Options nice, but all signals say Qualcomm


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Jan 22, 2006
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Options nice, but all signals say Qualcomm

May 18, 2006

Officially, the search is on. Unofficially, the search is over.

Expanding the Chargers' stadium options to the county line opens up a myriad of enticing possibilities that probably won't work. It makes for lots of stimulating speculation and great gobs of wasted time.

The Chargers are committed to hearing every hare-brained idea anyone wants to advance, all of the fanciful flotsam that inevitably gets floated when major development projects are proposed. The Bolts will encourage everyone's input, perform all of the due diligence, see what pencils out and what needs to be erased, and arrive at pretty much the same place they've been since 1967.

Unless some addled entity is prepared to donate a large parcel of prime real estate to Team Spanos, the most feasible stadium site will still be Qualcomm Stadium.

It's not ideal. It's not imaginative. It's not going to ease congestion on Friars Road or facilitate an expanded convention center. But the process of elimination identifies no other location so close to major freeways, so well served by mass transit, so convenient for the San Diego State constituency, so teeming with untapped development potential and so thoroughly owned by local government.

A football stadium is not a Mini Cooper. You can't park it just anywhere. You need a significant plot of land and a substantial amount of infrastructure. You need sympathetic neighbors and a sound growth strategy. (Reasonably priced parking would be nice, too, but the Chargers have evidently concluded that's no longer essential.)

You need all of the advantages of the Q, and none of the leaks. And you need a deal that can come together quickly because time grows short.

“A stadium is a unique facility,” Chargers spokesman Mark Fabiani said yesterday. “It carries benefits, but also concerns. People don't want traffic in their neighborhood on a Sunday. They don't want noisy facilities in their back yard. . . . I don't think anyone should expect there are 100 (possible) sites.”

In amending the Chargers' lease to allow for countywide stadium alternatives, the city has theoretically expanded the team's range of possibilities. Yet as a practical matter, the key change will be new bodies at the bargaining table.

Getting the County Board of Supervisors involved means more financial flexibility and (presumably) less political posturing. It does not mean the Chargers have changed their minds about where they want to play. It does not mean Chula Vista can be moved closer to Chargers customers in North County.

“Any way you look at it,” Fabiani said, “the Qualcomm site has to be the best possible site.”

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob says she's open to other ideas, but is inclined to believe that the search will ultimately lead back to Qualcomm. So does Dan Shea, of the Fans, Taxpayers and Business Alliance, who has studied half a dozen potential sites at the city's request.

“The Tenth (Avenue) Marine Terminal is a fantastic piece of property and could be a great site to consider,” Shea said. “But it's already been decided by the Port Authority that under no circumstances can it be used. So how much time and energy can you spend on that?”

One of the more popular scenarios in circulation involves the county purchasing 60 acres of the Qualcomm site from the city and then cutting a separate development deal with the Chargers. This would put some fresh cash in the city's coffers, but probably nothing close to the land's market value.

Asked if she could envision paying the city up to $200 million for the 60 acres the Chargers seek, Jacob immediately said, “No.” Whether the city would be willing to sell the land at a discount in order to improve its balance sheet and retain the Chargers figures to be the focus of forthcoming debate.

“A contribution of land is still a subsidy,” Fabiani acknowledged. “That's worth something and you've got to convince the public that it will get something in excess of what it's contributed.”

On this point, the Chargers still have some selling to do. David Watson, who chaired former Mayor Dick Murphy's Citizens' Task Force on Chargers Issues, says, “Public subsidy is appropriate if you look at it as an investment, but the Chargers are asking for a very special deal way out of proportion to the benefit they bring to the city.”

The project the Chargers propose – which includes 6,000 condominium units in the $500,000-$550,000 range – could generate roughly $30 million annually in property tax. The county's current cut of that is 12.4 percent, plus another 8.7 percent in lieu of vehicle license fees and sales and use taxes – which projects at about $6.3 million per year.

Fabiani says a government “investor” would also be entitled to share in the project's profits. County Supervisor Ron Roberts says he sees the potential for a “win-win” situation.

“There are ways to put money into this where you're helping the financing, but you're getting a return for that,” Roberts said. “If your return is worthy enough, you'd like to be able to look at it as a business deal.”

Even with the county's involvement, getting a deal done will be difficult. Picking the place, however, should be easy.

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