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Friday, Feb 3, 2023

Despite Winning, Bolts Face Tough Battle to Get Stadium Built

Win or lose on Sunday against the New England Patriots (this paper is printed Thursday), the San Diego Chargers have given the city a season to remember.

The memories are so much better because of what this team has done, rebounding from a troubling 1-3 start and resembling classic underachievers.

During the last few months, the Chargers have won eight consecutive games to post a 13-5 record and earn a berth in the Jan. 20 conference championship game against the undefeated Patriots, winners of their first 17 games this season and a team many regard as the best ever.

With the Chargers earning their first playoff win in 13 years last month against the Tennessee Titans, then posting a spectacular upset victory vs. the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, Bolt Fever has taken hold here.

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It Worked Once

By winning and getting the team to the brink of the Super Bowl, the Chargers are following the same strategy that the San Diego Padres employed when they sought public funding for a baseball only ballpark.

In 1998, the Padres won the National League pennant and played in the World Series. A month later, some 60 percent of San Diego voters approved a public-private partnership to finance the $450 million Petco Park.

The Chargers have been lobbying for a new football stadium since 2002, but are apparently no closer today than they were six years ago. The team has written off any possibility of working out a deal with the city of San Diego, which owns the 41-year-old Qualcomm Stadium.

But despite all the excitement and good will that come with fielding a successful football team, the Chargers are a long way from getting a new home.

The city is mired in a continuing financial crisis and its city attorney, Michael Aguirre, maintains open hostility to the team’s owners. Meanwhile, the slumping economy has scared off potential commercial partners that are necessary when you’re talking about an $800 million project.

A Powerful Plan

The Chargers remain optimistic, however. The team is now focused on working with the city of Chula Vista at a site now occupied by the South Bay Power Plant.

Chargers stadium point man Mark Fabiani says the team’s next step is to conduct a financial feasibility study to see whether a stadium in Chula Vista might work.

To longtime sportscaster Lee Hamilton of XTRA Sports AM 1360 radio, the best chance for the Chargers to get a state-of-the-art football stadium has come and gone.

“If the Chargers were more visionaries back in 1997, they’d have their stadium by now,” said Hamilton, who was once the radio voice of the Chargers.

Actually, the window was open in 1995, when the Chargers and the city renegotiated a contract extension through 2020 and the city promised to expand Qualcomm by 10,000 seats, to about 70,000, to ensure that it would be in the regular rotation for hosting Super Bowls.

That contract extension included a rent credit provision, better known as the “ticket guarantee,” that ensured the Chargers would always have a winning season at the gate.

It’s Time To Bolt

“They really need (a new stadium) and have to get out of that mostly tin can, but how are they going to do it without a partner?” Hamilton said.

Instead of using the city funds to expand Qualcomm in 1997, the city and team should have used that as seed money, secured additional funding from the National Football League, and worked together to erect a new stadium that probably would have cost about $400 million, Hamilton says.

Can the Chargers parlay the good will created by their winning ways into getting a new stadium?

That’s still questionable, says Hamilton. Besides lacking any private partners and the lack of political will, “There are a lot of bad feelings lingering out there,” he said. He was referring to the team owners’ refusal to renegotiate the ticket guarantee during the Chargers’ lean years, when they were either losing or breaking even from 1997 until 2004.

Because of the provision, the city had to shell out some $36 million until a new lease was negotiated in 2004.

That contract now permits the team, which is owned by the Spanos family, to solicit and receive offers from other cities, but the Chargers insist they intend to find a new stadium site in the county.

But if any lingering negativity still exists, you wouldn’t know it last week.

Bolts are blooming everywhere, and even Mayor Jerry Sanders called on his city staff to wear their blue-and-gold jerseys on Friday to support the team.

As Hamilton was often heard exhorting, “Show me your Lightning Bolt!”


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