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San Diego has a storied past with shiny renderings of all shapes and sizes, stadiums and arenas and professional sports. Without relitigating history in-depth, there was the Chargers and NFL saga staged around downtown and Mission Valley that ultimately resulted in the team’s exit from San Diego. On the flipside, we’ve also had numerous success stories, including the creation of Petco Park and the recent completion of the SDSU deal with the city.
While the results varied, these projects and stories all had similar characteristics: exciting renderings, competing development teams and lots of public fodder. This is also the case of the current Sports Arena RFP for the 48 acres located at the intersection of the 5 and 8 freeways. It’s a truly unique location and one of the last real opportunities to develop a large parcel near downtown. We must not squander it.
Two teams have been selected as finalists for the opportunity to redevelop this site. One plan is proposed by ASM Global and Brookfield Properties; the other is led by Toll Brothers and Malmuth Development. Both plans are available for review and comment until July 20.
Originally formed in 2007, the San Diego Stadium Coalition is a grassroots group of more than 20,000 San Diegans working together to make sure San Diego has a vibrant sports and cultural environment. We initially formed to provide the citizens’ independent perspective on the Chargers’ various stadium plans and initiatives. During that time, we learned a lot about stadiums, professional sports, naming rights and financing plans. We later applied that knowledge and experience to the SDSU West and SoccerCity battle, where we carefully reviewed both plans and supported the SDSU West initiative.
As the founder of the SDSC, I’ve looked at both teams and plans for Sports Arena redevelopment and have thrown our group’s support behind the ASM Global and Brookfield Properties plan. I firmly believe they have the experience to deliver on their well-conceived plan for this unique site.
When looking at both proposals, a few concerns stood out with the Toll Brothers’ plan. I’ve seen a lot of development proposals just like it. To me, this plan appears to be an empty box with shining wrapping (read: exciting renderings that may not come to fruition). Over the years, I’ve learned the right questions to ask of these development proposals and here are the key questions that concern me and should concern all San Diegans about the Toll Brothers’ plan:
Experience: What experience does the team have in developing mixed-use districts that encompass housing, retail and office surrounding a sports and entertainment facility? What is the team’s experience in arena management and securing naming rights for sports/entertainment facilities?
Arena Operation and Naming Rights: If selected, who is going to be the arena operator? How did this team determine the $37 million naming rights income? That seems lofty to say the least based on other naming rights deals.
Arena Plans: Do the arena renderings show the actual updated facility consistent with the $125 million budget specifically stated in the plan? Are the enhancements listed or shown, including the large LED obelisk screen in the rendering, all part of that budget?
Ballot Measure: What is the team’s plan, should the proposed ballot measure getting rid of the coastal height limit in certain areas not pass in November?
Development Plans: If the SD Loyal soccer team is such a critical piece of the team’s outreach plan, why is the soccer stadium only a temporary-use stadium? How will the 12-acre park and man-made river be funded, and at what phase will they be delivered? Are those amenities a guaranteed part of their plan?
I welcome a response from the Toll Brothers team to these questions. I also welcome a response from the ASM Global and Brookfield Properties team. I sincerely hope these questions will encourage San Diegans to read and understand the fine print of these proposals, beyond the shiny renderings.
The redevelopment of the Sports Arena property is a pivotally important project for the future of our city and entire region. All San Diegans should review the two plans and voice their support for a team with a real plan that will deliver real results to benefit all San Diegans.
Jason Riggs is founder of the San Diego Stadium Coalition.