After the Carson embarrassment, when the NFL refused the Chargers’ bid to relocate to the Los Angeles suburb, many of us thought the team’s owner Dean Spanos would return to town a little more appreciative of his fans and what he has here — and willing to pay his fair share.

Instead, Spanos has fabricated a false and cynical choice for San Diegans: We must choose between the future of football and the future of downtown. No matter that Mission Valley is the ideal location and the team’s former general manager has said the NFL will never leave the lucrative San Diego market.

Commentary - in-story logoOur city has an unfortunate history of getting taken in these situations.  The ticket guarantee, the infamous Chargers “early shopping clause” and the “Super Bowl improvements” that we are still paying for are just some examples. Do you know that you and I are being charged $500,000 just to print his initiative for the ballot?!

But let’s say you are convinced that this time it will be different. And that the Spanos lawyers who put Measure C together without any public input whatsoever somehow had our best interests in mind.

And let’s say you think gifting $1 billion to one of the most profitable businesses in the country is a good use of our tax dollars. And that you aren’t concerned that we taxpayers are ultimately on the hook for the costs.

And you are absolutely OK allowing the Chargers to abandon the stadium 10 years before it is paid off.

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

Then is Measure C a good idea?

No! Because the downside is about much more than money. It is about the future of downtown.

Let’s just say our football team would get failing grades in urban design and city-making. But what do you expect?  They are entertainers, not urban planners.

A stadium located downtown would be an irreversible and unprecedented planning disaster. Urban planners and architects, whose job it is to envision the consequences of things like this, are unusually united in their opposition to Measure C. Even the American Institute of Architects, representing more than 900 professionals and cautious with political issues, has taken a forceful public position against the downtown stadium location. The Downtown Community Planning Council, a democratically elected group of residents, land owners and business owners, has just released a scathing indictment of the Spanos Plan on a 17-1 vote.

NFL stadiums, unlike baseball parks, simply are not physically or functionally compatible with a city’s urban core. Even the city of Phoenix refused to put one next to its baseball park downtown.  So did San Francisco. And no city has ever proposed locating a NFL stadium directly adjacent to its central library.

When I bought a small lot in Little Italy 35 years ago to build an office and our home, people thought it was crazy.  But it wasn’t hard to look beyond the boarded-up storefronts and cardboard shanty encampments and see Little Italy as it is today. Similarly, at the recent planning workshops for East Village South, it was not difficult for people to foresee a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented community leveraging its unique urban vibe and concentration of academic institutions into an employment-rich innovation district.

In fact, unlike Little Italy all those years ago, East Village is already well on its way. This is a geographically pivotal part of downtown and can connect Sherman Heights, Barrio Logan and Balboa Park with the Gaslamp and Ballpark districts.

Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley

That is, unless someone builds a massive 12-block square monolithic wall up to four and a half blocks long and up to 400 feet tall — robbing East Village South of both its potential and livability.

You don’t need to be an urban planner to understand that, above all, good urban planning is about building connections not walls.

Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley

You may think the stadium renderings on TV are beautiful, or you may think that it looks like a pointy foreign object suddenly fell out of the sky on an unsuspecting community. Either way, the architecture (which will have massive multistory digital advertising screens covering the facades of an often empty building) is irrelevant. The issues are urban, not how pretty the building might be.

Take the central 14th Street promenade, for instance. This will be a coveted green street and the prime north/south connector that will link City College with Chicano Park. It is the backbone and heart of our neighborhood.

Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley

The stadium will sever it completely!  Architectural lipstick won’t help because the stadium part of the convadium is just too big. It will even loom out over the sidewalks all the way to the street. Imagine an opaque wall this size blocking India Street in Little Italy or Prospect Street in La Jolla or the main street of any other community. The mammoth shadow alone will stretch almost two blocks in the winter.

Including the parking lot used for tailgating, Qualcomm covers 66 city blocks. The Spanos convadium site is 12 blocks. It just does not fit. Even his architect acknowledges the problem.

Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley

The views down the city streets to the bay and bridge give East Village a strong character and are legally protected by the current Downtown Master Plan, the neighborhood’s long-term growth outline. Walking along 13th Street, 14th Street and 15th Street in the afternoon with the buildings in shadow and the Coronado Bridge alive in the afternoon light is one of the qualities most cherished in the community. The “Welcome to San Diego” view of the library dome from I-5 traveling north took 35 years of civic effort to create.

Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley

Despite the Master Plan and because of the physical requirements of an NFL stadium, the Spanos stadium will completely block all five of the primary view corridors in East Village, even in its lowest possible configuration. Permanently. No amount of well-meaning, post-election negotiating by Rep. Scott Peters, the mayor or anyone else can change that.

Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley

The recent East Village South Focus plan for this area, created by urban planners, architects, residents and citizens from all over downtown, maintains all of the view corridors, celebrates 14th Street and still allows for a series of major park spaces and an impressive 4 million square feet of development. It builds on the current momentum, our unique concentration of academic institutions and the blossoming tech IDEA district. Seventy-five percent of downtown residents commute to the suburbs to work. Skilled millennials are currently leaving us for San Francisco because they miss the urban vibe in our current suburban office campuses. The East Village plan will change that.

It is not difficult to see why Sherman Heights and Barrio Logan are so opposed. The monolithic development – Measure C says that fully 85 percent of the ground level walls can be blank! – will push hundreds of homeless into their neighborhoods, isolate them from downtown with the Great Wall and flood their residential streets with tens of thousands of cars looking for an affordable parking space.  Arrogantly, Measure C does not include one new parking space, or funds to bring mass transit infrastructure up to even the standards of Qualcomm Stadium.

Lastly, and ironically, the Spanos plan doesn’t even work for his own fans.

No parking, no access, no tailgating. All in a neighborhood that does not want them.

Why would any fan want to leave Mission Valley, especially if a river park and academic buildings are added?

Measure C is a model for wealth transfer, not wealth generation. More importantly, it is an unprecedented repudiation of our entire planning process.

The 119-page initiative creates a massive unregulated design envelope in the center of a community undergoing a vibrant but fragile renaissance.

Image courtesy of Rob Quigley
Image courtesy of Rob Quigley

The basic building blocks of good urban design are ignored, universal municipal codes are void, public and civic input is forever “advisory only” and the fruits of 40 years of redevelopment are discarded. Measure C dictates that only Spanos makes decisions that impact his neighbors’ quality of life. There are 3,26l new homes permitted or under construction within two blocks of the stadium. Many will be as close as 65 feet to the stadium.

Only Spanos decides how loud the amplified music is (up to a hearing-damaging level of 105 decibels), how large and bright the exterior digital advertising signs are and how much of his street frontage is a blank wall. The documents, institutions and codes that revitalized downtown are void and binding public input is never allowed.

What kind of a city would let its football team plan its largest, most valuable remaining land? A yes vote means the language in Measure C will become law that can never be amended or modified. “Trust us,” Spanos says.

The ticket guarantee and other unfortunate negotiations of the past were financial mistakes. However painfully, the taxpayers will eventually pay them off. The convadium proposal is different.

This is a permanent and irreversible urban design mistake.

It can’t be corrected by throwing public money at it.

Rob Quigley is an award-winning architect whose projects include downtown’s Central Library and The New Children’s Museum.

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

    Written by Opinion

    Op-eds and Letters to the Editor on the issues that matter in San Diego. Have something to say? Submit a commentary.

    Alonzo Griffin Jr
    Alonzo Griffin Jr

    @Reid Carr  I believe your points to valid, I myself envision a Downtown stadium to be a vibrant structure that will be the pinnacle of the San Diego CBD, with all the increased development around the stadium, and neighbouring communities will be a hub for entertainment. When I look at the majority of individuals that are opposed to C, the vast majority are opposed to it based on the measure of Spano's character rather than how the initiative will directly affect them. I currently live in a city that has a stadium located just on the outskirts of the CBD in Brisbane Australia (it works great), with it's public transport being less adequate than San Diego's current public transport, I fail to see how this would have an adverse impact to the CBD traffic. I am in 100% agreeance with your views. Photo's that illustrate stadium hanging over the side streets, and in near proximity to local residences.

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    This is a compelling argument for city dwellers and fans of urban life.  It points to what’s possible in an East Village without a football stadium, which sounds like it would quickly surpass Little Italy as San Diego’s premier urban (live/work/play) neighborhood.

    The organic nature of the 14th Street promenade is particularly exciting. 

