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‘Entertainers’ vs. ‘Small Town Undertakers’: The Convadium Debate Rages on

The great convadium debate is heated.

The sparks really started flying when, in an op-ed, San Diego architect Rob Quigley called the Chargers “entertainers, not urban planners” whose plan for a downtown stadium and convention center annex would cause an “irreversible and unprecedented planning disaster [1].”

Chargers adviser Fred Maas fired back with an op-ed [2] of his own. He called Quigley a “small town undertaker” who doesn’t understand basic economics and who has been absent from conversations about other big downtown projects except for the Central Library, which Quigley designed.

Comments quickly started piling up beneath Maas’ piece. I rounded up some of the best of them. The comments have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

A commenter who uses the handle jdv333 said he thinks extra money from an increased hotel-room tax should go to something other than a convadium:

“If any increase in the hotel-room tax occurs, that should go to our No. 1 tourist attraction Balboa Park, which is in need of $350-500 million in repairs [3]. Not to mention our crumbling streets and sewers – America’s Finest City has among America’s worst streets. Don’t think the visitors don’t notice.”

Bob Stein took issue with Maas’ framing of people who oppose the convadium as having a small-town mentality:

“Using Fred’s criteria, the people of New York City have a small town mentality because rather than let the Jets build a new stadium in mid-town Manhattan adjacent to its convention center, they told the Jets to find a way to rebuild in the suburbs where they already play. The Jets found a way and built a new privately financed stadium in partnership with the Giants. The part of Manhattan the NFL hoped to spoil with a stadium is called Hudson Yards.  It was a train yard. Now it’s a booming commercial and residential neighborhood widely hailed as a new economic engine for New York.”

Wadams92101 agreed with another op-ed that argues stadiums are not the measures of a city’s greatness [4]:

“Nothing is more of a ‘small town’ mentality than thinking a stadium makes you ‘big city.’ Notably, none of the true big cities in the U.S. have downtown NFL stadiums, nor even have stadiums in their city limits. Not New York City (both Jets and Giants play in East Rutherford New Jersey), not San Francisco (Santa Clara), not Boston (Foxborough) and not Dallas (Arlington). Additionally, L.A.’s new stadium is privately funded and Chicago’s Soldier Field is 100 years old. Seems it’s the small towns and dying rust belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis (lost their team anyway) who think they need a taxpayer-funded stadium to be ‘big city.’ That’s the real small town mentality. Meanwhile, the economies and quality of life of true big cities become bigger and better because they spend their hotel-room tax on things that actually benefit their economies.” 
Richard del Rio explained the kind of proposal from the Chargers he would stand behind:

“I support a capped amount of public money, most of it in the form of city land, to get a privately financed stadium done in Mission Valley. How does that make me, and many other Chargers fans, small town undertakers?”
Developer David Malmuth, a vocal member of a coalition opposing the convadium [5], brought up the plan he and other architects, designers and urban planners have drawn up for the same plot of land in the East Village. He said their plan is economically sound and supports the innovation economy:

“Read the Downtown San Diego Partnership’s report about why downtown is the Torrey Pines Mesa of the 21st century [6]. Just like the mesa 30 years ago, we have the potential to grow a vibrant jobs cluster downtown that enables the 36,000 residents to walk or bike to work, as opposed to the current situation where 70 percent commute out of downtown. But this will only occur when the public and private sectors join forces and make this kind of job creation a top priority, just as was the case on the mesa. Those of us who contributed to the focus plan stand ready to work with the community and the city to make it happen. Our sincere hope is that this effort will start on Nov. 9, and the Chargers will embrace the realization that Mission Valley is a hell of good option.”

Quigley jumped back into the conversation, too.

“Wow. What a needlessly nasty and personal editorial. My piece must have hit a nerve. Unlike Mr. Maas, I have lived and worked downtown continuously for 40 years. I raised my family here. All of my time co-authoring the Little Italy Focus Plan, co-founding the Little Italy Residents Group, serving on the downtown master plan committee, raising money for the Central Library, helping with the East Village South Focus Plan and fighting the Spanos Wall proposal was and is pro bono. Mr. Maas by contrast is a highly paid Spanos lobbyist.”

San Diego artist John Purlia took aim at the Chargers’ constant refrain that says San Diegans, unless they stay in a hotel, won’t pay a dime for the convadium [7]. He also had something to say about the way the Chargers’ plan was drafted.

“When municipalities across the country tax visitors to build stadiums and arenas and we as San Diegans choose to participate in that model, it does become a tax on everyone. At that point, do we decide as a nation that there should simply be a federal tax on everyone that is earmarked to build sports facilities? So, yes, a tax on visitors is a tax on San Diegans. Fred needs to quit arguing otherwise. Additionally, a measure that aspires to benefit two parties, but comes to the ballot being drafted and supported by only one of those parties, is completely flawed and doomed.”

Andy Kopp said he thinks the NFL should fund a new stadium in San Diego: 

“$400-plus million. That will be the per-team revenue share distributed by the NFL for 2016. If the NFL values direct access to the San Diego market, the league can easily peel off $10 million a year for four years from each of its 32 teams and pay cash for a stadium as a league investment in this market. What you’re asking for in terms of public dollars, Mr. Maas, is grotesque, even if you think it clever to continue pretending the hotel-room tax offers a siloed revenue stream. It doesn’t. This grift never ends and San Diegans shouldn’t feel bad about being one of the rare cities to say enough is enough. We’ve more important things to build.”

Got something to add to the conversation? Leave a comment or shoot me an email [8].