NEW STADUM PLAN GETS A BODY SEARCH

Well, the new game plan seems to be fixed with a media drive to encourage voter support of a combination football stadium and convention center expansion. Despite many objections and obstacles to the location, the Chargers want to be downtown and hope to sell their plan as part of new convention center space.

The detailed proposal for the financing and logistics of acquiring the site was released to the public analysis on March 30. At posting time for this blog, the reaction of key players in this game plan has not been officially released for public consumption. However, a few influential individuals have made preliminary response that are somewhat negative or uncertain as to the viability of the Chargers’ plan.

I have my personal observations about the problems to be encountered as follows:

Room tax increase – the increase from 12 ½% to 16 ½% could discourage tourist business in San Diego, especially the larger conventions; efforts before to finance a convention center from room tax increase failed in litigation; it seems to me that making the visitor to San Diego pay for a new stadium and convention center expansion is not equitable as most of our tourists would never set foot in a stadium.

Stadium site – finding a replacement storage yard for MTS and acquiring three private parcels for the new stadium-convention center (presently called a “convadium”) could cause extensive delays; the increased traffic on the downtown rush-hour without any provision for road improvements in the plan will not be popular with the increasing residential population; parking space will certainly be limited in that area.

Convention center expansion – the new space to be part of this complex is not convenient to the central convention center area; many critics comment that the conventioneers will not walk six blocks to attend a session.

The funding plan proposed by the Chargers does not specifically show any funding from the Spanos family; the NFL has committed $300 million plus a loan of $200 million while the Chargers have committed to $3.5 million which does not mean it’s coming from the team owner; that money probably would be subscription fees from high-end corporate boxes and other perks from the fans, not the team owner.

The bottom line for the Chargers plan is to provide the team and the NFL with a fancy new stadium paid for by tourists and an investment by the NFL into a facility that will increase their revenues.  The proposed ballot measure does not provide for any construction cost overruns or any hidden costs of maintaining the stadium that no doubt the San Diego taxpayers would have to pick up the tab.

The public reaction to the Chargers plan is being reflected in quickie opinion polls and letters to the editor in the San Diego Union-Tribune and the newspaper’s editorials. Comments from business leaders and local columnists will be forthcoming.

The U-T opinion poll showed 54% support for a combined stadium and convention expansion and approximately 50% support for an increase in the hotel room tax affecting the local tourist trade. Only 42% of those polled favored a combination facility while 25% favored a stand-alone stadium.

These opinion polls often favor a proposed trendy project, but when it comes to voting for a tax the voters might feel differently at the ballot box, even a tax paid by the tourists. The Chargers’ plan is partially dependent on the ballot measure for November qualifying for only a 50% approval based on a recent circuit court decision that overcomes the standing requirement of two-thirds approval for any form of a specific-use-tax.

So what do some of the city’s movers and shakers say about this proposal?

Mayor Faulconer, who has his own redevelopment plan for Mission Valley, has been silent. Former councilwoman and mayoral candidate, Donna Frye, already has quite a bit to say, Her concerns initially are directed at environmental issues in the East Village and a provision for mitigation. She notes that the Chargers’ plan does not provide for any public hearings for the area residents to weigh in and propose enforceable mitigation for the mixed-use district.

Fry also questions whether the room tax rate increase would limit the ability to attract additional business to fill the new convention space. Several other city leaders interviewed by the San Diego Union-Tribune have similar questions about the impact on the tourist industry, hotel operations and jobs in the city. Business leader Phil Blair said the city does not need convention center space six blocks away from the main center. He would vote for an increase in the hotel tax to an acceptable fair rate but not to gouge the visitors.

Gary London, a realty expert, is in favor of the room tax increase because it taxes visitors and not taxpayers. He does not think the increase will discourage visitors since other cities have even higher rates, but he is not endorsing the room tax increase until he has a chance to study the plan. Another real estate specialist, Bob Rauch, is concerned about the rate increase because direct airfares and hotel rates are the highest in the nation while most of the proposed increases goes towards a stadium not the convention center.

The tally of yeas and nays in the U-T interviews was eight against and two for the room tax increase. I am sure there will be many more responses and commentaries on the Chargers’ plan for a downtown combination convention center and stadium by the time the drive is over for 70,000 signatures to put it on the ballot for November.

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