“The City is broke and they are talking about a retractable-roof stadium"

The idea is just too absurd

It’s true: God did tilt the world on its axis, and all the nuts rolled into Southern California. Proof: entrepreneurs in Los Angeles are discussing a billion-dollar retractable-roof football stadium downtown. Not to be out-loose-screwed, the San Diego establishment is now talking up the same possibility for the subsidized downtown stadium it is pushing with the mayor’s help. Such a facility would almost certainly raise the cost of a new Chargers’ stadium to close to $1 billion, three-fourths of which would probably be financed by taxpayers of an insolvent city.

Like San Diego, Los Angeles is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. But unlike San Diego, the L.A. taxpayers are not likely to pick up a significant (if any) part of the tab for the stadium, although the public could chip in for infrastructure. Los Angeles learned long ago that if the politicians hold out, the team will eventually cough up the money. The latest proposal is for a stadium with a retractable roof near the Staples Center. It’s just a wild idea now, particularly with developer/casino magnate Ed Roski still claiming he intends to build a stadium in the little town of Industry. It’s quite possible neither will get off the ground because of the weak economy, lack of capital, and the possibility of a players’ strike or lockout in 2011.

As soon as the word leaked in L.A., San Diego real estate moguls started talking up a stadium with a retractable roof on the tiny ten-acre footprint downtown. Tub-thumpers want the technically bankrupt City to subsidize it. Earlier this year, Chargers spokesman Mark Fabiani said the team and the National Football League would put in $250 million to $300 million, although the league’s participation was very iffy.

Iffy indeed. The league had a slush fund to give loans to stadium builders, but it “exhausted the funds” mainly on the new Giants/Jets stadium in the New York metro area, says Rob Baade, economist at Lake Forest College near Chicago. He is an expert on sports stadium financings. Fabiani claims, “We will be working to persuade the NFL to reinstitute a version” of the old loan program. Baade strongly doubts it will happen.

So how much might the Chargers ante up: $250 million? Earlier, Fabiani said the stadium (without a retractable roof) would cost $700 million to $800 million. Initial estimates are almost always very low for political reasons. Peter Fervoy is the business development manager for Minnesota-based Uni-Systems, which creates the lion’s share of mechanization systems for retractable-roof stadiums. He has seen estimates that a pro sports stadium roof would cost anywhere from $65 million to $450 million, but both ends of the spectrum are not realistic, he says. “I would say $100 million to $150 million is pretty accurate,” says Fervoy. That would put the total San Diego cost close to a billion dollars — the same as the estimate in downtown L.A. Maintenance typically runs $250,000 a year.

If the Chargers put in only $250 million, San Diego taxpayers’ wallets will be emptied in a hurry.

And for what? A stadium with a retractable roof in a Mediterranean climate? “It boggles the mind,” says Baade. “It’s crazy,” says Rodney Fort, sports economist at the University of Michigan, who once lived in San Diego.

The Association for Retractable Roof Operators Worldwide, an organization that touts the product, has done a 17-page white paper on all the advantages of the roofs — exulting, for example, how such stadiums in Houston and Phoenix keep out the heat and those in Indianapolis and Milwaukee protect the fans from the cold. But even the white paper admits that these roofs are good for extreme climates but are of questionable usefulness in moderate climates. “Clearly, the retractable roof decision is not right in all cases,” allows the paper, noting that New Yorkers don’t feel they need such roofs.

Says Baade, “In cities like Milwaukee, a retractable roof might attract larger crowds in April and May. But study after study has shown that the way to put fannies in the seats is to win games. Success on the field determines success at the gate.”

But the cheerleaders insist that with retractable roofs, the stadium can be used for things like championship prize fights, National Collegiate Athletic Association Final Four basketball games, concerts, conventions, and the like, even though both the proposed L.A. and San Diego stadiums are a stone’s throw from their cities’ convention centers.

The argument is fallacious. “An NCAA Final Four competition has as much economic impact as a basketball tournament for girls 16 and under,” jokes Philip Porter, economist for the Tampa-based University of South Florida. “The Final Four attracts people, but so would a convention for left-handed used-car salesmen. Hotels would be able to raise prices for a Final Four, but that money doesn’t stick in the community.” It goes to the hotel chain, which is probably based elsewhere. Hotel workers don’t see their paychecks increased.

Baade coauthored a recent study on the economic impact of hosting the Final Four. “We did not find that the NCAA Final Four made a big economic difference,” he says. One reason is that other visitors are crowded out. The NCAA gets a huge chunk of the revenue, and the hotels repatriate their increased cash flow back to their headquarters city. And, of course, the opportunity to be host would come once in a decade — maybe. “It would certainly not be enough to pay for a retractable-roof stadium.”

