By Nick Stone
In January, following the Chargers’ decision to relocate to Los Angeles, a group of San Diegans unveiled a plan to reinvigorate the Qualcomm Stadium site.
The goal was to create a special place that offered something for everyone: an iconic public park along the San Diego River; a joint-use stadium for Major League Soccer and SDSU football; a sports and entertainment district with shops, restaurants and live-music options; and much-needed housing — all within a transit-oriented community on the San Diego trolley line.
Our commitment was to deliver all of this without asking San Diegans for a dime of their taxes or any other kind of public subsidy.
Given the fast-approaching selection of expansion cities by Major League Soccer, a citizens’ initiative was launched with the hope that a decision could be made this year — either by the San Diego City Council or, preferably, through a public vote. A key criteria for selection is that a stadium be approved and on track to open in time for the 2020 season.
Within a record-breaking 12 days, more than 100,000 San Diegans signed the petition to support the project. That enthusiasm was driven largely by the love of soccer in San Diego, especially in Mission Valley, home to so many millennials.
While we were hopeful that the City Council would put the measure on the ballot this year, they unfortunately put it off until 2018.
The question now is will the MLS wait on San Diego? No one knows, particularly since San Diego is competing against 11 other cities all vying for one of the last four MLS expansion franchises.
Regardless of the City Council’s decision and opposition funded by neighboring land owners, the proposal put forward in January remains very popular with the public. In every public opinion poll conducted to date — including three by the San Diego Union-Tribune — San Diegans support the plan.
That’s not surprising, given SoccerCity’s vast benefits. For one, it will take what’s become a largely abandoned eyesore and transform it into something Mission Valley residents can enjoy every day.
As folks from Mission Valley are well aware, the SoccerCity proposal isn’t the first one that’s been offered for the stadium site. The most recent, by developer Doug Manchester, is more than twice as dense as the SoccerCity plan.
In crafting this proposal, an extensive environmental review was conducted — thousands of pages that spell out project impacts and the commitment to addressing them. For example, SoccerCity will spend upwards of $50 million to mitigate traffic impacts, which includes a major redesign of the Friars Road Interstate 15 interchange.
SoccerCity will also deliver huge benefits for taxpayers, relieving the city of its $12 million annual cost to operate the aging stadium, while generating tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue that the city can put toward resurfacing roads, expanding library and rec center hours, and more.
And, as has been made clear from the beginning, the initiative says fair market value will be paid for the property. An independent appraisal released last month by the city of San Diego put the value of the property at $110 million.
Because the City Council did not allow a public vote this year, it’s possible we’ll lose our shot for an MLS team. Our best hope now is to push the league to consider waiting for San Diego. We and our amazing fans will give it our all.
Given all the good that SoccerCity will bring to San Diego and to Mission Valley — professional soccer, a vast river park and more — there’s just too much at stake to do anything less.
—Nick Stone is project manager for the SoccerCity redevelopment project proposed for the Qualcomm Stadium site.