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San Diego Union-Tribune

CAITLIN ROTHER & JONATHAN HELLER

Chargers can trigger lease talks beginning March 1 | Council upholds delay, also OKs agreement

March 1, 2003

Abstract:
"We think this proposal deserves careful study and that, under the right conditions, it may work," said Chargers consultant Mark Fabiani.

David Watson, task force chairman, said he was pleased to hear Fabiani outline the Chargers' stadium proposal at a civic group luncheon yesterday.

Mike Aguirre, one of the lawyers Fabiani was referring to concerning threatened litigation, said yesterday he will file a lawsuit if the Chargers trigger. But he pledged not to sue if negotiations are properly authorized by the City Council, in compliance with the Brown Act, without a trigger.



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

A Chargers spokesman said yesterday the team is willing to discuss paying for a $400 million football stadium in exchange for development rights to the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site.

"We think this proposal deserves careful study and that, under the right conditions, it may work," said Chargers consultant Mark Fabiani.

Fabiani said the team plans to trigger the renegotiation clause in its 1995 Qualcomm contract with the city soon to "insulate any talks between the city and the team against lawsuits."

The team wants to begin negotiations with the city immediately. However, five City Council members differed yesterday on the urgency of starting talks on a new stadium. There was no consensus on whether the city should let the Chargers develop such a large and valuable chunk of public land.

In January, the City Council agreed to delay the 60-day window during which the team may notify the city of a trigger. So that period, which would have started Dec. 1, opens today. Because the trigger clause also allows the team to shop itself to other cities, city leaders have urged the team not to use that provision.

Fabiani's comments came in response to a recommendation the Citizens' Task Force on Chargers Issues made Thursday night, calling for the team to cover stadium construction costs in exchange for a lease to the Qualcomm site and rights to develop it.

The leasing recommendation was approved the same night the task force finished its final report, due to the City Council on Thursday. The council appointed the panel in July and asked it to find a fiscally responsible way to keep the Chargers in San Diego that the public could support.

"We are hopeful that the task force recommendations will lead to the quick start of serious negotiations to both eliminate the ticket guarantee and the trigger in the current lease and to find a better way to use the Qualcomm site," Fabiani said yesterday.

The task force's report will be discussed at a City Council public hearing March 18. Mayor Dick Murphy said yesterday he is withholding comment on the recommendations and Fabiani's proposal until then.

"I wanted to hear the full report presented, hear the public testimony, and hear the response from my council colleagues before I present any position," Murphy said.

Fabiani said the team supports some of the task force's recommendations but is not ready to back the lease proposal yet.

"We have not looked into the ability to get financing on a lease versus purchased land," he said. "That would be something we would have to look into."

The task force also recommended that any new tax money generated by developing the Qualcomm site be used to pay for building parks and infrastructure improvements, such as roads and sewers, and to pay off existing bond debt on the 1997 stadium renovation. As of June 30, the cost to pay off the bonds was $65 million, city spokesman Carl Nettleton said.

"Any new deal would have to account for the old debt," Fabiani said, noting that costs to the city and the team would be subject to negotiation.

Under the current contract, the team and city must split that cost 60-40 if the team opts to leave before 2020.

David Watson, task force chairman, said he was pleased to hear Fabiani outline the Chargers' stadium proposal at a civic group luncheon yesterday.

"That is a profound statement for an NFL owner to say," he said. "This is big news."

But he repeated the plea he made to the Chargers this week: Don't activate the trigger clause.

"If they trigger at the same time they're trying to negotiate, then both parties are going to have to be preparing to defend themselves legally while trying to negotiate at the same time," he said. "That's going to be very difficult."

Mike Aguirre, one of the lawyers Fabiani was referring to concerning threatened litigation, said yesterday he will file a lawsuit if the Chargers trigger. But he pledged not to sue if negotiations are properly authorized by the City Council, in compliance with the Brown Act, without a trigger.

"What is of concern is that the Chargers will use the excuse of litigation to trigger so that they can talk with other cities," he said. "That's what I'm worried they're really doing."

Councilwoman Donna Frye said the Chargers had drawn attention away from two basic questions that should be answered before negotiations commence: What's wrong with Qualcomm Stadium and why should the city open negotiations in the first place?

"With no answers to A and B, we've jumped right to Z," Frye said.

Councilman Charles Lewis said he would like to see the Chargers make a good-faith gesture to the community before serious negotiations begin.

"Why don't they get rid of the ticket guarantee now?" Lewis said, referring to the provision in the team's contract that guarantees revenues equivalent to 60,000 general admission tickets for every home game.

But, he added, "The main thing is to get back to the table and talk."

George Mitrovich, a civic activist who advocated for the Padres ballpark project, said the city should think twice before giving up its development rights to the Qualcomm site.

"We have 166 extraordinarily valuable acres," Mitrovich said. "I'm not sure I'm willing to concede to the Chargers alone the responsibility (and benefits) of building there."

Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, said it is understandable the task force opted against a free-spending attitude when it comes to the public's money for a stadium.

Across the country, "there is a much more adamant belief that (team) ownership should take on a larger percentage of the investment," Swangard said.

The biggest challenge to making a new stadium work will be making the facility and surrounding development a draw on nongame days, Swangard said. In addition to housing, commercial development, parks and retail, the city and Chargers might consider a major attraction such as a theme park, which would generate much larger returns, he said.

Caitlin Rother: (619) 542-4567; caitlin.rother@uniontrib.com

Heller: (619) 542-4578; jonathan.heller@uniontrib.com



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