Major League Soccer may be coming to San Diego ... and it could be the catalyst for the National Football League to return, as well.
Sources tell NBC 7 San Diego that a San Diego-based investment group led by FS Investors founder Mike Stone and former Qualcomm Vice Chairman Steve Altman has put together a proposal to purchase the Mission Valley land where Qualcomm Stadium currently sits and turn it in to a sports and entertainment center with a new stadium as the lynchpin.
This group owns the exclusive negotiating rights to MLS in the San Diego market and plans to make a bid for an MLS expansion team. A formal presentation will be made on Monday morning in La Jolla.
The facility would be used by the new MLS franchise and the San Diego State Aztecs football program. The plan is to develop the area around the stadium in to an area not unlike the extremely popular Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego with restaurants, live entertainment and shopping.
Unlike the proposals set forth by the Chargers, this construction project would be 100% privately financed. Stone and Altman have assembled a team that would take care of the build while purchasing the land from the City of San Diego at "fair market value."
The proposal would also set aside land for the possible construction of an NFL-caliber stadium in case the league decides to return to San Diego, as well as the opportunity to build out and expand the San Diego River Park with transit-oriented, mixed-use development to activate the River Park and stadium uses.
By the end of 2018, MLS will have 23 franchises and expects international soccer star David Beckham to have a franchise in Miami soon after that, running the total to 24.
Major League Soccer wants to eventually reach 28 teams. MLS Commissioner Don Garber has long looked at San Diego, which is regarded as the 9th-best soccer market in America, as an expansion destination. Now that the Chargers are vacating America’s Finest City the time for adding another pro soccer team to Southern California could be now.
“We have spent a lot of time down there,” said Garber after the first round of the MLS SuperDraft. “There is a very good group that’s come together. We know the investor prospects well. I’ve been there quietly probably two or three times. I’ll be down there for the [US national team] game. I think it would be a great MLS city."
It is important to note, an announcement on MLS expansion is not expected until later in 2017 and a team would likely start playing in San Diego (if it's chosen) for several more years.
That U.S. Men’s National team game against Serbia will be played at Qualcomm Stadium on January 29. Garber and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer have already spoken about the possibility of MLS expansion.
The possibility of building a new facility in Mission Valley is something San Diego sports fans have heard about for a long time now. The average capacity of a MLS stadium is 30,022, with the largest being 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium (scheduled to open this year as the home of the Atlanta United FC) and the smallest the 18,000-seat Avaya Stadium (San Jose Earthquakes).
In San Diego there are several interesting possibilities for the stadium. The parcel of land in Mission Valley is large enough to hold a giant stadium but MLS has shied away from the mega-complexes favored by the National Football League, opting for a smaller, more intimate and energetic setting.
Partnering with San Diego State (who has a lease to play football at Qualcomm Stadium through the 2018 season) would require a slightly larger facility. The Aztecs, now a Top-25 program, averaged 37,289 fans at home games this season.
Assuming a jump in interest in the Aztecs with the Chargers being gone a facility of about 40,000 seats would be good for SDSU and large enough to host future matches for the U.S. National Teams, as well as international powerhouses like Manchester United and Real Madrid when they make trips through the United States.
So how much is that going to cost? Not as much as the former local football owners would have you believe.
Dan Meis … the architect who designed Staples Center in Los Angeles, Safeco Field in Seattle and Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia … told NBC 7 that MEIS architects are helping build “state of the art stadiums for under $7,000 a seat.” On a 40,000 seat facility that means a price tag of $280 million.
Now, builds of this magnitude almost never stay right on budget but that $280 million number is certainly in the ballpark (pun intended). It appears that Major League Soccer and a brand new stadium (or two) will be landing in San Diego in the near future.