Chula Vista shows Chargers execs potential stadium site

Updated: July 27, 2006, 8:31 PM ET
Associated Press

CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- Officials from this fast-growing city showed two Chargers executives a potential site for a new stadium on Thursday, one of the most significant steps toward keeping the team in the county since financially troubled neighbor San Diego punted three months ago.

Mark Fabiani, the lead negotiator for Southern California's only NFL team, sounded optimistic after touring the privately owned inland site with team president Dean Spanos and city leaders, including Mayor Stephen C. Padilla and City Councilman John McCann.

Fabiani stressed, though, that the Chargers also are evaluating other sites in San Diego County.

"It's way too soon to say that this is the best site, but it's clearly one of the most promising sites we've seen," Fabiani said at a news conference outside City Hall.

The group drove past a location on San Diego Bay, but city and Chargers officials said options there are fading fast. The site with the most potential is about seven miles inland, near the U.S. Olympic Training Center and a planned four-year university.

"Chula Vista offers a lot of unique opportunities," McCann said. "Key, we have the land to be able to build the stadium. Not many other places, not only in San Diego County but elsewhere, have that ability to build a stadium and build a project that will be able to help pay for that stadium."

Chula Vista, with a population of about 225,000, is halfway between downtown San Diego and the Mexican border. McCann said his city has "a bright financial picture."

By comparison, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said three months ago that his city, burdened by a $1.4 billion pension deficit, didn't have the money to help the Chargers replace aging Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley. The Chargers say they need a new stadium to remain financially competitive with the NFL's 31 other teams.

"The most important thing is to keep the Chargers in San Diego County," McCann said. "Our first preference would be in the city of San Diego, but obviously the Chargers are now looking outside that area, and we feel an obligation with all the land that we have, that we put together a project that might be able to retain the Chargers here."

The team had proposed building a $450 million stadium as part of a commercial development on the Qualcomm site, but dropped the plan last year because it could not find developers to share the estimated $800 million upfront costs. The team offered to pay for the stadium and traffic improvements, but wanted the city to give it 60 acres for development to recoup its costs.

Fabiani said the team is still looking at developing a piece of land to generate revenue to help pay for a new stadium and provide a city with increased property taxes.

He said the Chargers plan to meet soon with Otay Land Co., which owns the Chula Vista parcel.

Otay Land Co. proposed a Chula Vista stadium two years ago, but the Chargers were prohibited at the time from speaking with anyone outside the city of San Diego. The Chargers also negotiated with Otay Land when they were looking for a development partner for the Qualcomm site.

"We know there's interest," Fabiani said. "The question is, what are the terms that they would be willing to consider and how do those terms fit in with what the city would like to do in that area, and what the Chargers need to do in terms of financing a stadium?"

Time is important, because the Chargers will be free to negotiate anywhere in the nation on Jan. 1. However, Fabiani said the team will decline out-of-town inquiries if it has viable options within San Diego County by then.

The Chargers can leave San Diego after the 2008 season if they pay off the approximately $60 million in bonds the city issued in 1997 to expand Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers often are mentioned as a candidate if the NFL returns to Los Angeles or Anaheim.

Team officials have met with county commissioners, and another meeting is set for Tuesday. Two county commissioners have suggested stadium sites, including one in northern San Diego County. The Chargers draw from throughout Southern California.

Chula Vista and Chargers officials say they know voters don't have the appetite for using public money for a stadium project.

McCann also said Chula Vista will not get into a bidding war.

"We're just here to allow the Chargers to look at what we have to offer, and ultimately allow them to see if they want to be here or not," he said. "If the deal doesn't work for the citizens of Chula Vista, it doesn't work."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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