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A new proposal for the Qualcomm Stadium site includes a $200 million stadium, a river park, student housing and more. It’s unclear whether San Diegans will get to weigh in with a public vote, but there’s no shortage of opinions about how this should play out. We asked local urban planners, architects and community members what they want to see happen to the site.
It wasn’t too long ago that the city told the Chargers they could rent the Qualcomm Stadium site for just $1 a year, and now an investment firm has stepped in and floated a proposal for a $1 billion redevelopment of the Mission Valley property.
The proposal includes a new $200 million stadium to be used mostly by a Major League Soccer team and San Diego State University’s football team, plus a 55-acre San Diego River Park, new student housing and more.
The big question now is whether the City Council will approve the plan without putting it to a public vote. Whether or not they ultimately weigh in at the polls, San Diegans definitely have opinions about how this should all play out.
We sought out some of those opinions and asked local urban planners, architects and community members what they want to see happen to the Qualcomm Stadium site. Add your thoughts by leaving a comment or emailing me. The responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.
First, reimburse the city of San Diego’s Water Utilities Department since they own half the property, and use the funds as a down payment on the city’s Pure Water recycled wastewater program. Second, create San Diego’s first true River Park and make it spectacular. Third, on the remainder of the site be bold and construct a high-density urban development that is completely car-free.
— Joe LaCava, land-use consultant, member of the Housing You Matters Coalition and past chair of the Community Planners Committee
The city should lead a community-driven process to identify the highest and best use of this land in conformance with the goals of the community plan and Climate Action Plan, including open space, parks, compact mixed-use housing for all and affordable and effective transit.
— Nicole Capretz, founder and executive director of the Climate Action Campaign
Given the Mission Valley location of Qualcomm Stadium, the nearby trolley stations and easy access to east-west and north-south freeway systems, I suggest the stadium be razed and replaced with residential development. The site is excellent for in-fill with high-density affordable housing. This is an opportunity to address the lack of affordable housing in San Diego with a project that is at least partially consistent with local climate action plans that call for housing development adjacent to transportation hubs.
— Heath Fox, executive director of the La Jolla Historical Society
I see the Qualcomm site redeveloped as a mixed-use, multi-modal transit/trolley-oriented, cultural and entertainment district within the Mission Valley community that serves residents, businesses and visitors, much like the proposal presented Monday. I would like for the redevelopment project to fully implement the magnificent San Diego River Park master plan, include multi-family housing for all income levels with a focus on middle-income families and students and feature a self-sustained joint Major League Soccer and SDSU football stadium. Soccer culture fits a global region like San Diego-Tijuana and has a bright future here. As an homage to the current stadium structure, the new stadium facility should maintain a part of the current facade and incorporate a cultural and entertainment center with a focus on sports, designed and programmed to be used year-round. Perhaps the San Diego Hall of Champions could benefit by being here as the centerpiece. Let’s get started with the foundation of planning that has occurred over the years and move forward as soon as possible.
— Mary Lydon, principal of Lydon Associates and a member of Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s Citizens Stadium Advisory Group
First off, Qualcomm Stadium is no dump. I know the stadium well. I’ve been in the press box, locker rooms and even on the field. Qualcomm Stadium is a masterfully designed landmark with many decades of useful service remaining. The modernist structure is made of solid concrete and was built to last. It opened in 1967 as a state-of-the-art sports venue and is clearly in need of upgrades, like new video screens, scoreboard, locker rooms, a sound system, restrooms, lighting and seats. That’s a long list, but it equates to less than one-third of the cost of a new stadium. The concrete shell of Qualcomm Stadium is solid and simply needs a good power-washing. The winner of a national design award, Qualcomm Stadium is one of San Diego County’s most recognized structures – alongside the Hotel Del Coronado and Balboa Park’s California Tower. The stadium should be treated with the respect it deserves and be rehabilitated rather than imploded and sent to the landfill. Small minds in our disposable culture only want the latest new thing. But Qualcomm Stadium is a classic work of functional architecture, not an outdated iPhone.
