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For nearly two years, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and the Chargers have zeroed in on downtown for a new football stadium. Then hurdle after hurdle got in the way of creating a financing plan for the $800 million project.
Those hurdles have gone away, but left their mark. The result: a planned football stadium that appears no closer to becoming a real football stadium than when talks first began.
“The environment has gotten more defined than it was a couple years ago and it’s hundreds of millions of dollars worse,” said Fred Maas, a developer and former head of the city’s downtown redevelopment agency who is advising Sanders on the stadium project.
This is how much worse.
A high-powered stadium consultant came and went. The state freed up hundreds of millions in downtown redevelopment dollars for stadium construction, but then later gutted all redevelopment.
The struggling economy could be dragging down the value of the existing Qualcomm Stadium property in Mission Valley. The mayor has prioritized an expansion of the city’s downtown Convention Center over the stadium. The new NFL labor contract delivered a renewed plan for league stadium loans, but the four-month lockout sapped any momentum that might have existed otherwise.
Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani said Tuesday that a planned November 2012 stadium ballot measure could be postponed, meaning the vote wouldn’t happen until the next mayor takes office. The Chargers have been seeking a new stadium for almost a decade and already canceled one a public vote in 2006.
While the Chargers stadium languishes, teams and developers in the Bay Area and Los Angeles have seen this week’s end to the NFL lockout provide their plans a push.
The city of Los Angeles rolled out a 100-page financing plan for a stadium and Convention Center expansion with entertainment developer AEG. San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York held a conference call with reporters to talk about financing his voter-approved stadium in Santa Clara.
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The current San Diego plan makes the stadium the centerpiece of a sports and entertainment district. The Chargers stadium, as it’s envisioned, would need a dome so it could host more events than football, such as big-time college basketball games and conventions. The project would include restaurants and retail shops nearby. Maas said he’s coordinating meetings in the next couple months between Sanders’ office and developers of other sports and entertainment districts.
Nothing has emerged to replace the loss, at least in the short term, of public redevelopment dollars, but Fabiani has discussed using downtown convention, restaurant and retail revenues, selling the Qualcomm Stadium and Sports Arena sites and tapping other governments for help. If a lawsuit against state redevelopment laws is successful, those dollars could return, but the court battle could take years.
The most positive sign in the stadium discussion is that the city and the Chargers have a good relationship, Maas said. No one would be wasting their time, he said, if a deal didn’t have a chance.
“I think the most significant point to convey is both the Chargers and the mayor remain committed,” he said.
But the mayor also is committed to another major downtown civic project, a Convention Center expansion. The expansion continues to progress. Sanders is pressing to break ground before he leaves office at the end of next year, and a financing proposal for the $550 million project relies on hiking tourism taxes.
Fabiani and Maas have floated tying the Convention Center expansion and the new stadium together, but Sanders and expansion boosters reject that idea.
Steve Cushman, the mayor’s Convention Center point man, said there have been no discussions about tapping the expansion’s projected tourism taxes for a new stadium. Also, the Convention Center could be competing with the stadium for the same now-limited downtown redevelopment dollars.
“I can absolutely say to you that in light of the loss of redevelopment, I’m scraping the barrel to find the money to build my project, much less say there’s going to be more money than we need,” Cushman said.
The lone bright spot appears to be the NFL labor deal.
Fabiani has touted it as a “huge victory” for stadium efforts. The new contract allows teams in California to borrow up to 75 percent of the private money pledged to build stadiums, York, the 49ers owner, told reporters this week.
Teams are estimating league loans could contribute as much as $150 million to the projects. The league is giving an extra boost to California stadiums because of the cost of building in the state and the public’s reluctance to finance stadiums with taxpayer dollars. Every NFL team in California is trying to build a new stadium as are two developers in pro football-less Los Angeles.
Neither San Diego officials nor the Chargers ever made any public or private funding commitments for the $800 million facility. The cost might even be larger since the $800 million doesn’t include a dome or relocating the bus yard that now sits on the downtown site. When talks first began, Fabiani said the Chargers and the league could provide $300 million.
The remaining half-billion dollars is a problem that’s far from resolved.
“It’s a very long road ahead of us,” Maas said.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego City Hall and big buildings. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.550.5663.