The San Diego Chargers might be headed to Escondido for the first time since 1968, if the team can find the financing.
Back in the AFL heydays with NFL Hall of Fame players Lance Alworth and Ron Mix starring in the Chargers’ offense, the team practiced at a TraveLodge just west of North Spruce Street and east of Interstate 15.
If city officials and North County Charger-stadium backers get their way, the Chargers will have its long sought-after stadium built in a similar location to the team's practice field in the mid-60s.
The location of the stadium is not set in stone, but the general area planners are looking at is bordered by Interstate 15 to the west, Highway 78 to the north, Centre City Parkway to the east and Second Avenue to the south.
The appeal of the spot is that it doesn’t have what 30-year Escondido land-use attorney Dave Ferguson said are “fatal flaws.”
A site in Chula Vista has been practically ruled out since a power plant would have to be moved to accommodate the stadium. Similarly, a location in Oceanside is not feasible due to its proximity to an airport.
Though other sites have been proposed in the city of San Diego, all have been nixed.
Ferguson thinks the Escondido site has a good chance since he said it is basically the “last man standing.”
“We’re the last one in line,” Ferguson said. “The Chargers have looked at another number of sites and all have fatal flaws.”
Mark Fabiani, special counsel to the Chargers, said the team has made an effort to stay in San Diego as demonstrated by the team staying in the county despite an offer to play in Los Angeles-area’s City of Industry with a new stadium.
Already, the Chargers have two parcels that will likely be sold to them for market value: a closed drive-in theater being used as a swap-meet that takes up 12 acres and 17 acres of Escondido city-owned land where the old training facility once was.
Washington Avenue and several other local businesses divide the 29 acres, and are nowhere near the 50 acres Fabiani said the Chargers would like to obtain.
However, Fabiani said the stadium itself would need about 25 acres, and parking could be built a few blocks away.
Ferguson said the project would use a “Petco Park” model of parking in which visitors park in nearby garages rather than the sprawling Qualcomm stadium version.
Ferguson’s clients own the land the Escondido swap-meet sits on and is spearheading the stadium efforts.
He said the biggest challenge is finding financing for the project.
Unlike other states, stadiums cannot be funded using public money to close the gap between what owners and the NFL pay and what a stadium actually costs to build.
The Spanos family, which owns the Chargers, is able to pay $500 million and the NFL could loan them another $100 million, but it is still $500 million short for a modern football stadium.
Now the Chargers and Ferguson are looking to close that gap through surrounding residential, commercial or industrial development.
Right now Ferguson, the city and the team are looking at types of property development that would be most profitable. The city and team should have a better idea within the next 30 days.
If the development plans are deemed feasible, they will move on to creating a more concrete plan about where the stadium and its ancillary facilities will be located.
Ferguson said he is hopeful based on Escondido’s current growth spurt.
Within the last few years, the city has built its state-of-the-art performing arts center and allowed Palomar Pomerado Health to build its $900 million hospital.
Both projects have had monetary troubles, however.
In August, the California Center for the Arts posted a $300,000 deficit despite laying off employees and cutting salaries.
The hospital has had problems of its own and had to scale back some of its plans after showing it was going to be $86 million over budget.
The city of Escondido is standing behind the project, however, with Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler and Mayor Pro Tem Dick Daniels supporting it.
The proposed area for the stadium is located in a redevelopment zone, which means the property tax on the $1.1 billion stadium would be returned to the area.
Send your comments to Jennifer.Lebron@sddt.com