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Chargers Challenging City's Convention Center Expansion Proposal

A rendering from 2011 of the proposed Chargers stadium in San Diego's east village.
A rendering from 2011 of the proposed Chargers stadium in San Diego's east village.
Chargers Convention Center
Chargers Challenging City's Convention Center Expansion Proposal
GUESTSTodd Gloria, Interim San Diego Mayor Mark Fabiani, General Counsel for the San Diego Chargers

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: testingtesting the Chargers begin their season as San Diego's hearing a proposal for a downtown stadium. This is KPBS Midday Edition. The convention center expansion plan is entering its final phase of approvals, but not so fast. The Chargers are once again proposing a new football stadium with additional convention center space. San Diego County officials are teaming up with San Diego universities on a suicide prevention awareness program. It is an effort to reduce the rising rate of suicides in the county. And the incredible story of writer Anchee Min continues in her second memoir. She traces her life from actress for Madame Mao to struggling US immigrant. I am Maureen Cavanaugh KPBS Midday Edition is next. First the news. The San Diego convention center expansion is challenged by a new proposal for a multiuse downtown Chargers stadium. And students help students in a new suicide prevention reach program in San Diego. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Monday, September 9th. Here are some of the San Diego stories we're following in the KPBS newsroom. The San Diego city Council's audit committee voted unanimously today to continue with an investigation into whether former Mayor Bob Filner's administration broke city credit card policies. The investigation is focused on a trip to Paris that Filner took in June. San Diego businesses community and labor leaders are calling on Congress to get back to work on immigration reform with a path to citizenship. A rally is being held at this hour downtown. New data will be released showing how immigration reform will provide a significant boost to the San Diego economy and the San Diego Chargers face Houston for the season opener tonight at QUALCOMM Stadium. Fans are encouraged to avoid delays by arriving early. Listen for the latest news through the day right here on KPBS. Our top story on Midday Edition, the proposal for a downtown Chargers stadium took on new life late last week as the Chargers introduced plans for a combined Stadium convention Center complex. If that sounds familiar it's because a similar plan was introduced and rejected by San Diego's city leaders two years ago. Now as the plan for the $520 million convention center expansion nears a crucial hearing before the California coastal commission, the Chargers are reviving a multiuse stadium plan. They say their plan would actually be completed more quickly and bring more revenue to San Diego. I'd like to introduce my guest. Mark Fabiani is general counsel and spokesman for the San Diego Chargers and Mark, welcome to the program MARK FABIANI: Thank you, Maureen. It's great to be here. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How does the stadium complex plan that was submitted to the coastal commission last week, how does that one differ from the one introduced back in 2011? MARK FABIANI: It's really the same concept to remake the East Village downtown by putting a multiuse facility, a stadium with a retractable roof containing 250,000 ft.² of convention space, the same size as the expansion would be of the current convention center, freeing up the QUALCOMM site which is owned by the taxpayers, freeing up the sports arena site which is owned by the taxpayers, taking those 266 acres, putting a park on the riverfront, doing development that would generate new revenue for the city and because we will have such a major facility downtown we will be able to attract not just the medium-size conventions to the city but the biggest events in the world. Not just the Super Bowl, the NCAA final four but religious, political conventions, the mega conventions that San Diego never has an opportunity to win. We'll do that in this kind of facility. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Would it be on the same side as the previous proposal the Metropolitan transit site the Wonder Bread building MARK FABIANI: That is exactly right, it would be linked to the existing convention through the ballpark site, and some very interesting creative ways that I think you will see emerge over the next couple weeks as we lead up to the coastal commission hearing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I know you have a rendering of this proposal but if you could describe for listeners, what does it look like? Does it look like a conventional stadium? MARK FABIANI: It looks like the stadium the difference would be it would have a retractable fabric roof which would mean you could close off the roof, you could retract the stance that you could create a huge open area on the floor of the stadium for the huge conventions that would never otherwise come to San Diego. In addition, you would have convention ballroom space as they call it in the end zones, underneath the stands, and of course you have access in the stadium to all the restaurants, all the club areas, all the luxury suites for meetings, all those things would be available for conventions. It would be an iconic facility and would give San Diego something that no other city in the United States has, the ability to attract any event in the world. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And how do you propose people get from the original convention center to this proposed facility? MARK FABIANI: It's a great question and that's something I think you'll see emerge in the next couple of weeks. JMI owns the property between the ballpark village site and that is something that I know a lot of people are working very hard on right now, some creative ways to make a campus like environment so that you don't have just one convention center building connected to a big box on the water which is what's being proposed right now. Make no mistake about it. It's a big boxy building sitting right on the water. They're trying to say is environmentally sensitive because they are putting some grass on the roof but the fact is a box access to the waterfront in a box views from downtown. There's a better way to do this outside of the coastal area and generate even more if it's for San Diego. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How much would it cost, Mark? MARK FABIANI: The separate convention center expansion costs in excess of $600 million stadium alone if we build a football only stadium would cost around 1 billion so if you build them separately from 1.6 billion for both. We think if you build them together because of the economies of scale you are utilizing a lot of the same facilities you could build symbol for about 1.2 billion. So you say 400 million there, and in addition of course you have the attitude lesson from the Chargers and the NFL, hundreds of millions of dollars. We have a major development partner Colony Capital one of the biggest investment firms in the world interested in participating so there's a lot that could come into this project not to mention the sports arena and QUALCOMM site hundreds of acres owned by the city that could generate revenue. There's a way to pay for this without dipping into the general fund or dipping into city services at all. