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Q&A: Mark Fabiani

Posted Nov 12, 2010

Special counsel to the president Mark Fabiani answers fan questions about the search for a new Chargers stadium in San Diego.

Special counsel to the president Mark Fabiani joined the Chargers in 2002.

His primary function is to work with the greater San Diego community to explore opportunities for a new state-of-the-art football stadium in the San Diego region.

Since joining the Chargers, Fabiani and his La Jolla-based firm, Fabiani & Lehane LLC, has taken the lead in working with taxpayers and fans to create a publicly-acceptable solution to the stadium issue. He also has managed the grassroots effort to solicit ideas from the community.

Fabiani answered questions from fans regarding the stadium issue this week.

Jonathan Mendez; San Diego

Million-dollar question: Are we or aren’t we going to get a new stadium in San Diego?

Jonathan, you are indeed asking the question that we all want answered. I know that many of our fans are frustrated at the length of our search. Eight years and more than $10 million later, we are still looking for a solution.

But it’s important to keep things in perspective: No NFL team in California has succeeded in building a new professional football stadium in many decades. The Chargers, Raiders and 49ers play in three of the League’s oldest and most dilapidated stadiums. There are no NFL teams in Los Angeles or Orange Counties – two of the most demographically attractive markets in the world. The hard fact is that getting a major project of this size done in the California economic, legal and political environment is a huge, huge lift – and not just for the Chargers.

I wish I could see into the future – if I could, I’d be making my living in Las Vegas or at the track. But I can’t, and so I can’t give you a direct answer to your question. What I can say is that I am pretty sure we are much closer to the end of this process than to the beginning. In other words, I would be surprised if you and I were still talking about this after another eight years (and another $10 million). I can also say that we have cycled through every conceivable site in San Diego County over the last eight years and that we are probably down to one of the final, best options in downtown San Diego. If for some reason downtown San Diego does not work out for us, I don’t think you will see a surprise site enter the picture at the last minute.

In short, I believe we are down to the end game here, and we are working hard to make something happen.

Jojo Santos; San Diego

Should San Diego Chargers fans worry about all the stadium development reports? Is there any validity to these reports (L.A. Times T.J. Simers: Downtown stadium an idea whose time should come) or is it merely speculation?

Jojo, the Los Angeles and Orange County areas have been without an NFL team since the 1994 season, when the Rams moved to St. Louis. Over the last 16 years we have all heard many ideas for new football facilities in the Los Angeles area. Billionaire Eli Broad was going to renovate the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and entertainment mogul Michael Ovitz was going to build a California mission-style stadium in Carson.  The City of Pasadena was going to rehabilitate the Rose Bowl and make it suitable for an NFL team. In 2002 we heard that a stadium was going to be built in downtown Los Angeles, or in Chavez Ravine, next to Dodger Stadium. For one reason or another, all of these ideas (and many other ones as well) came to nothing.

Will the ideas you are reading about today – a City of Industry or downtown Los Angeles stadium – actually turn into reality? It is no exaggeration to say that many high hurdles will have to be overcome – and we know from our work in San Diego just how difficult it is to jump over those hurdles.

On the other hand, the people working on the stadium projects in the Los Angeles area – Ed Roski in the City of Industry, and Tim Leiweke of the Anschutz Entertainment Group in downtown Los Angeles – are all extremely accomplished and should not be underestimated.   So their efforts certainly deserve both respect and attention.  But it is way too soon to predict that either one of these efforts will succeed where so many similar efforts before have failed.

Geber Cerna; Corona, Calif.

Can the Chargers borrow some money through the NFL’s G3 program to build a stadium, much like New York and Dallas did with their stadiums?

Geber, the NFL’s financial assistance is going to be essential to the success of our stadium efforts here in San Diego. And the same could be said for the stadium efforts now underway in the Bay Area and Los Angeles – none of these efforts can succeed without financial assistance from the NFL.

As I write this, though, the NFL’s G3 program is out of money as the result of loans made by the NFL for new stadiums in Indianapolis, the New Jersey Meadowlands, and Dallas. It is very much an open question whether the NFL will create a new G3 program. Needless to say, we are all watching this issue very closely.

Ryan McGuire; Clairemont, Calif.

Do you think the current performance of the team is going to affect the plans for a new stadium?

