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New arena is a possibility added to proposal for Midway District

San Diego's sports arena could be replaced by a new version under proposals to redevelop the area around it.
(File)

One of two developers proposing massive entertainment districts on San Diego’s 48-acre sports arena site has added the possibility of a new arena.

A development group led by Toll Bros. Housing initially proposed a $125 million renovation of the existing arena, but recent public feedback prompted the group to decide that a new arena costing $300 million to $600 million is an option.

To boost its expertise on such projects, the group also announced a new addition, Erik Judson, who helped coordinate the development of Petco Park in San Diego’s East Village and the new San Diego State University West stadium planned in Mission Valley.

Rival developers are proposing contrasting visions for the future of San Diego’s 48-acre sports arena property in an area that city officials hope to transform into a thriving entertainment district with dense housing projects.

The other development group, led by Brookfield Properties, said the same public feedback has increased that group’s focus on the possibility of a new arena.

Brookfield’s initial proposal included three separate development plans, one of which included the possibility of a new arena, but with scant details. The plan did not include proposed square footage, cost or method of paying for a new arena.

The announcements Aug. 11 came just before each development group is scheduled to meet separately on Thursday, Aug. 13, with a city selection committee that will help Mayor Kevin Faulconer choose one of the proposals in coming weeks.

City officials say the mayor’s choice will be based on public feedback and other criteria, such as the experience of the developers, their financial capabilities and how well their proposals fulfill the city’s ambitions for the site.

City officials have long touted the site as an ideal location for a thriving entertainment district with dense housing projects. It is located close to Mission Bay, the airport, Old Town and San Diego’s beach communities.

Once the mayor chooses a developer, his staff will start the process of negotiating a comprehensive lease and development agreement with the winning developer.

While the concept proposals offered by the rival development groups are likely to serve as key starting points for discussion, there is no guarantee that the final plan will include any particular feature or amenity — including a new arena.

Neither group has proposed a plan that would require taxpayer money. But all the proposals include the city leasing taxpayer-owned land to a private developer and forging some sort of public-private partnership.

Each group is proposing hundreds of housing units in high-rise buildings, as well as public parks, retail districts and other development. The Toll Bros. plan also includes a soccer stadium and an outdoor amphitheater.

The proposals hinge on a November ballot measure in which city voters will be asked whether they want to lift San Diego’s coastal height limit in the Midway District, a 1,300-acre, mostly commercial area that includes the arena site.

San Diego voters will get a chance in November to lift the city’s coastal 30-foot height limit for a relatively small swath of land that surrounds the aging sports arena property in the Midway District.

If the measure fails to get support from a simple majority of voters, the city likely would have to restart the process for redeveloping the arena site.

The Toll Bros. group emphasized that it wasn’t amending its initial plan unveiled last month but is simply adding another possibility to create more flexibility.

Judson said the group would thoroughly study the pros and cons of remodeling the arena and building a new version.

He said it’s possible San Diego would get a better return on investment from a new arena, noting that much of the $125 million in the renovation plan would be spent on seismic retrofits and upgrades to meet federal requirements for disabled people.

“There could be tremendous bang for your buck,” he said.

Judson said building a new arena would likely require a broad partnership, including professional sports teams such as the San Diego Seals lacrosse team and San Diego Gulls hockey team, and a high-level concert promoter.

An arena for those teams would likely have seating capacity of 10,000 to 12,000 and cost roughly $300 million.

The Seals and Gulls have previously shown strong interest in helping to pay for a new arena, but no financing or design plans have been made public. Judson said the imminent redevelopment of the area could be a catalyst.

“There’s been no real path to success,” he said.

A spokesman for the Gulls declined to comment. A spokesman for the Seals did not respond to a phone call.

Judson said the city also could explore the possibility of landing an NBA or NHL team, which would likely require seating capacity of 18,000 to 20,000 and cost about $600 million.

The rival Brookfield team said it already has the expertise necessary to build a world-class entertainment district surrounding a vibrant arena.

Brookfield is partnering on the project with ASM Global, a sports and entertainment company that has developed popular districts such as L.A. Live and the O2 in London.

Another partner is Gensler, which has helped build, design and renovate many arenas all over the world.

“The idea of a new arena has been ingrained from day one and it’s why we submitted [a proposal],” said Zach Adams of Brookfield. “We’ve always contemplated a new arena as an option.”

City officials have declined to say whether a new arena would be a key factor in Faulconer’s choice.


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