Are Chargers Thinking About Dropping Convadium Plan?

Bolts could abandon stadium/convention center initiative but another possibility lurks

After all the work on trying to get a downtown San Diego stadium built, after all the consternation and fighting, the San Diego Chargers might up and drop the whole thing.

On Monday the Chargers are finally meeting with San Diego attorney Cory Briggs to talk about the status of their citizens’ initiatives. Logic would suggest both of their plans cannot go forward together this year so something has to give.

Having a pair of competing proposals on the same November ballot, both asking for a Transient Occupancy Tax increase, is simply not going to work. They’ll end up hurting each other and add to the possibility neither one earns voter approval, especially if a two-thirds vote is needed (both the Chargers and Briggs are proceeding as if that will be the situation).

In a surprising turn of events the Chargers are talking internally and seriously considering dropping their citizens’ initiative and throwing their support behind Briggs.

The initiative authored by Briggs, the one for a convention center expansion but NO stadium, is already in the signature-gathering process and getting closer to having enough to take the next step towards earning a spot on the November ballot.

The initiative released recently by the Chargers includes a new downtown stadium AND basically the same kind of convention center construction project but has not yet entered circulation for signatures, giving Briggs the clear advantage. But where Briggs has the true advantage is in a deal he seems to have struck with the hoteliers.

For years a San Diego hotel cabal has wanted a contiguous convention center expansion and fought tooth and nail against any other kind of major downtown project, be it football stadium or convention center. They want things their way so they can have more control. According to sources close to the negotiations, behind closed doors Briggs has been able to reach a tenuous agreement with the hoteliers.

They have apparently agreed not to throw up any extra road blocks if the Briggs citizens’ initiative is able to reach the ballot this year. That is a monumental win in this process for getting things going Downtown. That agreement, sources say, does not extend to the Chargers and their stadium plan.

If the Bolts cannot get Briggs to back away from his plan (and in his situation it would not make a whole lot of sense to do that) they are kicking around two different backup plans.

One would be to scrap their existing citizens’ initiative and make a whole new one that includes only a stadium build. This is not the likely scenario because the time it would take to re-draft a new initiative, submit it, and wait three weeks to start getting signatures puts them dangerously close to doing all that work and missing the deadlines for getting it out for a November vote.

The other and far more likely option is to simply stop, table their stadium efforts, and for the time being, throw all their support behind Briggs. Sources say this is the way they are very likely going to go. The Chargers say they’ll commit $10 million to the process of getting their plan on the ballot. If they wait and try to push for a special election in the middle of 2017 they can likely just re-allocate that money and get their vote for roughly the same amount.

The price of gathering signatures during a presidential election cycle is much greater than it is during other times of the year. Special elections are not cheap but that cost could be offset by the likelihood of a greatly reduced cost per signature once they release their new, stadium-only citizens’ initiative.

Or, maybe they don’t have to have an election at all. Suppose for a moment Briggs gets his plan to the ballot and it passes in November. Could that put the team -- assuming it could find a way to do without public subsidies -- in a position to approach the city with a stadium project in the same way a hotel or shopping mall developer would?

If so, private financing for land acquisition and a construction plan that's in "substantial conformance" with zoning and environmental requirements then figure to be key variables for getting something done.  Goldman Sachs is on board for a large portion of the financing of the convadium and could conceivably bankroll in its entirety, with $200 million of help from the NFL, a stadium-only build that comes in at half the price.

But those are all huge 'ifs' to materialize before planning commissioners and city council members would lay eyes on the project. There is also the public relations aspect to consider. Given their recent run of stadium mishaps, starting in Carson and moving to not being able to piggyback on the Briggs initiative to trying to overwrite said initiative, public confidence in the Chargers ability to handle a project of this size is not strong. If they pull their current plan they will suffer another loss in the court of public opinion that might be enough to sabotage any future attempts at building a stadium downtown.

The potential embarrassment of backing off now would be a motivating factor is them not pulling their plan and instead trying to appeal to Briggs. So first things first: Monday's get-together, at the very least, probably needs to end with the two camps still in harmony, whatever path or paths they decide to follow.

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