Manny Lopez | Downtown
In their latest attempt at scoring a new football stadium, the San Diego Chargers have put a fresh spin on an old plan and are placing the fate of their newest proposal in the hands of the California Coastal Commission.
On Oct. 10, the state regulatory agency, which has the final say on waterfront development, is scheduled to consider a $520 million expansion to the 1.1 million square-foot San Diego Convention Center and construction of an additional 500-room tower to the existing Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.
The proposed expansion recently received a negative recommendation from Coastal Commission staff, who said it would impact views of the bay and coastal recreation through the loss of already limited waterfront and open space.
The Chargers had previously sent a letter urging the Coastal Commission to reject the current expansion proposal and consider their competing plan based around a multi-use stadium, which they say could save millions if combined with the convention center expansion.
At a price tag of $1.2 billion, the Chargers project incorporates convention space into a Super Bowl quality stadium with a retractable fabric roof that would be erected outside of the coastal zone, therefore not subject to Coastal Commission approval, but parallel to Petco Park and still in close proximity to the Convention Center. Supporters and team officials said that the Chargers plan would give San Diego the ability to host the biggest sporting events in the world from the Super Bowl, World Cup, NCAA Final Four and major conventions that cannot be booked currently, due to space limitations.
“We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support, but none of it has come from the hoteliers, members of the city council who voted for the Convention Center expansion or the Port District,” said Mark Fabiani, special counsel to Chargers President Dean Spanos. “What we hope is that an outside authority and the Coastal Commission will take a fresh look at this and make a decision that there is a better way to do this project.”
Fabiani said that construction on the proposed 15-acre site, bounded by Tailgate Park on the west and the Metropolitan Transit System bus yards on the east, would be financed with increased hotel room taxes, proceeds from the sale of Qualcomm Stadium and the Valley View Casino Center, a $200 million loan with favorable terms from the National Football League, another $200 million from the Chargers, bond sales, advertising and naming rights.
“While we appreciate the Chargers effort to build a new stadium, we will continue our current efforts to secure the California Coastal Commissions support and work with all San Diegans to ensure the successful expansion of the San Diego Convention Center,” said Carol Wallace, CEO of the Convention Center in a statement issued to the press on Sept. 6.
On Sept 16, Interim Mayor Todd Gloria met with the Chargers to discuss their proposal.
“I had a very positive meeting with Mark Fabiani,” Gloria said via email. “As interim mayor, I’m committed to making sure the City gets all the necessary approvals for the current plan to expand the San Diego Convention Center, a vital project that will create 7,000 permanent new jobs and have an annual economic impact of $700 million. I can’t overstate the importance of getting this project across the finish line, given all the years of hard work.
“At the same time, we recognize the enormous value of the Chargers to San Diego and I expressed my commitment to working with the team in its efforts to get a new stadium,” he said. “We are a big enough city that we can do both projects.”
Fabiani said that if the coastal commission invalidates the convention center expansion plan or if the court invalidates the hotelier-approved room tax that is supposed to pay for the expansion, the Chargers plan is the only alternative that remains and has any real money in it.
A surcharge of between one- and three-percent of room rates, based on proximity to the convention center, is pending litigation and challenging the legality of the convention center expansion financing plan.
A superior court judge upheld the tax in March setting up what could be a long drawn out battle in appeals court.
Opponents contend that the room fee, expected to raise about $30 million a year, should have been put to a public vote. The surcharge is on top of the 10.5 percent room tax already paid by guests and a two-percent tax devoted to promoting tourism in San Diego.
Fred Maas, former chairman of the Centre City Development Corporation and point man on Mayor Sanders’ citizen’s task force on the Convention Center expansion, said that he unequivocally supports both projects and believes they can operate in absolute harmony.
Mass pointed out that the difference between the current Chargers proposal and the one put forth in 2011 is the inclusion of Colony Capital LLC, a privately-held, independent global real estate firm, as a potential investor and partner.
Colony brings their balance sheet and experience in some of the great and large landmark projects around the world, Maas said. Equally, they bring the ability to access capital markets inexpensively in ways that very few players in the real estate industry can achieve.
“The idea that this project is forging ahead full speed is obviously one that its proponents want to create,” Fabiani said. “The reality is that it’s another typical project that can be talked about and people can pretend that it’s going to be built, but they never do.”
More information on the San Diego Convention Center can be found at visitsandiego.com. For more information on the San Diego Chargers, visit chargers.com. A more direct link will be provided in the online version of this article.
A native New Yorker, Manny Lopez is a freelance journalist and photographer who started his writing career in La Jolla. He now covers San Diego and Southwest-Riverside counties penning news, features and business profiles. Manny can be reached at email@example.com.