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Fabiani: This is ‘perhaps our last and best chance’ to keep Chargers in San Diego

Monday, November 7, 2011
posted by Tony Manolatos

I published a blog post Friday that questioned Mark Fabiani’s criticism of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ Convention Center expansion plan. Fabiani, who serves as special counsel to the San Diego Chargers and is the team’s point man on stadium talks, sent me a response on Saturday. Here it is:

Tony, thank you for the opportunity to weigh in on your latest Chargers stadium post.

I particularly appreciate the chance to give you a direct answer to your question about why the Chargers made the proposal to combine a new stadium with the convention center expansion. The answer: Because we are doing everything possible to keep the Chargers in San Diego, and we believe that the combination idea gives us perhaps our last and best chance to accomplish that goal.

We knew that controversy would ensue when we made this idea public, after months of private discussions with the Mayor’s Office, organized labor, and business leaders. But we moved ahead because we wanted to stimulate an open, vigorous public debate on these issues.

Unfortunately, but typically, I guess, there are some in the downtown community who want to cut off discussion before it even starts.

These are the same people who told the Chargers that we should not pursue the Chula Vista bay front site because the Gaylord project would be built there. Never happened.

These are the same people who told us that we should not pursue the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal, because the main tenant there was going to sign a long-term lease and allow the port facility to grow. Never happened.

Or that we should not push for a ballot measure in 2010 because the new City Hall plan would be put before voters then and it would not be smart to have two such significant measures before voters at the same time. Never happened.

And there are a lot of very smart people around town who believe that the current convention center expansion proposal is never going to happen either – because the taxing mechanism being used is potentially illegal. Or because the Coastal Commission will never approve a box-like structure impeding public access to the waterfront. Anyone up for another Navy Broadway project — 20 years of work resulting in a unanimous condemnation by the Coastal Commission? Or because prominent hoteliers believe that the proposed funding formula is unfair, or for any number of other reasons.

So this time around, we were determined to push our idea out there to the public and not be deterred by those who are watching out for their own interests more than the best interests of all taxpayers.

The fact is that these kinds of joint use facilities have been very successful in other cities, and such a facility in San Diego would put us in the running for the kind of mega-events (Super Bowls, national political conventions, NCAA Final Fours, BCS bowl games, etc.) that our city will never otherwise be able to host.

The facts also show that there is no magic to the word ‘contiguous’ in the convention business. The Indianapolis and San Francisco case studies show how workable non-contiguous solutions can be — especially if your city is now vaulted into eligibility for a whole new category of mega-events. San Diego will never be able to host these kinds of events, even if the current expansion plan goes through.

And, if the current San Diego expansion plan fails and billionaire Phil Anschutz builds his combined Super Bowl-quality football stadium-convention center facility in downtown Los Angeles — well, the distinction between contiguous and non-contiguous facilities is going to seem pretty academic here in San Diego.

In short, we believe that this combination stadium-convention center proposal deserves to be seriously considered. And we are doing everything that we can to make sure that it will be. That does not mean, though, that other options are closed off. We continue to work closely with the Mayor’s Office and Fred Maas, with the County, and with business and labor on other funding options.

But no matter how things turn out, one thing I’m sure of is this: Those of us hired by Dean Spanos and his family to find a publicly acceptable way to keep the Chargers in San Diego would have been derelict in our duties if we had not publicly advocated the promising convention center-stadium concept.

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21 Responses to “Fabiani: This is ‘perhaps our last and best chance’ to keep Chargers in San Diego”

  1. Erik says:

    It would be far more interesting if the Chargers “went big” on this – indicating what the community could get if….

    A) You use the TOT revenue plus Spanos $ plus NFL

    B) You build the new retractable roof facility at the Bus Depot

    C) You either terminate or wind down the Sports Arena lease and redevelop that facility – an underused asset if there ever was one. You put what you need to hold at the sports arena.

    D) You redevelop Qualcomm with a big chunk of it set aside for public space – For example, you could EASILY fit in 8-10 soccer fields at the Q – providing a great venue for lots of traveling soccer tournaments/youth sports/etc.

