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Qualcomm Stadium / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Voters approved a ballot measure last fall directing the city of San Diego to sell the land under and around SDCCU stadium — formerly known as Qualcomm — to San Diego State University.

The plan voters approved is relatively clear: SDSU will pay fair market value for the former Chargers stadium site. The university will then tear down the old stadium, build a new stadium, create a park along the San Diego River and work with private developers to build classrooms, research space and thousands of housing units.

SDSU officials wanted a tentative deal by this summer to purchase the 132 acres of land so they could begin the $3.8 billion campus expansion in early 2020. But behind closed doors, Voice of San Diego’s Ry Rivard reports, there appears to be significant tension between the university and the city over the terms.

The city and university don’t yet agree on what the land is worth because they’re waiting on a finalized appraisal. Regardless, SDSU has been proceeding as if a deal will happen around the end of the year, hiring architects, construction firms and other consultants.

Important to note: There’s a confidentiality agreement that says the two parties are only supposed to talk publicly about terms when a deal is reached or if negotiations “permanently cease.”

Rivard has been following the deal closely and went on Reddit to answer your questions about it. Here are some of the best parts of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.

What is the timetable for all of this? How soon would you expect the appraisal to be completed?

RR: The university wants to be able to take a deal to its board (the Cal State University governing board) in early 2020 so it can start construction soon after. That depends on its negotiations with the city. Last we heard, there’s a draft that is going back and forth between the city and the university.

If negotiations “permanently cease,” what is the city’s backup plan for the stadium and the land around it?

First, there doesn’t seem to be a Plan B for now. This is, if you step waaaay back and look over the whole long Chargers saga, something like Plan Z.

So, SDSU is now Plan A: The voters have spoken, SDSU is interested and the city has said it’s interested in reaching a mutually beneficial deal.

But. Let’s say that does not happen as planned …

Measure G, the ballot measure that voters approved last year, basically gives the university dibs on this land for 20 years. It would take a vote of the people to change that, to give someone else a chance to buy the site.

So the Plan B, if there is a Plan B, would require waiting a long time or going back to the voters.

We’ve talked around the office about what happens if this evolves/devolves into another “San Diego Special,” aka, an intractable mess. Will the 2024 or 2028 campaigns for mayor revolve around candidates blasting each other for an unbuilt stadium at the Mission Valley site?

For now, though, the negotiations are ongoing and all parties say they are interested in reaching a deal sooner rather than later.

What percentage of the land will go toward educational space and buildings specifically for students/faculty versus housing? Will it be housing just for SDSU or anyone?

The mix of student vs. non-student housing is a big TBD in my mind.

That said, here’s something to keep in mind: Universities have an incredible way to ensure development interest in a site, by guaranteeing to backstop any vacancies with students, because universities can force students to live on campus, thereby ensuring any new housing project has a steady stream of customers.

I’m not sure the university has that planned for Mission Valley, but it’s something I’ve kept in mind because other universities often build housing this way, using public-private partnerships where the students are basically the collateral.

Will the new campus have lab buildings?

The university claims it needs space and that it will use some of it for research through public-private partnerships. One of my colleagues, Kayla Jimenez, explored the research space market in San Diego, which at the time (last fall) appears to be somewhat saturated.

SDSU also has some people off campus that it likely would have trouble moving back onto campus. For instance, SDSU’s center for research on sexuality and sexual health is located in Sky Park — near the Miramar Airport — because of its affiliation with the county Institute for Behavioral and Community Health.

We need more housing but done in a smart way. If you build nothing but condos and retail in Mission Valley the way we have been, you get gridlock and we become Los Angeles.

The university’s argument for student housing in Mission Valley again, the plan doesn’t guarantee that the housing will be for students, but let’s set that aside is that the new units will be along a trolley stop that is one stop away from the main campus. And, in Mission Valley, the university could exert more control over what kinds of units get built and whether students are allowed to bring cars.

There are certainly some advantages to having the university oversee new housing meant for students.

But that all assumes that much of the new housing is actually meant for students in the first place.

Who are the companies helping support SDSU to fund this project?

There were developers on SDSU’s side during the ballot measure process indeed, it was thanks to them that the ballot measure took off and was funded but they were there as boosters of the university. They all said, look, this is for the university, not us. Whether or not they will be partners in the project and/or beneficiaries of the development is, at this point, speculation and, to some extent, innuendo.

Among the boosters was JMI, which is also working on the expansion but has said it will have no stake in vertical development on the site.

Here’s a list of some major donors, via the city. I should disclose that Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit and has certainly received donations or other support from people or entities on this list.

I’ve seen quite a few people question how the stadium financing pencils out without a partner. What partner, in what league, does SDSU have a legitimate chance of landing?

Not for sure, but looking at the draft environmental impact report, the university is clearly anticipating (hoping?) for such a partner.

