The San Diego Chargers want a new stadium and they’ve been working for four years to get one.

The stadium search changed on Jan. 1, 2007. That’s when cities and groups from outside San Diego County could begin courting the team — Las Vegas was the first to come calling days after the deadline. By the terms of their contract with the city of San Diego, the Chargers can officially split town at the end of the 2008 season if they find an enticing suitor.

Will they stay, or will they go? Andrew Donohue describes what’s in store for the Chargers.

A number of cities and entities in San Diego are working to keep them here. And the team has said it is optimistic enough with the progress to, for the time being, “politely decline” any overtures made by suitors from outside the area come Jan. 1, 2007.

Currently, budding stadium ideas in the South Bay cities of Chula Vista and National City have advanced the furthest and appear the most credible. The city and county of San Diego have talked about forming a joint stadium authority to deal with the team’s demands, but that idea has yet to take off. A golf course site in Oceanside has also been discussed informally, although politicians there have offered little public support for such an idea.

So how did it come to this? A 1995 deal between the Chargers and the city of San Diego under former Mayor Susan Golding was supposed to keep the team in town until 2020. Qualcomm Stadium was given a $78 million upgrade, but an opt-out known as the “trigger” clause allowed the team to get out of the stadium contract in certain years if its revenues fell below a certain level.

The threat of that “trigger” clause and the team’s stadium demands spurred former San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy to convene a task force in 2002. In early 2003, the team put together a $400 million stadium and mixed-use development proposal for the existing site at Qualcomm in Mission Valley. The proposal asked for $200 million of public funds — which would have come from a city-sponsored redevelopment of the site — and didn’t gain much traction.

The team later triggered the opt-out clause in March 2003, which eventually led to a renegotiated contract. The new lease did away with a clause known as the “ticket guarantee” in which the city purchased any unsold tickets to Chargers home games. It allowed the team to leave town in 2008, but was advertised on the idea that voters would have the opportunity to vote on a stadium package in San Diego in 2006 before the team could relocate.

That vote never came about, as the team said in early 2006 that the city of San Diego’s financial troubles, political strife and worries about the housing market killed a development package that called for the stadium to be privately financed, with the help of 60 acres of public land.

With the proposal dead, the San Diego City Council voted in May to amend its contract with the team and allow the Chargers to negotiate with other cities inside San Diego County, giving local parties a head-start on other suitors. Los Angeles, Anaheim, Las Vegas and San Antonio have been named as possible interested parties.

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