It's Not Too Late to Launch a Legitimate Anti-Stadium Campaign - Voice of San Diego

Opinion

It's Not Too Late to Launch a Legitimate Anti-Stadium Campaign

Dean Spanos and the hoteliers are offering us a bigger choice than celebrating civic pride or attracting more conventioneers. They’re offering the opportunity to judge the future of downtown. The question is who will mount a campaign opposing their ideas, and what this group will say.

It appears the fireworks have begun. Yet, there is still no active, broad-based opposition to a taxpayer-funded stadium for the Chargers even though polls suggest large numbers of citizens are opposed to it, perhaps enough to defeat it.

Commentary - in-story logoSo far we have two sides posing equally poor choices. Chargers owner Dean Spanos says we can shoot ourselves in the left foot by buying him a new downtown stadium. The hoteliers say we can shoot ourselves in the right foot by buying them an expansion of their convention center.

Both ideas are based on the self-interest of business owners whose profits depend on public subsidy and who want to make sure downtown stays a place designed for their customers, namely tourists, conventioneers and day-tripping suburbanites.

This type of downtown, the kind marketed as a “regional entertainment and sports district,” is the antithesis of great corporate and residential urban centers like, say, San Francisco or New York. In cities like those, tourism is the result and not the cause of bustling urbanization. The tourism industry serves visitors. It doesn’t create them (at taxpayer expense).

The idea of devoting our downtown to the tourist trade was conceived in the 1980s when the kinds of corporations and people who inhabit urban centers didn’t exist in San Diego.

Now, with the success of Little Italy and the emergence of the East Village, our ever-increasing number of innovation-industry corporations, downtown’s traditional location at the hub of regional commuter transport and the attraction of urban life to younger people whose talent and energy fuels the innovation economy, it’s time we rethink what is meant by downtown.

Perhaps they don’t realize it, but Spanos and the hoteliers are offering us a bigger choice than celebrating civic pride or attracting more conventioneers. They’re offering the opportunity to judge the future of downtown. That’s why I wonder who will mount a campaign opposing their ideas, and what this group will say.

Luckily, there are people with an interest in the fight. Some groups even have the wealth and communications expertise to undertake a campaign that can galvanize voters to vote no.

There are those interested in the continued expansion of the East Village, which is ripe for a movement given the stifling effect a stadium or convention hall will have on the neighborhood. There is the innovation sector, whose workforce depends on attracting people looking for an urban lifestyle and whose contribution to regional wealth and office space considerably outperforms tourism. And there are those who know urbanization helps solve problems like mass transit and clean air.

Perhaps it will help them get going if they see a chance for success, which for me lies in the difference between their motive and message.

Few people realize that advertisers don’t advertise their motives.They advertise what reflects the interests of their audience. So while the work of the opposition is making way for a more urban downtown, the urban message is not persuasive enough to defeat stadium and convention plans. That’s because the idea of urban life doesn’t resonate with enough San Diegans.

What will resonate with a large enough audience, however, is reflecting the deep feelings of distrust and resentment voters have for Spanos, the hoteliers and their enablers. Most San Diegans, even Chargers fans, perceive these folks as dishonest actors trading on the municipal treasury.

The opposition message lies in promoting this theme in some shape or form.

It’s not too late to mount a credible broad-based campaign. Confirmation comes from testing its salience with voters.

Bob Stein is a retired New York advertising executive and teaches rhetoric at San Diego State University. Stein’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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