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San Diego State cuts off talks with investors over plans for Qualcomm Stadium site

SAN DIEGO -- There's another stadium flap in San Diego, and this one is threatening the future of San Diego State's football team.

The school said Tuesday that it has cut off talks to share a stadium with a group that wants to attract an MLS team as the centerpiece of a billion dollar development at the site of aging Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley.

In a statement, the school said that the city should pursue "a transparent" process to develop a plan for the 166-acre site. That might not happen.

FS Investors unveiled plans for its SoccerCity development less than two weeks after the NFL's Chargers announced they were relocating to the Los Angeles area because voters overwhelmingly rejected their plan for a new downtown stadium.

On Jan. 31, MLS Commissioner Don Garber accepted FS Investors' application for an expansion team in a ceremony on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum.

FS Investors collected more than 100,000 signatures for the initiative, and the City Council could soon place it on the ballot for a special election in November.

SDSU had spoken with FS Investors for more than a year while saying it wants a portion of the Qualcomm Stadium site to expand its campus.

Nick Stone of FS Investors said in a statement that SDSU's stance is "another sad chapter in the saga of departing university leadership moving the goal posts. Unbelievably, they continue to walk away from people trying to help them. It's clear this decision will jeopardize Aztec football."

The statement questioned the leadership of SDSU President Elliot Hirshman, who is leaving June 30 for another job. He will be replaced on an interim basis by Sally Roush, a longtime senior vice president.

"Despite this announcement, we stand ready to work with new leaders at SDSU to support the long-term goals of an institution we care about deeply," Stone said.

SDSU said it was ending talks with FS Investors because "a fair, equitable deal that would provide opportunity for the long-term success of SDSU and Aztec football, as well as a transparent deal for the citizens of San Diego, could not be reached.

"Recently, Mayor Kevin Faulconer reached out to SDSU in an attempt to facilitate a deal on behalf of SDSU with FS Investors. SDSU reiterated our offer to purchase land and to provide our fair share of infrastructure costs, but still no agreement could be reached," the school's statement said.

The dispute comes as SDSU hopes to fill the void left by the Chargers' departure. The Aztecs are coming off consecutive 11-3 seasons and a No. 25 ranking in the final Associated Press poll for the first time in 30 years. Coach Rocky Long has led the team to bowl games in each of his six seasons, and they've played in seven straight overall.

Part of SDSU's dispute with FS Investors is over the size of the proposed stadium. FS Investors wants a smaller stadium, while the Aztecs want a larger one or one that could be easily expanded.

The city wants to close Qualcomm Stadium after the 2018 season.

Asked if he is concerned about the football program's future, SDSU athletic director J.D. Wicker said, "To a certain extent, sure."

The Aztecs will have two years left at Qualcomm and could play the 2019 season at Petco Park, the downtown home of baseball's Padres. Wicker said he hasn't heard from Padres executive chairman and SDSU supporter Ron Fowler that playing at Petco beyond 2019 is a definite no.

"For the lifeblood of the program as a whole, we need a better solution than Qualcomm is today," Wicker said. "We need to generate real revenue to move the needle of the athletic department."

If SoccerCity fails, Wicker said SDSU hopes that the city would sell or lease it land at the Qualcomm site, so the school could begin building a stadium to open by September 2020.

If SoccerCity passes, "We don't have an answer at this point. It's something we'd have to study in depth. ... We're comfortable that we can finance a stadium on our own at that point and then figure out where the best place would be for that stadium," Wicker said.

"We have been very clear that the City cannot afford to keep Qualcomm Stadium open past 2018, and the Padres have clearly stated that the Aztecs can only play at Petco Park for one year after that," Matt Awbrey, a spokesman for Faulconer, said in an email to The Associated Press.

"While we are still willing to engage with SDSU, this decision has unfortunately put the university in a situation where this process will move forward without their involvement."