The downtown stadium — a smaller option
by WHITNEY M. SKALA, Point Loma
Published - 01/13/10 - 02:42 PM | 4843 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I applaud our civic leaders and the Chargers for huddling on a new downtown stadium. But I wonder if we’re discussing the right stadium.

Under consideration is a 62,000-seat stadium (expandable to 72,000 seats), football-oriented structure, able to hold its own nationally against other football venues, and, more or less, it will do what Qualcomm Stadium does today. At the expanded 72,000-seat size, San Diego will once again be considered for future Super Bowls.

But the size of that proposed stadium comes with its own limitations. As Major League Baseball apparently believes, some sports don’t do as well in large stadiums. Major League Soccer seems to have embraced the same conclusion: their recent stadiums are built to house crowds of 25,000 or so. We may be envisioning the wrong stadium; maybe less is more.

Let’s diagram another play. What if we build a 40,000-seat stadium downtown? Granted, this would leave the Chargers out of the downtown equation. However, the possible uses of this smaller stadium are more intriguing. A 40,000-seat venue could actually revive San Diego State University’s football program — 30,000 fans wouldn’t feel lost in a cavernous, half-empty stadium, and that dynamic alone might sustain larger crowds. Twenty thousand to 30,000 spectators would feel like a successful level of attendance. The downtown location is closer to South Bay and to Tijuana. So we could attract more international soccer matches — a natural fit for our demographics and a strong move toward a growing sport of the future.

A leaner stadium could be home to both a Mexican soccer league team and an MLS team. It would give events like the Rugby Sevens (taken from us by Las Vegas) a downtown, properly-scaled location. It could hold concerts and serve as an adjunct to the Convention Center. And it could be the home venue for the Poinsettia Bowl. By my count, the sports alone would provide more than 50 events a year — a boost to downtown by providing a year-round calendar of sports seasons and other events.

A 40,000-seat stadium was just built in Kaohsuing, Taiwan. The stadium includes a track — were we to add a track to a downtown stadium, we could also host NCAA and world-class track events (these events fill stadiums throughout the world, particularly during the lead-up to the Summer Olympics). To see an outstanding design and construction of a 40,000 seat stadium, go to http://archrecord.construction.com/projects/portfolio/archives/1001nationalstadium-1.asp

A scaled-down stadium would provide a competitive edge from a development standpoint. A new Chargers stadium has a hefty price tag of $800 million to $1 billion. Stanford University claimed to build its 50,000-seat stadium (which, by the way, may also have been built in order to attract international-level soccer matches) for a mere $100 million; at even twice that, it seems a bargain in comparison. The 27,000-seat Home Depot Center in Carson, California, which is home to two MLS teams, cost $150 million to build. Traffic and parking needs likewise would be scaled-down. And the benefits would be year-round, not just during the fall.

So where do the Chargers go from here? North, to Escondido. That city boasts a strategy for assembling the necessary land and possibly a viable financial plan. And while we Chargers fans may not like the extra 30 minutes up the freeway, it’s only 10 times a year.

And what if we lose the Chargers altogether? The media rumors are that Buffalo and Jacksonville are looking to relocate. In contrast, were San Diego State to fold its football program — and the size of Qualcomm is more of a detriment than a benefit — that likely would be the end of Division I-BCS football in San Diego. College programs don’t seem to come back.

San Diego wants to be a world-class city. I’m trying to do my part by tossing a new idea into the mix. Others get to carry the ball from here.
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