RIP to Sports Arena: As plans stand, the city may want to drop ‘sport’ from the name

The Sports Arena, for now the Pechanga Arena San Diego, turns 56 this year and, if the mayor, city council and city staff are successful, it will not reach its 60th anniversary.

They want it gone. In all of the talk about what’s going to happen to the Midway neighborhood and the redevelopment of the nearly 50 acres of land the city owns along Sports Arena Boulevard, the entire leadership of city government may be hired to demolish the arena. .

As the city staff urgently tried to advance their top three team picks to do this job, some voices were heard that maybe we don’t need a new arena or maybe Be that there were other priorities or maybe it could use some updating. And if you’re going to build a new arena, why build it there? There’s nothing in the neighborhood, especially with 4,000 more new homes, that makes it an obvious place to put a new arena, except it’s been there for so long.

(And it was only put there after an uncomfortable history with the neighborhood that had been there before.)

In April, Councilman Joe LaCava heard those concerns but dismissed them.

“Actually, I tend to agree with you about the Sports Arena, but this debate has been raised and resolved. And a sports arena is going to be part of this project. We are not backing down,” he said. declared.

If there was a debate about whether we needed a new arena and where it should be, I missed it. The City Council has put forward three teams vying to develop the land the city owns below and around and none of the three want to keep it for renovation or revitalization. To help them, Council has also just agreed, once again, to ask voters to raise the height limit for the entire Midway area, which would make it legal for these developers to both build a new arena and reshape the entire landscape of the strip of land in the city.

Hopefully – and in this city, that’s a big if – the old arena will fall and a new one will arise. The three teams that applied for the job picked heavyweights in the big building business and presented very different visions of what should happen there. I decided to talk to them to see what they imagined.

Sorry sports fans, don’t get your hopes up

JMI Sports CEO Erik Judson and a few others recently visited former Padres owner John Moores to celebrate their friend Larry Lucchino for his induction into the Padres Hall of Fame for his role in building the Petco Park.

In just five weeks, Judson’s team will celebrate the opening of their latest project, Snapdragon Stadium, in Mission Valley, when the San Diego State Aztecs host Arizona in the first game of football in the new stadium.

Judson knows something about building big things like this and that’s why he’s the leader of the new arena part of the HometownSD team bidding on the new Sports Arena redevelopment plan.

But he has a message for sports fans who dream of this redevelopment plan bringing another major league team to San Diego: It won’t.

“If an owner came to town and wanted to bring an NBA or NHL team to San Diego — and they’re going to be very, very hesitant to do that given our proximity to LA and Orange County — they would be looking to other places. , not Midway,” he told me.

After years of devouring storylines about what would happen to the Chargers and then what would happen to the Mission Valley stadium site, some San Diego sports fans have turned their attention to the Sports Arena redevelopment effort as their last hope. that the Padres could one day get. another peer of the city. But the remaining three proposals would provide no top-level sport. The arena that replaces it may not even be the dominant feature of what the developers put on the field.

The three bidders assume that the city would provide no subsidy for the arena and that the arena should be self-financing. Without a grant, the chance of building to a size that could accommodate an NBA or NHL team is very small. And without a team even looking, there’s even less chance of getting a grant. Adding another tier to an arena for those last 3,000 seats or so adds a significant cost to developing an arena.

Not only do they want to demolish the arena, but none of the three bidders think the sport will be the main thing to replace it. The three surviving visions of a new arena in the Midway area instead offer entertainment venues that would primarily pay for themselves by hosting concerts and other experiences like pro wrestling.

In short, they would all take out big loans to build their arenas and pay them back over time with the rents from all the events they host.

Two of the bidders plan to build an arena approximately the same size as the current facility. One, Judson’s, would be much, much smaller. But they would all make it easier to load and unload their gear for traveling acts, a key complaint with the current setup.

City staff rejected both bids that proposed to retain and renovate the current arena. It’s time to think big, they decided. And the surviving bidders are all up for it.

