San Diego and SDSU leaders turn shovels to mark opening of Mission Valley stadium site construction. Image via Twitter

People in parked cars honked horns during speeches as San Diego State University broke ground Monday morning and the school officially took ownership of the Mission Valley stadium site.

“What happens on the ground right here, beneath our feet will elevate San Diego State and elevate San Diego in ways that we can’t possibly imagine,” said Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “San Diegans should take great satisfaction in knowing that the future of this land is finally set as a place where education, athletics, and the community will thrive side by side for generations to come.”

SDSU President Adela de la Torre said: “SDSU Mission Valley … addresses the realities of the past few months and the need for new streams of revenue to support higher education opportunities for all.”

The event took place four days after closing escrow on the 132-acre property that currently houses SDCCU Stadium.

The project has been in the works legally since San Diego voters approved Measure G in November 2018, with centerpiece Aztec Stadium scheduled for completion in Fall 2022.

“We are building a stadium for Aztec football, international and professional soccer, concerts and any other event you can think of,” said SDSU Athletic Director John David Wicker. “A world-class 35,000-capacity stadium designed to offer the amenities fans expect today. This is the most important sports and entertainment venue in San Diego since Petco Park opened and will be 365 days a year use for campus and our community.”

The San Diego City Council voted unanimously to approve a sale agreement for the city-owned Mission Valley stadium property to SDSU for $86.2 million in late May, bringing more than a year of negotiations nearly to a close.

Council President Pro Tempore Barbara Bry was an early supporter, and released a statement expressing her feelings about the project.

“I believe that investing in the education of future generations is the most impactful thing we can do. But coming up with plans for an alternative public use for this land in a short period of time seemed like it would take a miracle. Then a miracle actually happened,” she wrote.

“Dedicated citizens wrote and qualified an initiative. The university moved at hyper-speed to formalize plans for a great campus and a magnificent river park. San Diegans contributed millions of dollars to support the campaign for Measure G. And after Measure G was approved by voters, supporters kept the pressure on elected officials to do the right thing and consummate the sale,” Bry said.

The university’s plan for the SDSU Mission Valley campus includes an “innovation district” to support SDSU’s education, research, entrepreneurial, technology and athletics programs, as well as 86 acres of parks, recreation and open space, about 4,600 market-rate and affordable residences, 400 hotel rooms, 95,000 square feet of retail space and enhanced use of the MTS Green Line Stadium trolley station and accommodation of the planned Purple Line.

SDSU Mission Valley is set to expand the university’s economic impact by an estimated $3 billion per year.

The campus is designed to increase SDSU’s enrollment by 15,000 students.

As a result of the pandemic, and the stadium site being an active construction site, the event was not open to the public.

Instead, the number of in-person speakers and invited guests was restricted to maintain compliance with the county’s public health guidelines. Prior to the groundbreaking event, SDSU organizers consulted closely with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency to ensure said guidelines were observed.

In the best interest of individual safety, health, and well-being, SDSU invited the campus and San Diego communities to virtually participate in the milestone occasion via livestream.

Tom McCarron, SDSU’s senior vice president for SDSU Mission Valley, called it “truly a momentous day in the history of our university and the city of San Diego.”

SDSU Mission Valley is projected to expand the university’s economic impact in the region by $3 billion annually, the school said.

California State University Board of Trustees Member Jack McGrory thanked Faulconer and all those involved in the success of the project. McGrory also gave mention to the rich history of the stadium site and the bright future.

“Today is a celebration of higher education and community,” McGrory said. “For 55 years we have enjoyed this fabulous place, this ocean of asphalt and concrete that is visible from outer space. Today we take the first steps in transforming this place into a center of knowledge and engagement.”

Upon breaking ground, one of the first major construction projects to undergo development, in addition to the River Park, will be the highly anticipated Aztec Stadium, which is scheduled for completion in Fall 2022.

“We are building a stadium for Aztec football, international and professional soccer, concerts, and any other event you can think of,” said SDSU Athletic Director John David Wicker. “A world class 35,000-capacity stadium designed to offer the amenities fans expect today. This is the most important sports and entertainment venue in San Diego since Petco Park opened and will be 365 days a year use for campus and our community.”

SDSU Mission Valley will allow the university to gradually increase enrollment by up to 15,000 students.

Associated Students President Christian Holt said: “I am excited that this project will provide more opportunities for students to attend SDSU, achieve their goals of higher education, have access to affordable and convenient housing opportunities, and contribute to a more environmentally sustainable community.”

Additional remarks were made both in-person or via video by CSU board member Adam Day; San Diego City Council members Georgette Gómez and Barbara Bry; interim vice president for research Hala Madanat; Aztec Stadium donor, Dianne Bashor; chair of The Campanile Foundation, Jerry Sanders; and alumni and longtime SDSU supporter, Nikki Clay.

The groundbreaking ceremony concluded with the participants taking part in a ceremonial first “shovel in the ground.”

Construction by Clark Construction begins with grading and infrastructure work, the stadium, and the River Park. Clark is expected to employ an estimated 3,500 to 5,550 workers through both the stadium and site development.

Newly launched Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter channels will provide SDSU Mission Valley updates, information, and features.

Updated at 4:23 p.m. Aug. 17, 2020

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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