Keeping the Chargers in San Diego could come at the cost of destroying East Village.

That’s what a few dozen architects, developers and urban planners are trying to tell the city.

They’ve banded together to reframe what they say is an unbalanced conversation on the future of the neighborhood, home to an iconic library and established arts community, along with blocks of warehouses and homeless encampments.

Right now, there’s one vision for the neighborhood floating around, the one proposed in the so-called Citizens’ Plan, an initiative that would, among other things, build a convadium – a football stadium-convention center – next door to Petco Park. It’s backed by an unlikely but powerful team: attorney Cory Briggs, the Chargers, former Councilwoman Donna Frye, former Assemblyman Steve Peace and former Padres owner John Moores and his company, JMI Realty.

This group of city-planner types doesn’t like the plan. In fact, they think it could prove fatal to a neighborhood that’s expected to shoulder a significant burden of providing new homes to the city’s growing population.

“Decisions are being made, but we haven’t been asked for feedback in our own community,” said David Malmuth, a developer of the I.D.E.A. District, a cluster of projects in the neighborhood.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

He was joined Saturday by 100 or so other architects, developers, community members and city leaders, convened by Citizens Coordinate for Century Three and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects as the first of three sessions meant to articulate an alternative vision of East Village’s future. They’d like to eventually submit the results to Civic San Diego, a city-owned nonprofit that regulates downtown development, to incorporate into official development regulations.

The Citizens’ Plan promoted by Briggs and the Chargers is a Rube Goldberg machine of city changes. It would clear the way to build a downtown convadium with a boost from hotel-room tax funding. It would also give a path for SDSU and UCSD to expand at the current site of Qualcomm Stadium, create a legal mechanism to promote San Diego as a tourist destination and raise hotel-room taxes to fund basic city services.

Even if the Citizens’ Plan passes, it does not necessarily mean a new convention center campus or stadium would be built. Both would require additional investments or City Council approvals.

If the convention center expansion isn’t built, the entire hotel-room tax increase in the measure goes into the city’s general fund. At that point, since they’ll be getting taxed either way, the hotels would have a healthy incentive to approve a convention center expansion.

City leaders and the press have scrutinized the plan’s legal framework and political feasibility. But no one’s been too focused on a simpler question: Is it a good idea to build a facility like this in the middle of downtown San Diego?

Malmuth and a group of like-minded urbanists say “no.” Other prominent land-use voices, like Rob Quigley, architect of the Central Library, and Mike Stepner, the former city architect and now director of the New School of Architecture, agree. They’re calling the new group they created the East Village People (seriously).

“This is a chance for the East Village to determine its future,” Quigley said.

Briggs couldn’t make it to the first event, but said he was thrilled his plan had sparked the conversation.

An Alternative Vision

During the meeting Saturday, attendees outlined their priorities for the community. They drew out how they’d like to see it develop, and listed the most important considerations.

The emerging consensus didn’t leave much room for a stadium.

The group wanted to break up Petco Park’s primary parking lot and the Metropolitan Transit System’s bus yard into a grid of smaller blocks, ripe for development, park space or a campus for a university or major tech company to anchor an employment hub.

“A convadium is the most selfish use of that land,” said Andrew Malick, a developer, during his group’s discussion. “We have some amount of unbuilt land in the middle of an urban neighborhood, and to use it for that is just so wasteful.”

“Large, super-block developments don’t allow for a comfortable urban fabric,” said Diego Velasco, an urban designer and principal at M.W. Steele Group.

But the most common priority voiced by attendees was for East Village to develop a better connection to Barrio Logan and Sherman Heights to the east.

“This is so close to Barrio Logan that you cannot separate it,” said Mario Torero, a mural artist who works in East Village and Barrio Logan. “There has been a wall here at 16th Street.”

The plan for a massive convadium would solidify that, they said: It would be a giant wall between downtown and everything to its east.

Downtown development has turned its back on Barrio Logan for too long, Quigley said. “This is an opportunity to reverse the cold shoulder we turned on these neighborhoods,” he said.

Malmuth said he didn’t want to shut down any particular idea, but he can’t imagine a scenario in which the convadium fits into the principles the group described as what’s best for East Village.

