SAN DIEGO -- With the league clearly focused on relocating a team to Los Angeles, discussions on a proposal to build a multi-use facility in downtown San Diego that would house a new convention center expansion and an NFL football stadium continue to move forward for the San Diego Chargers.
However, the proposal has yet to build consensus among city business and civic leaders, an important step for the team if it wants the project to succeed when inevitably placed on a countywide ballot for voters to weigh in.
The Chargers are keeping their options open because of what is happening in Los Angeles.
Serving as a backdrop for the team’s effort is the possibility of an NFL team relocating to the lucrative Los Angeles market. The Chargers are keeping a watchful eye on what happens in L.A., with 30 percent of the team’s premium sales -- including advertising, sponsorships, club seats and suites -- originating in the Los Angeles market.
Last December, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke purchased 60 acres of land in Inglewood, California, near Hollywood Park racetrack that could house an NFL stadium.
Kroenke and Chargers owner and president Dean Spanos talked briefly on the field at Qualcomm Stadium about an hour before their teams played over the weekend.
Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis has made inquiries about the possibility of moving to Los Angeles if his franchise cannot get a new stadium deal done in Oakland.
Los Angeles has not had an NFL team since the Rams and Raiders departed for St. Louis and Oakland, respectively, in 1995. Both the Rams and the Raiders have the ability to terminate their lease at the end of this season.
JMI Realty, the development company responsible for the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park, has 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 that would include an exhibition hall below the football field and a meeting room and ballroom space in an attached building, with 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, HOK Populous out of Kansas City. Done separately, the price tag on the two projects could reach $1.8 billion.
JMI presented plans to the mayor’s office, city officials, the port and other stakeholders earlier this year. They have proposed three different alternatives. All would require the use of hotel tax money the city earmarked for the convention center expansion.
“We’ve worked very closely with JMI and have a good, cooperative relationship,” said Mark Fabiani, special counsel to Spanos and the team’s point person on the stadium issue.
Fabiani and representatives of San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer have had regular meetings on the project since March. But no timetable has been established on when an official proposal would be presented to the city council, and ultimately to voters.
“Over the past several weeks my office has been meeting with stakeholders, including the lodging and convention industry, the Chargers, JMI Realty, and various experts to discuss options for moving forward,” Faulconer said in a prepared statement. “My review of these proposals, many of which have been covered by local media outlets, is preliminary.
“As I take a fresh look at expanding the convention center, I am open to all options. These include finding alternative financing for the current plan to expand directly next to the existing convention center as well as exploring a non-contiguous expansion at a different location that could include a new stadium for the Chargers. I continue to believe that any proposed Chargers stadium project should be brought before voters.”
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.
“The big advantage is if you had a convention space inside a stadium with a retractable roof, you could host the biggest events in the world, including the World Cup, Final Fours, major boxing matches, major MMA matches or huge conventions that require an abundance of flat floor space,” Fabiani said. “All of that could be hosted in the type of facility we’re talking about.”
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.
“There have been a number of customer studies and feedback from key citywide conventions that clearly articulate the need for expansion of the existing convention center,” said Joe Terzi, president of the San Diego Tourism Authority. “We would love to see a new multi-purpose stadium downtown and believe it would have a tremendous positive economic impact as Petco Park did when it opened, leading to the revitalization and creation of East Village."
If consensus on a proposal is met, a vote on the project could appear on a countywide ballot as early as the general election in November 2016.
The proposal would need a two-thirds majority vote in order to use hotel tax money as a funding source for the project. That same funding source has been contemplated for use on the convention center expansion.
“We believe it’s achievable, otherwise we would not be spending time on this,” Fabiani said. “But it’s not achievable if you’ve got significant opposition in the community.”
While there’s no official deadline on reaching an agreement on a stadium plan, the Chargers have a three-month window to renew the team’s year-to-year lease with the city of San Diego for Qualcomm Stadium that permits the team to terminate the lease at any time between Feb. 1 and May 1.