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San Diego Union-Tribune

Will downtown digs be Chargers solution?

February 1, 2003

Abstract:
The Chargers' Mission Valley blueprint is already covered with red flags. Its projections presume a level of development that could turn the Qualcomm site from underutilized to overbuilt. Its revenue estimates are based on a tax structure that may not be relevant to that piece of real estate. Its impact on local infrastructure involves considerable costs no one has volunteered to pay.

Downtown is a different story, and maybe a more tantalizing one to those who view Chargers subsidies as The Spanos Sinkhole. Though a significant portion of the electorate can be expected to oppose any initiative that contributes a dime toward team coffers, fence- straddlers might find some merit in a proposal that means genuine urban renewal and mitigates congestion on Friars Road.

Even the ever-litigious Mike Aguirre said yesterday he could support a new stadium deal that eliminated the Chargers' escape clause and ticket guarantee and delivered multiple Super Bowls to San Diego. In less than a week, Aguirre's rhetoric has been ratcheted down from combative to conciliatory.




Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Feb 1, 2003

In the broad terms favored by us narrow-minded pundits, there are two basic problems with the Chargers' stadium proposal.

One is a political problem. The other is a math problem.

One involves persuading a dubious public of the virtue of subsidizing new digs for Team Spanos. The other involves finding the funds to pay for it.

Though the former problem remains formidable -- more formidable, perhaps, since the odious oratory of Emperor Tagliabue -- the latter problem might be fixable. Funds might be found if we start looking in the right place.

Hint: Think of Petula Clark and a certain cloying standard.

Think of downtown.

The Chargers' Mission Valley blueprint is already covered with red flags. Its projections presume a level of development that could turn the Qualcomm site from underutilized to overbuilt. Its revenue estimates are based on a tax structure that may not be relevant to that piece of real estate. Its impact on local infrastructure involves considerable costs no one has volunteered to pay.

If the concept was not dead on arrival, its vital signs were immediately unstable. In the highly technical argot of accountants, the project "didn't pencil out." Now, sources say, pollution concerns could scuttle the site completely.

"I think the biggest challenge they face is they assumed it would be a redevelopment zone," said attorney Len Simon, a member of the Citizens Task Force on Chargers Issues. "If it is a redevelopment zone, 80 percent of the tax revenue comes to the city. If not, it's no more than 40 percent and maybe only 17.

"They think they can make it a redevelopment zone. You have the city saying, `No way, Jose.' That's a big chunk of the gap between the proposal and reality."

Simply stated, redevelopment zones are devised to retain tax revenues that would normally be shared with multiple governmental bodies. It's a nifty little loophole to bring investment into depressed areas. But if the Qualcomm site qualifies for this special designation, so does Del Mar.

If Mission Valley is blighted, it is by too many shopping carts. For every square inch of green space, there must be 10,000 square feet of redundant retail. Though a good lawyer might persuade a jury that Rodeo Drive is impoverished, the prospects of portraying Qualcomm's sea of parking as a concrete jungle would appear unpromising.

Downtown is a different story, and maybe a more tantalizing one to those who view Chargers subsidies as The Spanos Sinkhole. Though a significant portion of the electorate can be expected to oppose any initiative that contributes a dime toward team coffers, fence- straddlers might find some merit in a proposal that means genuine urban renewal and mitigates congestion on Friars Road.

"Downtown is clearly an alternative," Chargers consultant Mark Fabiani said yesterday. "A lot of people have been talking about that. Clearly, the vision we have come up with to redo the Qualcomm site would also apply to another site."

Building downtown means easier passage of the "redevelopment area" test. It means, potentially, a more ambitious project with higher tax revenues. It means more spillover business for downtown shops, restaurants and parking lots.

Plus, visiting Raiders fans would have better access to bail bondsmen.

The bad news is that because it would involve land-acquisition costs that would not exist at the Qualcomm site, another downtown stadium would mean a substantially steeper price tag.

Given the state of the economy and the prevailing mood of the public, any additional cost might be enough to kill the idea. Still, we continue to operate on the premise that San Diego would rather keep the Chargers than lose them, provided the deal is self- financing and Marty Schottenheimer finds a free safety.

Even the ever-litigious Mike Aguirre said yesterday he could support a new stadium deal that eliminated the Chargers' escape clause and ticket guarantee and delivered multiple Super Bowls to San Diego. In less than a week, Aguirre's rhetoric has been ratcheted down from combative to conciliatory.

"I don't know what the right number is, but it certainly would be worth spending (some) tax dollars to get out of our current situation," he said.

Task force chairman David Watson continues to promote the idea of turning most of the Qualcomm site into a public park. This is, by far, the most aesthetic solution, and the least practical.

As Deep Throat told Bob Woodward, follow the money. At the moment, the money appears to be headed downtown.

"Downtown has always been an option," Watson said. "It might be easier to finance (a stadium) downtown in a redevelopment area. All we're looking at are the pros and cons of the various areas."

Downtown pros: "The lights are much brighter there. You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares."

Cons: Synonym for Raiders fans.

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

 



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