By Louis Rodolico
If the Chargers move to Los Angeles they will need to pay the National Football League a $650 million dollar relocation fee. Could the Chargers use this amount to retrofit the existing stadium in Mission Valley?
Qualcomm Stadium was built in the 1960s as a multipurpose stadium capable of hosting both 80 baseball and 12 football games each year. This design made sense for San Diego and many American cities. It worked well when baseball ended before football started, but as the baseball and football seasons began to bleed over, a multipurpose stadium became more and more cumbersome and expensive to reconfigure between sports.
The rounded square shape of the stadium was a compromise that worked better for baseball then for football, but some would say worked poorly for both. What was originally pie in the sky has morphed into a misfit that most cities have abandoned.
San Diego is the eighth largest American city and can support multiple professional teams. Given there are at best a dozen home football games a year, using downtown land makes no economic sense. Could Qualcomm be retrofitted so San Diego taxpayers will not have to foot the bill?
In theory the Chargers have $650 million to work with. Qualcomm currently has 70,500 seats. Laterally shifting the football field to one side and partially demolishing the other half would give the Chargers about 30,000 seats during the retrofit. A temporary drop in seating would free up space required for the construction activity.
In a case like this putting the project out as a competition is a proven way to get ideas that can turn what seems to be a negative into an innovative positive. There could be a shortlist of three qualified competitors. Each could be given a stipend of about $250,000 and the winning proposal would be given an additional amount — or the design contract.
A competition could create buzz around the process, and we could begin to see new ways of envisioning the site. We may see a large parking structure as part of the new half of the stadium which could free up land for other development, or for more public open space near the river.
San Diego State University has expressed interest in expanding its campus on the site and student parking at Qualcomm would have a direct connection to the SDSU campus via the existing Green Line trolley. Students could be issued a combination trolley and parking pass. SDSU could work around the dozen Sunday games.
The sky is the limit. The city and the Chargers should bring in additional partners. The city may be able to find dollars for each acre of open space that is created. SDSU or another party may be able create or share resources. The more partners that are brought in the more likely we will see a solution that keeps the Chargers here and the taxpayers solvent.
Louis Rodolico is an architect and a former candidate for the District 1 City Council seat. He has lived in San Diego since 2001.