Judging from the mood of the majority of the Citizens Task Force on Chargers Issues after the Chargers made their pitch for a new stadium last Thursday night, it would be a fairly safe bet that this group will recommend that the City Council tear down Qualcomm Stadium and erect a new one in its place.
True, the task force said over and over that the presentation last week was just the beginning of the process, but they sure did seem mesmerized by the pretty pictures flashing across the screen, and they fell all over themselves glad-handing Mark Steele, the urban planner and city insider who designed the neighborhood proposed to occupy the area adjacent to the new stadium.
The love-fest was a dramatic shift from what had been a growing level of contempt for the arrogance the Chargers have been showing toward the task force, whose members had been increasingly frustrated with the team's continued stonewalling. In fact, at the outset of Thursday's meeting, Ron Saathoff, chair of the task force's Finance Committee, said the task force would not be able to complete one of its fundamental jobs, which is to determine whether or not Qualcomm Stadium is an economically viable place for the Chargers to do business, because the Chargers refused to turn over basic financial information.
Most of the skepticism seemed to drift away as the Chargers presented their proposal, which is to split the cost of a $400 million stadium with the city. Under the idea, the city would sell 66 acres at Qualcomm for an estimated $99 million to a developer, who would create a “village” complete with office buildings, shops and thousands of homes and use the new stadium as an anchor. The theory is that the tax revenue generated by the new development, coupled with the proceeds from the sale of the land, would more than pay back the bond needed to finance the city's portion of the stadium cost.
There are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the proposal: Who's on the hook if the stadium construction goes over budget? How would substantial traffic impacts be mitigated in an already-congested area? What hidden costs are there? And the big one: Are the economic assumptions embedded in the proposal even valid?
There's certainly no harm in exploring the idea, and the task force is smart enough, collectively, to ask the right questions. But what's less certain is how willing the Chargers will be to answer them honestly. One can understand the Chargers being apprehensive, even a bit confrontational, considering the lawsuits that lurk around every corner, but the team would do well to be more forthcoming.
However, let's take first things first. Before getting bogged down in the details of the new-stadium proposal, the city needs to find out if it's going to be on top in the these talks or on the bottom. We need to determine whether or not the Chargers are even under the dire financial hardship required for them to open negotiations on a new lease. All we know is that the Chargers seem to think they are.
The Chargers are required to tell the world by Jan. 29 whether or not that hardship exists or wait until next year, but the City Council, when it meets on Jan. 28, will probably vote to move that deadline to the end of April, giving the Chargers more time to sharpen their strategy.
The task force wants the deadline extended, too, so they can craft their recommendations in a less pressure-packed environment. But one could reasonably argue that it would be better for the task force to scrutinize the Chargers proposal with all the cards out on the table. If it becomes clear that the Chargers are in the driver's seat in terms of triggering new negotiations, then the task force's thoughts on the development proposal are that much more critical. Conversely, an inability for the Chargers to trigger could give the task force greater flexibility in its recommendations.
In any case, the city's legal team has said repeatedly that it's ready for all eventualities. For the sake of the citizenry, we hope it's better prepared than it was the last time the city negotiated with the Chargers.