Ben Higgins: Only a Hail Mary will keep the Chargers in San Diego

Posted at 11:32 AM, Dec 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-21 14:32:27-05
(KGTV) -- They say it’s the 11th hour. The Chargers need a Hail Mary. Only a miracle will keep the team in San Diego.
Well, a crazy idea from a TV sportscaster would certainly qualify as a miracle, but at this point, why not?
Let me start by saying I’m not a businessman, financier, politician, real estate mogul, NFL owner, or anything else that would make me qualified to offer up a stadium plan. The power players in this drama reside in a different stratosphere, and I’m assuming they can punch about 47 holes in my idea in no time flat. But I am a lifelong fan of the San Diego Chargers, I’ve paid close attention to the stadium saga for well over ten years, and I’m not ready to watch the Chargers take their moving trucks up to L.A. yet.
There have been dozens of stadium plans in San Diego over the years. Or at least, there have been fractions of plans. None of them have worked. But maybe they just need to be stirred together in a giant pot with the right seasonings.
I’m starting this plan with a few assumptions based on the events of the past year:
1)      If the Chargers are staying in San Diego, they want it to be downtown.
2)      AEG wants to build a new arena and work their development magic in San Diego
3)      The hotel industry wants a contiguous convention center expansion
4)      Nothing requiring a 2/3 vote would ever be successful
Here’s my idea:
A quartet of city council members recently offered the Chargers a chance to lease the land at Qualcomm Stadium for $1 per year for 99 years – but I think we can do a little better. Offer that land to AEG instead. The worldwide sports & entertainment company has been itching to get into San Diego. They recently submitted a (rejected) plan to build an arena at Seaport Village.  I have no doubt AEG could create a magnificent sports and entertainment complex in Mission Valley, including either a traditional arena – or even better – a 30,000-seat retractable roof venue that can be used for concerts, MLS, and SDSU football. It would be the anchor for restaurants, shops, office space, and anything else AEG can dream. Prime real estate in America’s Finest City. All they’d need to do is help bridge the funding gap for a downtown NFL stadium for the Chargers.
Instead of a $1.8 billion convadium, the Chargers would need to scale down their plans. I recently exchanged e-mails with stadium architect Dan Meis, and we both agreed that a great – and I mean GREAT – football venue for San Diego doesn’t need to be a top-of-the-line Jerry World or Kroenke Kingdom. Open air, great sightlines, good places to get food and drinks – this is all most San Diego sports fans crave.
Absolutely, the Chargers should have great luxury suites, state-of-the-art advertising, and a few special touches to help bring in new revenue. After all, they’d be committing at least $650 million to the project. But San Diego doesn’t want marble concourses and art galleries and Mazerati dealerships in a football stadium. We just want a nice, new, comfortable football stadium where we can have fun rooting on the Chargers.
We want a football stadium that is a great fit for the East Village – just like Petco Park. Meis writes, “Look at how popular Fenway Park is, or Wrigley, or Portland in the MLS...stadiums should reflect the place they are in.”
I believe the Chargers could end up being very happy in a stadium that could be built for $800-$900 million. Meis concurs: “There is simply no clear explanation why the AVERAGE NFL stadium now costs $1B+ other than it is a small group of architects and contractors that are designing and building them. I believe the industry suffers from a lack of innovation and competition in the marketplace.  Owner envy, and the power of the league, all play a part. One needs only to look to Europe for several example of world class stadiums recently built for much less than $1B."
So, $650 million from the Chargers and the NFL, plus, let’s say, $200 million from AEG ($2 million a year for a 100-year lease sounds like a steal, right?) for the right to develop and prosper in Mission Valley = enough for a great new stadium in San Diego.
I do believe the onus should be on the city of San Diego to pay for a bus yard move and some of the surrounding infrastructure downtown. It’s something that has to be done, hopefully sooner rather than later, no matter how we decide to develop the area east of Petco Park. At least if they do it now, they’ll be reaping the rewards of nearly a billion dollars of direct investment plus what could be a staggering amount of additional tax revenue flowing out of Mission Valley and ancillary development downtown. It’s actually a public stadium investment that might make financial sense.
As for the hotels…well, they’d still be free to pursue their contiguous convention center expansion, almost certainly with the support of the Chargers. There’s enough room on this playground for everyone.
As you’ve noticed by now, there is no tax increase involved in this plan, so it wouldn’t require a 2/3 vote to pass muster.
In review:
·         $850 million open-air stadium downtown ($650m from Chargers/NFL, $200m from AEG)
·         AEG develops Qualcomm Stadium land for $2 million per year
·         City of San Diego is responsible for moving the MTS bus yard and associated infrastructure improvements
·         Hotels  are free to pursue a contiguous convention center expansion
·         No tax increase (and no 2/3 vote)
I’m sure there are Swiss cheese holes in this plan you could drive a moving truck through on the way to Los Angeles. But at this point, what is there to lose? Just 55 years of history and memories.