From the city's virtual showroom on the Midway project
A fog of intrigue has settled over San Diego city hall's muddled plans to redevelop the city-owned sports arena and surrounding real estate into a lucrative residential high-rise and pro-sports complex.
It's a familiar story, including plenty of political cash and even a soccer stadium to lure fans into backing a deal whose financial details remain hidden from the public while would-be developers parade glossy online brochures through a virtual salesroom.
For eleven days starting July 10, online viewers are offered a chance to review plans by two groups of wealthy would-be developers of the city owned land.
Four finalists were said to have been in the bidding, the Union-Tribune reported June 17, noting the city would not provide their identities.
But when the city opened the doors of its online showroom, hosted by city council Democrat Jen Campbell, just two contenders remained: Brookfield Properties of New York, and a newly constituted local outfit calling itself Midway Sports & Entertainment District.
Brookfield's proposal identifies its partner as ASM Global, formed by the October 2019 merger of SMG and AEG Facilities, a subsidiary of Anschutz Entertainment Group Inc, owned by Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz.
AEG Management SD, LLC, and local partners hold the current lease on San Diego's venue, called Pechanga Arena. The firm has been lobbying for a "short term" extension, according to an April 10 registration by downtown influence peddler Southwest Strategies.
The second contender, the self-styled Midway Sports & Entertainment group, is a creation of San Diego real estate promoter David Malmuth and his partner, mini-mansion developer Toll Brothers Properties.
The project is keyed around a temporary soccer stadium, as envisioned by a third partner San Diego Loyal SC, per Malmuth's online presentation. Dennis Cruzan, a longtime friend and associate of ex-Padres owner John Moores, is listed in the mix.
To counter AEG and company, Malmuth and associates have retained the services of Laing Strategic Communication, run by ex-Jerry Sanders mayoral aide Rachel Laing and her husband Greg Block, a ex-Faulconer media aide, per a June 30 disclosure filing.
Both Southwest Strategies and Laing Communications are heavyweight political fundraisers, frequently bestowing their own money on campaigns, as well as serving as a cash conduit for others to a bevy of city council members.
AEG began ingratiating itself with mayor Kevin Faulconer by way of $5000 that the entertainment giant kicked in for One San Diego, Faulconer's non-profit operation, back in March 2018. AEG arena partner Ernie Hahn remains an ongoing source of political funding to city officeholders.
The current competition is another redo in a long history of failures for the administration of Kevin Faulconer in its efforts to reboot the deteriorating sports arena.
After quietly dickering with AEG and its local partners, in April 2019, the city issued a so-called request for proposals regarding a three to five-year occupancy, with a closing date of May 31 that year.
"It is of the utmost importance to the City to have continuity in the operation of the Property, including the event types and usages that are currently common and ongoing for the Property," said the document.
"It is the City's desire that [the] Property continue to operate with minimal if any interruption in service to the regional community."
In August 2019, the U-T reported that Anaheim Arena Management, owned by Orange County billionaire Henry Samueli, proprietor of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks and its San Diego farm team which plays in the sports arena, had prevailed in the contest.
Details were to be "negotiated in coming weeks."
"From the outset of this process, our goal was to improve the experience for the arena's users and guests, enhance the volume and quality of programming and increase revenue for San Diego taxpayers," Tim Ryan, chief executive of Anaheim Arena Management, said in a statement to the paper.
"We are excited that the selection panel agreed with this vision and selected our bid."
But Ernie Hahn, AEG's partner in the Sports Arena operation, told the U-T that he and AEG would "defend our position as the arena operator as we have for the last 28 years."
Whether another round of soccer hype, as envisioned by Malmuth and San Diego Loyal, will meet with more success than now-defunct Soccer City remains to be seen, but some local sportswriters have already taken the bait.
"Modular stadiums have become a popular option for soccer clubs in America," said TV station KNSD in a July 10 account.
"They're temporary facilities that have the look and feel of traditional stadiums but are built at a fraction of the price, often in around four months. They've been used by Sacramento Republic and the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS and multiple USL Championship clubs with great success.
"San Diego's version would sit in the southeast corner of the 48-acre parcel and take an estimated $15-$20 million to construct, all privately financed."