“Convention spaces that extend into East Village, they could work just fine,” Malmuth said. “The problem is football. Stadiums are inward-facing, they create giant walls that shut off communities. They just aren’t friendly neighbors in an urban setting, and that’s why people don’t usually build them there. They are structures that want to be in a field of parking.”

A Matter of Trade-Offs

Briggs has fashioned the Citizens’ Plan as a solution to a handful of the city’s most intractable problems.

The visitor industry says a convention center expansion is essential, and the plan proposes a legal way to do it. Briggs is currently suing the Tourism Marketing District – a city-created entity that collects money from hotel guests to market the city to tourists – as an illegal tax, and the plan proposes a legal reincarnation of that, too.

Plus, it proposes a way to build a stadium that’s been compelling enough to win over the Chargers, after the team spent a year spitting on every proposal the city rolled out.

“We are trying to facilitate a compromise that is good for the city,” Briggs said.

He’s got a handful of responses to the planner-developer contingent.

First of all, Briggs says, the plan itself doesn’t build a stadium. It removes some of the regulatory hurdles to getting a stadium project approved, and it diverts hotel-room taxes to pay for the portion of the new structure that would be home to conventions – which makes the stadium itself more financially feasible. But the Chargers would still need to put forward a more detailed plan of their own in the future.

“People lighting their hair on fire are grossly misrepresenting what’s going on,” Briggs said. “This makes it possible; it doesn’t just plunk a stadium on a convention center tomorrow.”

That’s technically true, but the Chargers didn’t get behind the plan because they’re passionate about reinventing the Tourism Marketing District, or facilitating an SDSU expansion. The plan can rightfully be described as a way to build a convadium in East Village.

Nonetheless, Briggs has a question for Malmuth, Quigley and crew.

“What’s the alternative?” he said. “It’s not this, compared to some vision they have yet to articulate. It’s this compared to the status quo. People need to ask themselves whether they like the status quo of East Village and the waterfront. Different people can answer that differently – some people might love the status quo – but that’s the question.”

Even if a new convadium isn’t the best option for that site, he said, it should be considered against the good the plan achieves. The plan would likely prevent a contiguous convention center expansion that would wall off the waterfront – a long-time fight of Briggs’. It would add money to the city’s general fund. It would let the city keep promoting itself without legal concerns.

“If you don’t do a big list of things at once in San Diego, you can’t get anything done, because someone is always trying to shit on you,” Briggs said. “And if you do a big list of stuff, you’re consciously making trade-offs.”

Malmuth said it’s best to have options.

“Since there’s nothing else being talked about, people are gravitating to it,” Malmuth said. “So we said, we need to have an option on the table so people don’t say it can only be one thing, it could be multiple things.”

    This article relates to: Chargers Stadium, Land Use, Must Reads

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at or 619.325.0529.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Here is hoping that the final plan to be floated by the East Village People will include key elements required in any real plan:

    1. What is their specific vision for the property in question? How many buildings? What size buildings? Parks?

    2. Are the owners of that property involved in the groups current planning?

    3. Have the current owners bought into the plans proposed uses of their property?

    4. If not, who will come forward with enough money to buy the property in question from it's current owners?

    5. Does the final plan name the specific educational groups or universities who have firmly committed to moving

       some of their operations downtown. UC Berkeley and Stanford have been mentioned as interested universities.

        If so, the final plan should indicate what and where they plan to build downtown in south east village.

    7. What is the overall budget to implement the new plan?

    8. Where will the money for the budget come from?

    9. A final plan should include an environmental impact report in compliance with CEQA, including proposed mitigation

        for any negative impacts the new development would create.

    Echo5Juliet subscribermember

    1) The East Village Convadium plan would ruin East Village and Bario Logan. The notion of building any stadium using any tax (on locals or tourists) is ridiculous. Any stadium is a white elephant project that hurts taxpayers in the long run. What about operation costs? What about the cost of eventual demolition when it is deemed unsuitable 20 years from now because it doesn't have zero gravity unicorn rides or whatever shiny object the NFL obsesses over? The best thing we can do is not build one anywhere. The NFL has vastly more money than San Diego does. They can buy land where they want and build whatever albatross they desire.

    2) Citizens Plan signature gatherers use the Chargers and Comic-Con as a hook to get signatures. CP doesn't actually save the Chargers or Comic-Con and Comic-Con has come out and stated their preference for a convention center expansion that opposes Citizens Plan. Citizens Plan is really just a tax increase that directs monies to the general fund where it can be mishandled and mismanaged just like the other tax revenues they receive. At least with the TMD that money had to be used to market San Diego for additional tourism. Can't be spent on pensions, debt, salaries, etc. 

