Wednesday, May 9, 2007 | A development group is pushing plans to build a professional soccer stadium in San Ysidro, raising the possibility that Major League Soccer could expand to San Diego.
The group, Scroll Capital Partners, has spoken with city and county officials as it devises a plan to build a Major League Soccer stadium, athletic fields, and commercial and housing development in San Ysidro, a concept that would force the demolition and relocation of two schools.
The developers — Corey Barnette, a Washington, D.C.-based businessman and Fred McDonald of Michigan — are pursuing a new soccer team’s franchise rights from Major League Soccer, and have discussed building a 30,000-seat stadium on land currently owned by San Ysidro School District. The complex has been envisioned on land currently occupied by two schools: Beyer Elementary and nearby San Ysidro Middle School.
It would not be the group’s first foray into Major League Soccer. Barnette was part of a group that sought to purchase D.C. United, one of the fledgling league’s most popular teams. He declined comment.
The businessmen want to make the stadium and residential development “an economic anchor and revitalize that part of the community,” said Gilbert Anzaldua, the San Ysidro School District’s interim superintendent, who has spoken with the developers. “From our position, this is strictly information and exploratory. Nothing has been proposed in writing.”
The possible expansion in San Diego comes as Major League Soccer franchises pursue soccer-specific stadiums across the country, hoping to create financial roots for the still-growing league. MLS has struggled during its 11-year history. Two teams were eliminated in 2001. Four years later, San Jose lost its team to Houston. But the league has continued expanding despite its early troubles — relying on new soccer-only stadiums as a way to boost teams’ revenue.
When a franchise owns its stadium, it reaps profits from more sources than MLS’s 30-game schedule. Stadiums can cater to other events — concerts, international soccer tournaments, community gatherings — that boost concession and merchandise sales, said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute.
“You’re not going to see too many better fits than San Diego,” he said. “Soccer in San Diego seems like an inherent fit.”
Carter cautioned that prospective ownership groups do not tend to focus solely on a single site. Others could be vetted simultaneously, he said.
County officials have informally suggested other sites that would pose fewer problems. Carl Harry, the county’s real estate project manager, suggested a site off State Route 125 in Chula Vista in a January e-mail to Chula Vista City Councilman John McCann. voiceofsandiego.org obtained the e-mail through a California Public Records Act request.
Wherever it is located, a South Bay soccer stadium would have challenges, said Mark Fabiani, a Chargers spokesman, including competition for concerts from Chula Vista’s nearby Coors Amphitheater.
Fabiani said soccer stadiums have fewer amenities and are much smaller than their NFL counterparts — one of the reasons the 70,561-seat Qualcomm Stadium has often been described as a bad fit for Major League Soccer, which typically doesn’t draw crowds that large.
“Can you make a venue like this go when you already have a concert venue close by?” he asked. “You can’t make these things go solely on MLS. You have to fill it up with other events.”
Building a soccer stadium would be less expensive than a more expansive football stadium. A large complex in Carson, home to two Los Angeles soccer clubs, cost $150 million to build. A proposed Salt Lake City stadium has been estimated at $110 million. By comparison, the Chargers estimate their new home will cost $750 million.
Across the country, new MLS stadiums from New York to Chicago to Colorado have relied on public funding to finance construction. Salt Lake City’s franchise has struggled to win voter approval for its stadium. The issue could present a major hurdle in San Diego, which has shown a growing distaste for publicly financed subsidies for sports.
Public financing from the city of San Diego is “a non-starter,” said George Biagi, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders. “It would be no different than the way we’ve dealt with the Chargers. I don’t think we can see a situation where that’d be something we’d entertain.”
To date, though, the issue of public financing has not been raised during the businessmen’s meetings with the city, said Jim Barwick, director of the city’s Real Estate Assets Department. The businessmen have only generally described their proposal, he said. They did not provide any information about how much development may accompany the package.
“The conversations have been very preliminary and not any nuts and bolts,” Barwick said. “It was merely some concepts.”
Barwick said he had not heard from the group in several weeks. While the developers seemed sincere, he said, “I don’t think they quite understood that development in California and San Diego County is more complex than it is in other parts of the country. I wish them success — if not here, then somewhere else.”
San Ysidro school officials have greeted the stadium concept with a mix of excitement and wariness. Anzaldua said the two schools that would be demolished are getting older and need repairs. Beyer Elementary opened in 1957; San Ysidro Middle School opened in 1978.
But financing new school construction would add significant costs to the proposal. Anzaldua estimated that new schools currently being developed in San Ysidro will cost between $26 million and $28 million apiece — without having to purchase land, which would boost costs as much as $6 million.
“Obviously we have a lot of thinking to do,” said Raquel Marquez-Maden, a San Ysidro school board member. “It sounds great, but it sounds too good to be true.”
Padres owner John Moores has pursued MLS teams previously, but is not currently involved in any development proposals, said Steve Peace, a senior adviser to Moores.
“There’s nothing on the table,” Peace said. “I wouldn’t say that John doesn’t have any interest. But there’s no active conversations involving any of this.”