The Chargers stirred up the local political scene today by presenting a joint-use stadium-convention center plan for the East Village in downtown San Diego to the California Coastal Commission. The Chargers plan is an alternative to San Diego’s current convention center expansion plan that may be considered by the Coastal Commission later this year.
The Chargers also announced that a major international investment firm – Colony Capital LLC – was partnering with the team to pursue this alternative vision for downtown San Diego, as well as for the Qualcomm and Sports Arena sites.
Chargers.com had the opportunity to ask Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani, the team’s point person on stadium issues, to field questions about this latest development in the team’s decade-long search for a new, Super Bowl-quality stadium.
Q: What’s the significance of what the Chargers sent to the Coastal Commission?
A: The California Coastal Commission has the final say-so over new development in coastal areas, and the Commission will soon consider the convention center expansion project being proposed by the City of San Diego.
That project consists of the so-called “Big Box on the Water” – a new building between the existing convention center and the ocean that will block public access and views to the water.
After working with our architectural firm, Populous, and one of the world’s most visionary development firms, Colony Capital LLC, we concluded that there is a more cost-effective and environmentally-sensitive way to expand the convention center as part of a multi-use stadium in the East Village. And that’s the concept we presented to the Coastal Commission.
Q: Exactly what are the Chargers proposing?
A: We are proposing to significantly improve three San Diego neighborhoods, enhance the City’s tax base, and save hundreds of millions of dollars by building one new facility instead of two new, separate facilities.
By creating a joint convention center-stadium facility downtown, the city would free up the land it owns at the Qualcomm site and the Sports Arena site – about 266 acres. By building a joint facility, instead of a separate stadium and a separate convention center expansion, the city could save hundreds of millions of dollars. And by creating such a joint facility, San Diego would join the top destination cities worldwide, capable of hosting the biggest events anywhere.
Q: Isn’t this the same idea that the Chargers presented to then-Mayor Jerry Sanders in 2011, only to have the Mayor reject it?
A: Yes, the concept is the same, but things have changed since 2011. We were told back in 2011 that the city did not have time to consider our alternative because the convention center expansion project – the Big Box on the Water – was very far along and that both the courts and the Coastal Commission would quickly approve the proposed expansion.
Of course, that’s not at all what has happened. Here we are, two years later, and there has yet to be a single hearing before the Coastal Commission. Meanwhile, the taxing mechanism being proposed to pay for the expansion is hung up in court – with perhaps years of appeals ahead. We believe our alternative is both simpler and more certain: The joint-use facility would be approved by voters, eliminating all legal uncertainty, and would be constructed on a site outside the coastal zone, eliminating the need for Coastal Commission review.
Q: Haven’t the people who run the convention center, and their supporters in the hotel industry, criticized the Chargers idea, saying that the expansion needs to be “contiguous” to the existing convention center?
A: There is no doubt that the word “contiguous” has become a kind of mantra for the proponents of the existing convention center expansion plan. But this mantra ignores the studies prepared by the city’s own consultants as the expansion plan was first debated.
These studies show that the city’s experts were instructed not to consider a larger, non-contiguous expansion of the kind being proposed by the Chargers. So the city came to its conclusions about how to expand the convention center without even considering the most logical alternative.
The city’s own studies also show that almost all of the conventions that bypass San Diego now could be accommodated with about 250,000 square feet, or less, of new convention space. The joint-use facility being proposed by the Chargers would contain that much space – making it suitable for almost all of the conventions that San Diego now misses out on. Of course, the joint-use facility would also attract the kinds of major events that San Diego will otherwise never be able to win: Super Bowls, NCAA Final Fours, mega-events such as the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and so forth.
Finally, because the city’s consultants were told not to even evaluate this alternative, there was no discussion at all about other successful convention centers around the country – including San Francisco’s Moscone Center – that have non-contiguous space.
Q: What does it mean for the Chargers to have a potential development partner like Colony Capital LLC?
A: Colony is an exceptional investment and development firm. Fans should Google Colony Capital LLC and take a look at some of the projects Colony has worked on around the world. Colony’s interest in our project signifies both that the economic recovery is picking up speed here in San Diego and that the idea of remaking three of our city’s important neighborhoods is intriguing to some very sophisticated investors.
Q: So what happens next?
A: Here’s what to watch for:
First, many of those with a vested interest in the existing convention center expansion plan will attack the alternative that the Chargers have proposed. If you follow these attacks in the media, you will probably hear the word “contiguous” over and over and over again. And when you do, please remember that the very studies that the convention center expansion proponents are using to justify their position do not support the need for a contiguous expansion.
Second, the Coastal Commission will at some point before the end of the year begin hearings on the convention center expansion plan. We hope that the Commission will seriously consider the alternative we have offered.
Finally, the taxing mechanism being proposed to fund most of the convention center expansion – I say “most” because there is a funding gap that still remains to be filled – is now before a state Court of Appeals. And the side that loses the appeal will almost certainly bring the case to the California Supreme Court. This appeals process could last years.