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Ten Questions Regarding the JMI Joint Use Facility

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Now that the Chargers have "ended the suspense" and chosen the downtown site they've been eyeing for years, there are some important questions to discuss.

JMI's proposed Joint-Use Facility in downtown San Diego
JMI's proposed Joint-Use Facility in downtown San Diego

First of all, I think it's really time to dispense with the idea that the team selecting the downtown site is a surprise. This exact path was laid out by Chargers' Special Counsel Mark Fabiani months ago, before the NFL's relocation drama was completed. We've also known that the JMI Joint Use Facility (i.e. Convadium) has been their preference all along.

Before you go on and/or if you're new to all this business, I suggest you read up on both the Citizen's Plan and the JMI Facility Study before moving on. Some information is also used from the CSAG Final Report.

Here are 10 challenges specific to the Convadium which need to be resolved. Some of these questions have been pulled from Twitter conversations and I'll indicate who posed the question where applicable. Let's take a look at a few of them below:

What's the Financing Plan?

The Convadium is expected to cost somewhere around $1.67 billion, which includes construction costs, land purchase, and relocation of the MTS Bus Yard. Comments by Steve Peace, former State Assemblyman and Advsor to JMI/John Moores indicated the stadium portions of the project would cost approximately $850 million, which means the Convention Center elements will cost $570 million. We still have an estimate of $100 million for the land purchase - 11 separate land owners according to Chargers Special Advisor Fred Maas, and $150 million for the moving of the MTS Bus Yard.

Will there be Public Money Beyond the Citizen's Plan?

Comments by Cory Briggs, author of the Citizen's Plan, suggest that the Chargers intend to adhere to the Citizen's Plan, which means no public money would be used on the stadium elements of the Convadium - in other words, the Chargers would be putting $850 million into the project (which would've been their share in Carson, incidentally). The Citizen's Plan allows for a backdoor kind of public funding for the Convention Center from participating hoteliers, by providing a 2% credit in exchange for helping to build the Convention Center elements of the facility. At this juncture, it's not known who will cover the land purchase and MTS Bus Yard relocation elements of the plan. To this point, City and County officials have not offered any public money towards a vote for the Convadium.

Does the Citizen's Plan require a simple majority, or 2/3 yes vote?

This is a question I'm borrowing from Voice of San Diego's Scott Lewis. California Tax Law (i.e. Proposition 13) states that a general tax increase requires a simple majority vote. A tax increase for a specific purpose requires a 2/3rds majority vote. The central question of the Citizen's Plan is whether a simple hike in the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) from 10.5% to 15%, followed by a tax rebate to hoteliers of 2% for agreeing to fund the Convention Center elements of the Convadium, counts as a general tax increase, or a tax increase for a specific purpose. City officials believe it will require a 2/3rds vote to pass. The backers of the Citizen's Plan, JMI, and the Chargers believe it will only need a simple majority. The fact that the Chargers back it despite being problematic is interesting in context of the comments to CSAG about 1 year ago.

Will the Mayor and other officials attempt to kill the project (passively or actively)?

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has indicated recently he intends to pursue a contiguous convention center expansion, instead of supporting the Convadium plan. As part of that pursuit, he has also indicated that he wants to place the question on the ballot for voters to decide. His method... pursue an increase of the TOT to pay for the expansion. Unfortunately for him, this requires a 2/3rds majority vote. Fortunately for him, he has a chance to put this on the ballot for the June primary and try to pre-empt the Citizen's Plan, and by extension beat the Convadium to the punch.

I expect Faulconer to do exactly this. If it (somehow) passes, he has a clear mandate from voters and kills the Convadium plan in one fell swoop. If it fails, he can pivot easily to the Convadium plan as a fallback in November if he so desires. We should know within a few weeks if this is what Falconer's plan is.

How are the stadium and convention center elements itemized?

