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National City Eyeing New Sports Arena After Dropping Bid for Chargers

National City’s bid to lure the San Diego Chargers is over, but the city still has ideas of using the site near the marina to build a new sports arena that could host a professional basketball team, and provide the region with a classier concert venue.

Mayor Ron Morrison said because the site was too small to handle the type of commercial and/or residential development needed to help pay for the stadium, that part of the project needed to be located in other cities.

In the end, the Chargers stadium deal required the cooperation of other cities willing to work with National City, and that didn’t happen.

“Maybe if we had more time, started on this five years ago, we could have done it, but with the timetable we were working with, trying to get that many agencies to work on something of this size was too short,” Morrison said.

Instead of a football stadium, the city is looking at building a new arena to replace the aging San Diego Sports Arena in the Midway neighborhood.

Morrison said city officials have been talking with the Sports Arena Group and its owners, Ron and Ernie Hahn, who operate the Sports Arena, about a new facility for two years.

“The ipayOne Center (the Sports Arena’s former name) doesn’t have much of a life left, San Diego wants the property back, and with the arena’s size, it would be much easier to finance,” Morrison said.

He estimated the cost for a new arena to be $250 million, compared with the football stadium’s revised estimate of more than $800 million.

One stumbling block is lining up a pro basketball franchise to commit to the city before the arena is built.

Because San Diego already lost two teams (the Clippers and the Rockets) many doubt that the National Basketball Association will ever return here again. The area’s track record with minor league franchises is similarly poor.

Morrison says things have changed, and the demographics suggest the area would react differently if the NBA came back.

He also notes that a larger concert venue would complement what already exists at the Coors Amphitheatre, and other smaller concert arenas.

National City’s dropping out of the high stakes stadium race leaves two other county cities, Chula Vista and Oceanside, still vying to become the new home of the Chargers, whose lease allows the team to depart Qualcomm Stadium following the conclusion of the 2008 season.

Chargers stadium point man Mark Fabiani said after talks last week with Oceanside officials, the team plans to assume the costs to study the possibility of building an office village at the site to help defray the costs of a new stadium.

The Oceanside site, some 90 acres northeast of the Oceanside Boulevard exit off Interstate 5, is centered on a city-owned golf course known as Goat Hill. Instead of joining the stadium with condominiums, as was proposed for the Qualcomm Stadium site, the Oceanside concept would build Class A offices to generate new jobs and tax revenue for the city.

The unstated but presumed element to all the Chargers talks with prospective cities is their partnership through either granting or leasing the land to the team. Oceanside owns 90 acres at the site and 20 more acres is in private hands that could be acquired, Fabiani said.

“I assume that with the kind of land we’re talking about in a coastal California city and having the support of a city’s officials and voters is obviously very rare, and will get the attention of potential developers,” he said.

The land in question is zoned for a park, so using it for a stadium and offices would also entail voter approval.

Another hurdle is whether a market exists in Oceanside for Class A buildings.

“The demand may not be there, and if it’s not there then it might not work,” said Fabiani.

Down at the other end of the county, consultants from a New York stadium design firm are conducting a review of six potential sites in Chula Vista, including two on the city’s bay front.

The original site for the stadium is in the southeastern part of Chula Vista and near a planned university complex.

The Chargers are paying the $220,000 cost for the consultant’s stadium study, which is supposed to be completed next month, Fabiani said.

If and when the Chargers agree to do a deal within the county, the price for a new stadium has escalated to levels that are hard to comprehend, even for the world’s richest sports empire, the National Football League.

Fabiani said cost figures emanating from several other places planning new stadiums, including New Jersey, Dallas, San Francisco and Minneapolis, all are in excess of $800 million. In the combined Meadowlands, N.J., facility planned for the Jets and Giants, Fabiani said the total price is $1.7 billion.

The Chargers’ original 2002 estimate for a state of the art football stadium was $400 million. “It’s clear our number has doubled, if not more than doubled over the last five years,” Fabiani said.

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Shockwave Making Waves:

Indoor football isn’t for everyone, but the sport has created a decent fan base in San Diego, as is evident from the first season of the San Diego Shockwave.

The local franchise of the National Indoor Football League is drawing an average of 3,000 fans to its home games played at Cox Arena on the campus of San Diego State University.

“First of all, I’m very excited that we have a good team,” said Shockwave owner/President Jeff Sprowls. “Of course, we hoped to have an even better fan base, but one thing we’re extremely happy about is the Cox Arena.”

The team is still trying to attract more of what should be its core fan base, the SDSU students. “We’re giving them $5 off tickets, two-for-one tickets, but we’re hardly getting students.”

Those fans attending games are seeing top quality competition. The Shockwave is 6-1 through the halfway point in the season, and looking like a shoo-in for the league’s playoffs that begin in mid-July.

The home game on May 26 is a rematch of the team’s only loss to the Wyoming Cavalry, as well as Military Appreciation Day. Active duty and retired military can buy any seat in the arena for $5. Ticket prices range from $15 to $30.

Also, in honor of his dad’s upcoming birthday, Sprowls said anyone born between May 20 to 27 will be admitted to the game free.

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Futbol In San Ysidro:

Rumors about a new soccer-only stadium in San Ysidro popped up this month when reports surfaced of a couple of developers talking with Major League Soccer about a new franchise there.

The deal was contingent on building a stadium on a site currently occupied by two schools in the San Ysidro School District.

The acting superintendent of the district apparently thought so little of the rumor, he never returned a call by this reporter.

Yet, Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, said the project was merely “an unofficial idea that was informally mentioned to the school district.”

“I don’t know anyone who really thinks it can work,” Wells said.

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Hingis Returns To Acura:

Martina Hingis, the “Swiss Miss” and former No. 1 women’s tennis star, is making her seventh appearance at this year’s Acura Classic, the tournament held at the La Costa Resort & Spa, July 28 to Aug. 5.

Hingis won two other Acura tournaments, in 1997 and 1999. She joins two other former tourney champions for the upcoming event, Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova.

Ticket packages went on sale May 14, and come in a wide range of prices, from $70 for a weekday or weeknight package to a $1,400 premium package, which offers a VIP terrace box seat for every session of the tournament.

And if you’re less well-heeled but still a big fan of the sport, the tournament accepts volunteers for such jobs as ushers, ticket takers, ball girls and boys, and transportation attendants. Call Promotion Sports at (760) 438-5683 for more info.

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Let’s Play Two:

Who says doubleheader baseball games have gone the way of the dodo bird and the XFL?

On June 9, before the San Diego Padres play the Seattle Mariners, the Lake Elsinore Storm will host the San Jose Giants at Petco Park, starting at 2:30 p.m.

Yes, it’s Class A baseball, but here’s an incentive: The first 5,000 fans attending the game get Storm caps, which have one of the coolest logos in all of baseball.

Also, people with tickets to the Storm game get one admission to the Padres/M’s game that’s scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m.

In other Padres news, in April, the team dedicated its 32nd and 33rd Little Padres Parks in El Cajon.

The team launched its Little Padres Parks program in 1996 as a community improvement effort to ensure that young people have a clean and safe place to learn the sport of baseball.


Mike Allen covers sports business for the San Diego Business Journal. He can be reached at (858) 277-6359, or through e-mail at mallen@sdbj.com.

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