San Diego State University football stadium
San Diego County Credit Union Stadium / Photo by Dustin Michelson

Negotiations between officials from the city of San Diego and San Diego State University about where the university will play football after next season have entered their second year.

It’s getting very complicated.

The university’s lease to play football at SDCCU Stadium runs out at the end of 2018. It’s not an easy extension.

The city is facing a budget shortfall next year and city officials told SDSU last year they wanted to close the stadium. Operating and maintaining the stadium costs the city at least $7 million a year. That doesn’t include the millions the city is still spending paying off debt it took on to refurbish the stadium in the ‘90s.

San Diego State paid just $153,554 in rent to the city last year. Concerts and other events bring in marginally more but nothing close to what’s lost.

Ron Fowler, the leader of the ownership group of the Padres, offered up Petco Park for a year to bridge the gap between the shuttering of the old stadium and the rise of something new. But the university dismissed that as an option.

Last year, university boosters floated the idea of the city handing over the stadium to SDSU to manage; If a toilet broke, it would then be the university’s responsibility.

Managed competition, the city’s law that paved the way for it to outsource services – like handing management of a stadium to a third-party instead of city staff – is standing in the way of a deal like that, though. The city would have to give its own employees a chance to bid on managing the stadium before it could outsource the job to SDSU.

The city’s not going to go through that hassle without a long-term deal with the university.

But the city can’t enter a long-term deal with the university while the public considers two measures likely to appear on the November ballot. If the city made a long-term deal with the university, it could be accused of materially supporting one of the plans by resolving a significant dilemma for the university.

I inquired about the status of the negotiations and only received this joint statement from both the university and city in response:

“SDSU and the City are committed to ensuring the university has a home to play football that makes financial sense for both parties. Negotiations are ongoing and will remain confidential until a final agreement is reached,” it reads.

There is another option. The city could lease the stadium to the university for a nominal amount, as it does when leasing city-owned buildings in Balboa Park to nonprofits that operate them.

Last March, the university seemed willing to do something like that. Bob Schulz, the lead architect and associate vice president of real estate, planning and development for the university, told a crowd gathered by Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 that SDSU would play football somewhere and it may as well be the stadium where it’s been playing.

“We have expressed our willingness to take over the operational cost of Qualcomm stadium,” he said. “That’s a true statement. We have never requested or required that the city of San Diego be obligated to carry those maintenance costs for our sole benefit.”

Were that an option, these negotiations would be over.

Yet, they’re very much not over. That indicates SDSU wants the city to continue to fund the operations of the stadium to some extent.

If they have a more clever deal in mind that gets around the city’s various legal obligations, they aren’t sharing it with me.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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