    Talking about Chargers and Comic-Con with Citizens Plan is just a red herring. Take those two misdirections away and it's just a general purpose tax increase and specialized springboard to allow a certain attorney in San Diego to wage even more litigation against things he doesn't agree with by giving himself standing to sue on the city's behalf even if the city attorney chooses not to pursue litigation. 

    The only hope Citizens Plan has at the ballot box is duping local sports and comic/pop-culture fans into believing that it saves the Chargers and Comic-Con. It's BS. 

    Also, it is funny how the East Village People opposing Convadium haven't been branded NIMBYs by the usual suspects.

    Cory Briggs
    Cory Briggs subscribermember

    For the record: The Citizens' Plan does not "divert" any TOT, and I did not say it does. The CP does provide economic incentives to hoteliers if the industry volunteers to take over marketing responsibilities and/or off-waterfront expansion responsibilities. That is no more of a "diversion" of taxes than is a rebate taken on your tax returns when you buy a hybrid car etc.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    @Cory Briggs  Let me see if I understand what you mean by examining your analogy. Now if I get an income tax rebate on my new hybrid car, then the total income tax collected will be missing the amount of that rebate and obviously cannot be spent on anything else because it's already been spent on an incentive for me to buy a car. That means that tax revenue that could have been used to pay for a Government's core responsibilities , assuming that helping me buy a new car is not one of them, is being diverted back to me; thus leaving a revenue short fall that must be made up by increasing the tax burden on those not entitled to such an economic incentive ?

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Interesting comments by Barrio Logan residents and East Village developers fears that a convadium would wall off downtown from Barrio Logan. If people are concerned about walling off downtown, I wish they had spoken up when the city allowed CCDC/CSD and Nate Bosa to wall off downtown from its bayfront with huge highrise condo towers. Between Bosa's towers and new hotels going up on Port Tidelands, its becoming more and more difficult to see the bay from buildings inland of Pacific Highway. The irony of it is that people who are paying Bosa $1 million and up for condo tower units, thinking they are buying bayfront views, may in fact be buying a future view of the back of new buildings being planned west of their buildings. None of the downtown developers who are marketing bay views will guarantee that those views will last.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Former mayor and Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Sanders just came out in favor of the downtown convadium concept.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    Where's Todd Gloria in this discussion ?  He is the 3rd district councilperson who is responsible for representing the East Village, and yet he can't be found in this article, or in his office, or anywhere else when leadership is needed.

    Here's an idea. Why don't we take what ever extra money we have and do something about the arrears on our infrastructure, or is that naïve ?

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Richard Gardiol Your idea isn't naive but it's not likely to happen.  Politicians think they get elected building new stuff, not keeping existing stuff running well.

    Mystic Traveler
    Mystic Traveler subscriber

    San Diego tax payers are NOT going to subsidize a stadium downtown.  How much money and time are going to be wasted until the owners and developers realize this is a dead horse?

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Here is a dirty little secret most people are not aware of. While the city and the Convention Center Corporation have complained about not having enough space to stage larger conventions in the existing bayfront facility, the Port has approved construction of new hotels (eg the Bayfront Hilton) and redevelopment of nearby hotels like the Marriott to add tons of new meeting and exhibit space which could easily be used to virtually expand the space available for decentralized events. Yet when the Port approved those new projects, it did no include any lease language requiring those hotels to coordinate planning and reservations with the Convention Center Corporation, so that instead of complimenting the existing facility, those hotels are now competing with the convention center to host new meetings and events. That trend was accelerated when the hotels convinced the city to turn convention center scheduling and reservations over to the hotel owner controlled Tourism Marketing District. That entity is rumored to be diverting upcoming major meetings and events away from the convention center to the waterfront hotels. This begs the question of whether or not a major new convention center expansion is needed. What might work better would be for the city, the Convention Center and the Port to require closer coordination and cooperation between the hotels around the convention center and the CCC. Perhaps it is time for the city to return the ;job of scheduling and reservations for upcoming conventions back to the CCC, instead of allowing the TMD to control them.

    wadams92101 subscriber

    @Don Wood This comment I agree with.  Unfortunately, this  attempt by John Moores and Spanos to hi-jack the convention center expansion to build a "Convadium" next Moore's property and to build Spanos a downtown stadium has distracted attention from the more important question of whether expansion is even needed.  

