Jack McGrory / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

In January 2017, a group of investors that would come to call themselves SoccerCity and leaders of San Diego State University finalized terms of a major deal that would transform the land under and around SDCCU Stadium in Mission Valley, bring Major League Soccer to San Diego, construct thousands of homes and give the university a home for its football team.

But then the president of the university, Elliot Hirshman, asked members of the Campanile Foundation to check it out.

Former City Manager Jack McGrory took the lead. He very quickly decided the university had tremendous leverage. It could drive a much better deal than Hirshman had, McGrory believed.

He set about scuttling the arrangement. SoccerCity still went forward as an initiative and McGrory became its chief antagonist. But then McGrory felt obligated to offer an alternative. By the summertime, he led a push to put an alternative measure on the ballot, which became known as SDSU West. Most of the time, alternative ballot measures like this are merely implemented to help kill their rival initiatives. McGrory is relatively open about that being his primary motivation.

But then something happened. Over the rest of 2017 and throughout 2018, one by one, local politicians, interest groups and political groups endorsed SDSU West. By last month’s election, it had gathered the most diverse coalition of support possible. It ended up winning with 54 percent of the vote, a solid mandate amid so much contention.

Now, it has set in motion an unprecedented negotiation with the city of San Diego. The university’s new president, Adele de la Torre, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer are committed to making a deal where the city sells all the land to the university. SDSU is already gearing up to reshape Mission Valley forever.

None of this would be happening like this without McGrory. It was a dramatic re-entry into city politics for him. He was known as a master dealmaker at City Hall – some of those deals still haunt the city. If this one goes badly, he will own part of it. But he’s said he’s determined not to let that happen.

This is part of our 2018 Voice of the Year list, profiling the people who kick-started San Diego’s biggest civic discussions over the past year.

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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