    If I were advising the Chargers on their public affairs strategy that is what I would do – focus beyond the “Convention Center Vs. Stadium” to show how their proposal ALSO impacts Q and SA – thus providing much greater “community benefit” than just the 3rd phase expansion. If they “stay small” in how they present this they ARE going to lose. If they go big they have a much better argument. The challenge/responsibility for them is that they probably have to make some promises – definitely for the redeveloped Q and likely at the SA as well.

    IF there are benefits (and there seem to be) in additional MEETING ROOM space at the CC, then it would seem to me THAT could be handled with a deal on the “3rd hotel site” (over by Joe’s Crab Shack”. I gotta believe you can extract a ballroom and some meeting space in exchange for a long term and attractive lease.

    Finally, (and I would LOVE to know the answer to this one – in looking at the satellite view) – why in the HECK does the convention center need 6 tennis courts? Do they really get much (any?) use? Wouldn’t a relatively modest and simple way to get some additional meeting space is to push out the walls and gobble up that space. Doesn’t solve major problems but I think that gets you about 40K square feet.

  2. Mark Fabiani says:

    Erik, with all due respect, you must not have been following the stadium debate much over the last ten years. The Chargers have consistently argued that the solution to the stadium conundrum can be found in the vastly underutilized property that the City of San Diego owns — first at the existing Qualcomm Stadium site, and now at both the Qualcomm site and the Sports Arena site. In short, the taxpayers now own approximately 260 acres of land at Qualcomm and the Sports Arena that generate virtually no revenue for the City and instead cost the City tens of millions a year. Locating the stadium downtown, as Erik points out, will allow the revenue potential of these 260 acres to be unleashed (along with the community benefits that would come from a park along the river at the Qualcomm site and other such amenities at the Sports Arena site). Unless the stadium is relocated, and a retractable roof is installed in a combination stadium-convention center facility, there is simply no way to free up these two taxpayer-owned sites — and simply no way to remake twoo such important and badly-utilized parts of San Diego. Thanks again for the opportunity to comment.

    Mark Fabiani.

  3. Matt says:

    Mark, I think what Erik is saying at its core is the right approach. When you talk about the new stadium for the Chargers, it should be in tandem with the re-purposing of other city-owned lots (which includes the Q). Its more of a public-owned maximizing of space and redevelopment of three areas that will greatly contribute to civic well-being and increased revenue growth. These three projects (Sports Arena, Q, and Convention Center expansion) seem like really positive impacts when taken as a whole. When packaged as a new stadium for the Chargers and convention center expansion, that’s where I think you open the issue to polarizing takes. Just my thoughts.

  4. Sean F says:

    Mr Fabiani, I always appreciate the info and forthrightness you bring to the issue. I was always a big fan of the Oceanside site. I am still rooting for a solution that keeps the Chargers in SD. There is one piece in this discussion that rarely gets focused on. San Diego is not just the City, but also the County. I feel like the political toxicity that reigns in the City will ultimately kill a deal. How can us County fans get a voice in this debate? Too many of us will not get to cast a vote for keeping the Chargers in the County of San Diego.

  5. La Playa Heritage says:

    As it relates to Event and Convention Center bookings, “Contiguous” Exhibition Space is magical. For Comic-Con, beside the packed Convention Center many events are held in the Gaslamp Quarter, and last year at the new Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.

    In order to expand and stay in San Diego, Comic-Con is requiring “Contiguous” Convention Center Space, as are the other large conventioneers which want to stay in San Diego. The word “Contiguous” is part of the Fire Code that describes additions that have less than 10 feet horizontal between Fire Walls. If “Contiguous” was not a big deal, then there would be no need to expand the Convention Center to keep Comic Con and the large Medical conventions from moving to larger Contiguous facilities.

    CCDC’s and Mayor Sanders’ chosen East Village site is six blocks away and across the Train tracks. Plus the East Village site is contaminated, owned by MTS (which has not been given funds to analyze a move), requires Eminent Domain of three parcels, and the relocation or end of several existing and thriving businesses. Plus the Chargers should not even think about destroying the historic Wonder Bread Building, and getting into a fight with Historic Preservation voters.