What about concerts? “There are not enough megaevents that require 60,000 to 80,000 seats,” says Fort. If the stadium owners “made $2 million a gig, which is unheard of, it would take 50 gigs over several years” to make the roof economical. In my own opinion, those events might not even cover the $250,000 annual maintenance.

Fabiani claims that a retractable-roof stadium could host events now held at Qualcomm Stadium and the Sports Arena. Then the City could sell the land at those places. Oh? To whom? For what purpose? The construction of condos? (Has Fabiani noticed the huge glut downtown?) For more retailing? (Doesn’t Mission Valley have enough?) For hotels? (Those built or refinanced in the last five years are underwater.) For office buildings? (Commercial real estate is in the doldrums.)

Only “vested interests” would benefit, says Baade. “It’s just another manifestation of one group in society trying to appropriate funds from other groups.”

Amen, say San Diegans. “They have unlimited money for these stadiums but don’t have enough money for a minimum number of fire engines,” says activist Mel Shapiro. “There is something wrong there.”

Says Norma Damashek, president of the League of Women Voters, “The City is broke and they are talking about legacy projects for the mayor, including a retractable-roof stadium. It’s irrational.”

I don’t believe either of these retractable-roof stadiums will be built. The idea is just too absurd. But the mere fact that the topic is on the table suggests that daffiness is spreading uncontrollably in Southern California.

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could be coming up with an absurd idea makes the just plain stupid ones seem not so bad.

a bit like a fashion show, they run a few goofey outfits down the isle, and then the outlandish ones don't seem so bad

Response to post #1: You may have something there. The first proposal will be a $1 billion stadium with retractable roof. There will be public complaints, and the establishment will say, "OK, we give in. We will settle for an $850 million stadium." The public won't notice that it is costing taxpayers at least $600 million. Best, Don Bauder

Like San Diego, Los Angeles is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy

Former LA MAyor Richard Riordon said LA will be BK sometime between 2010-2014, and KFC Sanders says San Diego is NOT on the edge of BK!!! Please!.....;

“Los Angeles is facing a terminal fiscal crisis: between now and 2014 the city will likely declare bankruptcy,” former mayor Richard Riordan wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

“Yet Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council have been either unable or unwilling to face this fact.”

[The Mayor of LA doing nothing while Rome burns...Hmmmm....what does THAT remind you of :)]


Response to post #3: Riordan had been warning of BK before yesterday's Wall Street Journal piece. When I was doing homework for this column, I came across a quote by Riordan warning of a looming LA BK. On the whole, Villaraigosa has been much more open about the LA problems than Sanders has been about SD's woes. The LA mayor speaks of a crisis that will intensify if moves are not taken to rein in spending. Sanders just dances around the topic. Best, Don Bauder

And for what? A stadium with a retractable roof in a Mediterranean climate? “It boggles the mind,” says Baade. “It’s crazy,” says Rodney Fort, sports economist at the University of Michigan, who once lived in San Diego.


The politicians need the retractable roof so the facility can be used to host political conventions. Remember when Pete Wilson wanted to expand the Sports Arena so San Diego could host the 1972 Republican National Convention? Pete was salivating like Pavlov's dog at the thought of standing on the dais beside President Nixon on nationwide TV. Pete couldn't get the money from the City Council to fund his pipe dream.

Response to post #5: More conventions? San Diego had the Republican Convention in 1996, and stole money from the City pension fund to finance it. Then the workers were appeased with higher benefits for which the City still cannot pay. Do you want to get that snowball rolling downhill again? Isn't once enough? Best, Don Bauder

Funding issues aside, a retractable roof stadium makes a lot more sense in L.A. than it does in San Diego. The air gets ugly up there in the summertime and they see more rain than does San Diego. If Roski doesn't get a piece of it, I bet he'll fight it tooth and nail.

