Chula Vista Looking to Chargers
Monday, May 08, 2006 | Less than a week after the San Diego City Council voted to allow the Chargers to negotiate with other teams in the county, officials in Chula Vista have moved quickly to begin measuring the viability of a new professional football stadium in the urban enclave.
The Chula Vista City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the creation of a committee to study the feasibility of a stadium project, and City Councilman John McCann has begun recruiting prominent community members from around Chula Vista and the region to serve on the committee.
At the same time, McCann – and perhaps Mayor Steve Padilla – will meet this week with officials from HomeFed Corp., a residential developer that owns 3,000 acres of undeveloped land in the Otay Ranch area and has expressed interest in teaming with the Chargers in a mixed-use stadium development.
Chula Vista officials hope to put an advisory initiative before voters in November to gauge the public’s interest in housing the football team, whose three-and-a-half year push to build a new stadium at the existing Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley stalled after it was unable to find a development partner.
“I think it should be pretty straight forward,” McCann said of the ballot language. “Are you interested in pursuing the Chargers?”
The movement is nascent and will be complicated by election-year politics. Both McCann and Padilla face primary elections in June. Padilla is being cautious with the proposal, as he was recently stung by reports of personal financial issues that could make his election campaign tougher.
He didn’t return a phone call seeking comment for this story, but his office has shown interest in testing the public’s appetite for a professional football team.
And Chula Vista, which has a part-time City Council, will also have to shake the perception that only big cities can move with the likes of professional sports franchises. Smaller cities also have smaller tax bases and oftentimes lack the infrastructure capabilities of larger cities, though the city of San Diego’s financial struggles and previous contracts with the Chargers have proved that big cities don’t always get it right, either.
McCann said the committee he envisions, if approved by his colleagues Tuesday, will study the economic feasibility of a stadium package.
“We are going to go out to the community, put together a citizens group and see if the community is interested. And, if they are, hopefully put a package together and see if the Chargers are interested,” McCann said.
The Chargers began their push for a new stadium in 2002 and put forth a stadium package in 2003 that called on city of San Diego taxpayers to cover about half of a $400 million stadium. The proposal was modified a number of times throughout the process.
The last proposal put forth by the Chargers called for the city to give it 60 acres of land on the Mission Valley site. On the land, the team and a development partner were to build 6,000 condos and other development, using the proceeds to finance a $450 million stadium. The team also said it would pay for related infrastructure improvements.
It was expected the team would put the proposal before voters in November. However, the proposal died last January, as the team was unable to find a development partner. Team officials blamed the city’s financial problems and the behavior of City Attorney Mike Aguirre as key reasons for its failure, but also admitted some homebuilders were put off by the idea of adding so many condos to Mission Valley at a time when questions surround the local real estate market.
With the proposal dead and the city mired in a financial crisis, the San Diego City Council approved last week Mayor Jerry Sanders’ proposal to allow the team to talk with other cities in the county, hoping to give the region a head-start in securing the team before it can negotiate with other cities on Jan. 1.
If the team doesn’t finance the construction of a $450 million stadium themselves and don’t receive a sizable taxpayer subsidy, it will find a homebuilding partner to make any stadium development work. The development partner would likely put up cash or land to help finance the stadium and share in the development risks.
One homebuilder, HomeFed Corp. of Carlsbad, already talked with the Chargers when the team was searching for partners on the Mission Valley proposal. Company president Paul Borden said last week that the company was still interested in the Chargers from a business standpoint.
Borden wouldn’t disclose details of any possible stadium proposal. However, company filings show that it owns 3,000 acres of land in the Otay Ranch area of Chula Vista.
HomeFed owns individual parcels in Otay Ranch of 494 acres, 320 acres and 268 acres under different zoning entitlements, such as retail, commercial, and research and limited industrial. The company’s land is currently zoned to accommodate 2,880 dwelling units, according to company documents.
The Corky McMillin Cos., another residential developer, was also rumored to be interested, but spokesman Greg Block said that was not the case.
“We are not involved. We are not interested. … We have land down there and some holdings, and we’re going to keep them. We develop communities and that’s what we will do,” Block said.
It’s unclear if, or to what extent, the city of Chula Vista would be willing to subsidize a piece of the stadium development or pay for the accompanying infrastructure improvements.
McCann said the committee, if formed, would study those very issues – and quickly.
“We would like to get it done before they can start talking to other cities,” he said.
Among the people his office has contacted or are planning to contact to serve on the committee are: county Supervisor Greg Cox; state Sen. Denise Ducheny; former U.S. Attorney Gregory Vega; union and environmental officials; developer Doug Wilson; port Commissioner Bill Hall; and a representative the Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce.
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