    When the idea of a third expansion for the Convention Center was first discussed, the planned Expansion was sited within the Marina on unreclaimed Tidelands . West, and in front of the original Convention Center building (with the 2 levels of subterranean parking) and the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina Hotel. Caltrans Seismic Engineers have mapped an active fault through the original Convention Center expansion location. Subsequent to the formation of the Convention Center Taskforce, the first site on the Waterfront within the existing Marina was abandoned, with no explanation from the Port or City of San Diego on their change of strategy, and the elimination the iconic site.

    http://www.tinyurl.com/20111104a

    Please analyze our solution for a Contiguous Convention Center Expansion on the public’s Waterfront in San Diego Bay that would meet the Convention Center’s real need for Contiguous Exhibit Space, and would negate all the problems with Mayor Sanders’ East Village site. Plus the use of Cistern Structural Foundations could lead to Water Security for the San Diego region.

    We are still awaiting word from the California Coastal Commission and the State Lands Commission if the idea of full tideland Reclamation and improved Coastal Access will override Mayor Sanders’ spokesperson Steve Cushman’s unsubstantiated concerns that the California Coastal Commission would never agreed to allowed our Tidelands to be filled in, therefore the idea is killed before even being analyze as a solution.

  6. Erik says:

    Mark, of course I have been following. But you should know, of all people, that the City has ZIP ZERO ZILCH risk capital – both as a practical matter and as a political one. NO politician (either sitting or potential) is going to go out on the limb and bet the general fund on the come – that the new downtown stadium MIGHT get paid for by the redevelopment of Qualcomm or the Sports Arena. May someday I go insane, run for office, and my opponent take that position. Happy campaign days ahead! (“Mr. Smith wants to risk YOUR library over a cock-eyed scheme to enrich a billionaire!! Elect ME!!”)

    To make this work the CHARGERS/AG Spanos have to put up the majority of risk capital – and likely decide that they are going to share upside with the taxpayers more than what they otherwise might want to.

    Now is that right? Well…there it kinda gets complicated…..

    For those “paying attention over the past 10 years” the track record suggests that citizens are sometimes smarter than we give them credit for. I just want to focus on 3 issues. But I could do MANY more.

    1) When GD closed the city suddenly had the opportunity to oversee the redevelop of what now is the Spectrum center. Wonderful land, well served by freeways, lots of attractive qualities and a large footprint to plan. Well, we got what we got. Not bad but I think all would agree not really coherent, Lennar in and out, no real public amenities and seems like an opportunity missed. Is it horrid, no. But it isn’t that nice and didn’t do anything (yet) to build a new community – AS THE PUBLIC WAS PROMISED – in the heart of the city.

    2) NTC/Liberty station also is in the same vein. Unlike a lot of people I like what McMillan has done. I think the community “works” but a lot of people point out a) how much lobbying and politics there was at the 11th hour to select McMillan and b) how the city was a pretty poor negotiator and essentially got minimal benefits from the project.

    3) Petco. Generally I think people are happy about the redevelopment of East Village. But they don’t have a winning baseball team, Moores didn’t invest in payroll, he ultimately left town, and a lot of those condo towers are sitting empty (and the city budget wasn’t miraculously rescued). Again, was it a “failure” as per some of the most vocal critics (see Erie/Kogan). I don’t think so. But I am not sure it was a “game changing redevelopment project” that would make East Village come alive 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It is a so so ballpark, not up par to privately built AT&T and the Padres….well lets say we are in a multi-year rebuilding mode.

    There are a myriad of other examples. It will bore people. But your own polling has to show you just how distrustful the public is and rather than blame gadflies or our C team at City Hall you might step back and ask “why”. You might come to see that the distrust has roots in some objective facts.

    Thus your conundrum. Which I believe HAS to be done in a way that puts the risk on Chargers.

    So here is my suggestion

    Enter into an agreement to redevelop the Q. Pick a dollar figure X and delineate some revenue streams. Chargers get to keep most of the funds that flow from most of those streams up to Dollar figure X. After X, Chargers get 2/3 and the City gets 1/3. Past X+Z Chargers get 3/4 and the City gets 1/4. Past X+Z+Y Chargers get it all. Just like any private developer you gotta entitle the land, mitigate the impacts, raise the capital, etc. etc. But you get, for a $1, over 200 acres served by transit and adjacent to a freeway with capacity and a major arterial in Friars road. Your incentives are aligned to maximize value. City gets some of that upside as the original holder of the land. You probably have to live with some requirements on the Q site, including open space etc. Welcome to the world every other developer in San Diego lives with.

