"And why hide it from the public? It isn't as though the public doesn't know this clause exists, so the fact that a triggering event has occurred just prepares the city ahead of time for that big boot to drop. If there's a deal to be done in Los Angeles or Orange County, the team is gone."
Even if a better deal were do-able, would Barrett be the one to do it? Barrett has played a sometimes behind-the-scenes, frequently supportive role in packaging new, taxpayer-financed stadiums to cities all over the country. He has been quoted describing the benefits that new stadiums bring to municipalities. He is often pitted against stadium critics, who describe the economic studies of his employers as flawed and artificially designed to sway public opinion in favor of publicly financed stadium proposals.
In November 1996, Barrett attempted to refute charges by critics that taxpayers would end up footing the bill for a new stadium for the Atlanta Hawks hockey team. "For the city and county to be on the line, the Hawks basically would have to declare bankruptcy," Barrett told the Fulton County Daily Report after critics claimed the facility would threaten the county's solvency.
"To generate the cash to pay for the debt, Barrett projects, the new arena will host at least 174 events per year, compared with an average of 159 at the Omni," the newspaper reported. "Barrett explained this reflected the experience of other cities with new arenas, where the novelty of the building helps generate business for at least the first couple of years after opening. He predicts a similar attendance bounce for the Hawks. The financial plan shows an average attendance of 14,620 per game, higher than any season since the 15,714 in the 1988-89 season. Last year the team drew only 12,114, one of the lower figures in the league."
In December 1996, Barrett told the Los Angeles Downtown News that there was a limitless market for expensive stadium skyboxes at the Coliseum, where some local boosters hope to lure the Chargers. "The L.A. market has one of the highest inventories of major corporations in the country and an extremely limited number of premium seating products. Whatever comes out, whether a new arena or stadium, will meet a pent-up demand."
In April 1997, the Post-Dispatch of Columbus, Ohio, where a new stadium and arena were proposed, paraphrased Barrett as saying, "Arenas and stadiums create jobs and keep money flowing in a community. He calculated that 600 full-time equivalent jobs will be created at the arena itself, plus 374 at the stadium."
In May 1997, Barrett, who then worked as a sports specialist for the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche, spoke in favor of a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers.
"This project seems to have a significant potential benefit to the city and county," the San Francisco Chronicle quoted him as saying. Deloitte & Touche had performed an economic study of the project on behalf of KGO radio, which had a broadcast contract with the team. According to the newspaper report, "Despite the study's link to 49ers interests, Deloitte & Touche officials said neither the football team nor the mall developer, the Mills Corporation, had any influence over its outcome."
In October 1997, Barrett was quoted by the Dallas Morning News defending the objectivity of a study the firm had done, touting the beneficial economic impact of a proposed $125 million stadium for the Mavericks. Robert Baade, a professor at Illinois' Lake Forest College and a decade-long opponent of claims made by Deloitte & Touch studies, told the paper, "The only purpose of these studies is to sell the project to the public, and I'm very concerned about the extent of the misinformation." Baade complained that a Deloitte & Touche study had overly inflated the estimates of jobs and tourist traffic that the project would create.
Barrett responded by saying, "We tried to utilize estimates that are reasonable based on the Dallas market and our experience with other arenas across the country. You can make these reports as aggressive as you want. We try to make estimates that are reasonable."
In March 1998, a year before Spanos publicly voiced his demand for a new stadium, Barrett told the Union-Tribune that the Chargers' 1995 stadium deal was "comparatively good because the Chargers agreed to a long-term contract with a $78 million stadium renovation -- not following other cities and building a new stadium. New stadiums can cost more than $200 million." Barrett, the paper reported, went on to argue that "NFL teams must have a new facility to remain competitive, and noted that 22 of 30 franchises have approved or are seeking new stadiums."
Reached by phone last Friday, Barrett declined to identify any clients of his firm other than the City of San Diego. But he maintained he has no current conflicts of interest with NFL interests that would compromise his role as a city consultant in its ongoing attempts to keep Spanos and the Chargers from moving out of San Diego to more lucrative playing fields in Los Angeles or beyond. "Absolutely not. There is no conflict of interest whatsoever. None at all."
Barrett refused to discuss the specifics or the status of his current consulting activity on behalf of the city, other than to assert that he has not yet met with Alex Spanos or other representatives of the team to begin the renegotiation process. He said he had no knowledge of whether Spanos had triggered the renegotiation clause in the stadium agreement. "I have not attempted to contact him, nor have I had any contact with him. That is not my role.
"I have a contract, okay, to help the city," Barrett continued. "We have not pursued anything at this time simply because there hasn't been anything done at this point. The city has made it clear that they would like to improve the situation with the Chargers lease and I was retained to help them in those efforts, but no significant progress has been made to date.