Most news reports say the San Diego Chargers want to build a stadium downtown.
From ESPN: “Chargers believe downtown stadium in S.D. could be open by ’22.”
From NFL.com: “Chargers focus efforts to build stadium in downtown San Diego.”
From Sporting News: “Chargers unveil renderings for proposed downtown stadium.”
That’s technically true. The Chargers do want to build a stadium and convention center annex downtown, but specifically it would be in the East Village community of downtown.
That distinction is important. Downtown San Diego is not a single entity, moving in perfect lockstep. It’s made up of seven distinct neighborhoods, whose residents have varying wants and needs, particularly when it comes to development.
For instance, some in the East Village fear a new stadium would stall revitalization there, not promote it. A football stadium takes up too big a footprint and would not be used that often, they say. They would like to see an arts and innovation cluster, anchored by a higher-education addition.
However, a new stadium might be a boon for the Gaslamp Quarter, since game days would attract tens of thousands of people. The Gaslamp Quarter — crazy with bars and restaurants — abuts East Village, but it’s a separate neighborhood.
The Chargers have maintained that the proposed stadium will be a showpiece and attract events year-round. In short, they say it will be a bonus for East Village.
Chargers point man Fred Maas told ESPN: “We think, if properly delivered with the proper management and marketing, given where San Diego is as a tourist destination, we can attract Final Fours, prize fights and other events, better than the Qualcomm location.”
He also blasted East Village residents who want to see alternative development. At a recent breakfast meeting to discuss the stadium issue, he said the idea of “bringing some artistic, airy-fairy, consultant-based, planner-based plan to those blocks is impossible,” according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The downtown communities have their own personalities and quirks, no question. Take the Core District, which is where the bulk of government and banking is located. It’s also home to cultural amenities, such as the San Diego Civic Theatre and Copley Symphony Hall. In short, it’s no Gaslamp.
Cortez Hill is one of San Diego’s oldest residential neighborhoods, named after the famed El Cortez Hotel. It’s above the Core District and close to Balboa Park. A bit more low-key, it has Victorian homes and sidewalk cafes.
The Marina District is seeing much residential construction, particularly condominium towers, and offers stunning bay views.
Downtown’s diversity is a huge draw, said Anne MacMillan Eichman, president of the Little Italy Residents Association.
“That’s one of the reasons I love living here, and I suspect so do many of the 37,000-plus residents who call downtown their home,” she said.
She respects the East Village’s concerns about the stadium, even though it most likely would not affect her neighborhood greatly. Little Italy is quite a distance from the proposed stadium location.
“I can understand the opposition and pushback by many of the residents there,” she said. “As stakeholders, many have a vested interest in shaping this part of downtown to be a residential and business-friendly community with emphasis on education and culture.”
Her organization will not take a position on the stadium, she said.
The stadium is but another point of contention to hit downtown neighborhoods in recent years. For instance, Little Italy is not thrilled about a new Downtown San Diego Mobility Plan proposed by the city’s planning organization, Civic San Diego. It calls for more bike lanes and pedestrian walkways, which would chew up more than 50 parking spaces in Little Italy.
For a community where parking is in great demand, that’s a big hit. So both the Little Italy Residents Association and the Little Italy Association are opposed to the plan.
Homelessness is a big problem in many downtown neighborhoods. In 2010, when the city proposed converting the former World Trade Center in the Core District into a permanent homeless shelter, it was opposed by several nearby businesses.
The move pitted downtown communities against each other. The East Village, where many of the homeless congregate, hoped a homeless shelter placed elsewhere would ease the situation in its community.
On a blog called concern4homeless, this call to arms was sounded: “Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of well-organized support for the World Trade Center Homeless Center proposal – from the business community and residents of the East Village District that clearly and vocally want to remove the homeless from their neighborhood and push it off on us. We need a strong show of opposition to this project from our neighborhood to stop this crazy project.”
The homeless shelter was approved, and it opened in 2013. However, it did not seem to alleviate East Village’s homeless problem.
Downtown’s communities are aligned on many issues, and they have worked together to seek improvements. Many joined forces to lobby the city to declare the region a “Quiet Zone,” so trains wouldn’t blare their horns at each of 13 downtown crossings. Necessary upgrades to the infrastructure cost $20 million.
When it comes to the stadium and convention center annex, it’s still unknown how a lot of downtown residents and business owners feel about it.
The Gaslamp Quarter Association has yet to take a position on the proposal, said Michael Trimble, executive director.
“It’s just too soon to comment,” he said, noting that many of the stadium’s design elements are yet to be fleshed out.
Gary Smith, president of the San Diego Downtown Residents Group, said his organization hasn’t taken a position on the stadium and is still studying the initiative.
“It was published April 2, but is very complex, including such things as 12-story-high by 60-foot-wide, 24-hour-a-day message boards, and exemption from most city procedures for permitting stuff,” he said. “I expect downtown as a whole will not be wholly in favor or against until much later. In dense urban areas, details really matter. Whether it’s lights, noise, sidewalk transparency or parking, until we know what’s coming, it’s really hard to form an opinion.”