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The sky's the limit for Qualcomm site if Chargers leave

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The Chargers may not remain in Mission Valley, but developers have a few ideas about what should happen to the 158 acres around Qualcomm Stadium -- with or without a stadium.

The parking lots around the stadium consist of about 122 acres of blacktop that could comprise the total land for a mixed-use development or part of a larger plan that would eliminate Qualcomm.

As explained by Brian Schoenfisch, a San Diego senior planner, the update to the Mission Valley Community Plan has been placed on hold indefinitely due to lack of funds.

"Maybe it's a good thing that the plan update is on hold because the situation will become clearer later," he said.

Schoenfisch said all the scenarios with or without a stadium haven't been aired because of the uncertainty surrounding the Chargers and the lack of the plan update.

"The city funding constraints once more move to the fore," Schoenfisch said. "Lots of people have been talking about the site, but nothing has officially taken place."

He added that mixed-use with high-density residential has been mentioned the most often, but there have been some who have said the entire property should be a park.

The football team had hoped to develop a $400 million to $500 million stadium on the parking lot before tearing down the stadium. During an Urban Land Institute meeting last year, Mark Fabiani, a Chargers special counsel, discussed a plan with 6,000 mostly multifamily units and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail uses and potentially more than 1,000 hotel rooms. Fabiani could not be reached for comment.

The Chargers had hoped to receive the land for free, much of which is owned by the city's Water Utilities Department; however, City Attorney Michael Aguirre, who also couldn't be reached, halted the transfer, contending state law makes it illegal to hand over the department's land to a developer gratis.

Within the past week, the San Diego City Council gave the Chargers the right to shop other cities in San Diego County. Chula Vista and Oceanside have expressed an interest, but they may not have the wherewithal to mount such a bid.

There is no shortage of opinions as to what to do with the land. Some say they are still holding out hope the Chargers will stay in Mission Valley.

The Chargers, for their part, have said they are at an impasse and must go elsewhere in the county to build a new stadium if they are to stay in this region at all.

Michael Pattinson, president of Carlsbad-based homebuilder Barratt American, said the stadium could be demolished, freeing up the entire 158-acre site.

"I think it should be high-density, mixed-use development with some open space and some park. It would be like a large village or a small town," he said.

Pattinson said the biggest hurdle is San Diego's political climate, which he believes has improved with Jerry Sanders as mayor.

Perry Dealy, president of Manchester Development, which has developed much of the San Diego bayfront and is primed to develop more, said he believes the Qualcomm site should incorporate the San Diego River as much as possible.

"There should be plenty of dedicated open and green space and the opportunity for people to interact with that space," Dealy said.

Naturally, just how the mixed-use plan would look varies quite dramatically as to whether or not Qualcomm is incorporated into the project. Even without the Chargers, the stadium is used by the San Diego State football team and for monster truck rallies, concerts and religious functions throughout the year. But it was not immediately clear whether or not these functions were enough to justify the stadium's existence.

"If there isn't a stadium there, you do a market analysis and you get some planning criteria," Dealy said.

Both Pattinson and Dealy agreed that the Qualcomm site is a tremendous one because of its easy access to the Interstates 8, 15, and 805, along with Highway 163. Developers also say the trolley is a huge benefit. In short, Pattinson and Dealy affirmed the site has tremendous potential.

"There is an opportunity here to create a great master plan," Dealy said. "I like what the Chargers proposed, but if these plans don't go forward, then you can start over on the master plan."

Michael Rust of Newland Communities, the developer of the 4S Ranch master plan, also believes the Qualcomm property should be developed as high-density, mixed-use as has been proposed.

"If you don't have the Chargers, what do you do with the stadium?" Rust asked.

He also suggested that without the Chargers wherewithal and plan, it could be more difficult to develop the Qualcomm site.

"What to do with the sports complex could be the most difficult part of the equation. On the other hand, if you didn't have the stadium, you could master plan the whole site for a variety of uses," Rust said. "Personally, I would rather keep the Chargers where they are."

Another issue that will almost certainly crop up is the gas plume that sits beneath the property. That could take tens of millions of dollars to clean up for whoever foots the bill.

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