    Ben Adams
    Ben Adams

    @Don Wood The hotels' new meeting and exhibit space isn't large enough to host upcoming major events like Comic-Con that are only interested in large contiguous event space.  Maybe we don't need a convention center expansion but voters better understand that Brigg's so called CI wont save Comic-Con and it wont attract new major conventions.  Conventions don't want to force their customers to walk a mile between split event sites when there are better contiguous options available like Anaheim or Vegas.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    @Ben Adams @Don Wood  Chamber of Commerce CEO and former Mayor Jerry Sanders just came out in support of a downtown convadium concept in an interview on KOGO sports radio.

    Brian Edmonston
    Brian Edmonston

    Both the downtown stadium and the convention center expansion are bad for San Diego.  These projects only create short term construction jobs.  After that, the vast majority of associated jobs are low wage - stadium, restaurant and hotel workers.  These workers probably receive several types of government hand-outs because their wages are so low.  Many of these workers will have kids in public schools, which is very expensive for taxpayers.  And the hotel and restaurant industries will complain the loudest when you want to increase their wages to a reasonable level.

    The book "Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities" documents how almost all convention centers end up losing money for the local governments and their taxpayers. Only a few connected people make money, as you might expect.

    The book is available on Amazon.

    A baseball park and a football stadium are very different animals.  Petco Park has been fantastic - 81 games a year and low key family oriented fans.  Football, on the other hand, is not well suited for downtown - 8 to 10 games a year and very aggressive and confrontational fans.  You want a Raiders vs. Chargers game every year?  Dodgers fans are bad enough.

    East village has become a very nice place.  The only thing I see holding it back at this point is Father Joe's Village, which seems to have made it very difficult to expand the neighborhood beyond 15th st.

    bgetzel subscriber

    The city should revisit the perceived need for a convention centr expansion. Spending millions of dollars  in order to provide added space that is used only a handful of days a year is ludicrous. No business builds a facility that is only full during rare peak use (i.e. ComicCon). Furthermore, in city planning you should not compare a bad proposal to what the status quo is and then declare the bad proposal superior. Cities take many years to develop or mutate. The patience and planning New York City showed towards its dilapidated lower Manhattan industrial districts reulted later in the thriving SOHO and Tribeca neighborhoods.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    It is not surprising that East Village developers are opposing the idea of convadium on their turf. The Idea District proponents talk a good game about "perhaps" bringing a downtown UCSD annex to the neighborhood, or creating a new neighborhood where artists and computer nerds could live in lofts and create lots of neat new art and technology. But if you want to see what the reality is, just drive east along G Street to Highway 94. What you'll see are block after block of new apartment complexes, each one taking up a whole block which used to be filled with diverse single family homes. old artist loft buildings and small shops, which were known as Centre City East, which have all been bulldozed to make room for new "blockbuster" apartment complexes and condo towers.

    While I have been hopefully following all the IDEA district hype, all I've seen on their renderings are more whole-block apartments and condo units, some with commercial and retail operations on the ground floor, not to mention the two 50 story high Pinnacle apartment towers going up between East Village and Barrio Logan. Where were the East Village People when those monstrosities were being approve?  Left to their own devices, the existing developers  will fill in the area where transit bus yard is now with more of the same.

    So after several years of real estate promotional promises, I'm not sure that if that particular property is used for a convadium, it would be all that bad for downtown. I suspect that we're more likely to see new university annexes for UCSD or SDSU on the Qualcomm site before we'll see them downtown. But if there are any real plans for that to happen downtown, it would useful for UCSD or SDSU to announce them, instead of downtown real estate developers puff piece advertising.

    LOL on the comment that the proposed contiguous convention expansion would be just a "small
    bulge". It would cover the area west of the existing convention center all the way to the water, with just a narrow sidewalk along its side for the public to enjoy it's publically owned tidelands.

    Brian Edmonston
    Brian Edmonston

    @Don Wood I agree that this last wave of development in East Village was not well planned. However, small adjustments would bring in back in line with the early development, which I think was done well.

