SD Mayor Tours NFL Stadiums As LA Looms Large
Mark Fabiani, Chargers Special Counsel
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CAVANAUGH: San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders tours U.S. sports stadiums, but will the Chargers stay? And commuting on cycles and scooters can be risky. We'll talk safety tips for San Diego riders. This is KPBS Midday Edition.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Wednesday, August 17th. Later this hour, scooter, motorcycles, motorbikes are becoming more popular in San Diego. But accidents are also on the rise. We'll hear about a new effort to keep riders and drivers safe. And the man who heads the San Diego history center is leaving his post. We'll find out what's next for him and the museum in Balboa Park.
But first, San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders embarks on a journey today to learn what he can about building a new Chargers stadium here in San Diego. We'll hear from Chargers spokesman Mark Fabiani in just a minute. Here's a report on the mayor's trip from KPBS metro reporter Katie Orr.
ORR: Mayor Jerry Sanders and his team will spend this week in Kansas city, Indianapolis, and Denver checking out those cities entertainment sports districts, looking for ideas how a similar district could be created here. Sander it is admits he doesn't want to be the mayor who lost the team to another city. But he says building a new stadium is not about securing his legacy.
SANDERS (AUDIO RECORDING): Convention Center, a stadium, plaza de Panama, a library are all community projects. That's going to be a community legacy that we have worked on with a lot of different people throughout San Diego. I see that as a San Diego legacy.
ORR: The pressure on San Diego to build a new stadium increased recently when Los Angeles advanced an NFL stadium proposal there. But Sanders says his trip was booked two months ago and is not in response to any moves in LA. Katie Orr, KPBS news.
CAVANAUGH: And our red, Katie Orr, also says that mayor Sanders believes the Chargers will stay in San Diego. Do our listeners think so in we're opening up the phones at 1-888-895-5727. Or you can comment on twitter at KPBS midday. On the line with me is San Diego Chargers general council and spokesman Mark Fabiani. And mark, hello.
FABIANI: It's great to be here. Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for doing this. What kind of discussions went on between the Chargers and the mayor's office regarding this trip?
FABIANI: Well, you know, we've been working with the mayor's office and with Fred mass, his designated point man on the stadium issues for two years now on this downtown site. So we've seen their commitment privately. They are very committed to find a solution. I think what the trip does, though, is demonstrate publicly to the group at large that follows this issue that the mayor is very interested in finding a solution. So that's a really important thing for us, I think and for our fans, particularly with all the rumors coming out of Los Angeles. We're happy that people understand what we've known for a couple years now, and that is the mayor is very committed to helping to try to find a solution.
CAVANAUGH: Are the Chargers involved in this trip at all? Is anybody going with the mayor or did you consult whether or not he might want to go to check out stadiums?
FABIANI: He has talked about this trip, and Fred mass has as well, for several months now. And the focus is not just on the stadium as you said. It is on a sports entertainment district. And so in fact they're looking in Kansas city at a sports center entertainment district that's connected to an arena, not to a football stadium. And the same thing in Denver. There's a sports entertainment district that is not connected to the NFL stadium there. And then of course in Indianapolis, there's a great example of a stadium that's connected to a sports entertainment district that's connected to a Convention Center, which we think is the most promising option hereof in it San Diego. So we talked about where they ought to go, but in the end it was the mayor's choice. And Fred mass's choice about which cities to pick.
CAVANAUGH: The Chargers it seems to me must feel a little like the hot date for the prom. LA gives Senate approval to build a new stadium. Do the Chargers feel as if they're in the cat seat now in any negotiations on this new stadium?
FABIANI: I actually feel more like Bill Murray in ground hog day, because every time a stadium idea comes up in Los Angeles, and there have been a lot of them in the last 15 years that have come and gone in Los Angeles, the Chargers are always mentioned as the number one team, the team that's going to go to LA. And of course it's never happened. All of these LA ideas have come and gone. This one may stick. This may be the one that is successful. But really when you look at the history, ideas about stadiums are very easy to come up with, and they're very hard to execute. And that's why when you say are you sitting in the cat seat, we don't feel that way because we know how hard it is to build an NFL stadium anywhere in California. There hasn't been one built since the 60s. There's no team in Los Angeles, no team in Orange County, Oakland is struggling with its stadium efforts, San Francisco is struggling, we're struggling. So it's a hard thing to do. But it is good to know that the mayor is committed, and it's good to know that the public understands that, because that's important, I think, for this process going forward.