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wasn't the price tag for the stadium before 800 million? How did get up to 1 billion? MARK FABIANI: Time passes and the economy recovers and prices go up for things. When it was 800 million the economy was in the doldrums and thank goodness that is changing but that means things also get more expensive. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: how much revenue do you project the stadium convention complex might bring to San Diego? MARK FABIANI: We haven't done those kinds of studies yet. We hope to get enough favorable reaction to our proposal to be able to do the studies, but that's going to be up to the coastal commission. The coastal commission will have the ability to either say yes, no, or put the brakes on it and ask us to all keep working together and we are committed to doing that if the city is interesting. As you mentioned in the introduction the city was not interested in this a couple years ago. We were told then that it was a good idea but we are very close to getting this convention center expansion done. We were about to break ground in a matter of six months and of course that hasn't happened. The coastal commission hasn't even held a hearing it, two years later. The tax that they're using is hung up in court and will be hung up in court for many years to come for the Court of Appeals and probably the California Supreme Court so the idea that they are about to be in construction and the charges are stopping it somehow. That's just not true. Whether the Chargers intervene or not, whatever the coastal commission does or not, there would be any construction downtown for years because of all the court battles that are going on. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Joining us on the main line right now is San Diego interim Mayor Todd Gloria and Todd welcome to the program TODD GLORIA: Thank you Maureen. Hi, Mark. MARK FABIANI: Hi, Todd. How are you doing? TODD GLORIA: I'm well, thank you MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Todd you reconfirmed your commitment to the convention center expansion plan. Why don't you like the Chargers Plant? TODD GLORIA: It's not that I don't like it. I don't see them as being mutually exclusive. What we have done is that a number of years pulling this plan together to execute the expansion. They are four weeks away from the last approval of the coastal commission, when we have that approval we can begin to work. As Mark mentioned there is some litigation that's big projects all of them will have them including a future football stadium and I just, it's not that I dislike it always see it doesn't actually it is for the for the convention center but right now we have the ability to retain I'm going to disagree factually with Mark on we don't have an enormous convention center we have one of the largest comic cons and a years worth of other business that we are not able to accommodate today. This phase of the expansion that we are going to coastal for will allow us to do that and will allow us to turn our focus and attention to putting some details to the Chargers Plant, which while we don't have yet that doesn't mean we still can't get them eventually. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And to be clear, Todd, what you're saying is you want to stick with convention center expansion plan as a phase 3 plan but you would be open to consider perhaps a multiuse Chargers stadium downtown as a phase four? TODD GLORIA: Yes, and mind you this decision is not just me in this office making all this was a decision vetted by the public through a task force that spent a lot of time looking at options and looking at something similar to what is being suggested now by the Chargers and what we heard now is really what the market wants which is the one contiguous. They don't want to have to exit the building to go in this case about six or seven blocks away to another facility and I would suggest as the owner of Petco Park I will tell you that peak sports facilities to make for nice meeting spaces but we had some challenges renting out that space for non-padres related events. So there are questions that need to be answered before I can go to the people of the city and save this project there support it doesn't mean we can't get there I think we can but we don't have those details today and we have a very important day with the coastal commission in just four weeks that we are prepared to argue for a very worthy project that I do know that the cost, I know how we will achieve it and we can get done in time to say things like comic con. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Getting back to the plan that Mark Fabiani and the Chargers have to go with this multiuse stadium first we are in exception to the convention center expansion plan, what about the fact that the convention center financing plan, the hoteliers approved tax, that is being challenged in court. Delaying the start of the expansion. That is a big point that Mark Fabiani and the Chargers are making in pushing their particular multiuse stadium plan. TODD GLORIA: We are in court. In litigation over this. We feel confident that we will be successful, in fact, our court hearings hearings to date have proven this to be successful in real potential to continue to the litigation process again any big project that attracts this kind of litigation, so we have to factor in similar delays for a football stadium. But I think importantly, Maureen, your listeners need to know that the dollars that are at stake with the convention center financing district are not portable. So the half-billion or so that we will generate through that effort cannot be transferred over to a football stadium several blocks away. And so, when you ask the question earlier which is appropriate, how will we pay for the $1.2 billion that is approximated price tag for the Chargers stadium, when we know that the NFL and the Chargers are willing to put forward about 400 million, that leaves a very substantial cost that has to be addressed. Willing to be at the table and figure out away to address it. But we don't have an answer to that today. I also don't have an answer where those buses are going to go. We are looking at the site were several hundred public transit buses are parked where we going to relocate those two. We are all kinds of questions that can be solved that probably can't be solved, but they're not going to be solved in the next few weeks and we have a plan and a project can be achieved for the expansion of the convention center. