As the final days of 2006 wound down, San Diego Chargers fans were in a merry mood, basking in the glory of a storybook season and looking at certain postseason play plus a shot at the Super Bowl.
But tempering the good vibes is the reality that the Chargers’ days in San Diego may be numbered.
Now that 2007 has started, the team can field offers from any city outside San Diego County in the market for a National Football League team.
As the Dec. 31 deadline approached, the Chargers said they would continue working with two South Bay cities that the team has been talking to since last summer.
“We will listen to what they have to say, explain our situation, tell them that we are still working hard to find a solution in San Diego County, and politely decline further discussions for the time being,” said Mark Fabiani, the team’s special counsel.
That the Chargers are no longer trying to get a deal done in San Diego underscores the negative atmosphere between the team and city, which owns and operates the team’s home field at Qualcomm Stadium.
For three years, the team tried to structure a proposal that would produce a state-of-the-art stadium to replace 40-year-old Qualcomm. The team insists it needs a new arena to generate increased revenues to better compete with the other 31 teams in the NFL.
But in January 2006, the Chargers threw in the towel.
Fabiani cited the turmoil of working with a city in a financial crisis, opposition from the city attorney and a failure to attract a development partner as reasons for giving up.
In response to Fabiani’s statement that he was adamantly opposed to the Chargers’ project, San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre said, “That’s the same as asking when did you stop beating your wife?”
As for the Chargers pursuing an alternate site beyond San Diego, he said, “Great, we wish them the best of luck.”
But San Diego’s loss could be Chula Vista’s or National City’s gain. Both are proposing sites and holding talks with team officials.
At year-end, the talks hadn’t yielded results. However, Fabiani struck a hopeful tone.
“Our best case scenario would be to continue working with Chula Vista and National City to identify a site that makes sense for us and for taxpayers, and by the middle of the year moving forward with a proposal.”
Not Considering Alternatives Yet
And what if neither site turns out to be viable, and falls through, he was asked.
“If it looks like things won’t work out, then we’ll have to talk about other alternatives,” he said.
Those alternatives may include other cities inside the county, he said.
As to the pros and cons of the two sites, they each have them, said Fabiani, and it’s still too early to eliminate one.
On the possibility of resurrecting the team’s original plan, which included a new stadium, 6,000 condominiums, a hotel, and office and retail development, Fabiani said it’s highly unlikely.
Even under the best of circumstances, this would be a difficult project, he said.
“At this point, we just don’t see how it’s possible to accomplish such an ambitious project given the city’s current financial situation,” he said.
Not only is the city dealing with critical financial problems, opposition by Aguirre increases the risk level beyond what any large development partner would be willing to take on, he said.
Dan Shea, a local restaurateur and co-founder of the Fans, Taxpayers and Business Alliance, a business group advocating for a new stadium, agrees that relations have degenerated too far. After four years of seeking a deal, the franchise has been thwarted, and needs to look at other sites, he said.
Both South Bay cities have viable sites, Shea said.
Shea has spoken with Chargers President Dean Spanos and says Spanos is sincere about wanting to stay in San Diego. But he’s a businessman, too.
“(Spanos) has always told me that he wants (to stay), but he’s not going to stay at all costs,” Shea said.
Shea noted that four other cities that have lost NFL teams in recent years obtained replacement franchises, but at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The key to getting an agreement is political leadership and a spirit of cooperation, Shea said. That clearly has been lacking in San Diego, and caused the team to look outside the city.
There were some positive developments on the issue in recent months. In October, the county and city launched a joint powers authority, similar to the JPA that constructed the current stadium.
The Chargers are a regional asset and deserve some help from government agencies in their quest for a new stadium, said elected officials such as Mayor Jerry Sanders and county Supervisors Ron Roberts and Dianne Jacob.
But even this rather small step seemed doomed from the outset.
Soon after the agreement was announced, questions about which entity would provide legal advice arose, with Aguirre insisting his office should handle the duties, while county officials saying the county counsel’s office would provide the services.
Although uncertainty prevailed about the stadium, the Chargers players performed spectacularly during the season, rolling to a league best 12-2 record as of late December, and a favorite to make the Super Bowl in February.
Still, Chargers fans are wondering: Is this the team’s last hurrah?