San Diego

Live Music Gets Weaponized in Stadium Fight

SoccerCity backers propose entertainment district in Mission Valley as part of overall plan

The battle over the Mission Valley stadium site took a musical turn on Thursday when the backers of the SoccerCity initiative (Measure E on the Nov. 6 election ballot), who are seeking a 99-year lease with an option to buy some of the stadium property, held a news conference at the beer hall/restaurant Nolita Hall in Little Italy.

The event was plugged by organizers as an opportunity “to unveil a vision for a sports and entertainment district” which would be "a mix of Austin, Nashville and LA Live."

On hand for the announcement were SoccerCity project manager Nick Stone and Brian Wahlstrom, the president of GigTown, a locally based music-booking and listings platform founded by former Qualcomm exec Steve Altman and his son, Andy Altman.

The SoccerCity supporters are facing off against the SDSU West (Measure G) proposal in a fight for the 166-acre site formerly employed eight days a year by the former San Diego Chargers. For its part, SDSU West asks, “Shall the city sell Mission Valley stadium property to San Diego State University or any SDSU auxiliary organization, etc."

Stone said the entertainment district was a key differentiator between SoccerCity and SDSU West.

"One of the key features of the SoccerCity plan is the construction of a sports-entertainment district," Stone said. "We think it adds something incredibly vibrant for San Diego... It’s particularly focused around music and the opportunity to reframe San Diego’s music scene to become a real hub for live music on the West Coast. There isn’t really a place that does that today. We think San Diego has the opportunity to do it. We are huge live music fans. Mike Stone plays in a band. He plays keyboards in a band. We’re actually part-investors in Fender. Steve Altman has hosted Rock the Cure, bringing awesome rock bands to the city for the past 10 years."

The other Stone here is Mike Stone -- no relation to Nick -- the leader of FS Investors, the major force behind SoccerCity who is, according to SoccerCity publicist Rachel Laing, a member of the band the Lost Prophets [SoundDiego has a request in for more information about the band – Ed.].

Neither Mike Stone nor Steve Altman, who according to published reports is also a major investor in the SoccerCity proposal, attended Thursday’s event apparently (if they were, they weren't onstage during the presentation). Altman's Rock the Cure fundraisers are credited with raising millions of dollars "for research aimed at finding a cure" for Type 1 diabetes, according to a Rock the Cure Facebook page, and the events, held at the Altmans' La Jolla residence, included appearances by the likes of Kansas and Sugar Ray. The last concert was in 2017, according to a report in Ranch and Coast Magazine,and featured appearances by the Struts and the Doobie Brothers.

Nick Stone said the district would feature multiple live-music sites, both connected to soccer games and not.

"Live music is a huge part of who we are," Stone said. "It’s a key part of our plan -- from the very beginning -- and we think we can create something that truly elevates the San Diego music scene … there will be venues of varying different sizes, from the small … intimate all the way up through concert-size stadium, in conjunction with great restaurants, great breweries…. In what's loosely termed San Diego Live, right outside of our stadium, at the end of every soccer game, we will have live music available for the fans. We’ve actually designed it into our stadium so that the main entry of the layout becomes a stage and bands could be positioned on the stage performing for people in the square. Not only will there be live music at the end of every game, we’re also going to put a broadcast studio there and emulate some of the parts of L.A. Live and tailor it specifically to the climate here in San Diego."

[Hmm -- "San Diego Live" as a name is a little close to home for some of us; speaking of which, have you signed up for our FREE SoundDiego LIVE Halloween party at Seven Grand on Oct. 27? -- Ed.]

After Stone's remarks, microphone duties were taken over by Wahlstrom, who, in addition to his Gigtown gig, plays in the North County-based band Gods of Mount Olympus, which are on the bill of the Casbah’s Halloween show the Lafayette Hotel on Oct. 27 with Pinback and Buckfast Superbee. He said the SoccerCity plan would address some of the challenges that he perceives are facing San Diego music fans and musicians

"While our city has and continues to produce exceptional artists and venues, geography is simply not in our favor," Wahlstrom said. "Because our city is so spread out, it makes it virtually impossible to organically discover new music on a regular basis. Now we have a chance to change that. Music scenes thrive not only when the fans can easily access live music but when artists themselves come together to interact, collaborate and perform with each other. A concentrated entertainment district would be an incubator for San Diego’s artists, providing new opportunities to perform frequently and earn a real income while perfecting their craft. Working at GigTown has been incredibly eye-opening, as I’ve come to understand the vastness and diversity of San Diego’s musician population. The talent is truly endless. While I’m constantly encouraged and inspired by the artistic output -- and by venues like the Casbah, just around the corner, that have been supporting local artists for decades -- it’s time we can do more."

After being singled out for mention by GigTown's Wahlstrom, SoundDiego reached out to Casbah owner Tim Mays for his thoughts on Soccer City's entertainment district plan.

"I've always liked venues to be their own entities and not be part of some bigger, homogenized plan," Mays told SoundDiego in an email on Friday afternoon. "In San Diego, most venues, save for Belly Up, are fairly close to each other -- I'm talking Brick [by Brick], Casbah, Bar Pink, Office, Soda [Bar], Space, Irenic, HOB, Observatory -- all pretty central and, at night, at most, a 15 minute ride from any one to the other, if not less. I came up in a music scene that was built on adventure and nightly searches for good music. We would drive to shows in L.A., Orange County or Tijuana, as well as seek out shows at places like Spirit, Lions Club, Adams Avenue Theatre, Zebra and Skeleton Club, Club Zu, My Rich Uncle's, Bacchanal, etc. Each of these venues had a distinct identity, and that was part of the fun and joy in seeking them out."

"I don't think an 'entertainment complex' could readily offer the diversity of talent, atmosphere and booking quirks that is encompassed in the venues I just mentioned, both past and present," Mays continued. "Being tied into the 'soccer city' would necessitate that it appeal to a certain demographic, which would mean catering to a lowest common denominator type of customer who wants more mainstream entertainment than most of these venues feature on a nightly basis."

"Of course, this is all hypothetical because we need to see what the election results are on this," Mays said.

While not currently a home to an entertainment district, per se, San Diego County boasts dozens of live-music venues, some of which are clustered relatively closely together (like the nightclubs of the Gaslamp or the many venues in North Park) but others are more isolated, like the Belly Up in Solana Beach. And the Casbah? That’s three blocks from the Kava Lounge. Not addressed at the news conference was the fact that there are two large venues –- Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre (which seats 4,600) and Viejas Arena (12,514) –- sited on the campus of San Diego State University not far up the hill from the Mission Valley stadium.

In addition to the proposed "sports and entertainment district," the SoccerCity initiative also plans a “new stadium for Major League Soccer and SDSU Football, a sprawling river park, housing … and room for SDSU to expand.”

On Nov. 6, voters, will have the final say whether either -- or neither -- plan for Mission Valley proceeds.

A comment from Casbah owner Tim Mays was added on Friday afternoon -- Ed.

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