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September 16, 2011

Architects say renovation of Chargers' stadium would be cheaper, better

Renovation of old stadiums must just be in the air today: A bunch of San Diego architects is pushing a plan to renovate the Chargers' Qualcomm Stadium, which they say would cost only one-quarter as much as building a new stadium.

Historic preservationist John Eisenhart said the matter is simple.
"Twenty years from now, you can have a new stadium that will look old or an old stadium that will look new," he said.

Both city and team officials said they've ruled out renovation, with Chargers stadium czar Mark Fabiani citing a 2003 study by stadium architects HOK that concluded that renovating Qualcomm would cost $353 million, while building a new stadium would cost only $10 million more. Of course, even discounting the possible conflict of interest here — HOK is in the business of designing new stadiums, so stands to earn a lot more from one of those than from a renovation — the estimated cost of a new Chargers stadium is now up to $800 million, which is a good bit more than even $353 million.

(I emailed Fabiani, and he replied that renovation would cost more now, too — notwithstanding that the architects claim it could be done for $250 million. He also noted that the Citizen's Task Force on Chargers Issues report — also from 2003 — was skeptical of a Qualcomm renovation, in part because the building's foundation has settled differently in different places, something it claimed would be tough to easily repair.)

Fabiani also notes that if Qualcomm is renovated, you can't help pay for it by building housing in the parking lot as you could with a new stadium, but then, you also wouldn't need new land to put the new stadium on, on top of saving $450 million or so.

Just like in Minnesota, this is an idea whose time hasn't come yet, but it'll be interesting to see what happens if it's another couple of years down the road and the Chargers are still beating their heads against the financing for a brand-new building — and, of course, haven't moved to L.A.


Look I work in economic development and housing finance.

How does building housing in the parking lot help finance the stadium? Does the money magically fall from the sky? If the housing was profitable why hasn't some developer built it already?

I don't think people generally want to live right next to a stadium so the presence of the stadium isn't making the housing project more appealing then it would otherwise be.

Is it that the stadium gets exempted from certain normal development rules and thus so does the housing? Are there tax advantages? Generally if I am having trouble financing project A, project A+B is harder to finance not easier unless there are some really striking symmetries. Where are the symmetries between housing and stadiums?

Posted by Joshua Northey on September 16, 2011 11:09 AM

Well one thing they aren't lying about is the settling. Qualcomm Stadium is quite literally sinking in the south endzone, being worse from due south to southeast corners. They'd literally have to jack the stadium up as part of any renovation and retrofit the foundations. Ironically it was the last renovation/expansion in 1997 that I suspect is the reason that the settling is occurring as it added 3 levels to an area of the stadium that had previously supported a single level just fine previously.

That said, Qualcomm is still a very serviceable NFL venue that I suspect would cost less than half a new stadium to renovate. It's not in the same class as Candlestick Park or the Oakland Coliseum (two stadiums that can't meet the wrecking ball fast enough assuming especially Candlestick doesn't fall down first). And it's in a far more appropriate location access wise than either the proposed downtown SD stadium or the downtown LA stadium.

Posted by Dan on September 16, 2011 11:10 AM

As I understand it, the argument is that if you tear down Qualcomm and turn the site over to housing, you'd earn enough money to pay for a good chunk of stadium construction elsewhere. Not sure that that accounts for acquiring the land elsewhere, though, or whether these projections have been updated for the New Economic Reality.

Mark, if you're reading this, please feel free to chime in with more details.

Posted by Neil deMause on September 16, 2011 11:32 AM

Josh, I think the assumption the Chargers/Fabiani are making is that the Qualcomm Stadium parcel (owned by the City) would be sold to developers and the money from that would go toward financing a stadium in their preferred location downtown. They have pushed that concept for a long time when boostering for a new stadium.

As a San Diegan and Charger fan, I would prefer a Qualcomm renovation to a new stadium.

Mark Fabiani, if you are lurking, (hypothetically) what option for a stadium would you prefer if you had to pay for a stadium entirely with your own money and not someone else's?

A) New Stadium
B) Qualcomm renovation
C) remain in Qualcomm as is

What ever that answer is, is the most civic-ly responsible answer.

Posted by sasha on September 16, 2011 11:39 AM

As I recall, the arguments put forward here are more or less what Mr. Fabiani said a month or two ago on this website (can't find the piece... doesn't seem to be under "chargers").

But still, asking the city to sell the land and put the proceeds toward a new facility sounds a lot like me funding my next business by getting my neighbours to sell their cars and turn the proceeds over to me.

I suppose if you start from the assumption that the city is going to pay for most/all of a new facility anyway, instructing them to sell a particular parcel of land and commit those funds to the project isn't that much of a stretch... if you squint really hard and hold your nose.

It just comes out sounding like the Chargers believe they own the present site and are "giving" that back to the city. Except that, really, they don't.

So maybe my analogy about my neighbours cars would only work if I sent them a card with a picture of their car in it and told them I'd given them their car first... assume a couple of you are my neighbours, would you go for that?

Posted by John Bladen on September 16, 2011 01:05 PM

John, do you mean this one?

