San Diego group says it can build MLS stadium and housing at Qualcomm site with no public money

Apparently this is just the way it goes now: Your NFL team leaves town, and immediately thereafter somebody proposes building an MLS stadium as a booby prize. Next up, San Diego:

$1B soccer redevelopment initiative announced for ‘Q’ site

Mmm, not quite, San Diego Union-Tribune. First of all, the redevelopment was just proposed, not announced — there will have to be a ballot initiative, and then either a city council vote or a public referendum to make the thing happen. And only about $200 million of the money would be for the soccer stadium, which would be shared by an MLS expansion franchise (everybody thinks they’re getting an MLS expansion franchise, and everybody is probably right) and San Diego State University’s football team; the rest would go for a mixed-use development on the rest of the property currently taken up by the Chargers‘ now-former stadium, and is only estimated at $1 billion.

Still, the plan sounds promising, at least the way its boosters describe it: The developers, a group called FS Investors that has helped build everything from real estate projects to small-batch popcorn, say they would pay for all construction, buy the land at fair market value, and even set aside room for a new NFL stadium if San Diego ever got the chance to bring in a team to replace the Chargers. There’s no word about any public money involved, which could mean they’re not asking for any, or it could mean they’re not mentioning that part yet. (Involving a public university, for one, seems like a potential route to requesting state funds.)

This plan certainly seems worth exploring, though — and if it can work without taxpayer cash, it would be a sign that the problem with past Qualcomm Stadium redevelopment plans wasn’t the redevelopment part, it was the expensive-ass football stadium that was being required to go at the center of it. Soccer stadiums may not be any better as economic anchors than football stadiums, but they are a hell of a lot cheaper, which has its advantages.

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23 comments on “San Diego group says it can build MLS stadium and housing at Qualcomm site with no public money

  1. The SDSU Aztecs play/played their home games at Qualcomm, so that could also be part of why they’re included in this.

      1. Exactly, Matt. It would suit the NCAA team much better than an NFL sized stadium would.

      2. A 30K-seat stadium would not be to SDSU football’s advantage. They averaged over 37,000 per game last season, including three crowds of 41K+. I suspect their attendance will go up once the Chargers move and the Aztecs are the only game in town. Why should they take a hit for an expansion team in a soccer league that draws fewer than 22K per game?

        1. College football attendance has gone done 7 or 8 straight years. If it isn’t in their wheelhouse , it will be soon enough. Being a public college means they are contributing very little to the costs and will contribute zero in taxes to the city and county.

          1. Having a college is a known driver of local economies. It’s state and federal tax dollars being spent locally. Outside money. And if internationally renown, public universities charge even higher tuition. Plus, the majority constituents of colleges, i.e., the students, are one the most desirable demographic a city would want: single so no children to educate; young and healthy so expensive health care is minimized; often middle-class with disposable money from their parents. Basically, free money without externalities other than a few passed-out students.

          2. TM: All this is true. However, UC San Diego, not San Diego State, is the primary research university in the San Diego area. It’s a rather good school. Not quite as “internationally renown” as UC Berkeley or UCLA, but still very strong.

            It doesn’t have a football team.

        2. The stadium – if built at all – may ultimately be smaller than 30k, as you suggest. But maximum revenue for any sports franchise does not necessarily come from maximum attendance. SDSU may put 40k in the Murph on occasion, but could easily find they generate more revenue from a modern and more intimate 28-30k facility. It’s that artificial scarcity thing (many modern football, baseball and hockey facilities are being built with fewer seats than their predecessors).

          MLS clubs have partnered with NCAA teams in several other locations (Houston being a prime case) and it appears to work reasonably well. In other cases, there is no formal partnership but the NCAA team rents the facility for some/all of it’s home games.

          1. That is true in theory but schools have lots of incentive to build stadiums based on maximum capacity rather than revenue per ticket. A sub-30K stadium would basically rule San Diego State out as a candidate for any major conference and that’s a real concern as the landscape continues to shift towards larger power conferences. It’d also rule the stadium out as a potential host to any event expecting a larger turnout like bowl games, etc.

            And no AD wants to stand at the front of the room and announce he doesn’t expect to ever be able to draw past 30,000 fans.

        3. The proposed stadium would be 20K for soccer with and addition of 10K telescoping seats for SDSU football. Also there would be room for about 5K in SRO which is used even in the newer NFL stadiums. SDSU has pledged $100M to the stadium construction (same as what they pledged for the NFL stadium construction at the site) and the investors have said that 5 years from completion they would donate their half ownership of the stadium to the university. SDSU is looking for expansion for student/faculty housing as well as additional office space and the Mission Valley site is only three trolley stops from the main campus. Included in the proposed design is a 55 acre park along the San Diego river and previous thoughts on the site would be to try to mimic what San Antonio has done with its river development. No public money has been mentioned and the developers have also indicated that traffic mitigation is included in their plans. The investor group is looking to buy only 80 acres (the park land would not be included in that 80) which means the land sale would not require a public vote. This doesn’t appear to be a bad deal for the city and helps the university with their expansion needs.

    1. Do people hop over the border to see Los Xolos?

      The MLS doesn’t seem to care who has what where. Their mantra is: Anyone who wants to pay us an ungodly expansion fee can have a franchise.

    2. It doesn’t really matter. People don’t cross the border to go to games and broadcasting of games pretty much stays on the Mexico side of the border. SD and Tijuana are effectively separate markets despite being geographically close.

      1. There are some articles in the San Diego media indicating that there’s some crossover

        Not sure about the numbers but it’d be the first time that MLS would be going even quasi head-to-head with Liga MX, which to my original point is just that it’d be a weird market.

        1. As I recall, that is one of the reasons the stadium was built where it was (to appeal to US based fans).

          That said, San Diego is a big city and IMO there is no reason to believe that any ‘bleed’ to MX would have a significant impact on a local MLS franchise. More than enough fans for both.

  2. Early days for this proposal and lots of wiggle room left in I’m sure. On the surface though, it seems like a much better option. I would imagine the “price” for leaving land available for an NFL stadium on site would be either public funds or some sort of tax waiver (both on the land made available for an NFL stadium and the MLS stadium I would assume). However, if this group can pay for the land it uses, build an MLS stadium without public funds*, and generate enough profit from their associated development to make the whole thing sustainable, it seems like a much more palatable solution for the taxpayers than any of the ones the Chargers put forward.

    Things can, of course, change dramatically…

    1. No price that they’ve mentioned on leaving the 16 acres open for the NFL, but it would be time limited, and the city or an NFL investor would have to buy the land back to use it. That’s the catch. But as far as catches go it’s a reasonable one.

  3. Neil one correction, the MLS group has specifically stated they would be requesting no public money for the project so the “no word on any public money involved” line is inaccurate. As of now they are not requesting anything from the city and their initiative will, according to them, only approve a fair market value land sale of the Qualcomm site to their group.

    1. There’s nothing in that article that says they wouldn’t ask for, say, tax breaks or operating and maintenance help. They may well not be contemplating that, but until we see a full funding plan and/or lease agreement, we need to hold back at least one thumb from going up.

      1. Probably the reason to include a college football program that would provide little to no consideration is to avoid paying property taxes on the stadium itself.

        1. Well they are gifting the stadium to the university after 5 years (in 2025), so that’s no doubt a consideration. But that wasn’t the only reason to include SDSU. SDSU is in need of a stadium after 2018 and right now it’s this plan or nothing.

  4. Well we should get more clarity Monday. The MLS investor group is unveiling their plans on board the USS Midway at 11:30am January 30th. It’s apparently open to the public and MLS commissioner Don Garber will be in attendance.

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