Bolts Stadium Will Need Public Funds: Consultant

Consultant huddles with redevelopment execs

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 29: A general view of the field of play during the Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Diego Chargers NFL Game on November 29, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo By Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

    The NFL season is almost over, but talk about a new stadium for the Chargers is never out-of-season.

    Case in point: A sports financing consultant told San Diego redevelopment officials Wednesday that construction costs are too high for team owners or public entities to bankroll stadiums by themselves. The Chargers recently concluded that their original hopes of privately financing a new stadium were unrealistic.

    The 11 NFL stadiums built since 2002 were publicly underwritten -- by an average of 55 percent.

    "You know, we'd love to see something get done here if it makes sense for everybody," Mitchell Ziets, a principal of New York-based Evolution Media Capital LLC, said Wednesday in a presentation to directors of the Centre City Development Corporation. "I think the team would love to get something done. The NFL would love to get something done -- as would the city and CCDC."

    Ziets' report on new stadium ventures nationwide was the first in a series expected under a $160,000 contract with the CCDC.

    "But again, it has to make sense for everybody," Ziets said. "So we recognize that."

    In a roundtable discussion with reporters afterward, Ziets said the ongoing recession has stifled private investment opportunities, but he noted a recent "thawing" in the capital markets, saying they may be ripe for stadium lending by the time a proposal materializes.

    "My hunch," Ziets said, "is that if it's structured properly, private capital will be there for this deal."

    The Chargers are looking into the prospect of fitting a stadium into a small footprint of land in the southeast corner of downtown's East Village, but questions abound: Is it financially feasible? Would it be a worthy recipient of city subsidies that could generate enough economic activity to return substantial tax revenues?

    While the lure of future Super Bowls and other events is powerful, there's a legion of critics who say that public money is better invested elsewhere.

    "We think this is a momentous decision you're talking about," wilderness activist Duncan McFettridge told CCDC directors in public testimony.

    Citing the need for more jobs, mass transit and other priorities, McFettridge posed this rhetorical question: "Does the stadium -- honestly, when we look at this -- measure up?"

    CCDC Chairman Fred Maas later responded in this fashion when the issue was raised by reporters: "We invite naysyers. We operate in an environment of naysayers. And if we can't make credible arguments to those people ... we're not going to be able to make them to the broad public that we represent. So we need to be able to defend that."

    Meantime Wednesday, CCDC's directors forwarded a recommendation to the City Council to launch the process of raising the agency's spending cap, which will be reached 10 years earlier than once projected.

    Officials emphasized the move is necessary whether or not a stadium is eventually approved.