— David Marshall, architect and president of Heritage Architecture & Planning in San Diego
If I’m not mistaken, San Diego will celebrate its 250th birthday in 2019. Perfect time for a third world’s fair and Qualcomm’s an ideal site. Theme? Utopia, of course. Invite the whole world to exhibit ideas and models of socially just, environmentally sustainable city life. Demonstration projects and off-site exhibits coordinate with San Diego County’s governments and planning authorities. Emphasis on new industries and technologies. Goals? Leave behind a utopian residential and learning community; promote San Diego as a cutting-edge laboratory where we solve urban problems. Secret? Cheaper than another sports franchise.
— Mike Davis, urbanist and author
The image of a massive hulking structure that sits empty, surrounded by a wasteland of parking lots is a metaphor of Mission Valley’s past, when it was viewed as an auto-centric corridor of shopping malls, hotels and a stadium and the land uses were largely disconnected from each other. The future of the Qualcomm site must embrace a new urban design paradigm for more resilient cities, creating livable places (communities) that people want to move to, that are transit-oriented, walkable and include a high-density mix of interconnected developments. The site’s proximity to SDSU, along with the MTS trolley link to the university, makes it a logical location for SDSU-oriented activities, including low and moderately-priced housing for students, staff and new faculty, university offices and perhaps a sports venue.
— Lawrence Herzog, professor in San Diego State University’s graduate program in city planning
I think that the Mission Valley site is most useful as a major regional River Park combined with a new lower campus for SDSU. Logan Jenkins got it right in his recent U-T column. It is critical to respect the historical status of Qualcomm Stadium and leverage it to become a new asset through creative adaptive reuse. From a sustainable standpoint alone, it would be irresponsible to grind tons of perfectly good structural concrete into dust. The only real problem with the Q is geometry – it has too much seating capacity and is too wide. For the price of the stadium demo proposed by some, you could sink the field a little and add very desirable seats close to the sidelines. Remove the horrible NFL additions and open the end back up. The lower seats will work as a more intimate stadium, and you can get creative with the unneeded upper deck. And how about the obvious – build a student trailer park. It’s proven low-cost housing sited with the romance of an Italian hill town. A village of recycled, colorful, funky trailers, repurposed as dorms and relocated to the slope of the upper bleachers will beat a boring dorm building every time, both in desirability and cost. Elevators and bathrooms are already there, just add showers. Save a few seats between groups of trailers for seminars. After three decades of endless abuse, it’s not clear that San Diegans would allow another NFL team here, even if they were adult enough to pay there own way. But should that happen, the trailer housing can be removed and the Q would be NFL-ready again.
— Rob Quigley, architect and urban planner who lives in East Village
The Qualcomm site is our city’s largest most valuable available public asset. This massive blank canvas in the heart of Mission Valley presents us with the most important transformational opportunity to implement meaningful, good and Climate Action Plan-responsive urban design anywhere on the city’s horizon. Of primary importance is the public’s early involvement in the discussion about what transpires with the site. It is the city’s responsibility to lead rather than defer to a process driven by privateinterests. Through reasoned and efficient design, there is certainly room to collectively accommodate the sports needs being proposed, along with higher educational-related uses, while also supporting commercial uses and realizing the River Park master plan. Recognizing the more recent historical significance of the site, the design process for a reduced and rebuilt sports facility should consider incorporating an iconic portion of the Qualcomm facade. Not just what is done but how it is done is critical, from public engagement to sustainable, responsive urban design. The process the city follows will define our path for the future, which is why the public must be involved to be vested for its long-term success.
— Roger Lewis, president of Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, or C-3, and sits on two advisory boards to the city of San Diego
It’s difficult to justify a large investment to upgrade/renovate the existing stadium or build a new one without an NFL franchise. In that context, a new downsized stadium (for college football and soccer) and a new arena combined with an imaginative mixed-use development might be the drivers for a redevelopment effort. If the site remains a sports venue, adaptive reuse should be considered. This approach would repurpose the structure in part or as a whole to underpin new uses like housing, shopping or other commercial uses. The stadium remains structurally viable and is nationally recognized for its design (it received a National Honor Award for Design Excellence from the American Institute of Architects when it was first built.) However, if it is ultimately necessary to remove the structure, then we must consider the site’s highest and best use for Mission Valley and the people of San Diego. Many architects and visionary developers have proposed visions for a “Village at the Q” that mixes workforce housing, academic uses, commercial office, shopping and enhanced recreation opportunities for all of Mission Valley’s residents along an accessible and preserved San Diego river park. This new neighborhood would be walkable, well-connected to public transit via the existing high-capacity trolley station and enhanced connections to I-8 and I-15, and provide a great opportunity for needed growth.
