There was a time when I assumed that the stadium situation in San Diego would work itself out. That was 4-5 years ago. Now it seems we are no closer to obtaining the stadium we need to keep the Chargers a fixture in the county than we were 4-5 years ago. In fact, some believe we are further away from that goal than ever.
To help highlight some of the issues surrounding the need for a new stadium we bring you this interview with Jason Riggs, founder of the San Diego Stadium Coalition.
Jeff: Jason, thanks for taking some time out of your day to share your insight on the San Diego stadium situation for our readers. How did you become so actively involved with this issue?
Jason: My interest in the stadium issue started back in 2004 while exchanging dialogue on the Chargers Message Board with some other concerned fans. We quickly realized that there was a very real possibility that the Chargers might leave San Diego County if we didn’t find a way to construct a new stadium. The idea initially was for our original group to raise awareness of the issue and let the power-brokers in the region sort it out. That movement eventually faded and left a lot of concerned citizens without a way to help move this process along.
So, as talk began in late 2008 about the construction of a new stadium in Los Angeles along with little or no movement on any of the sites in San Diego County, many of us re-grouped to form the San Diego Stadium Coalition. This time, the goal is to not only better understand the issues, but also for us to act as a catalyst to move this process along by working with The Chargers, Local Citizens, Developers and Politicians.
We all share the belief that the Chargers really do want to stay in San Diego and that we will find a way to get this stadium built in our County. But, regardless of the outcome, none of us could sit idly by and watch the team leave because the public was misinformed or because there were unexplored options left on the table. So our primary focus is to provide honest information to all of the stakeholders, identify a perfect place to build the new stadium in San Diego County and work with all of the key parties to get it done as soon as possible.
Jeff: With all of the talk about opportunities in Mission Valley, Chula Vista, Oceanside, and downtown SD (did I leave anyplace out?), where do we currently stand in the search for a new site?
Jason: Mission Valley- This site is a long-shot based on the Chargers proposal to privately finance the stadium. The primary reason why this site is so difficult to pursue is that the land values have decreased to a point where a developer would have to build an extremely dense project – such as the one Perry Dealy recently proposed – in order for the numbers to pencil out. Approval of such a development by the voters and/or City Council is extremely unlikely due to the current density of the area as it exists today. However, this site could potentially figure into an exchange or ancillary development option for a stadium that would likely be built elsewhere in the County.
Chula Vista- With the recent Iraq deployment of Councilman and City of Chula Vista point-person John McCann, in addition to the numerous obstacles associated with the most viable sites in Chula Vista, the Chargers have suspended discussions with the City for the time being to focus on other options within the County. If, in the future, the City of Chula Vista succeeds in shutting down the power plant, and the City is then interested in re-starting discussions with the team, the Chargers have indicated that they would re-open negotiations at that time.
Oceanside- The team has been engaged in discussions with Thomas Enterprises, which is a large credible developer. Thomas Enterprises already has City approval to build 950,000 square feet of retail space on roughly 90 acres along State Route 76 in Oceanside between Foussat Road and Mission Avenue. It is the site of a defunct Drive-In Theater and there are several factors that make it attractive to the team including its proximity to their season ticket holder fan base. However, several obstacles must be cleared for this site to become viable including FAA regulations regarding the nearby municipal airport. The current belief is that the municipal airport in that area would actually have to be permanently closed for this site to become viable. Nonetheless, the team continues to explore this area as a future home for a new stadium.
Downtown- There are rumblings of preliminary discussions on a downtown site, but no details have been made publicly available at this time.
Escondido- As you are probably aware, Escondido has recently come into the mix:
[From the Union Tribune] “Civic leaders and Escondido city officials, including the city manager and the mayor, have met to discuss building a stadium near state Route 78 and Interstate 15, so transportation to games would be easy. Escondido land-use attorney Dave Ferguson said the business leaders expect in the next 30 to 45 days to take a hard look at potential costs for buying and improving the land and building a stadium there and, if found to be feasible, ask the city to consider the idea officially.”
This is a very viable option in my mind since there is plenty of infrastructure and land available and the City is friendly to development. I am kind of hoping they build it closer to the Wild Animal Park so that Raiders fans won’t have to drive as far after games. Sorry… couldn’t resist.
Jeff: That must be why the Wild Animal Park has plans to build a new baboon exhibit. Anyway… honestly I’m most excited about the Escondido option because of the central location and multiple access points. Since the Chargers lease becomes easier and easier to break as each year passes, how optimistic are you that we will have a new site selected within the next 12-24 months?
Jason: I am very optimistic that a site will pan out soon. Chula Vista might be a viable option at some point in the future, but it was really just a distraction since none of the sites appeared feasible for the past few months of discussion. Now that Chula Vista is off the table, everybody can roll up their sleeves and really take a hard look at other more realistic options. After having several discussions with members of the Chargers organization, I honestly believe they want to stay in the County and that there is a much more politically-friendly climate now to make that happen. Combine all of that with the fact that regional Developers are re-engaged and coming to the table with fresh ideas and I see everything aligning in a perfect way to get something done sooner rather than later.
