Pay for Play: The Role of "Convadiums" in Local Economic Development

City planners and business leaders are steadily employing different methods to excite their local economic environments. Through different physical development opportunities, private interests are making the case for a myriad of improvements in the realm of new sporting arenas. But these aren’t traditional sporting facilities that are solely designed for a particular team. These new edifices of urban cores are contrived to include additional convention space. The idea is to garner further opportunities of utilization through large sporting events and concerts as well as rentable space for business and personal meetings. Proponents argue that these “convadiums” are better suited for newer forms of local tourism. However, opponents contend this comes at the expense of local taxpayers.

Instead of focusing on the financial burdens of convadiums, I wanted to rethink the broader idea of mixed-use sporting arenas and its implications on public policy and administration. How does the convadium proposed by the San Diego Chargers represent traditional forms of social exclusion in the quest for economic benefits as it relates to land use and public financing? In what ways do public officials and agencies cater to private interests at the expense of local residents? And most importantly, who controls and shapes local communities within today’s global society?

According to the Citizen’s Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG), the financial plans for the multi-used stadium includes the price tag of $1.1 billion, excluding the price of the land in the Mission Valley section of San Diego. This plan is perceived to have no increase on taxes or to the City’s General Fund. However, CSAG overlooks the fact that the city has been paying the Chargers millions of dollars to stay in San Diego over the years, even after their bid to relocate to Los Angeles earlier this year. The proposed convadium will utilize about 60 acres of land valued at approximately $180 million. That $1.1 billion price tag has a proposed funding structure coming from the County and City of San Diego as well as more than $100 million from fans through purchases of Personal Seat Licenses (PSLs) and ticket and parking surcharges. The Chargers will offer up $300 million themselves.

It is worth noting that during their study, CSAG clearly outlines how they came to these conclusions. Data spans the period of the last 12 years including voices from a public forum and interviews with dozens of industry experts and civic leaders. However, with over a billion dollars on the line, CSAG lacked the representation of local community members. CSAG’s organizational structure includes a Fortune 500 executive, a local government leader, a California State University Trustee, a former executive of the NFL and the Chargers, as well as experts in realm of stadium construction. Yet, CSAG lacked representation of the local voices who may have provide further critique other areas of utilization of the proposed convadium. If the convadium is to serve as a sports arena for the San Diego Chargers, and convention space, how does that actually cater to the needs and wants of the local community?

Rob Quigley, a notable, award-winning architect, notes on the Voice of San Diego, that the Downtown Community Planning Council, a democratically elected group of residents, land owners and business owners, released a severely critical indictment against Dean Spanos’, team president and CEO of the San Diego Chargers, plan for the new convadium. If private and public interests are combining efforts, their interdependent interests must be evaluated in an effort to understand not only their economic implications, but the social and political effects of their interactions.

Largely, we have couched this discourse within the disciplines of urban planning and urban economics. However, the repercussions of convadiums speaks to the fields of public administration and public policy. It begs us to question our conversations about social equity and community development. It requires policymakers and practitioners to think of ways in which physical development impedes on the ability of the public sector to execute other social service programs as well as the basic functions of public organizations within local communities.

Interrogation of urban planning activities led by private-public interests must occur if we are to fully embrace these ideas of social equity and community development. Once the interests of the few are held up as the new hallmark, then we must consider competing ideas as well as the perception of salience among marginalized populations. Within this regard, we can think of the ways in which individuals interact with public policymaking and how our preferences as public administrators are shaped by the institutional arrangements that govern and shape our communities.

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