadium would have to increase the value of the company’s surrounding 3,000 sufficiently to warrant the company’s investment in a stadium deal with the Chargers, Fabiani said.
HomeFed Corp. President Paul Borden said talks with the Chargers have been ongoing, but that nothing “substantive” has been proposed.
After vetting the two sites with preliminary challenges, Fabiani said the National City site appeared a little further along in the process because of its proximity to the trolley, downtown San Diego, and major freeways – Interstates 5 and 15 and State Routes 94 and 163.