— Kevin Bussett, architect with Studio E Architects in San Diego and 2017 public awareness commissioner for the American Institute of Architects San Diego Chapter
The site should be renamed “San Diego 21st Century City.” As the largest, best located and most underutilized land asset in the city, and with the Chargers exit, citizens and taxpayers are presented with a mixed-use development opportunity. Maximizing its value is in all of our fiscal and best land-use-planning interests. While I believe that specific uses – and their intensity – ought to be vetted through an open request for proposal process inviting the ideas and expertise of all interested developers, companies and educational institutions, I would counsel that the final solution should be big and dense. It could include a high technology corporate campus, an SDSU extension and a river park. The entire development package should also include a large housing component, commercial office, retail and hotel.
— Gary London, president of The London Group Realty Advisors
The cornerstone of my preferred use would be a San Diego State West campus that would include a 30-35,000 seat stadium for Aztecs football and Major League Soccer and other uses (like the facility included in the proposal unveiled today). I would, however, like to see the plan focused on SDSU a bit more and on private retail and housing projects a bit less. We have no shortage of the latter in Mission Valley and a definite shortage of ingress and egress to the area. At least if it’s college housing, the trolley can help alleviate the pressure. Also, this is an opportunity for SDSU to add a marquee program (such as a law school). This might require SDSU to become more of a partner in the development, but it is an opportunity the university may not get again. I do not see today’s “plan” as a final set of documents but, on the contrary, as a starting point. As such, it is a step in the right direction.
— Michael Gardiner, attorney and freelance food writer
I think that the city should engage in an international RFP. We call ourselves America’s Finest City, and we have the greatest opportunity to design our city striving toward this goal, so we should open our biggest urban and landscape opportunities to world-class thinking. Not to say that there aren’t very skilled, visionary designers and planners in this city, because there most certainly are, but San Diego wants to be a global city, we want to be a world destination and so we should allow ourselves the opportunity to be flooded with far-reaching ideas. We should demand a development solution that promotes the very best urban planning concepts from around the globe, and to put them into practice here in San Diego.
— Pauly De Bartolo, principal at DBRDS architecture studio
Speed and opportunity are not the enemies of good planning. I hope that we embrace the opportunity that has presented itself with the ability to bring a Major League Soccer team to San Diego in 2020. All the world loves soccer. It is time to redevelop the Qualcomm Stadium site and eliminate the excessive amount of paving with an enhanced river park and mixed-use development that integrates with a world class fútbol facility.
— Marcela Escobar-Eck, managing principal at Atlantis Group Land Use Consultants, and former Development Services director for the city of San Diego and planning director for the city of Carlsbad
The site is city-owned, centrally located and adjacent to two major freeways and the trolley. It is, frankly, the only logical location for a smaller stadium to hold concerts, SDSU football and a future MLS team.
Care needs to be taken to fully take advantage of an expanded San Diego River Park while maximizing an economic return to the city. What that means is that there are opportunities for the open spaces that will surround any land uses to really act as connectivity devices. There should be a large, central and public open space/plaza that would be the focus. The stadium and other structures should be somewhat subservient to the open space.
It must be a 24-hour place, unlike other stadiums throughout the country. I see no reason why parks, schools, an SDSU remote campus (classes and housing), offices and retail cannot co-exist. They must not only co-exist but be carefully located on the site to relate and, in fact, depend on one another. Surface parking lots should be minimal if there are any at all, and the San Diego River should not be the only green sanctuary within the site.
— Vicki Estrada, president of Estrada Land Planning, a landscape architecture and urban planning firm