    Plus, the turn of the greenway at “El Nudillo” into Barrio Logan reopens one of downtown’s oldest neighborhoods to tourists and other strollers unaware it exists.  This will likely spark a new restaurant row, perhaps successful enough to return Barrio Logan to its local significance.

    Like the new High Line in Manhattan, which flows for blocks through some areas that were also once industrial, the promenade is an attraction that would enthrall tourists and residents alike.  It would quickly become a new San Diego must see and will be alive everyday with street life, unlike a football stadium and its surroundings lying dark and dormant most days of the year. 

    Also like Manhattan’s High Line, the promenade will ignite adjacent residential and commercial development benefitting a broad swath of San Diegans.  For instance, this Wall Street Journal story reports “The [High Line] has also helped transform real-estate values for apartment owners in the surrounding blocks since [it] opened… Resale values of properties already nearby rose a cumulative 10 percentage points faster than areas only a few blocks farther away.”

    They call it the “halo effect” in New York. 

    The only halo San Diegans will see from a new downtown stadium is the one over the Spanos family bank account.  Speaking of which, this recent Forbes Magazine report covered by the UT shows that just the prospect of a new stadium has increased the value of the Chargers by $700 million. 

    I doubt many San Diegans saw a 36% jump in their net worth this past year.  The figure reveals what Spanos has to gain, and through his theft of municipal tax revenue what you have to lose. 

    It’s criminal.

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    Traffic is a football mess in Mission Valley,  now the proposal is to create a bigger mess downtown on the 5, 163 & 94.  Are we nuts?  By the way,  the Mission Valley mess does not go away it continues as an Aztec football mess.  No on C No on D

    Reid Carr
    Reid Carr subscribermember

    The stadium isn't a big grey square, but that block is a superlative mechanism to prove your point. I would argue that your diagram of a competing plan for that footprint at the end of your op-ed would also create a visual block (though probably higher; though on the plus a bit more depth) when looking at it from the East, as well. That being said, you're concerned about it overshadowing your personal project, the library (which hit nearly as many roadblocks to build as did the stadium). I would also imagine it might have a negative impact on local architects' business if we reduce the opportunity to build 12 buildings on that footprint as opposed to the 1. We need to think bigger than that and expect that our downtown will continue to expand.

    No major project is easy to push through and they all come at great expense. However, for the sake of a healthy downtown, if we train the 70,000 fans to visit our downtown via a Chargers game as they perpetually are willing to do in Mission Valley now, it makes the downtown, in entirety, a lot more attractive of a destination outside of game days. Something like can make downtown less intimidating to folks from the North and from the East who are seemingly terrified of downtown on any given Wednesday at 2.

    And, yes, going to a major event always has traffic issues. However, getting in and out of downtown is far easier than getting in and out of Mission Valley during a game. Comic Con, Padres games, All-Star game... I been at and around them all and traffic is a relative breeze to even the worst attended Chargers games. What's more, the bars and restaurants are vibrant (compared to a parking lot in Mission Valley) before and after. Sunday/Monday night parking can be relatively abundant much of the time today. 

    Entertainment districts are more common than you suggest (~30,000 people are going to a play on Broadway in NYC on any given day) and we have to start getting more comfortable with tightening up our spaces and doing more with our downtown. 

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    I appreciate the visuals.  What a giant bomb to drop downtown and with many of the "requirements" just based on a handshake or left entirely up to Spanos to decide.  And it's still not enough space for this application.

    We can agree to disagree with supporters on the value of the Chargers franchise to San Diego.  Their view is that anything goes as long as we keep the Chargers.  I see it more as an enormous tick, wrongly placed downtown and stuffing itself with millions of dollar bills.  You could put almost anything there and it would be better for downtown and for city finances than this stadium.

    FrontPorch subscriber

    Thank you, Mr. Quigley.  The voices of those looking out for the health and livability of our neighborhoods should be led by our mayor and city council members.  But here in San Diego, they so often take the side of development interests working against our communities.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    Masterful commentary Mr. Quigley! Truthful and hard-hitting.

    Thank you for all your great efforts to prevent this travesty to downtown.

