June 29 2016 12:49 AM

Former councilman pitches a “no-tax” stadium idea

Carl DeMaio lords over the stadium debate, with Toronto's hotel-embedded former SkyDome in mind.
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb

Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present and future.

—Susan Sontag


Carl DeMaio has found his perfect perch.

His afternoon AM radio gig on KOGO allows the former San Diego City Councilmember and wannabe mayor an ample stage from which to banter on all sorts of subjects, mostly in a similar vein to the Republican rants of another ex-San Diego politician, Roger Hedgecock.

But last Thursday, DeMaio jumped headfirst into the local stadium debate with a proposal by a little-known Newport Beach realty firm to build a multi-use stadium in one of three locations with only private money. You read that correctly: a plan that involves no tax increases nor taxpayer subsidies.

You might be wondering if the radio station is built above a marijuana dispensary, given the full gamut of reactions to the idea. But reactions to DeMaio and anything he proposes typically result in strong opinions one way or the other, so what is it exactly he’s proposing?

First off, his reasoning for entering the stadium sweepstakes fray seems clear: He gets to bash the current administration of Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “What I’m really upset about is that the mayor and city councilmembers have dragged out the clock…and haven’t looked at creative ideas,” DeMaio preached on his show last week. “And as a result, it almost feels like we have a gun to our head.”

Rumors from the political peanut gallery suggest that DeMaio may be angling for another mayoral run in 2020 when Faulconer’s second term expires—DeMaio lost bitterly to Bob Filner in 2012—so what better way to seize the headlines than by trying to keep the San Diego Chargers in town and football fans happy?

The idea he’s pitching, however, is not a new one and will likely gain little or no traction with the NFL, a money-hungry organization known to prefer its stadiums publicly financed. Rather than a so-called “convadium”—a convention center expansion coupled with a stadium, as proposed by the Chargers in a hotel-tax-hike initiative the team hopes to qualify for the November ballot—DeMaio is pimping a combo stadium/hotel/retail hybrid reminiscent of the complex that Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays call home.

Formerly named the SkyDome, for the mechanized retractable roof said to be the first of its kind, the stadium is now known as the Rogers Centre, named for a communications company that purchased it in 2005. The SkyDome in 1998 had filed for bankruptcy protection after repeated cost overruns and dwindling luxury suite renewal sales. Late plans to add a hotel within the stadium, with 70 of 348 rooms overlooking the field, also drove up the cost of the complex, which was heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

The idea being sold by DeMaio has actually been pitched for some time by the folks at Newport Beach-based Tieback Realty, which describes itself as “a real-estate finance, investment, advisory and development organization that includes [a] crowdfunding channel.”

Richard McCay, a co-founder of the firm, spoke briefly with Spin Cycle about his proposal before having to hang up for a lunch meeting. “I’ve been thinking about this since 2007,” McCay said. “Carl, at the end of the day, is only the first guy to give me a microphone, and that’s what he is. He’s not involved in this other than that. And he understands that it makes a lot of sense if people will listen.”

In short, McCay believes anywhere from $1.4 billion to $2 billion can be raised in private financing to build and maintain a multi-use sports and entertainment facility that would be home to the Chargers and events yearround. The idea has variables based on location—Mission Valley and two sites downtown, including a portion of the 10 th Avenue Terminal, which the Port District has declared off-limits for such a development—but would in essence rely on funding sources from a boutique hotel and retail development ($500 million), naming rights ($150 million), the NFL ($300 million), the Chargers ($150 million), the Port District ($100 million), local universities and potentially Major League Soccer ($125 million), and a Mission Valley development partner ($125-$200 million).

In addition, football enthusiasts would be able to purchase “Fan-Lord” ownership shares in the new stadium to the tune of a lowball estimate of $300 million, but potentially $525 million to $1.3 billion. DeMaio said these shares would be an improvement over the current personal seat licenses, or PSLs, sold at other stadiums because those only guarantee the right to purchase a season ticket. With a stadium-ownership share “they’re getting a property right, they’re a shareholder in the event-management corporation for the facility, they probably get access to parking discounts as well as other events.”

On DeMaio’s show, McCay also noted, “Don’t discount the bragging rights. I am the landlord of my team, you know? Look, the Chargers aren’t going to be harmed economically. They’re going to have a tighter bond with their fans. This is going to garner worldwide press, and it’s going to build the brand of the team, the NFL and the city. This is a win, win, win.”

Back in 2007, McCay was involved in a proposal to build a stadium on land next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Spin Cycle wanted to talk to him about that plan, which never went beyond one brief media mention, but an extended conversation McCay promised never materialized.

Matt Heller, head of business development for The Jerde Partnership, a Los Angeles urban-planning firm that designed Horton Plaza, is listed in the 41-page proposal distributed by DeMaio last week as a project participant, but he said his firm’s involvement is only “peripheral” at this point.

“It’s very, very preliminary. Tieback came to us to serve as the lead planner, but there’s been no pen to page at this point,” Heller said. “It’s an idea and concept that’s distinctive and unique, but we get a lot of very interesting requests.”


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