Even if the Chargers Stay, Tailgating as San Diego Knows it Is Dead

Chargers Stadium

Even if the Chargers Stay, Tailgating as San Diego Knows it Is Dead

Even if the Chargers stay in town, there's no imaginable scenario for a new facility that preserves Qualcomm Stadium's unique tailgating infrastructure.

This post has been updated.

At the big public forum March 2 at Qualcomm Stadium, the mayor’s stadium task force heard from some fired-up folks.

Nobody more than the guy who stepped up to the mic and said, without introducing himself, that he knew where the best place to build a stadium was:

“Right here, where we stand. Right now. Do it in the parking lot. Do it anywhere in this general area. The 619, the 858, it’s all great. But right here would be ideal,” he said.

Why? Let the man continue.

Stadium Nuts and Bolts logo“We love to tailgate, don’t take that away. Tailgating is where it’s at. You talk about spending time with your friends; spending time with your family; enjoying what this city has to offer; all these lovely people. You took away the beach. Don’t take our tailgate,” he said.

I couldn’t figure out what he meant about the beach. As far as I can tell, it’s still there.

Then I realized he was talking about drinking alcohol. It was Mayor Kevin Faulconer, then a city councilman, who pushed for and got a ban on drinking at the beach.

To this guy, the city letting the Chargers leave was equivalent to the city prohibiting booze on the beach.

A man from Santee, Ken Zuorro, who has been coming to games for 32 years, said he’d seen a lot of bad Chargers teams take the field.

“The only thing that kept me coming back was the eight or 10 times a year I would be able to tailgate with my friends out here in the parking lot,” he said. A scream of “That’s right!” and raucous cheers followed.

“You take that away from us you’re going to see a drastic decline in season ticket holders,” he said.

Well, sorry to say it sir, but they’re taking it away.

Even if the Chargers stay in town, there’s no imaginable scenario for a new facility that preserves Qualcomm Stadium’s unique tailgating infrastructure. If the city and the real estate poohbahs manage to build a stadium downtown, it would also consume Tailgate Park, which is the Padres’ current modest offering for fan tailgating.

See the rendering here of the proposed Convadium JMI Realty is pushing.

mixed-aerial
Image courtesy of JMI Realty

 

That’s Tailgate Park, holding up shiny new buildings.

A lot of folks at the public forum could see the threat from downtown and so they adamantly preferred Mission Valley.

But Mission Valley only works as a new stadium site with thousands of new homes and commercial development around them. The estimates are as high as 7,000 new homes. A decade ago, when the Chargers were working on a different plan, they wanted to build more than 3,000 condos.

To build a stadium, the city and whatever developer gets the job, will try to squeeze every dollar of value out of every square foot of land in that area — and it still won’t be enough.

Parking lots where a man can do some good drinking just aren’t that valuable.

The leaders who have emerged among fans seem to get that.

“We are all under the understanding that tailgating as we know it will no longer exist,” said Dan McLellan, the increasingly visible spokesperson for Save Our Bolts, an advocacy group trying to keep the team in town.

Jason Riggs, chairman of the San Diego Stadium Coalition, which absorbed the old Fans, Taxpayers and Business Alliance, took it a step further. He said that fan nostalgia for tailgating had the potential to go awry. Fans pushing for a Mission Valley stadium will get a double whammy if that ends up being the proposal from the mayor’s task force.

One whammy, because they will actually lose tailgating at the Mission Valley site. The other whammy would come because he’s convinced a Mission Valley proposal will be so unacceptable to the Chargers, that they will leave for Carson.

“If the group recommends Mission Valley, it will be a fatal move in this process,” he said.

It is likely that the task force will recommend Mission Valley. The cost of building downtown, the hotel industry’s reluctance and the trouble with moving the MTS bus yards seems to have persuaded the task force and mayor.

But JMI, which came up with the rendering above, is pushing hard for the downtown vision. And it’s put together a sharp new website with a guide to the idea.

It won over the U-T’s Kevin Acee. The downtown idea, he wrote, offered a new type of tailgating: the on-top-of-a-building type. He quoted architect Jonathan Knight:

Also, the green roof of the convention space and ballroom adjacent the stadium could serve a purpose dear to the heart of many Chargers fans.

“It could be tailgating in the sky,” Knight said. “You can do all sorts of fun stuff up there.”

What you probably could not do on that roof is drink with your buddies while barbecuing brats on your own little setup. Check that, you probably could get a drink from the stadium vendors, but it’s going to cost a bit more.

Tailgating is dead.

Ace Parking manages the giant lot at Qualcomm Stadium. Keith Jones, the principal of Ace, told me that he is agnostic on where the stadium should go. It just should go somewhere, though, he said. He reminded me that something like 250 RVs go to each Chargers game.

They’re going to be done doing that too.

Jones is the outgoing chairman of the Downtown Partnership and has been studying downtowns around the country.

“Other NFL cities have developed stadiums and projects that include a new style and urban style of tailgating. That will be the case if that happens downtown or in a new place in Mission Valley,” he said.

Sounds fun. But like the tailgating in the sky vision, it’s not tailgating.

And that’s not necessarily bad. Drinking for many hours might be fun, but it turns off other fans and has been a source of worry for the NFL.

Funneling fans into more controlled — and pricey — environments is clearly part of the program.

The Mission Valley versus downtown decision is like a primary election. Whichever option wins this race will get the opportunity to face the big election contest many months from now when stadium boosters clash with worried taxpayers, lawyers and residents.

But this primary decision won’t have anything to do with tailgating.

Tailgating already lost.

Update: The Citizen’s Stadium Advisory Group announced Wednesday it had selected the Mission Valley site “for a new multi-use stadium for a series of reasons, including cost savings, developable land, and transportation options.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Ken Zuorro’s name.

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