Jeff: If I was a San Diegan who didn’t care about sports, and didn’t care about the Chargers, why should I support a new stadium?
Jason: Everybody in the County should support a new stadium for a number of reasons. Some of those are easy to quantify such as the $19M that taxpayers are pouring into the annual maintenance of Qualcomm Stadium. Additionally, it’s not hard to wrap even a non-sports fan’s head around the millions of dollars pumped into the local economy through Super Bowls, College Bowl Games, cultural and music events, and other large-scale events that can only take place in a stadium-sized venue.
Then there are those reasons that are more difficult to quantify such as quality of life and local heritage. Being a life-long San Diegan, I cherish the few remaining pieces of our cultural heritage that haven’t been sold, torn down, paved over and gentrified over the past 35 years.
We really do need to hold on to every shred of heritage that we have left. Sports franchises are as much a part of our cultural heritage as Old Town, The Del Mar Racetrack or Balboa Park. In a County with so many transplants our home teams give us a cultural identity and increase the quality of life for all San Diegans. I rarely see the San Diego Symphony perform or visit the Museum of Man in Balboa Park, but you can bet that I would lend a hand and some money to help save either of those local institutions if they were ever in jeopardy. It’s time for us to quit being culturally selfish and support all of the things that make San Diego interesting, fun and unique.
Also, can you imagine a County the size of San Diego without a stadium? That would set us back to 1960 and make our city less cosmopolitan than similarly populated places such as San Antonio. If the Chargers leave the region, professional football as we know it will never return to San Diego. Period. Not only that, but we would be left without a viable College Football program and no feasible location to host dozens of other large-scale musical, cultural and sporting events. If that day ever comes to pass, we should all be ashamed and embarrassed for letting our regional leadership fail us in such a monumental way.
Jeff: Very well put. If a new stadium doesn’t happen, what is the earliest that you foresee the Chargers moving on to greener pastures?
Jason: This is a difficult question to answer. They have never provided a drop-dead timeline for this effort. However, logic would dictate that if an attractive option arises elsewhere and the escape clause comes with a reasonable price-tag, they would likely at least entertain relocating.
In my opinion, the Chargers remain committed to staying in San Diego County, however, they can explore a relocation deal with other cities between Feb. 1 and May 1 each year until their lease with the City expires after the 2020 season.
This process of searching for a new stadium site will not continue indefinitely and it is reasonable to believe that at some point in the near future, when all options within San Diego County have been exhausted, the team will begin looking to other regions. That is why, each year that passes without a stadium site, the likelihood of the team leaving the County increases. This is the eleventh hour in my opinion. It is my belief that we have 6 – 18 months to show some significant progress on this stadium effort before the team starts looking elsewhere.
Jeff: Reading all of the negative news over the years, San Diego sports fans have to feel pretty helpless about the whole situation. Is there anything that us fans can do to help the situation?
Jason: It’s up to everybody to make their voices heard with local decision makers. Until those in power perceive this issue as something important to their constituents, nothing will happen. That is why everybody should take a minute to comment on stories on the various news websites, write an email to their local representatives, write letters to local media outlets and get involved in critical meetings surrounding this issue.
It really doesn’t take much effort to make a significant difference in whether or not the Chargers stay in San Diego County. We provide a lot of resources and links on our website to make this process even easier.
Additionally, we are looking for some more Executive Members to help run the San Diego Stadium Coalition. The time commitment is pretty minimal, but the rewards are huge in my opinion. No matter the person’s expertise or passion, we could use some help. If anybody is serious about contributing some of their time energy to this cause, they can call me at (858) 229-3016 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more information.
We are making a concerted effort to build our membership so that we can increase our profile within the County and our influence over local decision makers. The more people that join our organization, the stronger and more influential we become. When members join the group, the get regular updates on each site, information on new developments, invitations to chat live with key stadium figures such as Mark Fabiani and details on how they can help.
So, visiting our website, joining the coalition and educating yourself on the various sites, proposals, issues and decisions makers surrounding the stadium issue are the most critical ways that people can get involved.
Jeff: I am already a member of the San Diego Sports Coalition, and I’ll help where ever you guys need me to. Anything else to add, Jason?
Jason: Even though I believe time is running out to get a stadium in San Diego County, I also firmly believe that it’s not too late. The window of opportunity is still open and the Chargers are still committed to staying in the County. However, sitting around and waiting for other people to sort this out isn’t going to cut it with this issue. We need a large well-organized group to move the massive machinery and get a stadium built in our County. If we don’t take action to get this done soon, our region will lose so much more than just the Chargers. We can and will get it done, but we are going to need a lot of help and support from everybody to make this happen.
Jeff: Jason, thanks again for so clearly detailing this issue for our readers.
Chargers fans, if you are interested in making the Chargers a permanent fixture in San Diego sports for years to come, then now is the time to join the San Diego Stadium Coalition. Visit http://www.sdstadium.org/, or contact Jason directly and let him know you’re ready to help.