Posted by Neil deMause on September 16, 2011 01:23 PM

That's a good one, Neil. I wasn't actually thinking of that one, but it works just as well. Mr. Fabiani actually replied to my question about this very subject (how the sale of the land could or why it should be rolled into a new facility), but I can't find it. Doesn't matter, his responses have been consistent and on point in this regard.



Posted by John Bladen on September 16, 2011 03:41 PM

Speaking of California stadiums... The 49ers' York family are joining with a group called JMA and together they are purchasing the Great America theme park for an estimated $70 million dollars. Cedar Fair the previous owners of Great America had been one of the big, if not the biggest, potential obstacles to the Santa Clara stadium project as they objected to the taking of part of their parking lot for the stadium. JMA, obviously since the Yorks are part of the group purchasing the park, have said they have no intention of getting in the way of the stadium project or any plans to sue.

Posted by Dan on September 19, 2011 01:28 PM

You left off the last digit of the URL:

Posted by Neil deMause on September 19, 2011 02:04 PM

Selling out the theme park still doesn't make a HALF BILLION DOLLARS in corporate welfare a good deal for Santa Clarans.

Cedar Fair was right to complain about the loss of theme park business on NFL event days. The two consumer bases are entirely different, and there was no way that there was any kind of "synergy" that the 49ers' little booster community was claiming. I was in City Council chambers the night they tried that nonsense (June 23, 2009) - and they laid a big egg trying.

But there's a real serious money issue that affects all Santa Clarans: Under the Ground Lease that Cedar Fair signed, they pay the General Fund of my city $5.3 million a year. Take that over the forty year stadium lease that the 49ers are squeezing us for, and you find that the 49ers will pay us ONE TENTH of what the theme park operator will pay us:

Also, neither the 49ers nor JMA are recognized amusements operators. They cannot legally operate Great America under the Ground Lease terms, anyway. After the beating and shooting at Candlestick on August 20th - and after the parking lot brawl on Monday evening - they probably *shouldn't* be.

So, the 49ers are actually going to be putting lucrative football revenues into a theme park paying far lower returns?

Or are they merely going to allow Great America to become as decrepit as Candlestick Park is today?

Bill Bailey, Treasurer,


Posted by Bill Bailey on September 20, 2011 04:07 AM

Bill, if the JMA/Niners group is buying the park, and presumably the lease... wouldn't the terms be the same? So they'll be paying 5.3 million a year just as Cedar Fair was paying and running the amusement park as called for under the ground lease. In fact the article mentions that JMA may retain Cedar Fair to operate it. So really all that this changes is the former opposition to the stadium by the owners of the park. Now instead of fighting the Niners they'll be working on ways to integrate the park and the stadium ala Six Flags and the Texas Rangers in Arlington.

Posted by Dan on September 20, 2011 12:29 PM

I trying to figure out what this may mean myself.

Obviously it's been done to try to alleviate some of the parking mess.

I think the synergy arguement is very problematical. Which is why it was so funny to me when Cedar Fair brought it up when they stated their intention of being open on game days.

But for all the gushing the local press is spewing about this, the basic funding questions and risks to the city remain.

Posted by santa clara jay on September 20, 2011 01:00 PM

Dan, I watched enough of the attempts at "integration" and "synergy" in my own City Council Chambers to know that they're basically nonsense.

They're rationalizations for the fiscally irresponsible decision to subsidize the 49ers to begin with.

Also, the terms of the theme park lease are the same only until both sides decide to renegotiate them. And when the 49ers decide that they no longer want to put their football revenues into maintaining Great America, Santa Clarans will be the losers.

We have five City Councilmembers who have made it clear that they'll give the 49ers anything the team wants - and that the needs of Santa Clarans are clearly a distant second.

Nothing that the 49ers might end up doing with the theme park makes a HALF BILLION in stadium subsidies a good deal for the city of Santa Clara.

Bill Bailey, Treasurer,


Posted by Bill Bailey on September 21, 2011 02:40 AM

HOK is in the business of designing new stadia. I'm sure it's conclusion that it's better to build a new one rather than renovate the old one is, however, objective and coldly rational.

Posted by Alex Bensky on September 22, 2011 09:38 AM

The question is who PAYS for that stadium, even if the cold, hard facts are, " (Whine!)We want a new billion-dollar stadium over there, not here.(Whimper!)"

Anybody can use that kind of logic when a city's agency is footing the bill for easily half the cost of a stadium - which is exactly what the Santa Clara Stadium Authority is being told to do by the 49ers - even though the 49ers will take virtually every penny in profit out of their stadium every year, leaving us with crumbs.

The decision to steal public money for a stadium is never objective or coldly rational. It was not not in Cincinnati or Indianapolis, it isn't in Santa Clara, and it certainly won't be a rational decision in L.A. or San Diego.

Bill Bailey, Treasurer,


Posted by Bill Bailey on September 23, 2011 12:47 AM

Bill, I think your sarcasm detector just broke,

Posted by Lou on September 26, 2011 04:46 AM


I re-read Alex's comment and I now believe he was being sarcastic. I kind of went by me too until you pointed it out.



Posted by santa clara jay on September 26, 2011 02:38 PM

Whoops. Sorry. Alex, that was too subtle for me.

Bill Bailey


Posted by Bill Bailey on September 27, 2011 04:04 AM

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