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San Diego Union-Tribune

TIM SULLIVAN

At what cost is stadium viable?

January 16, 2003

Abstract:
Until all of the details are known -- including responsibility for cost overruns, ownership of naming rights, additional infrastructure demands, etc. -- it would be silly to either endorse or excoriate the proposal. Still, for those who fret that the Chargers' master plan may involve a move to Los Angeles, it seems a reasonably sincere opening offer. If the Chargers and the NFL are prepared to invest $200 million in the project, that's a lot of fiscal responsibility.

The Chargers' proposal asks the city to sell 66 acres of the 166- acre Qualcomm Stadium parcel to a developer, and to earmark both the sales proceeds (maybe $100 million) and a portion of the tax revenues from the resulting "urban village" for Taj Spanos. Additional acreage would be used as parkland and parking.

Perhaps California's priorities are more appropriate. Perhaps its affection for pro football is more fleeting. Perhaps its climate and culture have created more attractive alternatives for autumn Sunday afternoons. Perhaps, in view of all this, we're not as easily intimidated by NFL extortion. Perhaps this is why the Chargers and the league have pledged $200 million toward a new stadium instead of seeking a heftier public contribution.



Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Jan 16, 2003

The Citizens Task Force on Chargers Issues has been charged with finding a fiscally responsible solution to preserve pro football in San Diego.

Now, all it needs is a working definition of fiscal responsibility.

It is a relative term, after all -- open to interpretation, prone to politics. It is as subjective as fashion sense and as transient as musical taste. It is the key question concerning the future of pro football in San Diego.

How much is too much? How much should a city expect to subsidize its sports teams in order to retain the compound adjective "major- league"? How many times can a team make claims on the public purse before it becomes fiscally irresponsible to indulge it? How many more urgent needs might be met with the same $200 million the Chargers seek for construction of a new stadium? How do we reconcile underwriting private enterprise when the city has enacted a hiring freeze and is contemplating layoffs?

The Chargers surely considered all of these questions before completing the proposal that will be presented to the Task Force tonight. They have studied the market, the mood of the voters and their potential alternatives should that mood turn malevolent. On first blush, it would appear they have defined fiscal responsibility in terms of what might fly.

"This had to be a project that appealed to all of the people of San Diego -- not just football fans," Chargers consultant Mark Fabiani said.

Though there are bound to be philosophical objections, pragmatic problems and lingering resentments to the Chargers' plan, the proposal Fabiani outlined yesterday included at least two critical components: 1) No new taxes. 2) No new taxes.

Until all of the details are known -- including responsibility for cost overruns, ownership of naming rights, additional infrastructure demands, etc. -- it would be silly to either endorse or excoriate the proposal. Still, for those who fret that the Chargers' master plan may involve a move to Los Angeles, it seems a reasonably sincere opening offer. If the Chargers and the NFL are prepared to invest $200 million in the project, that's a lot of fiscal responsibility.

Is it enough? Depends on your point of view.

The Chargers' proposal asks the city to sell 66 acres of the 166- acre Qualcomm Stadium parcel to a developer, and to earmark both the sales proceeds (maybe $100 million) and a portion of the tax revenues from the resulting "urban village" for Taj Spanos. Additional acreage would be used as parkland and parking.

Implicit in the proposal is the assumption that the typical voter can be persuaded to support an initiative that (at least in theory) has no direct impact on his discretionary income, ensures the stability of a (purportedly) treasured team and affords San Diego encore opportunities to stage the (undeniably) overproduced spectacle that hits town next week.

Tonight's Task Force presentation has been cleverly timed to coincide with the arrival of the first elements of the circus that is the Super Bowl. Unless the NFL has suddenly gotten clumsy at manipulating its markets, look for commissioner Paul Tagliabue to declare our town an ideal site for future Roman Numerals during next Friday's press conference -- provided, of course, that a more suitable stadium is constructed.

One of the surest signs of the NFL's stature in this country has been its ability to obtain public funding for extravagant edifices that are infrequently open and increasingly closed to average citizens. It seems strange that fans who cannot afford to see their local team play in person are willing to allocate public funds for the construction of 70,000-seat television studios. It seems stranger, still, to Californians.

Stadium deals deemed fiscally responsible in tourism-challenged cities such as Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are not so easily arranged out here. What the heartland considers prudent investment is widely regarded as reckless waste in the golden West. Californians aren't afflicted with the inferiority complexes that spawn state-of-the- art stadia in other places. If they were, they would surely have imploded San Francisco's Candlestick Park by now.

Perhaps California's priorities are more appropriate. Perhaps its affection for pro football is more fleeting. Perhaps its climate and culture have created more attractive alternatives for autumn Sunday afternoons. Perhaps, in view of all this, we're not as easily intimidated by NFL extortion. Perhaps this is why the Chargers and the league have pledged $200 million toward a new stadium instead of seeking a heftier public contribution.

They are still asking a lot. To suggest the Chargers have proposed a 50-50 partnership on construction costs neglects the value of the 20-25 acres of public land a new stadium would occupy. To proclaim that proposed development would cover the city's contribution is an assertion, not a safe assumption.

Fiscal responsibility demands that the Chargers' plan be scrutinized in detail. On first impression, however, it would seem to be worth a second look.

Tim Sullivan: (619) 293-1033; tim.sullivan@uniontrib.com



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