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San Diego Chargers Stadium Dreaming

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Reality is annoying. Let’s dream about what could be instead.

Imagine if that was an Arena next to the stadium
Imagine if that was an Arena next to the stadium
MANICA Architecture

We're all tired of the political powers and sports franchises in San Diego pushing each other back and forth over stadiums and convention centers and tax increases.

We need a replacement for the Sports Arena if San Diego ever intends to try a professional basketball or hockey team.

With those ideas in mind, let's put one foot in reality and then fly far, far away into fantasy to see if we can solve San Diego's pro sports facility problems.

What We Know to Be True:

The Chargers are pursuing a Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) increase to pay for a combination stadium and convention center in the East Village. At this time, it likely requires a two-thirds vote to pass. It's quite clear the team does not want to remain in Mission Valley.

The Chargers have the first option on sharing the Inglewood Stadium with the Los Angeles Rams. This option reverts to the Oakland Raiders in 2017 if the Chargers have a firm solution in San Diego. The option extends to 2018 if the Chargers end up facing a legal battle over an approved stadium in San Diego.

The Chargers were very close to making a deal with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) in 2011, which would've seen the Chargers playing at the proposed Farmers Field in downtown Los Angeles, adjacent to Staples Center and LA Live. The deal reportedly fell through because AEG wanted a greater share of the team than the Spanos family wanted to relinquish.

Mark Davis is working on a deal to move the Raiders into a new stadium in Las Vegas. If the Raiders' deal is completed, and NFL Owners approve the move, the Chargers may have extra time to work out a deal in San Diego if their plan this year falls through.

There is an alternative plan called the Citizen's Plan. The Citizen's Plan may (or may not) require a two-thirds vote. It covers only the cost of an off-site convention center expansion, but it provides an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) exemption for the East Village stadium site.

We still don't know what the approval thresholds for the initiatives will be. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has asked the California State Supreme Court to either expedite their review of California Cannabis Coalition vs. City of Upland before the election or take jurisdiction of the election results until their decision is reached.

The San Diego Port Authority recently made a decision on which route they want to follow in their renovation of Seaport Village. One of the vetoed proposals would've included a brand new Sports Arena, privately financed by AEG and partners.

Lastly, we know that San Diego's political establishment greatly prefers a contiguous expansion of the San Diego Convention Center to any off-site expansion. In fact, Comic-Con went out of their way to stress that a contiguous expansion is their desired result, while unsubtly reminding everyone their lease in San Diego expires following 2018.

Author's Aside: Comic-Con is holding San Diego hostage over a $600 million contiguous Convention Center expansion and threatening to move, which seems to not make people angry. On the other hand, the Chargers are evil for threatening San Diego with a move without a new stadium. Seems to me both sides are equally awful, but then I'm just a blogger, so whatever.

Lastly, the Los Angeles Clippers have made it known they have started looking at sites around Los Angeles for a new arena. As this time, there is no indication that Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer is considering a move out of Los Angeles.

The Impossible Dream

Now, time for WILD! AUTHOR! SPECULATION!

The Chargers, Clippers, and AEG partner on a joint stadium and arena on the East Village site.

We know in the current Chargers' proposal, the stadium cost is expected to account for $1 billion, land acquisition accounts for $200 million, which leaves $600 million for the off-site convention center facility.

We also know that the cost of the new arena in Las Vegas was $375 million, and the cost of the new arena in Sacramento will be about $535 million.

So, if we substitute an arena in place of the convention center, the price ranges from $1.575 billion to $1.735 billion. For the sake of sanity and some wiggle room, let's settle on a price tag of $1.65 billion, especially since the whole idea of a joint-use facility was to share infrastructure and eliminate redundant design features to save money.

That means we have to cover the following:

  • $1 billion for the stadium.
  • $450 million for the arena.
  • $200 million for the land acquisition.

As far as the stadium goes, the Chargers and NFL would still contribute $650 million, The Chargers would then turn over 23% of the franchise to AEG, in exchange for AEG covering the remaining $350 million of the stadium, based on Forbes 2015 valuation of NFL franchises.

Now, the arena. The Sacramento Kings and private partners contributed $284 million towards the cost, with the remainder covered by the public (up to a cap of $255 million). In Las Vegas, the facility was split 50/50 by AEG and MGM Grand Resorts - which means each side would've contributed $187.5 million.

Let's assume a similar 50/50 split for the Clippers and AEG on the arena, meaning the Clippers and AEG would contribute $225 million each toward the project.

Before you balk at AEG's willingness to put $575 million into this project, remember that they were supposedly willing to build Farmers' Field without having majority control of the Chargers. And before you say "that only works in LA," remember that they would've covered the arena cost in their proposed Seaport Village development - which was not asking for public money.

That leaves the land acquisition costs. In a perfect world, I'd suggest the private entities split the land acquisition costs equally among themselves. Or, if you absolutely insist on a public contribution, the City (and maybe the County) would be limited to covering that $200 million cost (note: this doesn't include finding the new location for the MTS bus yard, which isn't throwing them into the sea).

So, here's a $1.65 billion project, requiring no more than $200 million in public money. You keep your pro football team and regain your former NBA team without their previous ownership.

Better than that, such a facility would be privately owned and operated, which means taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook for annual maintenance and upgrades.

Best of all, this leaves TOT and Convention Center alone. The City of San Diego, Comic-Con, and the hoteliers can work on that "chewy cluster of fck" (h/t to Esquire's Charles Pierce) themselves. In the meantime, there would be overflow space available inside the arena/stadium if Comic-Con ever got and then outgrew a contiguous expansion.

What Would It Take For This to Happen

A Lot. Here's a partial list:

  • The Raiders relocation to Las Vegas is settled before the Chargers' option in Los Angeles expires.
  • The Chargers' Initiative fails to pass (assuming it needs 2/3rds), but gets majority support (i.e. the public indicates they want the Chargers to stay).
  • The Citizen's Plan fails to pass (assuming it needs 50%+1).
  • Ballmer can't find any sites in Los Angeles he deems suitable, and/or decides to expand his fanbase south away from the Lakers.
  • The Chargers and AEG are willing to let bygones be bygones and work together again.
  • Ballmer's reasoning for leaving Staples Center isn't the result of animosity with AEG.
  • AEG thinks this plan can attract the same level of interest as the former Seaport Village plan.
  • In exchange for leaving the Convention Center issue alone, San Diego's political establishment can support either a fully private downtown plan, or support a plan limited to $200 million in public money for land acquisition.
  • This plan would then go on a November 2018 ballot as a Citizen's Initiative to handle the EIR concerns, with plenty of public vetting and political support.

I know this can never happen. One, it makes too much sense. Two, there may be way too many egos and ruffled feathers involved to pull together a project like this.

However, given the current landscape surrounding sports in San Diego, it might be wise for everyone involved to start looking at potential solutions once this particular series of events play themselves out.

But damn, sometimes it's nice to dream.