“There is an instinct to think small and be practical, but that would be a huge missed opportunity. We have a chance to put a mark on the city. We don’t want to look back and say, ‘Why did we renovate when we could build something new and big?’ said Kunal Merchant, partner and COO of Revitate, which helps run the Midway Village + team.

Merchant helped bring in CAA ICON, which oversaw construction of the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento and the Chase Center in San Francisco, where the Golden State Warriors play. This building can accommodate more than 19,000 people for concerts and 18,000 for basketball. Its construction cost $1.4 billion.

By comparison, the grandest of visions for Midway is that of the Midway Rising team led by Zephyr Partners. They brought Legends, a name in the big sports venues and they offer a 16,000 seat arena. Bill Rhoda, president of Legends Global Planning, said he would be able “to accommodate a future home for an NBA or NHL franchise.”

It would only cost $400 million here, though, he said in a written statement. The most direct comparison to the legends’ vision for San Diego, Rhoda said, is The Star, in Frisco, Texas, the 91-acre headquarters and practice facility of the Dallas Cowboys. City of San Diego staff visited Frisco last week with the Midway Rising team.

The differences

The Legends team is currently in pole position in the race for jobs – it’s almost up to them to lose with the rules the city and state have put in place on how the city could rent or sell this excess land. If Zephyr and their partners can prove they can do what they say they can do, they’ll probably get the job.

“A new, full-size arena will unleash the full potential for housing, job, park and neighborhood improvements that the Midway community has needed for years,” Rhoda said.

But Judson thinks it’s way too big. The HometownSD team he’s a part of believes the new arena should be much smaller (around 8,000+ seats for some events) and more “aware” of the surrounding area.

“The idea of ​​putting 15,000 seats in without the infrastructure to support this type of traffic and activity just doesn’t fit in my mind. This is not the place for a bigger arena than what we envision” , Judson said.

Then there’s the sportiest of bidders: Midway Village+, the team that also wants to build a temporary home for the San Diego Loyal football team on the grounds while the entire project goes through phases. This is the one Merchant and CAA ICON are working on.

Painting by Megan Wood

Their arena would contain around 15,000 seats, close to what Legends imagines. Those 15,000 people would need to get there and with the current arena’s vast parking lot full of houses, I asked how they were all going to get there. Merchant hopes that 10-20% of them won’t use a car to get to an event there. They would have parking for 2,200 cars and 4,500 total spaces near the facility. If three people go by car, you are about to accommodate everyone.

“Nature finds a way. People will figure out how to get there,” he said.

The Legends/Zephyr plan would have a larger arena, 16,000 seats. The team hasn’t explained how it would specifically accommodate all of these people, but its executives are very optimistic about the potential.

“We are reimagining the site to add thousands of affordable housing units while moving a new transit-focused arena into the heart of a vibrant entertainment center that all of San Diego can enjoy and be proud of,” Rhoda said. .

The need

One of the things that I never understood that kept coming up in my conversations was how important it was for an arena to have loading docks. Big shows, like say a WWE wrestling event, might come with two dozen semi-trucks full of stages and equipment. Currently, at the Sports Arena, they cannot directly access a loading dock, but workers must first push equipment down and then up a long ramp.

Many shows pass over the area because of this hassle.

And it is on this ramp that Richard Disbrow, the trade representative for Local 122 of IATSE, the union for stagehands and other entertainment workers who does most of the work for large concerts and similar events in the San Diego area, said most injuries to its limbs occur.

Disbrow is on a new install and it supports all three bidding teams.

Although he leans towards the bigger ones.

“We need a bigger arena. We deserve to have life-size shows with between 15,000 and 19,000 people. We’re not going to have the NBA or the NHL, but we have enough traction in our market to attract great talent if we have the space. We don’t have it now,” he said.

A local company that brought us Petco Park and Snapdragon Stadium, a national company that built the new Golden State Warriors arena in San Francisco, and the group that turned the Dallas Cowboys headquarters into an entertainment district all want a chance to build something that takes some of that demand out of Midway.

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