CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- Officials from this fast-growing city
showed two Chargers executives a potential site for a new stadium
on Thursday, one of the most significant steps toward keeping the
team in the county since financially troubled neighbor San Diego
punted three months ago.
Mark Fabiani, the lead negotiator for Southern California's only
NFL team, sounded optimistic after touring the privately owned
inland site with team president Dean Spanos and city leaders,
including Mayor Stephen C. Padilla and City Councilman John McCann.
Fabiani stressed, though, that the Chargers also are evaluating
other sites in San Diego County.
"It's way too soon to say that this is the best site, but it's
clearly one of the most promising sites we've seen," Fabiani said
at a news conference outside City Hall.
The group drove past a location on San Diego Bay, but city and
Chargers officials said options there are fading fast. The site
with the most potential is about seven miles inland, near the U.S.
Olympic Training Center and a planned four-year university.
"Chula Vista offers a lot of unique opportunities," McCann
said. "Key, we have the land to be able to build the stadium. Not
many other places, not only in San Diego County but elsewhere, have
that ability to build a stadium and build a project that will be
able to help pay for that stadium."
Chula Vista, with a population of about 225,000, is halfway
between downtown San Diego and the Mexican border. McCann said his
city has "a bright financial picture."
By comparison, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said three months
ago that his city, burdened by a $1.4 billion pension deficit,
didn't have the money to help the Chargers replace aging Qualcomm
Stadium in Mission Valley. The Chargers say they need a new stadium
to remain financially competitive with the NFL's 31 other teams.
"The most important thing is to keep the Chargers in San Diego
County," McCann said. "Our first preference would be in the city
of San Diego, but obviously the Chargers are now looking outside
that area, and we feel an obligation with all the land that we
have, that we put together a project that might be able to retain
the Chargers here."
The team had proposed building a $450 million stadium as part of
a commercial development on the Qualcomm site, but dropped the plan
last year because it could not find developers to share the
estimated $800 million upfront costs. The team offered to pay for
the stadium and traffic improvements, but wanted the city to give
it 60 acres for development to recoup its costs.
Fabiani said the team is still looking at developing a piece of
land to generate revenue to help pay for a new stadium and provide
a city with increased property taxes.
He said the Chargers plan to meet soon with Otay Land Co., which
owns the Chula Vista parcel.
Otay Land Co. proposed a Chula Vista stadium two years ago, but
the Chargers were prohibited at the time from speaking with anyone
outside the city of San Diego. The Chargers also negotiated with
Otay Land when they were looking for a development partner for the
"We know there's interest," Fabiani said. "The question is,
what are the terms that they would be willing to consider and how
do those terms fit in with what the city would like to do in that
area, and what the Chargers need to do in terms of financing a
Time is important, because the Chargers will be free to
negotiate anywhere in the nation on Jan. 1. However, Fabiani said
the team will decline out-of-town inquiries if it has viable
options within San Diego County by then.
The Chargers can leave San Diego after the 2008 season if they
pay off the approximately $60 million in bonds the city issued in
1997 to expand Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers often are mentioned
as a candidate if the NFL returns to Los Angeles or Anaheim.
Team officials have met with county commissioners, and another
meeting is set for Tuesday. Two county commissioners have suggested
stadium sites, including one in northern San Diego County. The
Chargers draw from throughout Southern California.
Chula Vista and Chargers officials say they know voters don't
have the appetite for using public money for a stadium project.
McCann also said Chula Vista will not get into a bidding war.
"We're just here to allow the Chargers to look at what we have
to offer, and ultimately allow them to see if they want to be here
or not," he said. "If the deal doesn't work for the citizens of
Chula Vista, it doesn't work."