    Is that deal fleshed out in its entirety? Of course not, this is a blog and I am not getting paid. But I know the deal to get done HAS to be one in which AG Spanos is the master developer or it never gets done because the city just is NOT going to be the one to take the risk.

    Let me close by observing…sSince voters are basically smart it isn’t rocket science to figure out that if they can redevelop Q to get the money to pay for a new STADIUM they could ALSO redevelop the Q and get money for OTHER things that they value more. AIG got over that, I believe, because they also brought CAPITAL to the table.

  7. La Playa Heritage says:

    In order to analyze a combination stadium-convention center facility, the NFL Chargers should get the democrat controlled City Council to analyze both the East Village and our Waterfront site by sending out an Updated Notice of Preparation for CEQA. After a 30 day waiting period, the Alternative sites would be analyzed.

    As it relates to Event and Convention Center bookings, “Contiguous” Exhibition Space is magical. For Comic-Con and the large profitable Medical Conventions; beside the packed Convention Center many events are held in the Gaslamp District. And last year at the new Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. In order to expand and stay in San Diego, Comic-Con and the Medical Conference Communities are requiring an increase in “Contiguous” Convention Center Space. There should be some type of Financial data available for public review. The word “Contiguous” is part of the Fire Code (Less than 10 feet horizontal between Fire Walls). If “Contiguous” was not a big deal, then there would be no need to expand the Convention Center to keep Comic Con and the large Medical conventions from moving to larger facilities who have been courting San Diego traditions.

    CCDC’s and Mayor Sanders’ chosen East Village site is six blocks away and across the Train tracks. Plus the East Village site is contaminated, owned by MTS (which has not been given CCDC funds to analyze a move), requires Eminent Domain of three parcels, and the relocation or end of several existing and thriving small businesses.

    Plus the Chargers should not even think about destroying the historic Wonder Bread Building, and getting into a fight with active Historic Preservation voters. Mayor Sanders’ refusal to analyze Alternative and Superior Solutions than his chosen and unwanted ByPass Bridge; seems like the same type of treatment the NFL Chargers are getting from his Administration.

    http://sohosandiego.org/main/paaplazadepanama3.htm

    When the idea of a Third Expansion for the Convention Center was first discussed, the planned 3rd Expansion was sited within the Marina on unreclaimed Tidelands. West, and in front of the original Convention Center building (with the 2 levels of subterranean parking), the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina

    http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/sandt-san-diego-marriott-marquis-and-marina/

    , and Embarcadero Marina Park North. Caltrans Seismic Engineers have mapped an active fault through the original Convention Center expansion location. Subsequent to the formation of the Convention Center Taskforce, the first site on the Waterfront within the existing Marina was abandoned, with no explanation from the Port or City of San Diego on their change of strategy, and the elimination the iconic Waterfront site.

    http://www.tinyurl.com/20111104a

    Please analyze our solution for a Contiguous Convention Center Expansion on the public’s Waterfront in San Diego Bay that would meet the Convention Center’s real need for Contiguous Exhibit Space, and would negate all the problems with Mayor Sanders’ chosen East Village site. Plus the use of Cistern Structural Foundations could lead to Water Security for the San Diego region.

    We are still awaiting word from the California Coastal Commission and the State Lands Commission if the idea of full public Tideland Reclamation and improved Coastal Access will override Mayor Sanders’ spokesperson Steve Cushman’s unsubstantiated concerns. Specifically that the California Coastal Commission would never agreed to allow our contaminated Tidelands to be developed by filling in.

  8. Erik says:

    Katherine I gotta say that I am buying what Steve C is selling unless you can point to a/some recent developments on the coast where the CCC and other regulatory bodies HAVE allowed fill. It just seems highly unlikely that they would but I am allowed to be shown I am not paying as close attention as I should.

  9. La Playa Heritage says:

    Hi Erik.

    I believe we can make the argument for a 4 percent city-wide TOT for public infrastructure and regional parks only. All money would be spent only on public City, State, and Federal Parks including Balboa Park, Torrey Pines, San Dieguito River, San Diego River, beaches, Palomar Mountain, etc. SANDAG would be in charge of the money. The Hoteliers would like the Regional approach to market San Diego as a Sports and Ecotourism destination.

