Chargers not close to LA move
LOS ANGELES -- It would take a miracle of biblical proportions for the San Diego Chargers to move to Los Angeles next year, in the eyes of the man in charge of finding the team a new stadium.
Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani said the team would not even consider a move to a temporary location if the city wasn't breaking ground on a new permanent stadium. And he believes Farmers Field, the proposed $1.2 billion football stadium in downtown Los Angeles, won't be close to that point by next year.
"I think the downtown L.A. project is years away," Fabiani said while in Los Angeles for a charity board meeting Thursday. "I think it would be a miracle like the loaves and the fishes if they could [break ground next year]."
Ten days ago, the Los Angeles city council unanimously passed the financial framework of an agreement between Anschutz Entertainment Group and the city to build Farmers Field and a new $275 million wing of the Los Angeles Convention Center. AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke said he would like to have a deal in place with a team and break ground on the project by June 2012, with Farmers Field opening by September 2016.
The Chargers are the team most commonly linked to a move to Los Angeles. The team can announce its intentions to leave San Diego between Feb. 1 and May 1 of each year through 2020 by paying an early-termination fee, which would be $24 million next year -- a fee AEG has said it would be willing to pay.
Fabiani, however, continues to work with San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders to keep the team in San Diego. Sanders is in the midst of a three-city tour of stadiums in Kansas City, Indianapolis and Denver to gather ideas for a future Chargers stadium.
The Chargers are hoping to build a retractable roof stadium in downtown San Diego, which would be part of an expanded San Diego Convention Center. The stadium would not only house the Chargers, but also be used to attract Super Bowls, Final Fours and larger conventions. It's a similar proposal to AEG's in downtown Los Angeles, except it doesn't have the support of the San Diego Convention Center, which has its own proposal for an expansion.
While the Chargers are far from figuring out how they will be able to finance such a project, Fabiani said Farmers Field is also far from becoming a reality.
"The downtown L.A. project still needs a final agreement with the city," he said. "What they have now is a non-binding agreement and the devil is in the details with these things, so they first need a binding contract. Second, they need to finish their environmental impact report and get it certified by the city. Third, they need to be able to survive the lawsuits, and they're not going to get an exemption like Ed Roski got. Fourth, they need an agreement with the NFL on a relocation fee because that is going to be a huge number. And fifth, they need to have a deal with a team. If you don't have every one of those things you're not going to start digging in the ground."
Sanders and Fabiani want to get a Chargers stadium financing plan in front of the voters by November 2012, which is Sanders' final month in office. In the meantime, Fabiani said the Chargers aren't looking to move to Los Angeles.
If they were, he said, they would have already moved to the City of Industry, where Ed Roski has a shovel-ready project for a 75,000-seat football stadium that could conceivably break ground as soon as a team decided to move there.
"Ed Roski is a billionaire and one of the most respected people in Los Angeles and one of the most respected developers in the country," Fabiani said. "He's had a shovel-ready project for over two years. He's got support from the city and money from the city. He has his EIR done and he's got the exemption from the lawsuits. He has everything and he hasn't turned over a single shovel full of dirt because he doesn't have a team, and it's not from a lack of trying."
If the Chargers' proposal to build a stadium in downtown San Diego meets the same fate as previous proposals in Mission Valley, Chula Vista, Escondido, National City and Oceanside have the past 10 years, Fabiani admits that could eventually spell the end of the Chargers in San Diego.
"I think if we didn't make the ballot in 2012 we would have to seriously look at our other options," he said. "I don't think there's any way to avoid saying that to people."
AEG's deal or "memorandum of understanding" with the city states it must have a deal in place with a team before they can break ground, and Leiweke said he's willing to wait a year if necessary.
"If it takes a little bit longer, then we'll take a little bit longer and we'll be playing in the building in 2017. We're prepared to do that," Leiweke said. "All of our deals anticipate that. Legally we don't lose our memorandum of understanding with the city or our naming right agreement if we open September 2017. We have time to figure this out on the team side, but my gut tells me if a team is going to make a move, they don't want to be a lame duck and they're going to make a move sooner rather than later."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.