    Small changes like set back corners and natural stone at street level would help a lot.  And preserving some of the best homes and historic structures should be a higher priority.  These rules can be brought back into play.

    I disagree with your assessment of The Pinnacle, though. While tall, it is very thin so it does not cast a huge shadow.  Pinnacle park, which was provided as part of the height trade-off, is a great asset for that area.

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    Pinnacle is a horrible monstrosity whose looming shadow over surrounding communities will only get darker once the second tower goes up.

    Brian Edmonston
    Brian Edmonston

    @Desde la Logan I can understand why some might not like the Pinnacle, but you really get more light and breeze next to the Pinnacle than you do between two six story mid-rises that run right up to the edge of the sidewalk and which take up an entire city block.  

    Would you have preferred another full block mid-rise in place of the Pinnacle and the park? I like the park.

    Also, Pinnacle shadow goes away from Barrio Logan, if that helps at all.

    I really wonder if they will build the second tower.  Does not seem like it is renting very well.  Must be a hard sell with all the homeless nearby.

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    Shadow was a metaphor.

    They're already working the lot where the second tower is going up. They socio-economically cleansed that block, put up new fencing and started moving around dirt.

    I don't think two out of place towers is a good trade off for a small park.

    Erik Bruvold
    Erik Bruvold subscribermember

    Could of things.

    A)  It is anything but a done deal whether the convadium gets hotelier sign off.  The CI is mute (and we won't know till who knows) who will actually own and operate the Convadium.  An arrangement in which the hotels could be on the hook for the operating deficit is likely to be a non-starter.  We know that few (none?) convadiums operate in the black.  So before we think that the CI will move the ball forward (and not just be a 5 cent TOT increase for the general fund) we need much more clarity as to the specifics.  Hopefully by the end of the month....

    B) The status quo might not be good for Cory's friends but it isn't a bad trajectory for either East Village or Barrio Logan.  There is development interest.  Resources are coming in.  BL is benefiting without rapid gentrifcation.  That all comes to a halt with the convadium because we know (see Denver, Seattle, Philly) that most of the time these edifices don't work to spur on adjacent development.  This is not Petco (and as Erie and Kogan have long argued, it isn't even clear that Petco was that much of a catalyst).

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    Barrio Logan's gentrification is already in full effect with the displacement of residents and small businesses by the small time land pirates that have been gobbling up properties like booty. A Convadium a block away will only make things worse.

    wadams92101 subscriber

    If Briggs had been at all involved in the urban communities he views as "status quo" and a dumping ground for mega-projects, he would know the answer to his own question - housing, affordable housing, arts, light industry, and academic institutions - it's in the Community Plan and its happening.  He'd also know that the contiguous Convention Center expansion is the first expansion NOT to "wall-off" the waterfront - its a "bulge" toward the waterfront side-by-side with the existing convention center, not end-to-end, like previous expansions. If he wants to protect the waterfront, as he claims, then he should fight the hotel parking garages being approved there.  Questions to Briggs: 

    1) Why as a CEQA-rights attorney would you propose a convadium that curtails the CEQA rights of the impacted residents?  

    2) Why didn't you consult the impacted community groups before you proposed plopping this monstrosity on their front doors? 

    3) Why would you focus more low wage jobs via a convadium and hotels on the economically distressed urban neighborhoods and redirect academic expansion / innovation businesses to the already privileged north of 8 suburbs?  

    4) Why propose a TOT tax increase you are suing to undo? - to prove a procedural point?

    5) Why are you doing John Moore's bidding to hijack the convention expansion / stadium to relocate it next to his property?

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @wadams92101 Love your expose of the fallacious "walling  off the waterfront" pitch.  How much of our waterfront is going to be affected?  A few percentage points at most.  There's plenty of waterfront still available for viewing, strolling, boarding boats, picnicking, etc.  How many people flock to the area right next to the convention center to take advantage of the harbor view or get some exercise now?

    Damn few is the answer.  I'm not dying for a convention center expansion, because more space probably means greater losses for the convention center, but this argument is nonsense.  

    Ben Adams
    Ben Adams

    @Bill Bradshaw @wadams92101 The  "walling off the waterfront" pitch is bs.  People who want to see the waterfront behind the convention center walk or drive to the Embarcadero Marina Park or at least walk to the bayside boardwalk which wont change. The contiguous expansion improves waterfront access with the public rooftop park.