Former City Manager Jack McGrory, a member of a campus support group and key adviser to university officials, said in the next 60 days, SDSU should know if it can run the 50-year-old, 70,000-seat stadium more efficiently than the city.
“There are a lot of options,” McGrory said. “For us or a third party to take over the operation, what would be saved if that occurred?”
The Aztecs’ contract to play at the Q expires at the end of the 2018 season and Mayor Kevin Faulconer has not acted on a negotiated, two-year extension.
Instead, the city has indicated it would close down the stadium to save money and make way for redevelopment of the property.
That redevelopment — the $4 billion SoccerCity plan endorsed by Faulconer and presented in the form of a ballot initiative — is scheduled for a citywide vote on Nov. 6, 2018.
SDSU and SoccerCity investors are no longer talking about sharing the intiative’s proposed 22,000-seat, soccer-oriented stadium because the university deems it unsuited for football and too small, even if expanded by 10,000 seats as the investors group has proposed.
The Padres have offered to share city-owned Petco Park with the Aztecs in 2019, but home games would have to be delayed into October. McGrory said the baseball field would have to be reconfigured for football by the city at a cost of up to $4 million.
“It’s not fair to the football program and just not a good solution,” McGrory said.
The city budget indicates that Qualcomm will require a subsidy of nearly $7 million this year for operations after losing its headline tenant, the now-Los Angeles Chargers. The city also covers a $4.7 million annual debt payment on bonds issued in 1997 to expand the stadium.
“Knowing how the city charges (the stadium department for services), you can close the gap by a couple or $3 million,” McGrory said. “We’re spending time looking at it.”
He said he met with former stadium assistant manager, Steve Shushan, who helped interpret the budget and general stadium operations.
“The city can operate the stadium more efficiently and substantially reduce the deficit,” Shushan said. “An analysis should be done to determine proper staffing requirements and whether it is more cost-effective to contract out some services.”
In analyzing its options, McGrory said, the university does not intend to operate the stadium and the 166-site’s parking lot and practice field.
“We’ve got to get a third-party operator — there’s no way we have that kind of expertise,” McGrory said. “We’d get a real professional to come in and look at it and see how you could do it.”
He said a competitive process would be used to select that company. One local example is the sports giant AEG, which operates the Valley View Casino Center/San Diego Sports Arena, owned by Arena Group 2000 and built on city-leased land.
SDSU spokeswoman Gina Jacobs said negotiations between the university and the city remain confidential and there was nothing to confirm at the moment.
Mayoral spokesman Matt Awbrey took the same position: “We are currently in confidential lease discussions with SDSU. The mayor is committed to working with SDSU in finding a solution for Aztec football.”
SoccerCity spokesman Nick Stone said his group remains focused on next year’s initiative campaign and hoping to persuade Major League Soccer to delay selection of all expansion teams until after the vote.
“As for how to manage and operate the Qualcomm site until then, we’ll leave that decision up to the city,” Stone said.
Qualcomm is scheduled to host 561 events over the next year, with 23 inside the stadium and the remainder on the parking lot and in the practice field.
Cybelle Thompson, the director of the city’s real estate assets department, summarized the stadium income at a City Council committee hearing Friday as $3.5 million in the current budget year — $900,000 from parking lot events, $700,000 from SDSU, $400,000 from the Holiday Bowl and the remainder from other events, concessions, luxury suites and advertising.
However, the city has suspended marketing the property beyond 2018 and chosen not to invest major funds into deferred maintenance that is estimated at $90 million.
McGrory said whether or not SoccerCity is approved, it would take at least three years to build its proposed stadium and more if there is extended litigation or other delays.
“I guarantee that you won’t see anything happen on the stadium under any scenario … you won’t be able to move dirt around until 2020-21,” he said.
He said that extended time frame also would argue for extending naming rights. The city is soliciting bids until Sept. 1 for naming rights that would last through 2018.
McGrory also said the city could sell the Chargers’ former headquarters training site on Murphy Canyon Road and use the income to pay off the stadium bonds. The SoccerCity initiative calls for turning that property into a soccer academy.
If the ballot initiative fails to get the necessary majority vote to pass, SDSU would move to build new Aztec stadium there, McGrory said. That could be shared with a professional soccer team, he added.
“We’re going to figure it all out,” he said. “At a minimum we’d be willing to buy 12 acres from the city and start moving on a football stadium and accommodate soccer.”
If a university takeover is not pursued, he said, SDSU will urge the mayor, a 1990 alumnus and former student body president, to extend its present lease and point out ways expenses could be reduced.
“We’re optimistic,” McGrory. “We’ve lost the Chargers and I don’t think anybody in the city wants to do significant damage to Aztec football. That would be tragic and kind of very shortsighted on the city’s part.”
In addition to analyzing a stadium takeover, McGrory said SDSU planners are preparing their own master plan for the property if the SoccerCity project is not approved.
A campus position paper laid out general ideas last month for housing, classrooms, research facilities, a river park and related commercial development, as well as stadium of up to 40,000 seats.
A detailed land-use plan may be available within 90 days, McGrory said. Typically, such a conceptual plan would be followed by detailed studies and require approval, either by the council or via another ballot initiative.
Council members, while supporting SDSU, also have indicated interest in soliciting proposals from the broader development community. The city hasn’t decided if wants to pursue such a “Plan B” before the SoccerCity vote and what preconditions might be set.
Meanwhile, the Mission Valley Planning Group is working on a new land-use plan for the community with a range of stadium-site building densities under consideration.
Those details will be shared at a public open house from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12 at Westfield Mission Valley mall in the storefront across from Ruby’s Diner.
The new plan is expected to be released early next year with final adoption by the council by year’s end.
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