Poor, benighted Qualcomm Stadium. It's been around since 1967 and for its first three decades was one of the city's most popular landmarks. Winner of national architecture awards, the dual-use arena, owned jointly by the City and County, was hailed as a miracle of efficiency and wise public stewardship. Then came 1995, the year Mayor Susan Golding launched her effort to expand the place to keep the Chargers from leaving town. She bumped the County out of the partnership, and she proposed closing off the open east end and adding 10,500 new seats, ostensibly to provide enough capacity for the NFL to conduct semi-regular Super Bowls here.
After a heated struggle in 1997, Golding got her way, avoiding the voters -- more than 20,000 of whom had signed petitions to put $18 million of public financing on the ballot -- by selling the naming rights to the stadium. The team promised to stay in town until at least 2020 and accepted a rich, taxpayer-subsidized ticket guarantee for its trouble.
But after only a few years, the Chargers, owned by Stockton developer Alex Spanos, began grumbling again. Baseball's Padres, who had been given their own brand-new downtown ballpark, thanks to a $300 million public subsidy, moved away in 2004. It wasn't fair, the Chargers said, that they didn't have their own new Taj Mahal.
In December of 2003, Spanos, who was worth $860 million at the time according to Forbes, sued the City in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming that going without a new stadium in San Diego was causing him "financial hardship." The case was ultimately dropped, and after a long series of backroom wheelings and dealings in the summer of 2004, the city council agreed to let Spanos out of his Golding-era lease.
The new deal gave the team an exit clause after the 2008 season, and Spanos agreed to end his politically disastrous ticket guarantee in exchange for a reduction in his stadium rent of about $5 million a year.
Since then, the Chargers have come up with a new plan. The team and a development partner would pay for a new stadium, infrastructure, and an urban village of homes, offices, retail shops, and a hotel, says a statement on the team's website. Additionally, the development team would provide almost 30 acres of public parks. In exchange, the City would give the team 60 acres on which it would build and then sell more than 6000 units. The City would retain ownership of the new stadium and the land on which the offices, shops, and hotel are built. Pitched by the Spanos family as a dream deal for taxpayers, critics say it would be an obscene giveaway of public assets at a time the City can least afford it.
Spanos and his backers claim it's impossible to renovate the stadium. Editorial writers for the Union-Tribune, who have taken to calling Qualcomm "leaky, creaky and crumbling," say that fixing it up isn't an option.
Some have wondered if the alleged lack of maintenance has been deliberate on the part of the City, as a way to make construction of a new stadium inevitable. Stadium manager Bill Wilson, who retired in October, says absolutely not, but doubters remain.
To shed some light on the situation, a request was made to the City under the state's Public Records Act for e-mails and other documents pertaining to stadium management.
The records provided show that maintenance problems have been rife and staffing inadequate, but they also suggest that the City has neglected basic fix-ups that would benefit fans in lower-priced seats in favor of high-end patrons and the media.
While the hoi polloi struggled with broken seats and leaky roofs, the records show, members of the media and fat cats in the luxury VIP boxes were treated to new loveseats, high-definition television sets, and a variety of other upgrades.
Besides catering to the rich, the e-mails show, members of the stadium staff are careful not to run afoul of Nick Canepa and Tim Sullivan, sportswriters at the Union-Tribune who frequently talk up the need for a new stadium. Meanwhile, accessible seating for the handicapped, which the City agreed to install only after a lawsuit that lasted almost a decade, has been late in coming.
Following is a selection of this year's e-mails written by Chargers' staff and the City employees who maintain the stadium.
On May 6, well before the football season began, the city's stadium marketing manager, Mike McSweeney, wrote Charger vice president Ken Derrett about a request to cover up the stadium's advertising signs during a special event to be held in June.
You may have heard through the grapevine that we are looking at a major private corp event here inside the stadium June 21. Qualcomm, the wireless company is celebrating their 20th Anniversary. It is also the passing of the control of the company from Irwin to his son.
Its a big production. 10,000 people, 84 pc orchestra, Natalie Cole is entertainment. Food and Bev on field.
They are asking/considering several scenearios re: the ring signage inside the stadium. I can't find any references to these in documents here at the stadium. They are:
- Can the signs be covered? I think they are asking that they be covered in a black out type of blanket/cover. I'm guessing this might only be permissable in a religous event. Perhaps they are just not turned on, but left uncovered.
- They are asking if the signs that are in place can be taken out and a special Qualcomm sign replace it. My answer would be no. Too much hassle, potential breakage of the existing signs, goes against the spirit of the contract with the current advertisers. They should be able to reach all attendees in the stadium.
Twelve days later, on MAY 18, Charger vice president Derrett addressed the situation, sending a stern "no" to Linda Champagne, whom Qualcomm had hired to run its anniversary event:
Linda, In response to your recent email regarding signage at Qualcomm Stadium, this will advise that we have entered into contractual agreements with many marketing partners that provide them with advertising presence at the stadium on a year round basis regardless of the nature of the event. Our inability to deliver their signage at the stadium clearly puts us in breach of their contract and some thing we have never had to experience. The end result could be extremely damaging to the San Diego Chargers from various points of view including legal, relationship and financial. Thus while we have a strong relationship with Qualcomm we find this request very difficult to comply with. If you would like to discuss this matter further please feel free to call me directly.