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City Offers Chargers Enough Free Land For A New Stadium And Mixed-Use Development

Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego

Following the failure of Measure C, which would have provided partial funding for a new Chargers stadium in Downtown’s East Village, NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell met in December and agreed to give San Diego a second chance to come up with an "actionable plan" for a new stadium that is agreeable to the Chargers.

With the Jan. 15 deadline for the Chargers to exercise their option to go Los Angeles on the horizon, the city responded just prior to the holidays with a letter to Chargers owner Dean Spanos offering him a lucrative lease deal for the Qualcomm Stadium site to build a new stadium. Calling the offer a starting point for negotiations, the council agreed to lease the Chargers the land for 99 years for $1/year.

“The current Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley consists of 166 acres of unrealized potential,” the letter stated. The stadium site, which contains a decaying city-owned asset surrounded by a cracked asphalt parking lot, is near three freeways and adjacent to a Trolley line, right in the middle of one of the world’s hottest real estate markets, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Spanos family would get this prime parcel that, in addition to a stadium, could be redeveloped with a mix of uses similar to what Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke plans around the Inglewood stadium. Local experts estimate 6,000 housing units could fit on just half of the site.

Spanos has reportedly appealed to the NFL, a business ruled by the consensus of team owners, for aid. But whether this opportunity is tempting enough to secure NFL funding for a $1B stadium is yet to been seen. The NFL has allowed private capital to fund venues in New York, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, but has required big public subsidies for stadium construction in smaller cities. Besides the windfall it could generate for the NFL and private investors, such a development would also boost the city’s tax revenue.

A number of hurdles would have to be overcome for the city to deliver the site to the Chargers. About half the site belongs to the city’s water department, and rate-payers would have to be compensated if the land is transferred to general city control.

A city ordinance requires competitive bidding on development of public lands, and this lease deal would amount to a no-bid gift of public funds for a private purpose. This hurdle could be cleared with a public vote, but the Chargers would have to wait for the next election date, unless there’s the political will to call a special election. The project would only require a simple majority, and the ballot measure could ask the public to sanction environmental approvals at the same time.

State surplus public property laws also could come into play. Leasing the land to the Chargers may also require passage of a bill in the state legislature. [SDUT]