In related news, I heard yesterday that Padres owner Moorad is looking to move a Padres minor league team to North County. Such a move might directly affect attendence at both Petco Park and at the Lake Elsinore minor league facilities. It seems impossible to expect that the two existing teams would be scheduled to play away games when the proposed team is playing home games. It's an odd move.

a retractable roof stadium over a political convention would be a good idea, they could open it ofter to let out all the hot air

( of course b.s. is heavier than air, so they would still have to wallow in it)

Response to post #7: There is no chance that BOTH the downtown L.A. retractable roof stadium and Roski's stadium in Industry will be built. It would be one or the other. And increasingly, it appears that it will be neither, at least for a couple of years. The Padres have had very preliminary discussions with San Marcos over relocation of a minor league team; I think it's a AAA team. I don't think that will fly, either. I do know, however, that there is at least one minor league team in the Chicago area, where there are two major league teams. So it wouldn't be unprecedented. I agree that it wouldn't be very smart. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #8: Yes, after every speech, they could open up the roof to let the hot air out. One of the funniest things about the idea of a retractable roof in San Diego is the claim that it would be a great venue for rock concerts. Couldn't rock concerts be held outdoors? Aren't they now? Best, Don Bauder

How can soon to be bankrupt San Diego sound like there will be a new stadium, Library, Convention Center expansion and a City Hall after stating for years none of it was cost effective, owed or affordable?

Per the May 5, 2010 Wall Street Journal editorial reiterating their earlier warning that Los Angeles would be bankrupt by 2014 and their leaders have totally ignored the situation.

Is it a term limit problem; why worry about 2014 if you'll move on before then?

Vote them all out now! As we've seen before, they're out of their league with Fabiano and Spanos' Chargers, John Moore's Padres, Corky McMillan and Liberty Station, Doug Manchester, Rocco de Fuentes, GOP convention, airport, ComicCon or even Faberge Eggs.

Response to post #11: Actually, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has sounded warnings. For example, back in February, he warned of a "financial tailspin" if there were not layoffs. He mentioned the possibility of L.A. becoming insolvent. City employees packed the audience and booed him. And remember, the goofy stadium in L.A. will NOT get a public subsidy of any significance, if at all. By contrast, Mayor Jerry Sanders faces an arguably worse financial situation in San Diego but is doing almost nothing, and is leading cheers for a subsidized football stadium that would drain taxpayers of $600 million to $800 million. CCDC is openly trying to expand its borrowing powers for this nutty idea. Meanwhile, city leaders talk of an expansion of the convention center, a new city hall complex, and a library that would be combined with a school, even though there is a school only a few blocks away. San Diego would be the laughingstock of the U.S. if there weren't so many other pressing problems in the world that take up media space. Best, Don Bauder

The larger cities in California are rapidly becoming ungovernable due to the collapse of their economies, promises made to employees that cannot be kept, and rising expectations of the residents. Even if this economic environment recovers rapidly, all it will do for some of those cities is buy a few more years before the inevitable collapse occurs. Visualize SD with older neighborhoods featuring unpaved streets (turning the clock back at least a century) roving bands of thugs (oops, that's already happened), and little or no police protection and scant fire protection. It can happen here. It will require some drastic action to prevent it, action that the current batch of pols cannot fathom.


Loved your story Nuts Roll In (my favorite thus far is Lobbyists Rule Dec. 17th 09). You are a great cynic (I am too!), but I think of you as a realist. Unfortunately, your remarks fall on deaf years in local politics. I am convinced that the city council (except Donna Frye), the planning commissioners, the mayor and his office, the city planners, development agencies, etc. belong to the "Club of Corruption". I belong to a Community Planning Group (I won't name, but the initials are MV) for 3 years. I am so very dismayed and frustrated by their antics and bias/special interest toward development and business.

It reminds me of the story of the "Emperor has no Clothes" or the saying "the elephant in the room". The lies and manipulation go on and all parties claim innocence. I have almost given up trying to comprehend this favortism to build build, build, spend, spend, spend. My efforts to establish that ethics is not a consideration in decisions of growth among local political persons, developers, city staff, my planning group have gone no where.... I am losing faith in SD politics. Keep pointing out the truth please! Any ideas of what we can do about this elephant in the room that no one sees?

Jennifer Don, prefer to be anonymous because of my role in a planning group.

Response to post #13: The scenario you sketch is inevitable if the current balance of power continues. The City is demonstrably broke. Yet it is run by the downtown business establishment that only wants more money diverted to big redevelopment projects downtown -- all corporate welfare. Meanwhile, the neighborhoods and the infrastructure rot. There is a huge maintenance deficit. But the mayor wants the Chargers to get $800 million of taxpayer funds. And plans for the convention center expansion, schoolbrary, and new civic center roll ahead -- all benefiting the same greedy downtown folks who own the mayor, who refuses to admit the truth about the City's finances. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #14: You are so right. There is an analogy here. Think of the satrapies of yore. The king and his retinue lived in a magnificent castle on a hill. Below, the peasants were starving. Now think of San Diego. All the taxpayer money gets funneled to corporate welfare projects downtown -- the castle on the hill. Meanwhile, the neighborhoods and the infrastructure rot. Maintenance is almost non-existent. Keep raising hell in your planning group. Even though those wanting Prop. D have all the money, I sense that public opinion is moving the other direction. Unfortunately, I could be wrong. The downtown group will just shovel in more money to win that election. Best, Don Bauder

It's way past time to tell Fabiani and Spanos that their use of the public money teats has been terminated--PERMANENTLY! What we have here is a condition called "Stadium Envy." Much like pe* envy, stadium envy will often drive supposedly rational adults mad with the desire to build a "bigger and better" version of the stadia they toured during the last NFL season.

