A football stadium in East Village? Architect/developer Graham Downes calls it “an idiotic idea.”
“It will be the death of the area,” he said. “You have this behemoth structure that's very vertical just sitting there in the middle of town, just sapping all the energy out of the place.”
Downes, a vanguard in East Village's redevelopment, has long been interested in the area's industrial past and the potential re-use of its warehouses. He heads Blokhaus, a development company that, among other projects, overhauled the Wonder Bread Factory, the historic building on 14th Street, between Imperial Avenue and K Street, that's become the reference point for a stadium site but was once part of Downes' vision for East Village: a hip-yet-gritty live/work area—akin to Vancouver's Yaletown—that connects seamlessly to Downtown and Barrio Logan, each neighborhood flowing into the next without losing its individual character.
“Somebody should do some visuals so they can see the impact of these two huge stadiums next to each other,” he said. “You can't walk around them, you can't walk through them. It's like a walled city, like you plunked a castle in the middle. It's somebody's monument.”
An East Village stadium is far from a done deal, but discussions about its feasibility are moving forward faster than any other proposal put forward in the seven years since the Chargers first expressed interest in moving, arguing in 2002 that continued use of Qualcomm Stadium compromised the team's “economic viability.”
On Oct. 30, online news site voiceofsandiego.org reported that Mayor Jerry Sanders had met with Chargers President Dean Spanos; Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani confirmed for a voice reporter that East Village was discussed. And, on Wednesday, Nov. 18, the board of directors for the Centre City Development Corp., the agency that oversees Downtown redevelopment, will vote on spending $160,000 on a consultant to study the stadium's feasibility.
Darren Pudgil, Sanders' spokesperson, told voice that the mayor's preference was for the Chargers to stay in Mission Valley. It's Downes' preference, too.
“We need urban development Downtown,” he said. “A ballpark is not an urban development; it's suburban development. It needs to be out in the sticks where there's lots of parking, where cars can queue in line for ages without impacting the area.”
So far, only about 10 acres of land in East Village has been identified for a stadium—miniscule compared to the 592 square acres the City of Industry is making available for its proposed stadium. Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation exempting the L.A. area stadium from environmental review, further putting the pressure on San Diego County to site a new stadium or risk losing the Chargers to L.A.
On Monday, Downes dissolved his interest in the Wonder Bread building—he had been the controlling leaseholder. He did it for multiple reasons, he said, not just the stadium. But, he added, “lots of people have land in that area who are trying to make things happen. No one's going to come down [to East Village] because they're going to say, ‘Well, if I set up there, print up business cards and start to get cozy and the Chargers come in, I'm toast.'”
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