Once the Chargers bolted for Los Angeles, the SDCCU Stadium site, the largest parking lot west of the Mississippi, should have presented San Diego leaders with a clean slate for a grand visionary project we could rally around. Instead, voters face two choices of development by ballot box initiatives, and the Mission Valley site has become yet another example of how difficult it is to get projects done in San Diego.
Our preferred option is Measure G and SDSU West, as there is no more powerful economic development engine than higher education to develop our future workforce and grow sustainable companies. But this is not a simple endorsement, and if not for SoccerCity, San Diego State University may well have squandered this opportunity.
Making It Ugly
Unfortunately, the lack of unity has led us to dueling media campaigns that seem more designed to ensure mutual destruction. As is always the case with development by ballot box initiatives, we are not putting our best foot forward.
Rewind to winter 2016 when the Chargers embarked on a “last-ditch” ballot initiative to build a downtown stadium and convention center expansion. Many of us thought the Chargers were bluffing. In any case, the prudent measure for San Diego State University would have been to prepare a Plan B not only for Aztec football but also to take advantage of this rare opportunity should the Chargers move. And when the Chargers did move, what did we hear from then-SDSU President Elliot Hirshman? Crickets.
The much more proactive SoccerCity officials met with Mayor Kevin Faulconer about two dozen times in private before the Soccer City plan was announced. But Faulconer misjudged his ability to find enough common ground to bring SoccerCity and SDSU together, forgoing a more inclusive RFP process. SoccerCity officials say SDSU bailed after reaching terms of an agreement. Friends of SDSU say there was a bait and switch on what land would be available for SDSU development.
Only in the past year, prompted by SoccerCity’s urgency, has the SDSU West plan crystallized and taken shape. And it is appealing — an “entrepreneurial ecosystem” that includes a technology park with private companies and research and industry labs. Yes, there will be a stadium suitable for football and soccer, a river park and other housing and offices.
Trust the Process?
The case for SDSU West asks us to trust the process, which will include CEQA reviews and numerous public approvals. Of course, trusting the public process hasn’t worked so well for San Diegans with the convention center expansion, reducing homelessness, street repairs and many other areas. Plus taxpayers will ultimately pay for this stadium. Skepticism is warranted.
The case for SoccerCity is based primarily on the appeal for a world-class soccer facility built without taxpayer money at a savings of about $350 million vs. any stadium built by or for SDSU. SoccerCity also would create a river park and an entertainment district and mixed-use development that would generate about $4 million in annual tax revenue.
Ironically, SoccerCity does not have the rights to an MLS team, nor has the MLS made a public commitment to San Diego. There is a “trust us” aspect about having a soccer team and a quicker path to development. Skepticism is warranted.
Local construction giant Douglas Barnhart has described San Diego as having too many stakeholders leading from behind, waiting until something has been presented and then shooting it down. And this is the case here. Unfortunately, voters are forced to sort through a series of negative, disingenuous commercials.
SoccerCity ads attack SDSU West as being a ploy for greedy developers. Ironically, when asked to estimate a range for its ROI on private developments on the 99-year lease, SoccerCity project manager Nick Stone declined to answer. Making money is not a crime, just be transparent. The same was asked of Friends of SDSU; they expect developers to yield a typical 15 to 18 percent on anything being built for the project, similar to constructing a building on campus.
Likewise, opponents of SoccerCity label its developer, FS Investors, as out of towners, despite that FS Investors founder Mike Stone is entrenched in La Jolla and serves on numerous local boards.
Yes, SoccerCity would provide more tax revenue. If you are a big soccer fan, vote for SoccerCity and Measure E. But the regional economic benefits of a major university expansion and tech center and a stadium are more compelling. Our preference is SDSU West and Measure G.