Here’s some of that language:

The stadium “may accommodate professional, premier, or MLS soccer. The stadium location and surrounding concourse has been sized and designed for future adaptation should such an expansion become necessary for an NFL or other professional sports team; however, it is noted that such an expansion is not contemplated by this EIR and is not part of the proposed project because it is not reasonably foreseeable.”

The resounding takeaway is that, unless something has dramatically changed in recent weeks, the university really doesn’t know how it is going to pay for this stadium. That was true before the vote, after the vote and likely to this day.

To add to that, there is almost nothing in this story from before the vote that isn’t true today.

What has changed: The university won the vote and has a bunch of consultants now thinking long and hard about these issues.

I’m curious to know your immediate thoughts on the EIR. Has anything shocked you?

Not yet, but I’m still going through it. The plan to reuse the old stadium was an interesting option. It was good to see their commitment continues not to raise student tuition or fees.

The number of agencies that are going to have to sign off on this project is also stunning to see. I think there will be a lot of twists and turns.

Why do we need a nice new stadium for a team nobody cares to see? Even students don’t go, and they get free tickets.

There’s this general sentiment that old stadiums don’t offer the sort of experience people are looking for. The classic example: Old stadiums have pillars that block certain views, which new stadiums generally do not have.

There are also a whole bunch of perks and comforts that new stadiums can be designed to include which, of course, can lead to higher ticket prices.

That said, football is facing some existential questions in a way it hasn’t since, say, the invention of television caused fears that people would stop coming to games. Now, of course, the issue is player safety, in addition to long-standing questions about whether it really makes sense for colleges to lose money on large football programs, as many do.

SDSU’s draft Environmental Impact Report, which it had to prepare to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, has an interesting idea: Don’t build a new stadium.

Here’s what it says:

Stadium Re-Use Alternative.” The Stadium Re-Use Alternative would restore SDCCU Stadium to the original configuration of approximately 51,000 seats, as first constructed in 1968. Under this alternative, the proposed project would be re-configured around the existing s\Stadium to achieve similar land uses and intensities as the proposed project to the extent feasible based on existing grade and topography, and accommodating the floodplain.

The trolley station, with its ample parking, is a favorite of mine to use when I need to go downtown. Will plans include retaining a lot of that parking for the trolley stop?

There’s going to be some sort of trolley stop cafe, according to documents submitted by Clark Construction Group.

Here’s a bit more from the university’s draft Environmental Impact Report on parking:

Parking would be accommodated throughout the project site through a combination of street level parking and parking garages, as well as temporary parking in the tailgate park area west of the new stadium. A total of approximately 5,660parking spaces are anticipated in above ground parking garages in campus residential buildings (Buildings R1 through R16). Within the campus research and innovation district, a total of approximately 5,065 parking spaces would be provided, including 4,746 spaces south of the new Stadium and 319 spaces east of the new Stadium.Another 1,140at-grade parking spaces would be located west of the new Stadium during events. 485 parking spaces would be located in hotel parking garages.Approximately 840parking spaces would be provided along streets (see Figure2-11F, Parking Plan).”

What’s there now: 18,870 parking spaces in one giant lot around the stadium.

I skimmed the SDSU traffic analysis draft that they released recently, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Have they started brainstorming how to mitigate traffic and improve road efficiency yet?

It’s tough to understand and explain.

There are two theories about the site overall: It’s a spot built right on a transit line, the university can tell students to bring or not bring cars – so trying to improve traffic in a place where the university has that sort of access to transit and that sort of control over commuters is a really interesting opportunity.

The other theory is it is a giant parking lot already in the middle of a big mess of traffic and now they want to add a bunch of things to do there, like live, shop, learn and have fun – so of course there’s going to be more traffic.

I think if we know anything about California, the answer boils down to: Of course there is going to be more traffic, unless transit just clicks.

In terms of trying to explain all of the exact traffic estimates, we have not tried yet, but bless their hearts, the Union-Tribune took a stab at it.

What are they planning for parking?

One of the concepts is underground parking that is usable during the week but set aside on game days. There are similar arrangements around Petco Park, for instance, at the Central Library, which has free parking for patrons but is off limits during Padres games or other events.

When are they going to demolish the old stadium?

When they have acquired the land and can start construction on the new stadium.

For people who have followed stadium replacement projects in other cities, this may not be surprising, but I found it cool nonetheless: There will be two stadiums next to each other for a brief period of time, as the new one goes up but before ball can be played in it.

Here’s a rendering of what that will look like.

Have your own question for Rivard? Send him an email at ry.rivard@voiceofsandiego.org.

Megan Wood

Megan is Voice of San Diego’s engagement editor. She is responsible for producing and overseeing content that extends the reach of the organization....

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