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Todd Gloria there's just one more point I want to bring up about this and it's the argument that the convention center expansion on the bay front is at risk of rising sea levels. One study found the expansion would be inundated by the rising water by the year 2050. How is that concern being addressed? TODD GLORIA: We have addressed it. We will continue to address it. Naturally this poses a challenge for the entirety of our waterfront and that is why actually it's interesting you mention this--I just came out of a meeting where we are putting together the city's climate action plan to address specifically this issue. This is not something that is unique to the expansion of the convention center. It's a challenge for the entire region, our entire globe and we are going to address it as a municipality but it is not specific to this project. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Will the coastal commission be expected to make a decision on expansion plan? TODD GLORIA: The hearing is October 9th and we expect a favorable hearing. I think we have a very strong case to prospects is not a project that does not have a lot of support. This is a project that has a ton of support. Business and labor, a united city Council, the interim Mayor, are important district, there are so many stakeholders standing behind this project and Maureen I would tell you the city is coming out of a very difficult time in our history. We can use this project to unite the city to go before the coastal commission and argue our case, to come out of there with approval and build something magnificent for the city. I think it would be important for us as we go through the healing process to show that we can do big things in the city and I would tell you the phase 2 of the expansion is a. Big thing important to the city to the creation of jobs into the sustaining of our economy. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you San Diego interim Mayor, Todd Gloria. Thank you so much. TODD GLORIA: Thanks, Maureen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mark Fabiani, let's get back to the contiguous problem. That is something that's brought up a great deal large conventions don't want a facility where events are spread between two sites that are box apart from each other. How you get around that? MARK FABIANI: All you have to do is read the expert consultants that were hired by the city to evaluate this. Mr. Gloria referred to the citizens task force and their report that the citizens task force hired consultants and if you read the consultant's report it is clear as day that 90% of the conventions that now bypass San Diego could be held in 250,000 ft.² or less of convention space so 90% of the business that we use could be held in a separate facility by itself. And when you read those studies and you also have studies were the consultant say we were told not to evaluate any other alternatives including a larger, noncontiguous alternative. So the city experts never evaluated anything else and look around the country. There's lots of noncontiguous convention space that's very successful, the Mosconi Center in San Francisco and other space around the country. And, putting aside this arcane debate about contiguous were noncontiguous think about the events we will not have access to if we don't build something major. The Super Bowl, the NCAA final four, the biggest conventions, the ones that need lots of flat floor space that can exist on the floor of a football stadium. Those are things that nobody's evaluated. The city never evaluated them and I think that will become clear at the coastal commission that there were alternatives that were never evaluated by the city. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about what Todd Gloria said, Mark, let's go through the convention center expansion plan, let's get that done and then let's turn our attention to a possible Chargers stadium downtown even a multiuse charger stadium downtown? MARK FABIANI: That is a great vision in a world with unlimited money, but we are not obviously in the world. We are in a world where we have limited resources, we have a lot of money from the Chargers and the NFL we have a development partner and if we could get access to the hotel tax money and put it all in one big pot we can build both facilities together but if you tickle the hotel tax money and put it into a convention center expansion which by the way won't get started for years to come because the legal wrangling will go on and on but if you take that money and put it aside there is just not enough left to build a second facility. It's not there. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You propose that instead of the deal with the hotel years taxing themselves you would ask the San Diego, the residents of San Diego to approve such a tax which was not done this first time, thus illuminating the lawsuits etc. Do you think that San Diego's would go along with this kind of a multiuse stadium? Do you think the support would be there because it is a big price tag? MARK FABIANI: It's a big price tag but remember it is a hotel tax it's not a tax on residents of the tax mostly on visitors and is coming with the huge investment from the Chargers and the NFL and investment from the development partner and the cities going to free up all this landed on said QUALCOMM and the sports arena which can be sold and developed and to generate brand-new revenue for the city. So yes I think people would support that if they saw that they were getting something that was going to attract the biggest events in the world, not just a football stadium for a few football games. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you think support for this plan might rise and fall depending on how the Chargers tend to be playing this evening, this season? MARK FABIANI: It's an emotional thing football and clearly the team's performance makes a difference in the end it's dollars and cents does it make sense for the public are they going to get more out of this deal than they are putting into it at the end that's how it's going to be decided one way or the other MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One last question to you Mark as Todd Gloria was saying the final approval of coastal commission final approval hangs in the balance in their next meeting on October, I'm wondering where do you think you're going to be able to build support for this plan in such a short period of time? When it's on this the convention center expansion is almost a done deal? MARK FABIANI: That's the thing. It's not almost a done deal even if the coastal commission approved it, you would have years of litigation over the tax still to happen. So our argument would be it's not going to get built at the coastal commission approves it. There are good reasons and the coastal commission staff said this publicly there are good reasons why it should not be built on the waterfront. You mentioned the global warming and the possibility of it being flooded, Mr. Gloria said that affects the whole city but that doesn't mean you should put more buildings there to be flooded. It means that you should prevent things from being built that would be flooded so we are offering to do this outside the coastal zone in a way that's approved by the voters. We think this is a much cleaner quicker more environmentally sensitive way to get this done. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mark Fabiani, general counsel spokesman for the San Diego Chargers thank you so much for speaking with us. MARK FABIANI: Thanks for having me.

