Stadium Thoughts and Musings: The Union Tribune’s Vision

The 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, as it looks now.

On Sunday morning, a lot of us awakened to a dazzling artist’s rendering of a football stadium located at the current 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, as part of an editorial written by staff at the San Diego Union Tribune. The plan included new bayfront beach access, public parks, a stadium, an arena, and further south expansion of the Convention Center.

After reading through the ideas in the editorial, I learned a couple of interesting nuggets of information regarding the Chargers, the city, and about the potential land value of the Qualcomm stadium site. There were also important details left out of the article that made it hard for me, and others, to take the editorial with complete seriousness.

Before continuing, I urge all readers and commenters to actually read the U-T’s editorial.

Overall, however, there were enough interesting and good ideas in the editorial that I think it can and should be discussed further. We’ll do that after the jump…

Things I Liked, or Learned.

Sell the Sizzle!

Finally (for once), someone in San Diego recognizes the value of selling the sizzle, and not the steak. I admit the overall idea of the beautiful bayfront – stretching from the USS Midway all the way down to Barrio Logan Park – has tremendous appeal. I can imagine people over at the Chamber of Commerce drooling about selling that bayfront to conventions, tourists… pretty much anyone who might have interest in visiting San Diego. It only enhances the perception of San Diego as a destination city, and would probably make Super Bowl and Final Four boosters from other cities green with envy.

It’s not just a stadium, it’s a day at the park!

The idea of the bayfront park with beach access is a novel idea for attracting people to the stadium site on non-football days (only about 345 of them each year). I also noticed there were some areas of the site reserved for commercial property, which is also a good idea for attracting people to the area on non-football dates. I could certainly imagine people coming down here to spend a lazy summer afternoon on the bay with their kids, enjoying a hot dog and an ice cream, and maybe visiting the Chargers’ Pro Shop (or maybe a Hall of Fame). To be honest, this wouldn’t even be a possibility at the currently proposed East Village Location. Hell, I’m sure even the city of San Diego could make some coin by charging a modest park entry fee.

The value of the Qualcomm Site, and what we can expect the Chargers and NFL to pay.

This was one piece of information that I was most interested in. According to the editorial, the value ranges anywhere from $50 million to $500 million, dependent on cleaning up the leaking petroleum from a nearby tank farm. Certainly, the land would be closer to the $50 million range right now, but with cleanup and zoning restrictions, the value could improve greatly. There was also a value of $50 million given for the Sports Arena site, provided that the Sports Arena was removed. Also, it was speculated in the editorial that the Chargers could be expected to pitch in $200 million toward the new stadium, with an additional $200 million from the NFL – via the G3 Stadium loan program.

Things I Didn’t Like, or Want Answers to.

Why on earth is there an arena in the rendering?

San Diego doesn’t have a team that would be ready to move into a brand-new arena, which on its own could cost anywhere from $300-500 million dollars. This would be a true waste of money, unless the U-T editorial board has inside knowledge that an NBA or NHL team is planning a move to San Diego in the coming years. It wouldn’t be needed for college games, (except for possibly a conference tournament or an NCAA Regional Final) as USD has Jenny Craig Pavilion, and SDSU has Viejas Arena. Such an arena would be useless for a Final Four, as the capacity would be too small –that was the whole point behind a retractable roof stadium.

How does the Port of San Diego feel about this?

If history is any guide, they are rolling their eyes in amusement and annoyance. The Port, most recently in 2008, has been loath to give up any part of the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal. There are still a significant number of people in San Diego who believe the harbor is a critically underdeveloped industrial asset, and want to see San Diego’s waterfront developed accordingly. Their argument, and it’s a good one in a bad economy, is that further developing the port could result in hundreds of good paying jobs. This proposal utterly eliminates the Marine Terminal, and the jobs that go with it, without having a concrete idea for where those jobs (and facilities) can be relocated.

Furthermore, there’s probably a significant cost in getting rid of some of the train yard, moving fuel tanks and cranes, and performing some kind of cleanup. If the estimates for cleanup and transfer of the bus yard are around $150 million, what would this kind of cleanup and relocation cost?

All of this for $1.5 billion, or more? I’ll take the more… Much more.

What the editorial believes would cost a minimum of $1.5 billion doesn’t tell you, though they hedge their bets by saying "or more," is that the cost would be astronomical. Let’s do a quick tally:

  • Stadium with retractable roof: $1 billion.

  • Arena: $400 million dollars.

  • Convention Center expansion: $500 million.

  • Cleanup of the 10th Avenue site and relocation, including potential dredging: ???, but I’ll take a stab and guess at least $300 million.

  • Other engineering issues related to big structures: built on filled land, reclaiming bayfront land, keeping the bay from seeping through and damaging the foundations: ???

At this point we're already in excess of $2 billion dollars.

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, I’m skeptical of the proposal put forth by the Union-Tribune’s editorial staff. And while there are significant problems and questions in the initial idea, there are also ideas that have merit and are worth discussing further, especially if the right people are interested.

Beyond those points, this article gives us the clearest picture yet on how a stadium could be financed, whether at the U-T’s proposed location, or at the currently proposed location in East Village…

  • Chargers: $200 million.

  • NFL: $200 million.

  • Selling the cleaned up Qualcomm and Sports Arena locations: $200-300 million.

Most laudable in the effort was that someone actually offered a clear idea on what could be done. If offered something routinely missing in politics… and that’s vision. That kind of big picture thinking is needed more, and on a more frequent basis, if this deal is ever going to get done.

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