No, the City Did Not Nix the 2005 Chargers Plan Over Traffic

Chargers Stadium

No, the City Did Not Nix the 2005 Chargers Plan Over Traffic

A brief history of the Chargers' last real proposal with the city of San Diego. They had a big idea about selling condos but they never got an investment partner — and they might be really lucky they didn't.

The mayor’s stadium task force spokesman Tony Manolatos is mad at me for being mean to the mayor and the whole process.

I know, I’m super torn up about it.

I’m not sure I’m their worst problem, though. Have I been as mean as U-T sports columnist Nick Canepa?

Stadium Nuts and Bolts logoLast week, Canepa wrote that the mayor’s task force is not “up to the task” after its chairman announced it would stop focusing on downtown as a potential site for a new stadium. It’s now all about Mission Valley.

Canepa did not like the decision, flat out writing that “it’s not going to work.”

It may not, but he’s wrong about the history.

Here’s what he wrote:

Do we not recall why City Hall nixed the Chargers’ idea back in 2005? There was great fear the proposed project would just create more congestion in an already congested area.

Are we forgetting the Chargers just wanted the property for their development? That they were paying for everything else, including cost overruns and roads and infrastructure, even a bridge leading into the site?

Actually, Nick, it doesn’t look like you recall.

First, the city did not nix anything. And it definitely didn’t in 2005.

The Chargers did offer a proposal a decade ago to build the stadium on the site of the current Qualcomm Stadium. The city owns that vast parking lot.

The Chargers wanted it. They wanted to build condos on it — 6,000 of them, in fact. And a hotel. And other things. The team’s leaders thought they would make so much money on those condos that they could easily pay for the stadium themselves.

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There was only one catch. The Chargers needed someone who knew how to build condos and who had the money to start the whole thing.

Here was the Chargers’ Mark Fabiani, as quoted by one of Canepa’s colleagues at the Union-Tribune in 2006:

Fabiani said the team has spoken with about 100 representatives from businesses interested in becoming a development partner. He said that only about 10 of them have the financial heft to shoulder a project that may require about $800 million in upfront investment.

I was a reporter on this back then too. Fabiani told me that there were three groups of potential partners. The first group just decided not to do it. The second group simply didn’t have that much cash.

And the others?

“There was a third group that said, ‘This project is interesting but you’re assuming that the housing market is going to remain really strong and we don’t necessarily share your view of the housing market in San Diego.”

Wise folks, they were.

In 2006, you might remember, there were a lot of people still telling us that San Diego real estate was a great investment. But others were growing skeptical.

And they were right. Housing plummeted. Within two more years, the whole country faced a severe economic collapse — all started by people who bet that the housing market would keep on keepin’ on.

Let’s be clear, the Chargers did not have many friends at City Hall. They faced a hostile and tactless city attorney in Mike Aguirre.

And when the team could not secure a development partner, Fabiani blamed Aguirre.

Remember, the city then was a drumbeat of scandal and embarrassing stories of financial mismanagement. The mayor had resigned and the candidates to replace him had said they did not support giving the Chargers that deal. It was hard for anyone to imagine prioritizing the team’s search for a new home. There was no tangible threat from other cities.

But contrary to what Canepa wrote, the deal was still on the table in early 2006 and the Chargers were gearing up to gather signatures to put it on the ballot that year.

Had the team found a development partner, it would have been something real. At that point, the city might have indeed nixed the plan.

It never got the chance. Perhaps lucky for the Chargers and its nonexistent partner. Had they built a stadium first and needed to pay it off with the money from the sale of so many condos in the nadir of a terrible recession, things might have gotten ugly.

Why does this matter? This is basically going to be the same plan we’ll see this year. Except now the Chargers want a much, much nicer stadium. It could cost more than $1 billion. In 2005, they were saying it would cost $450 million.

We’re all waiting to see how the mayor’s team will close that gap in the plan it releases.

But the claim that the city nixed a plan in 2005 because of traffic is just not how it went down.

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