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Kroenke's power play shakes leaves

LOS ANGELES -- If St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke had not announced plans in January to build an 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders would still be quietly trying to find stadium solution in their home markets.

They would not have partnered to buy a 168-acre parcel of land near the 405 Freeway in Carson, California, to build a $1.7 billion stadium, according to Mark Fabiani, the Chargers' special counsel and longtime leader on stadium issues, who spoke to ESPN.com on Friday.

And they would not have put their local municipalities on the clock to find enough public funding for a new stadium by the end of next season or else.

But Kroenke's power play nearly three months ago changed everything.

"We deliberately changed our strategy in the wake of what Kroenke did," Fabiani said. "When this opportunity to create an alternative came along we decided to seize it.

"The only thing that has moved the ball in L.A. has been Stan. If Stan hadn't done what he did, then we wouldn't have done what we did, and the Raiders wouldn't have done what the Raiders did and we wouldn't even be talking about this today. It would be another quiet year of working in San Diego and working in Oakland and Stan would be in St. Louis talking to those guys, but he changed the world."

Before Kroenke revealed his decision, no NFL owner ever had attached himself to a stadium plan in Los Angeles. Every previous stadium proposal was backed by outsiders with no ties to a team and therefore no real way to turn a vision into reality. But Kroenke could essentially move the Rams to L.A. at the end of the 2015 season, with or without the league's approval, leaving the Chargers and Raiders in the dust when it comes to an L.A. move -- the alternative plan they've kept in their back pocket for two decades if they couldn't get a new stadium built in their own markets.

The Chargers contacted the land owner of the long-vacant Carson Marketplace last summer to see how much of the site had been cleaned up -- it's part of an old municipal landfill -- and how much more money needed to be spent to finish the job. At that point the Chargers also opened a dialogue with Carson officials about what else needed to be done to build a stadium on the site.

"Really the decision to go forward wasn't made in earnest until Stan made his move in Inglewood," Fabiani said. "At that point we hired a new architect because our old architect works for Phil Anschutz (who has a competing NFL stadium proposal in downtown L.A.). He could help us down here in San Diego but he couldn't help us in L.A."

The Chargers hired David Manica, president of Manica Architecture. Manica formerly headed up HOK Sport, where he led the design of the Houston Texans' stadium and the renovation of Sun Life Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins. The early renderings of the Carson stadium were on display at a news conference Friday in Carson.

The Chargers then reached out to Goldman Sachs about financing. The firm was behind the financing model for Levi's Stadium, the home of the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara.

"We took the template of the Santa Clara funding mechanisms ... so we basically took that and adjusted it for different costs here," Fabiani said. "We acquired the land at the end of January officially and the discussions with the Raiders happened over the last couple of weeks and they only finalized themselves in the last couple of days."

The site has been on the NFL's radar since the 1990s, when former Walt Disney Co. president Michael Ovitz had plans to build a stadium and entertainment district called "The Hacienda" for an NFL expansion team that ultimately went to Houston in 1999. The league also has tried to buy the site three times since then, according to sources, so it could potentially develop it themselves.

"It's not a site that we picked out of thin air," Fabiani said. "It's a site the league is comfortable with."

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer appointed a nine-member stadium advisory group to come up with a recommendation for a stadium site and a financing plan last month, but the team has viewed that effort as a futile, last-ditch attempt to keep the team in San Diego. Faulconer took exception to the Chargers' plans.

"It's now abundantly clear that while we have been working here in San Diego to create a plan for a new stadium, the Chargers have for some time been making their own plans for moving to Los Angeles," Faulconer said in a statement Thursday. "This would amount to abandoning generations of loyal Chargers fans. Despite this news, we are going to continue our efforts to develop a viable stadium solution."

Fabiani, who's attempted to find a stadium solution in San Diego for 14 years, said Friday that Faulconer has been dragging his feet.

"The mayor has been in office almost a year and the only thing he has done is announce a task force," Fabiani said. "And when he announced it he said that they'd be able to finish their work in October and then maybe we'll have something on the ballot if we can all agree on it in November 2016. We're sitting here listening to that, thinking, 'Wow, here we are, facing a person who is moving at lightning speeds [Kroenke] in Inglewood and this is a mayor that hasn't done anything for a year.'"

Fabiani said he conveyed the need for a speedy resolution to Faulconer in the wake of Kroenke's move and that any announcement that would push a decision past this year would not bode well for the Chargers remaining in San Diego. When Faulconer mentioned the November 2016 election, the Chargers felt they had no choice but to make alternate plans.

If not for Kroenke, the Chargers would have been content waiting until November 2016, or 2017 and beyond, if the possibility of moving to Los Angeles wasn't suddenly slipping away.

"We have been increasingly forthright in our comments following the move of Stan Kroenke into Inglewood," Fabiani said. "You look almost to the day that that happened to see the shift in our strategy and it was a deliberate shift. It was one that was talked about for hours with [Chargers president and CEO] Dean [Spanos] and his family. We knew it would produce friction with the city but we also knew we had to do it."

Fabiani understands there will be those in San Diego and Oakland who view the circumstances as nothing more than a hollow threat to move in order to get new stadiums built in their markets, and there will be those in Los Angeles who will roll their eyes at another hopelessly doomed stadium proposal after being without an NFL team for 20 years. What's different this time is the X factor in Kroenke.

"There have been so many false starts," Fabiani said. "I think this is an extremely doable deal [in Carson] and I think Stan is proving that in Inglewood. What I would say to people who are skeptical in L.A. is you'd never had teams attached to plans before. You've always had plans but no teams. Now you have three teams attached to two plans. That's a whole different world than has ever existed for the NFL in Los Angeles in the last 20 years."