San Diego With Super Bowl XXXVII only about 40 weeks away, San Diego city officials are scrambling to figure out how to stage the game the way they said they would three years ago. As time runs short, crucial issues -- such as how much stadium seating will be available for the game and the location of the NFL Experience, a carnival-like event open to the public -- remain unresolved, say sources close to the situation. Worse yet, the prospect of mammoth traffic jams and parking hassles seems increasingly certain, as the U.S. Secret Service demands that a large portion of the stadium parking lot be turned into a secured no-man's-land.
It was May 26, 1999, when the city won its effort to host the event, outbidding rival South Florida with a pledge to have more than 70,000 seats in Qualcomm Stadium, along with new luxury suites and expanded game-day parking. The bid, coming after San Francisco lost the game due to fears its new stadium wouldn't be ready in time, was a hastily prepared affair, secretly cobbled together by then-mayor Susan Golding, assistant city manager Bruce Herring, and a booster group influenced by Copley Newspapers "Editor in Chief" Herb Klein.
"We are once again on the Super Bowl circuit," Golding said in a brief statement from Atlanta, where she had gone to make the city's pitch to NFL owners. "The success of our last Super Bowl shows that San Diego is the ideal host. This event will be even better."
According to a budget submitted to the NFL in 1999, local "sponsors," including the city, were supposed to kick in a total of $8.3 million, with city taxpayers picking up $1.93 million of that, with the remainder to be raised through commercial sponsorships ($2.9 million), "in-kind services" ($1.4 million), "other agencies" ($700,000), and a variety of other sources.
Those close to the situation believe that the cost to local government, including increased security in the wake of the September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, will now top $20 million and possibly much more -- especially if the NFL sticks to a demand that cantilevered seating be built to assure those long-ago-promised 70,000 seats at Qualcomm.
The NFL's original plans are spelled out in a letter dated April 19, 1999, to Ky Snyder, executive director of the San Diego International Sports Council, from Jerry Anderson, the NFL's Super Bowl architect.
"As requested, I am writing to review the preliminary schedule for the Super Bowl seating installation. This will set out the general framework for determining a final schedule in the future.
"The upper-deck temporary-seating project requires an extended amount of construction time, since it involves steel fabrication and installation. We think this will be in the range of eight to ten weeks. We would recommend that the platform be installed prior to the Chargers season during the spring and summer in advance of the Game. (This assumes that the Padres are out of the stadium by that time.) The area could be secured and work could continue on the platform during the football season with minor interruption to the existing ticket holders located in that area. The final work to install the stairways and seating risers could be done in the month before the Super Bowl. This limited amount of remaining work could be scheduled to be completed in a worst-case scenario in one week if the Chargers are in the playoffs. There would probably be some acceleration costs associated with this type of schedule if the Chargers host AFC Championship games.
"The other seating installations are, for the most part, self-evident. If the plan to lower the field is viable, this would be done prior to the Chargers' season. This work would most likely be completed in eight to ten weeks.
"The only other major element in the project schedule would be the financing plan. This will need to be directly coordinated with major milestones for the project in general."
Reached by phone last week, Anderson said the NFL is still meeting with the city to determine final arrangements, including who will pay for what, and to resolve the troublesome seating plan. No final decisions have been made on how best to proceed, he said. "It's going to take two to three weeks. We're still doing due diligence. Nothing is resolved yet. I think what you say is that both entities are working on it, but it's premature to say anything about it. There are lots of ideas, and we have to talk to all of the entities involved. We've put together some of the preliminary documents, but that's it."
Asked whether the recommendations in his 1999 letter were still on the table, Anderson would only say, "A lot of things have happened since then."
Another source familiar with the talks confirms that the final outcome is still uncertain but that some options have already been ruled out, including a plan to lower the level of the playing field physically in order to make room for bleachers that would not obstruct sight lines . "That's out," says a source close to the negotiations. "No time. The Padres are still in the stadium, so you can't dig up the field."
During the last Super Bowl, existing seats blocking sight lines were kept unsold and covered during the game, a prospect, the source says, that the city faces again this time.
"That, again, is the NFL's call, and they're going to decide how many they're going to cover," says the source. "I'm sure they're going to cover some up as they did in '98, because of the sight lines. They covered seven rows of seats, as I recall, in '98."
Plan B, the installation of an expensive "cantilever" system of seats on the upper deck, also seems difficult, the source says. "That would be a good way to pick up some 7500 seats, but we just don't have time to do it; it's a six-month project, and we don't have six months. Baseball goes right into football, and football goes on into almost the Super Bowl. Depending on whether the Chargers go to postseason or not, that would really complicate matters. I don't know if they've completely discounted that. My guess is it would be a remote thing.