New Chargers Stadium Proposal
The San Diego Chargers submitted this proposal for a multi-use stadium and convention center in San Diego's East Village to the California Coastal Commission on August 30, 2013. The Coastal Commission will consider proposals in October.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

The proposal for a downtown Chargers stadium took on new life late last week, as the Chargers introduced plans for a combined stadium, convention center complex.

If that sounds familiar, it's because a similar plan was introduced and rejected by San Diego city leaders two years ago.

As the plan for the $520 million convention center expansion nears a crucial hearing before the California Coastal Commission, the San Diego Chargers are reviving the multi-use stadium plan. They say their plan could actually be completed more quickly, and bring more revenue to San Diego.

Mark Fabiani, general counsel for the San Diego Chargers said in an interview published Thursday on the Chargers web site, "there is a more cost-effective and environmentally-sensitive way to expand the convention center as part of a multi-use stadium in the East Village. And that’s the concept we presented to the Coastal Commission."

On Friday, Interim San Diego Mayor Todd Gloriaresponded to the Charger's plan. He said he supports the current convention center expansion plan.

"It is a plan that is vital for us to attain and attract other conventions, most of whom have made it perfectly clear they want to hold their events with contiguous space. Few conventions are interested in holding their event in a venue that is spread out over several city blocks," Gloria said.

The Coastal Commission is set to consider the plans next month.

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