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Why downtown remains Chargers' preferred stadium location in San Diego

SAN DIEGO -- The mayor-appointed, citizens' stadium advisory group has met with most of the major stakeholders regarding a new stadium in San Diego, and is expected to settle on a location within the next week or two.

And momentum appears to be building for the current location at Qualcomm Stadium. Supporters of the Mission Valley site point to escalating real estate prices, the threat of legal action and potential complications in relocating a bus yard's property -- which would serve as part of a parcel of land holding a stadium built downtown -- as reason to rebuild at the Qualcomm Stadium site.

Further, longtime season-ticket holders remain leery of giving up tailgating in the immense parking lot at Qualcomm Stadium. The San Diego Chargers had their own study performed that states there are no major issues preventing the bus yard property from being developed for an NFL stadium.

Mark Fabiani, the point person for the Chargers on the stadium issue, indicated that the team is willing to work toward a solution at whatever site San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer chooses after he receives a recommendation from the stadium advisory group in May.

However, the Chargers preferred location for a new stadium in San Diego remains downtown next to the San Diego Padres' Petco Park.

"We didn't just pick downtown out of hat and decide to focus on it at random," Fabiani said. "We very closely considered the options that remained to us, after seven to eight years working on the Mission Valley site."

Fabiani outlined four reasons the Chargers prefer downtown site for a new stadium.

  • Infrastructure: The roads, freeways and parking are already in place to handle the amount of people that would travel to a stadium downtown on game days, so the city would not need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in road and infrastructure improvements.

  • Mission Valley site as leverage: The Chargers believe the city could use the Mission Valley site as a source of revenue -- by selling it to a developer in order to help fund the public's financial portion of a new stadium.

  • Multi-use facility: Building a multi-use facility would be more attractive to voters weighing on the project than paying for a stand-alone football stadium. The attraction of hosting other public events, including concerts, Final Fours and major soccer events could serve as more of an enticement to voters.

  • Revenue stream: The hotel tax earmarked to help pay for a joint-use facility convention center expansion is the most likely tax to be approved by voters because it's a tax mostly paid by tourists.

JMI Realty, the development company responsible for Petco Park, proposed building a $1.4 billion multi-use facility with a retractable roof that would house a stadium for the Chargers, along with planned expansion of the convention center. The center would include an exhibition hall below the football field and a meeting room and ballroom space in an attached building, that has views of the field and bay.

JMI says the project would save hundreds of millions of dollars, rather than building stand-alone facilities for both projects. JMI uses the same architect the Chargers have used, Populous out of Kansas City. Done separately, the price tag on the two projects could reach $1.8 billion.

Steve Peace of JMI explained the viability of the downtown joint facility in a conversation with Dan Sileo of The Mighty 1090 AM radio in this audio link. It's worth a listen.

"The most important thing is to recognize that every finance plan is specific to a specific location," Peace said. "And so until you know what the finance plan is for a given location, it's not wise to focus in on a specific location because you may learn that the finance plan is extremely different, and has different consequences.

"If I learn that it's a half a billion dollar difference between one location and another location -- that might change my mind."

Peace believes instead of choosing a location first, the citizens' stadium advisory group should be figuring out how to finance the project at each location.

The Chargers argue that non-contiguous expansion of the convention center is a more suitable alternative, coupled with a multi-use stadium because it would allow for multiple conventions at the same time.

However, proponents of the initial proposal for expanding the convention center argue that at least 750,000 square feet of contiguous space is needed to attract large conventions, which generate the most revenue. The current convention center houses 525,000 square feet.

In August, an appellate court ruling struck down the financing plan for a $520 million expansion of the convention center along San Diego's waterfront.

Steven Johnson, vice president of public affairs for the San Diego Convention Center, explained his organization's concerns with a non-contiguous expansion in a conversation with Scott Kaplan and Billy Ray Smith of The Mighty 1090. Check out the audio link.

Johnson states that the convention center books events out five years in advance, and would be limited six months out of the year due to the NFL slate of games scheduled for a new NFL stadium downtown.

"The issue is whether or not we can convince a client base to book a facility where there is joint use with a football stadium," Johnson said.