Ryan, the presidential election year of 2012 is the first time that a public vote could be held on a new stadium here in San Diego, so the team’s performance immediately before that vote is held will certainly have an impact. How much of an impact is debatable. In the end, undecided voters – most of whom have never been to an NFL game – will need to be convinced that the stadium deal is a good one for taxpayers, and our argument with these voters must succeed irrespective of how well the team is performing right before the election.

Matthew Torres; San Diego

How do you justify building a new stadium when the Chargers can’t sell enough tickets to avoid a blackout in their home opener? Why not shift focus from building a new stadium to working on getting more people to the current stadium?

Matthew, our entire organization is doing everything possible to attract fans to our existing facility.  We have held ticket prices steady for threeyears running now. We have one of the NFL’s most thrilling quarterbacks and most exciting offenses on the field every Sunday. But we understand how hard people in the San Diego area have been hit by this economic downturn. My friends around the country always assume that things are sunny and rosy in San Diego, but those of us who live here know that this area has suffered one of the most severe real estate declines of any place in the country. 

You make an excellent point, though: If the economy doesn’t improve substantially, a new stadium probably doesn’t make sense for the team or our fans. In the current credit markets, the Chargers probably couldn’t successfully finance a stadium. And in the current economic climate, many of our fans probably couldn’t afford tickets to seats in a new stadium. We are assuming – and hoping, along with everyone else – that economic conditions will improve by the time we are ready to finance a new stadium, and by the time our fans are ready to begin reserving their seats in the new facility.

Ryu Kafka; San Diego

Mr. Fabiani, what is your plan to ensure the stadium is used year-round to its full potential and include diverse events that would attract people of other interests and make everyone feel like it is a unifying project and not a divisive one, and also a financially-feasible project that generates revenue year-round for the county?

Ryu, great question – and it’s a question that we had better be able to answer to the satisfaction of voters. We have already spoken with downtown redevelopment officials about the idea of installing a retractable fabric roof that would enable to stadium to host major events such as NCAA Final Fours, major boxing and MMA matches, World Cup games, and conventions that are too large for the city’s nearby convention center. Such a versatile facility would attract the kinds of hotels and restaurants that have made LA Live such a success next to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

A retractable fabric roof might also allow the city to demolish the existing, money-losing Sports Arena, thereby freeing up the 100 or so acres of city-owned land in Pt. Loma.   This land, combined with the 166 acres of city property that would be freed up at the Qualcomm site, could generate significant new sale, lease, and tax revenue for the city.

John Freni; San Diego

Is the proposed downtown stadium site the last hope for the Chargers to find a new home in San Diego? What do you believe is the most critical issue to resolve in order for a new stadium to be built on the site?

John, my crystal ball never has worked very well, so I can’t give you a firm answer. I do believe that we are much closer to the end of this process than to the beginning and that we have over the last eight years reviewed all of the potentially viable sites in San Diego County. Now, I could be surprised by another option emerging, but my best guess is that downtown San Diego offers us our best hope for a solution.This is true for three reasons:

First, downtown San Diego is already home to the infrastructure needed by a new stadium – the parking, roads and freeways, and mass transit are all in place. So a downtown stadium project would be far less expensive – hundreds of millions of dollars less – than similar projects in Chula Vista, Oceanside, or even at Qualcomm, where vast new infrastructure spending would be necessary.

Second, the downtown site is part of an existing redevelopment district, and the California State Legislature in October increased the redevelopment agency’s spending cap. As a result, the agency could have access to billions of extra dollars over the next decades. Of course, whether any of that money would be spent on a stadium is up to city leaders and the voters. But, at least in theory, there are newly available resources to work with.

Third, a stadium downtown would allow the city to free up hundreds of acres of taxpayer-owned land at Qualcomm and, perhaps, at the Sports Arena site. This could create enormous revenue potential for the city and thus could be a compelling argument for taxpayers.

What has to happen for the downtown site to succeed? The most critical issue, of course, is funding. The other most difficult issues involve working to design a Super Bowl-capable stadium on such a small, 11-acre site and figuring out how to relocate and then clean up the MTS transit yard that now occupies part of the site.

Austin Prince; Rancho San Diego

What can we expect as a response from the Chargers organization in the event that no agreement can be made to build a stadium?

Austin, if the downtown site fails for one reason or another, we will all have to regroup and determine what other options exist for the Chargers in San Diego County. No one can question the commitment of the Chargers to San Diego. Eight years of work and more than $10 million spent prove beyond any doubt, at least to fair-minded people, that the team wants to stay in San Diego. But at some point you run out of options, no matter how hard you work. That’s why the downtown site is so important to us right now.

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