    Dryw Keltz
    Dryw Keltz subscriber

    Interesting. I like the idea of superimposing Qualcomm over the East Village, but including the enormous parking lot is somewhat misleading as this is exactly what is not going to be happening. If you cropped the picture down to just the stadium and set up the end zones facing directly east and west on the proposed site you get a better idea of how tight of a squeeze it will be. I think the only area they have announced that they are going to use for sure is the MTS bus yard and the Padres tailgate parking lot just to the west of that. If you look at a satellite map, this is basically the area between Imperial and K stretching from Park to 16th. That is not a huge expanse of land. It's obvious that additional land will need to be purchased either to the north or south of this site to fit the stadium. To the south you have some homeless facilities, apartments and the Greyhound station, to the north it looks like something pretty large is being built on the northeast corner of 14th and K and there is at least one private business on the block of K between 14th and 15th. But...if the stadium does expand north, it will basically butt-up right against the two massive Pinnacle apartment towers-one of which is already completed on the corner of J and 15th. So, it seems likely that additional property to the south will have to be purchased by the city to make this happen. So, along with paying to move MTS, the city will also have to pay to relocate the homeless services and perhaps a Greyhound station. If not, the stadium could be built on the proposed land, but it does seem as if the seats would be comically in you would have to be strapped to a vertical wall in order to watch a game. If you have doubts, just drive down to the proposed site and imagine trying to fit Qualcomm stadium on that spot. This will also give you a good idea of how imposing of a structure it will be. It could potentially be squeezed in there, but the author here is correct that it will be an awkward fit. 

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    We now know that Mayor Faulconer is supporting the convadium.  That should come as no surprise because the mayor has shown his disregard for the neighborhoods most affected by it.  Recall a few years ago the ballot proposition that sought to overturn a community plan that was agreed to by various stakeholders in Barrio Logan, which was intended to help separate residential properties from heavy industry.  The Mayor led the charge against that compromise.  Now he supports a plan that would, as Mr. Quigley has mentioned, cut off Barrio Logan from the rest of downtown and create traffic havoc on game days.  I guess there is something about that neighborhood the mayor doesn't like.  I wonder what it could be?

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    The photo of Qualcomm to Scale looks like the city got hit by a giant meteor.

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    100% in agreement with the author. Keep in mind that Spanos has zero background in urban planning and/or architecture. He is a professional freeloader on the public purse. 

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    If you build it, we will lose.


    Field of Screams

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Not to worry guys, the place is going to generate untold new business out of thin air (reminiscent of Susan Golding’s 2500 new hotel rooms which are still on order a decade after Petco Park rose from the ashes).

    According to the lead editorial in the U-T today, a piece which, strangely, has a skeptical tone, the team “….argues that it’s facility would be used 300 times per year….”  Of course, they have to be talking about the non-football portion of the convadium, because the team has, according to mayor Faulconer who endorsed the scheme a couple days ago, committed to “…give the city all revenue from non-NFL events….”

    In other words, the team has zero incentive to promote any non-football events in the football portion of the building, which will, no doubt, require creation of a new city bureaucracy to attempt to drum up some extra business, much of which would undoubtedly come from Petco Park non-baseball events that are doing reasonably well at present.

    wadams92101 subscriber

    Great op-ed! When you combine the following, its easy to see how Measure C could expand into one of the costliest mistakes made by any city in the U.S., having a net negative impact of several billion dollars:

    1) Cost of bond & interest to pay for Convadium (covered by hotel tax increase plus general fund for any shortfalls) - $3.4 billion;

    2) Dedication of city's most valuable public land to a zero ROI use; 

    3) Loss of large conventions (like Comicon) from lack of contiguous convention expansion;

    4) Loss of tourism to less expensive destinations from one of the highest hotel taxes in the country

    5) Loss of sales tax revenue and private sector revenue from loss of tourism and conventions; 

    6) Loss of property tax revenue use of site for municipal "convadium" instead of highrise developement ($265 million present value)

    7) Loss of payroll tax, sales tax, and loss of high paying jobs from converting a burgeoning high-tech innovation district to a "sports and entertainment" district. 

    8) Cost of ancillary infrastructure improvements, e.g. increased capacity freeway ramps, road improvements, and trolley facilities; 

    9) Almost certain cost overruns (City is responsible for Convention annex portion) due earthquake faults, drainage, litigation, and delay. 

    Tony Harvell
    Tony Harvell subscriber

    Excellent points made by Mr. Quigley.   I have always opposed the subsidy to the Spanos sports corporation on principle, but the damage that this "convadium" would do to the fabric of our downtown is more than enough reason to vote against C.