CAVANAUGH: Let's talk a little bit about the crucial issue of funding. Now that redevelopment agencies has we knew them are a thing of the past.
CAVANAUGH: Are you reconsidering how much public taxpayer money you will need to build this stadium in San Diego?
FABIANI: Well, wee always known that the Chargers and the NFL together must put in hundreds of millions of dollars of the leg's money and of the team's money. That's never changed. Question is, where does the rest of it come from? For years we were going to do it all privately by redeveloping the Qualcomm site, but that was blocked by Mike Aguirre and others, then the economy turned sour. So that strain has left the station and is long gone. Now we're focused downtown on a site that's relatively small, about 15 acres, and it's going to take some public contribution. There's various sources for that, though. One is the city now spends between 12 and $17 million a year, depending on who you believe, maintaining Qualcomm stadium. If the stadium if the were maintained by the Chargers, which it would be, the city would save that money every year. 12 to $17 million. So that could go toward buying bonds that would help finance the new stadium. The city would also then bible to clear the Qualcomm site, 100 and 66 acres of the stadium, it could sell it or lease it, generate next revenue from it. So that could be brand-new revenue that could go to a stadium. Then third, the idea. Combining a Convention Center expansion and a stadium might give our project access to convention type revenues, hotel tax revenue, car rental tax revenues, things that don't hit average taxpayers but more visitors to town. I would say those are the three areas. We're not looking at general fund money, that's for sure. We may not be looking at redevelopment money anymore. So we're scrambling, but we think there's a way to do it, because San Diego has a lot of assets to bring to bear, particularly Qualcomm stadium.
CAVANAUGH: As the run downs that I've seen, the most popular numbers are the Chargers and the NFL may pick up three hundred million of an $800 million proposal to build a new stadium. Now, that's a -- $500 million to make up. Now, we can do a little of that, but what about corporate sponsors? Or the Chargers picking up more of that tab?
FABIANI: That number is obviously subject to negotiation. We've been working on this for nine years. And Dean Spanos and his family have been incredibly patient, and they've spent a lot of money to make this happen. And we've never said it's this amount of money and not one penny more. So all of that is subject to negotiation. And I think it will be negotiated with the city. And we've got to come up with something that works for the taxpayers and that works for the team. The problem is, of course, our competitors around the league have had their stadium subsidized by the public. The average subsidy in the NFL is about 65% of the cost of a stadium is paid for by the public. We'll do what we have to do to get a stadium build. But we have to stay within our market. If we spend 100% private funding for stadium, we'd be in a worse financial position than we are now vis-a-vis our competitors. We've got to stay within the range that our market provides us, but we also have to make it work for the taxpayers. And that's the goal, something we've been working on for a long time and we're going to continue to work on.
CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Chargers spokesman, Mark Fabiani, and we're talking about how the Chargers are reacting to San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders going on a tour to see sports and entertainment complexes that work in three other cities around the United States. You know, Mark, this is a really informal survey, but I've got to tell you, the people I've been asking last night and this morning about whether they think the Chargers are on their way out of town, every single one of them said, yeah, they're leaving. They're leaving. And my question, I know what you're going to answer to that, but my question is this: If San Diegans are uncertain about the future of the team, how can you get voters behind building a new stadium?
FABIANI: First of all, I'm not surprised at the answer that you get. Number one, because we've been trying here for nine years, and we haven't succeeded. So people have a right to be skeptical as to whether we're ever going to succeed. And second, there have been so many rumors out of Los Angeles over the last month. So I'm not surprised that people believe that. What we ask people to remember, though, is they heard these same rumors two and a half years ago when Ed Roski proposed a shovel ready project to build a new stadium in the city of industry, a stadium that has not broken a single piece of ground at this point, and so just because rumors come out of LA doesn't mean the team is leaving. We could have left starting in 2007. And that began in 2007, and we've never done so. So we ask the people to put the rumors aside, and to look at what Dean Spanos and his family have done. And you ask, how can you win an election if you think they're leaving? If you get something on the ballot, you're not going to be leaving, you're going to be running a campaign, you're going to be locked into San Diego throughout the election. So I think putting something on the ballot should give people a lot of confidence that, you know, we're not about to leave in a flash. We would be committed to a campaign, a multimillion-dollar campaign to try to convince people that this is a good solution.
