Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007 | The sleepy summer of Chargers stadium talks is about to wake up quickly.

Officials in Chula Vista have narrowed their search down to just two sites: the current bay-front location of the South Bay Power Plant and a plot of east-side land where they hope to eventually house a four-year university. Chula Vista plans to make the sites public in a consultant report to be released Sept. 13.

The Push Is On

  • The Issue: A flurry of activity ensued after the city of San Diego and the Chargers broke off negotiations last year, but it’s been a quiet summer as Oceanside and Chula Vista analyze their possibilities.
  • What It Means: Findings from consultants in both cities are expected to be released soon, at which time the Chargers say they will be able to move closer to one solid stadium proposal.
  • The Bigger Picture: The Chula Vista report will narrow the choices there down to two sites: the one currently occupied by the South Bay Power Plan and eastside land. The Oceanside report will determine whether the parallel construction of an office building can help offset the costs of financing a stadium.

The report has essentially been done for months, but it has been shelved as the city’s waterfront convention center and resort deal with the port and Gaylord Entertainment dissolved.

At the same time, another consultant is set to issue an analysis of the viability of financing an Oceanside stadium with the construction of a high-end office building on city-owned land that currently houses a golf course.

Mark Fabiani, Chargers special counsel, said the team will gauge the public reaction to the reports’ findings and could have a specific site chosen within 30 to 45 days of the consultants’ reports. It could still push to have a ballot initiative in 2008.

“I think the question will be: Have we done enough work with the (chosen) city and will it be viable?” Fabiani said.

In Chula Vista, consultants believe the power plant site and a city-owned tract of land on the east side, where city officials have long hoped to host a four-year university, hold the best possibilities for a stadium, Fabiani said. The city is currently in negotiations with private parties to purchase the land.

For the team, each spot carries sizable positives and negatives.

The primary obstacle at the power plant site is the power plant itself. While port and Chula Vista officials have taken steps to shutter the behemoth, state regulators continue to mandate its operation until alternative sources can be identified. If it is closed down, though, it would open up a prime chunk of waterfront land.

The inland site, while providing plenty of raw, city-owned land for both the stadium and accompanying development that will be needed to finance the project, faces transportation hurdles, as it would only be served by State Route 125 and not a principle interstate or rail line.

In Oceanside, there is still a good deal of skepticism over whether the team can finance the stadium with an accompanying Class A office building alone on 72 acres of land. The city or the county of San Diego could be asked to contribute to any project in Oceanside.

Although the Chargers say the stadium will be privately financed, at least one if not two public agencies will still likely be asked to close the financial gap in some manner. It just won’t be financed the way that governments traditionally subsidized sports complexes.

The team envisions building retail, office or residential development alongside the stadium with the help of a development partner. The expected revenue from that sidecar would be leveraged to obtain loans to build a stadium that is expected to cost upwards of $700 million before infrastructure costs.

Local governments could be asked for any number of contributions, including public land, entitlements or infrastructure.

In Chula Vista, the housing boom that filled city coffers so bountifully in the first half of the decade has now slowed considerably and officials are looking to continue the city’s growth elsewhere.

Chula Vista and port officials have been working vigorously on an ambitious project to bring a resort and convention center to the bay front, a project they hope will catalyze the bay front’s redevelopment. The two parties offered Gaylord Enterprises $308 million in subsidies to help the project pencil out. But the project recently hit major problems and its future is unknown.

Peter Watry is vice president of Crossroads II, a residents group focused on land-use issues in Chula Vista. He said he’s been waiting for the report’s release before forming an opinion.

“We don’t know enough about it,” he said.

He does list a few preliminary concerns: that football fans from North County will crowd surface streets on game days when they find out that SR-125 is a toll road; that if it comes down to it, he’d rather have Gaylord on the bay front; and whether a stadium would change Chula Vista’s character.

Things have already gotten a bit more pointed in Oceanside, where a group of activists has started the website GoAwayChargers.com in an effort to confront the stadium push there.

The group, which this week challenged the team’s credibility in a press release, has been rather mysterious about its membership.

David O’Connell, an attorney and spokesman for the group, said its founders are lying low for now as they formally organize. “We’re just acting as kind of a reality test for the representation of the proponents of the stadium,” he said.

But, with skepticism continuing to accompany the two smaller cities’ courtship of the Chargers, the idea of putting a football stadium downtown at the 10th Avenue Terminal near Petco Park is still being whispered throughout town.

The spot is attractive to stadium boosters because of its location; that alone would decrease the estimated construction cost by hundreds of millions of dollars because it wouldn’t require the infrastructure investment other sites would.

With the 10th Avenue Terminal falling on port land, convincing the port and organized labor to abandon operations there is perceived to be a tough sell. It is believed that any such proposal would need the support of Port Commissioner Steve Cushman.

And Cushman’s quick to put down the idea: “10th Avenue Terminal will continue to be a terminal today, tomorrow and on into the future.”

Please contact Andrew Donohue directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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