Chargers to focus on new downtown stadium

The San Diego Chargers say they will focus on trying to get a new stadium built downtown as part of a non-contiguous expansion of the convention centre (Gregory Bull/AP)

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers on Tuesday proposed building a football stadium downtown with an expanded convention centre, clashing with Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who backs another site.

The Chargers will partner with JMI Realty, which is owned by former San Diego Padres owner John Moores and has significant holdings near the convention centre. They are backed by a citizens group that includes Donna Frye, a former city councilwoman who nearly won a write-in campaign for mayor in 2005.

The Chargers said the downtown venue would "create an unparalleled entertainment and sports district" to host Super Bowls and provide a home for Comic-Con, the annual entertainment and comic extravaganza that has outgrown the convention centre. The team said land at their current home in San Diego’s Mission Valley area could be used for educational institutions like San Diego State University and a riverfront park.

Comic-Con International expressed doubts about the plan, which proposes that the additional convention centre space not be immediately adjacent to the existing convention centre.

The Chargers plan to seek voter approval in November for the downtown stadium and convention centre expansion, which would be financed partly by an increase in hotel room taxes.

Faulconer and San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts said their competing plan to build a new stadium on the city-owned Mission Valley site could be done faster and without raising taxes.

"Most experts we've talked to have concluded that building a stadium downtown -- on land not owned by either the city or the Chargers -- would increase costs by hundreds of millions of dollars and take years longer to complete," they said in a joint statement.

Backers of downtown plan say the hotel tax increase would require approval of a majority of voters, but Faulconer and Roberts said it was "abundantly clear" it would need two-thirds' approval.

"This is an extremely high hurdle to clear," the mayor and county supervisor said.

Comic-Con, in a statement that reiterated support for a contiguous convention centre expansion, said, "We have had no discussion with the Chargers and were surprised to be mentioned in their recent statement."

JMI Realty waged a successful campaign to build a voter-approved downtown stadium for the Padres, which opened in 2004. Backers of the effort to have the Chargers join them downtown include Frye, who opposed a new Mission Valley stadium for the football team when she was on the City Council, and Cory Briggs, an environmental lawyer who has often locked horns with the city over development proposals.

If the ballot measure for a new stadium fails, the Chargers could join the Los Angeles Rams in a stadium in Inglewood scheduled to open in 2019.

In January, NFL owners rejected the Chargers' proposal to move with division rival Oakland Raiders to a new stadium in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson but gave the Chargers a one-year option to join the Rams in Inglewood.

Although the Chargers agreed in principle to join the Rams, Chargers chairman Dean Spanos said after the setback that the team would remain in San Diego at least through 2016 in an attempt to get a new stadium. The NFL will give the Chargers and Raiders each an extra $100 million to go toward new stadiums in their home markets. That's on top of a $200 million loan available to each team.