CAVANAUGH: Let me take a phone call. Of derrick is calling from La Jolla. And hi, derrick, welcome to Midday Edition.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thank you for taking my call. I just want to say, you know, the Chargers are great and everything, but in this economy and with the unfunded infrastructure needs of San Diego, the pot holes, the sure lines, the water lines, $2 billion unfunded infrastructure in San Diego right now. And I don't see how we can put a couple three hundred million, 400, five hundred million into ape sports complex that, I don't know, 20% of the people use. We need to think about all the people of San Diego and where the money goes for all of them.
CAVANAUGH: Derrick, thanks for the call. I think a lot of people feel that way, mark. How do you answer that?
FABIANI: Derrick, I think I feel that way too as a taxpayer in San Diego, that we need to have basic services funded. But the thing is, simply staying and doing what we're doing right now, in other words the Chargers continue to play in Qualcomm stadium off into the future, the city is now, as I mentioned earlier, paying 12 to $17 million a year to operate and maintain Qualcomm stadium. A recent city study showed $75 million or more of deferred maintenance at the stadium. So if we simply do nothing and continue to play there without anybody doing anything about a new stadium, taxpayers will be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars when you add it up over a ten-year period of time. The money that's being spent to maintain it, the deferred maintenance, and so the current solution is a bad one for taxpayers. Then add into that, you have 100 and 56 acres that taxpayers own there at Qualcomm that's generating no money for the city, that's losing money for the city. Imagine when the economy recovers what that could be sold or leased for. Imagine how much tax revenue could be generated from that piece of land. And so you have to look at the bigger picture. It's not simply a question of are we spending money on a football stadium. It's how do we finance it in a way that works for taxpayers? And I think we have assets here in San Diego that allow us to make it work for people.
CAVANAUGH: The developer behind this LA project, AEG, reportedly wants to lock in a deal with the Chargers and actually wants to start breaking ground on a new stadium up in Los Angeles by, I think it's next June. You don't think that's going to happen?
FABIANI: I do not think that is going to happen. I've obviously been working on stadium issues for a long time. They are at a very, very early stage in Los Angeles. Of they only have a nonbinding memorandum of understanding with the city, which means they have to negotiate a final contract. And of course the devil is in the details on this thing. Then they have to get their environmental impact report done. Those usually take 18 months on a project like this. Then they have to resolve all the litigation on the environmental impact report. That can take several years. They have to get this project financed. They're doing it all privately, they say. They're not only building a stadium but they're building a Convention Center replacement. Financing that kind of project in these strained capital market system going to be a challenge to say the least. Then you've got people in Los Angeles who don't want this to happen. Which means you've got an election that you're got to fight out. So the idea that somehow there's going to be say stadium being build in Los Angeles in June of 2012, I would be shock first degree that happened.
CAVANAUGH: Go ahead.
FABIANI: And from Ed Roski had since 2008 I solve ready stadium in the city of industry. He could have broken ground in the spring of 2008, and he hasn't because it's not so easy to get these things started.
CAVANAUGH: Mark, I bet you've got to go. Really fast a couple of quick ending questions.
CAVANAUGH: That news from LA last week prompted tweets, a whole line of tweets, LA Chargers. Can you tell us specifically; are the Chargers in talks with Los Angeles?
FABIANI: No. We're not.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right.
FABIANI: And I've said that very clearly for quite some time. We know AEG, as we've been very clear about. We've hired AEG several years ago to sell our products up in Los Angeles and Orange County. So we have a relationship with them, and we had a relationship with Ed Roski. We know all these people. They know us. And we know what these guys are trying to negotiate because we have sources at other teams that they've talked to, we have sources at the league. So we know what's going on. And the fact is that we're still working here in San Diego as a bottom line.
CAVANAUGH: What is the next step for the Chargers? I mean, are you going to debrief with the mayor when he comes home and then what do you see happening down the line?
FABIANI: The income step would be to meet with the mayor when he gets back and get his findings from his trip. We need to prepare for the city the possibility of a Convention Center/stadium combination design. We're working with our architects on that. We need to see what happens in the California Supreme Court. As you know, the redevelopment law changes have been challenged, and the Supreme Court has decided to hear that challenge. If they strike down those changes, then we could have old style redevelopment back in the saddle again. So those would be thee things that'll happen over the next two months. One, the meeting with the mayor, two a new design from us, and three, hopefully a decision from the California Supreme Court.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Chargers spokesman, Mark Fabiani, mark, thank you so much.
FABIANI: It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.