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The Chargers push for a new football stadium downtown could have received no greater boost than last week’s last-minute bill by state legislators.
This is the biggest decision related to the Chargers’ potential downtown stadium at least since the team began seeking public dollars for a project now estimated at $800 million.
The deal eliminates the primary barrier to the Chargers receiving public money for the stadium — a cap limiting the money the city’s downtown redevelopment agency can collect. Last December, Mark Fabiani, the team’s stadium point man, identified the redevelopment cap as the major hurdle for the downtown site. (Fabiani hasn’t responded to me and to my knowledge hasn’t been quoted anywhere yet for the Chargers’ reaction to the deal.)
Under redevelopment, the city captures a larger share of the taxes that would’ve flowed to the county government, school district and the entire city in general in order to invest it back into a blighted neighborhood and subsidize development. Friday’s state bill, attached to the state budget at the end of all-night negotiations, ensures redevelopment will continue downtown through 2033, 10 years later than had been projected.
If the cap still was there, the downtown agency would only have had $386 million left to spend. Now, it can spend all the money it can collect until it expires.
In short, with the cap in place, the stadium never could have been built. With the cap removed, the city can finance whatever subsidy required, now estimated to be $500 million, to get the deal done.
None of this is to say, of course, that the Chargers now will have a new home downtown. Finances remain a concern. The U-T quoted a downtown real estate analyst Friday saying that the city would need $5 billion in new development downtown to cover $50 million in annual debt for a stadium. That’s the equivalent, the newspaper reported, of 37 high-rise condominium towers.
But this deal changes the terms of the debate. The question no longer is, Can a stadium happen downtown? Instead, the question becomes, is the political will and public support there to make one happen? In other words, politics, not administrative barriers, will determine if the team gets a new stadium now.
Let’s examine the politics.
Leaders have been waiting for the cap issue to be resolved before trying to put together a financing plan. Now, if talks move forward, city leaders and Chargers officials will have to structure a deal. In its eight-year-old stadium search, the team has never been short on locations and ideas. It has, however, been unable to put together a financing plan to even bring to voters.
The city and the Chargers will have to justify spending hundreds of millions on a new football stadium when it’s talking about laying off police officers and firefighters. Academic studies have shown near universally that cities do not benefit economically from new stadiums despite boosters’ assertions.
As we reported on Friday, if redevelopment dollars are the only way the city would pay for a new stadium, then a public vote wouldn’t be required.
But both Mayor Jerry Sanders and the Chargers have said they wanted a vote as soon as 2012.