By AIA San Diego
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in UrbDeZine, a national ‘web-zine’ about regional architecture, design and culture.
At first glance, the recent East Village Convadium proposal has many appealing qualities: it is an attractive, modern complex with many interesting features. However, the San Diego Chargers‘ owners hope to capitalize on the recent trend in California and use the ballot initiative process to “expedite” California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, and for good reason. The flash and hype of the ballot initiative covers many significant, unanswered questions about potential cost overruns and environmental impacts that may cost San Diego taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Like many San Diegans, the American Institute of Architects San Diego would like to see a NFL franchise remain in San Diego. However, our 900-member organization is dedicated to advancing good urban planning and design in San Diego, and we have many concerns about the current Convadium proposal. We also feel it is critical to remind San Diegans there are better alternatives.
Other organizations have weighed in on the negative impacts of the proposed Transient Occupancy Tax increase; so we will focus on cost and environmental impacts that create significant financial risks for the taxpayers. Mayor Kevin Faulconer has developed a 15‐page list of questions about the proposal. We agree there are many important questions to be answered, but wish to emphasize a few of particular concern to us.
Project Cost. The proposed $1.8 billion budget was created long before the current plans were presented to the public and should be updated, in considerably more detail, before taxpayers accept responsibility for their share of development costs. The recently published Notice of Intent obligates the Chargers owners to cover project costs, except for those associated with connecting the stadium and convention center. For example, retractable roofs can easily cost $100 million or more. Is this considered part of the Chargers stadium cost or is it a Convention Center (taxpayer) cost? Who pays for the remaining $50,000,000 debt on Qualcomm Stadium?
It Doesn’t Fit. Recently built NFL stadiums use approximately 33 acres of land. The land accommodates not only the structure itself, but parking, access for the many buses, trucks, and other vehicles that service football games, and emerging anti‐terrorism standards. The Convadium proposal is 16 acres, half the typical area of other stadiums, and includes a convention center. How does that work? The additional land required for a fully functioning facility will increase the Convadium’s already huge footprint, and the additional land will be expensive to acquire. How are these factors being addressed?
Traffic and Transit Impacts. The proposal also offers little information on how it will mitigate environmental impacts to parking, Interstate 5, local streets, and the trolley system, none of which are designed to accommodate the 65,000 to 75,000 Chargers fans descending on the East Village on game day. The current proposal provides only 1,300 parking spaces, replacing only the existing parking at Petco Tailgate Park. While the Petco and MTDB parking structures provide some relief, adjacent neighborhoods such as the Sherman Heights and Barrio Logan, already heavily impacted, will bear the brunt of the parking and tailgating that go with football games. Additionally, football games require drop‐off areas and parking for approximately 75 buses; has that been considered?
Interstate 5 will become a parking lot on game days. We can all visualize the traffic jams on Friar’s Road; imagine that traffic dumped onto our downtown streets. Improvements to freeway off ramps, intersections, and streets like Imperial Avenue should also be addressed — who will pay for them?
The trolley system in East Village is not designed to accommodate football games. The Qualcomm Stadium trolley stops, and others nearby, have large platforms designed to move large volumes of people quickly. The tracks are also elevated to separate queuing trolleys from surface auto traffic. In contrast, East Village stops are not designed for those volumes and the trolleys run in the streets. The East Village trolley stops will be overwhelmed and trolley cars queuing for fans will block the cars trying to enter or leave the area. The costs to fix these problems can easily run into the tens of millions of dollars. Who will pay for it?
MTS Bus Yard Relocation and Environmental Clean‐up. Are the financial and time impacts of relocating the Bus Yard and cleaning up the site fully accounted for? One reason the Mayor’s Stadium Advisory Committee recommended the Mission Valley site was that even with CEQA Fasttract it may take two to three years to clean the downtown site, work that would likely not start until the bus yard was relocated. These costs and the associated delays should be fully reflected in the budget.
Convention Center. Most people familiar with the operation and management of the convention center feel that a single, contiguous facility is the best option. While a separate Convention Center Annex may be a necessary result, we question how much planning and design input has been received and incorporated from convention center operators. If a TOT increase is necessary, shouldn’t it be dedicated to the convention center expansion rather than putting money in the pockets of NFL billionaires?
An Opportunity Lost. A critical, missing piece of the discussion is “what are we giving up if the Convadium is built in East Village?” The East Village is undergoing a renaissance and offers an opportunity to create tens of thousands of clean, high paying jobs for San Diegans. San Diego is the only large American city without a major university in its downtown and there is growing interest to correct that oversight. Imagine an East Village that combines education, research, high-paying jobs, and housing in a vibrant mixed community. It is an opportunity that will pay economic and social benefits to San Diego for decades to come. CEQA requires the evaluation of alternatives to make sure the public interest is best served. This should certainly be one of those alternatives.
A Better Alternative. Last year, the Mayor’s Stadium Advisory Committee spent untold hours evaluating the best opportunity for the Chargers Stadium. It verified what most San Diegans already know, the Qualcomm site is the best place for it. It can be completed more quickly and with less risk to the taxpayers than the East Village project. There has been much recent discussion about using the Qualcomm site for an SDSU expansion. It is a huge site, big enough for a stadium, and a riverfront park, and a SDSU expansion. The NFL stepped up with $300 million, the City and County stepped up with $350 million, and the Chargers owners were to cover the remaining $350 million. It seemed like a fair and equitable way to keep the Chargers in San Diego, but the Chargers owners chose to ignore it.
Imagine a future with a vibrant downtown that generates jobs and prosperity for San Diegans, and a redeveloped Qualcomm site that includes a permanent home for the Chargers, a beautiful riverfront park, and an opportunity for SDSU to expand. This seems like a win, win, win, win situation for all San Diegans, if the Chargers owners would only listen. Instead, they have embarked on a flashy and expensive campaign to persuade San Diegans that the East Village is a better location, but the proposal carries huge risk for San Diego taxpayers. They want us to believe this is the best deal for us, we say not so fast.
The San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects is a 900-member planning and design organization founded in 1927. The chapter is dedicated to advancing public awareness of significant issues affecting the built environment in San Diego.
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