    This would be a pilot project for a full Reclamation of our Public Trust Waterfront. Any new project on the waterfront would require a waterproof Bathtub foundation. Mitigation for destroying 10 acres of contaminated tidelands, and taking away 5 acres of Public Park, can be paid for with the 4 percent TOT.

    In contrast, the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s (RWQCB) current plan for the historic toxic Shipyard Sediments is to move the Contaminated Soils from the Shipyards, between the East side of Harbor Island, and the West side of our Coast Guard Headquarters. Additional land would be created with the Toxic Shipyard Sediments. More new reclaimed tidelands to lease, means more money for the Port Administration. The Port is planning on filling in tidelands with toxic sediments, and will hopefully be stopped at the CCC level.

    http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/nov/08/how-clean-should-san-diego-bay-be/

    You might trust the Port. But from experience they are dismissive of any and all ideas brought forward. Plans have been in place for years. If Mayor Sanders/CCDC/Cushman’s plan for a 5-acre Convention Center expansion is better than a multi-purpose Event Center, the evidence will come out during the CEQA process. Also with the help of Councilman DeMaio we did manage to get planned taxpayer subsidized 500 room luxury hotel separated both physically and financially from the Third Convention Center Expansion.

    A real cleaning of our Bay, and a full Reclamation of our Public Tidelands similar to New York’s World Trade Center would need to pay for itself, or it should not get built. The idea should be analyzed in the Draft EIR, so the public and not just Mayor Sanders, CCDC, and Mr. Cushman are making our civic decisions before allowing an idea to die.

    There are only two natural Ports in California; San Diego and San Francisco. No clue when the last San Diego or San Francisco tidelands were reclaimed. A Bathtub Structural Foundation would have to pay for itself before it gets built. The tidelands would be fully reclaimed using a waterproof Structural Bulkhead configuration similar to the Bulkheads used by NASSCO and BAE for Navy ships.

  10. Story in today’s Union-Tribune quotes from Fabiani’s Rostra post: http://bit.ly/tRuSxN

  11. And the U-T failed to note the quote was taken from a Rostra post. Was the U-T embarrassed to admit the paper relied on a blog?

  12. The OB Rag printed two Rostra posts on this subject in their entirety. .http://obrag.org/?p=48863 Was that done with Rostra’s approval?

  13. Thor's Assistant Thor's Assistant says:

    Unless Tony gave approval, no. We were not asked.

  14. I was not asked. I sent this tweet http://bit.ly/rWUEqo this morning but have yet to hear back from anyone at the paper.

  15. Thor's Assistant Thor's Assistant says:

    We just posted this at OB Rag…

    We don’t get cooties by coming here either and appreciate the OB Rag as part of the ongoing discussion of issues in San Diego. However, we also request that if you would like to publish any of our blog posts in their entirety, that we get asked so we may check with the author. As is the commonly-used practice on the web, a small snippet of another entity’s content may be posted, with a link to the original post. Not the biggest deal in the world, as you have included the links, but we can’t assume that our individual bloggers at Rostra are okay with their full posts being published elsewhere without their permission. Thanks.

  16. Thor's Assistant Thor's Assistant says:

    Often, the MSM loves using blog content as a resource, but hates having to give credit to anything that “isn’t credible.”

    Double-Standard: Credible enough to quote, just not credible enough to credit.

  17. Thor's Assistant Thor's Assistant says:

    Frank Gormlie of the OB Rag posted in response…
    http://www.obrag.org/?p=48863&cpage=1#comment-169485

    “Okay, SD Rostra, duly noted. We also know Tony and didn’t think he would mind.”

  18. From Darren Pudgil, the Mayor’s spokesman: http://bit.ly/taB3o0

  19. I wish the mayor would take a break from courting the Chargers and read this book.

  20. The Poynter Institute scolded its legendary media blogger Jim Romenesko, for not always putting quote marks around material from other sources, although he prominently credited them and linked to them. It was a bogus charge, and Romenesko, who is far better than Poynter, has just quit. (He was going to phase out there anyway).

    The U-T did the reverse of Romenesko — writer Kevin Acee used the Rostra quote but didn’t disclose whence said quote was purloined diligently researched according to the highest standards of ethical journalism.

    If the U-T doesn’t correct the omission soon, I’m going to blog about this. Maybe then the U-T editors will take notice.

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