This question has been posed on Twitter by Erik Bruvold, President of the National University System Institute for Policy Research. This question is critical because a key element of the Citizen's Plan is that money from the hoteliers/TOT can only be used to cover the Convention Center elements of the Convadium, while no public money can be used in the construction of the Stadium elements of the Convadium.

Thus, the need to define who pays for what in a facility with shared infrastructure inherent in the building design. Without that definition... how do you know if this pipe was paid for by the Chargers or Hoteliers? What about that huge glass window in the atrium? What separates the convention floor under the playing surface from the stadium foundation?

Failure to answer this question clearly invites a lawsuit on any number of construction minutiae.

Will fans revolt over the loss of tailgating?

I've said in the past that I'm willing to trade tailgating if it means the Chargers stay in San Diego. I'm not even going to pretend that I speak for a majority of Chargers' fans. Indeed, at the CSAG public forum last year, attendees preferred the Mission Valley site by a 2-to-1 margin, and the primary reason offered was tailgating. Since the Convadium will be built on top of the existing Tailgate Park in East Village, this means there will likely be no tailgating option for Chargers' fans before games. Speaking for myself, the tradeoff for taking the trolley at $5 per person from South Bay and splitting a pitcher at any number of dives/pubs downtown is fine (I do the same for Padres games). For others, the loss will be devastating.

How much traffic can downtown handle at one time?

Let's assume a Sunday crowd of around 64,000 for a Chargers' game in November, with no conventions planned. That really shouldn't be much different than a Padres/Dodgers game at Petco, combined with the Club/Party crowd on Friday or Saturday night. Having the 12th and Imperial Trolley Transfer Station adjacent to the site practically invites fans to make good use of mass transit.

But what happens when the Padres and Chargers are playing the same day in San Diego? In most cases, the NFL and MLB have been able to work out schedule conflicts. However, I can just imagine a nightmare in which the Padres, Chargers, and a major Convention are are running simultaneously. I'm not saying it's insurmountable, but it's a situation which hasn't been addressed in any substantive way by any of the parties involved.

How can you book conventions during the NFL season?

This is another point mentioned by Mr. Bruvold on Twitter. Many conventions are booked several years in advance, while the NFL schedule makers work on a year-to-year basis. Will the NFL be willing to accommodate the Convention Center scheduling years in advance, even if it occasionally comes at the expense of the facility's primary tenant /co-owner? There's some wiggle room, in that games wouldn't be played there on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Mondays and Thursdays are easier to work around, as there wouldn't be more than 1-2 per season. But, weekends are almost completely out from Labor Day through Martin Luther King Day.

How long will it take to build?

One of the biggest selling points for the Qualcomm site was that construction could begin almost immediately. The City owns the land, and there's plenty of staging space for construction to work with. The City believed construction would take about 3 years, with an opening for 2019.

In the case of the downtown site, the are the issues of land purchase and relocation of the MTS Bus Yard (see below) which will add another couple years to the process. That turns a 2019 opening into a 2021-2022 projected opening, assuming lawsuits don't stall the project.

What happens to the MTS Bus Yard?

As much as Bossman wants to throw the buses into the sea, we should spend at least some time considering this question. The problem here requires the following considerations: a relatively central location from which buses can depart for their routes. A new site in which there are no environmental concerns (or the concerns are already addressed). The new facility must be ready before any work can be done at the existing site. There will likely need to be some remediation done at the current site, pertaining to cleaning of maintenance sheds, garages, fuel tanks, and the like.

In Closing

Those are my questions about the Convadium. As you can see, some of them don't have any clear answers at this point. In other cases, there are serious hurdles to overcome.

The success of the project will depend on the ability of the Chargers, JMI, and the backers of the Citizen's Plan to explain their answers in clear language, and to avoid playing media games and manufacturing counter narratives when opposition appears. This is the public discussion and debate we should've been having for the last year, before it was hijacked by the chase for Los Angeles. Let's make the most of it now.

If anyone has their own questions about the project, feel free to add them to the comments below.