Well, if they want to build the "Kubali Kahn, Spanos, and Fabiani Xanaduian Memorial Pleasure Palace" in Downtown San Diego, then let them build it...but on one condition. That condition: they have to finance the whole project out of their pockets, with no funding from either the City, or the County, of San Diego.

And if they decide to threaten to move the Chargers to places like Industry; South-Central L.A.; Las Vegas; or Stinky Landfill, Montana unless we give in to what they want, with no back-talk? Both the City Council and The County Board Of Supervisors need to have spine transplants and learn to say "NO," while making that "NO" stick like Velcro.

If Fabiani and the Spanos family carries out their threats? Well, we wish them luck wherever they go--and would be wise not to let the screen door hit them where the dog should have bit them! We have far more pressing needs in both the City and the County than to shovel our public funds into the Pit of No Return that would be a new publicly-funded stadium that Joe Six-Pack and Jane Beujoulais have no hope of seeing a live Chargers game in.

Send them both to the back of the line--where they belong!


Response to post #17: Very, very well stated. I will go a couple of steps further. The basic ploy "build me a stadium or I will move the team" is rank extortion. The owners of pro teams (football, baseball, basketball, hockey) who pull this scam should be prosecuted -- but, of course, won't be. These owners are stealing from cities and states: they are one reason that throughout the country, cities and states are technically insolvent. (Excessive pensions are the major reason, but the subsidization of pro sports teams owned by billionaires contributes to public sector penury.) If you read my columns and blogs, you will note that I often talk about the high-rolling proclivities of the owners, and their associations with organized crime figures. I do this to stress what kind of people they are: they will steal education from children, keep their cities' infrastructure in terrible shape, see parks and rec centers and libraries closed so the money can be steered to them. Sports owners aren't the only corporate welfare practitioners draining the taxpayers: hotel and shopping center developers and corporations moving their operations others also depend on welfare from political bodies that can't afford to dole it out. The joke is that these owners all talk about free enterprise. Best, Don Bauder

Great post, Robbie! And agree with you both! :)

If Fabiani and the Spanos family carries out their threats? Well, we wish them luck wherever they go--and would be wise not to let the screen door hit them where the dog should have bit them! We have far more pressing needs in both the City and the County than to shovel our public funds into the Pit of No Return that would be a new publicly-funded stadium that Joe Six-Pack and Jane Beujoulais have no hope of seeing a live Chargers game in.

You're my new #1 Hero!

Response to post #20: Yes, but the mayor of L.A. has at least warned of a coming fiscal tsunami -- something Sanders has not done. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #19: Keep passing the word. With luck, San Diego may wake up to the scam being pullled. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #20: (Ignore previous response to #20; I must have been looking at an earlier post.) LaPlacaRifa stated it very well and deserves commendation. Best, Don Bauder

oh Don...ur such a darlin'!!!

u had me at "TILT"!!!

give em hell homey!!!

Response to post #24: Did you mean "honey" or "homey"? Or perhaps you meant "homely". That would have been an accurate description. Best, Don Bauder

i meant honey homey..and a homily definitely u r not...oh shaddup Don...ur cuter then the average bear and smarter then the quick brown fox


Response to post #26: I like being honey. But I don't want any bears around honey. I have read Winnie the Pooh many times. Best, Don Bauder

Response to post #28: I not only read it many times to our sons, but listened over and over (happily) to Winnie the Pooh songs.I can remember some of the lines: : "tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluffies...." Best, Don Bauder

ur such a nice man Don...i don't think i'll spank u afterall

~~getting out the old video of DA POOH now~~

i bet we'd enjoy a cuppa over the "Velveteen Rabbit" book 2

have a good rest of the week Don...best Nan

Response to post #30: Some more of those Winnie the Pooh songs are coming back to me. "Where oh where is Eeyore's tail? Can you put it in its place?" Or "I'm just a little black rain cloud, hovering over your honey tree. Only a little black rain cloud, pay no attention to little me." Louie Prima sang one of the roles. Best, Don Bauder

Re No. 1

This has long been SOP for developers. You ALWAYS submit the most radical, land-raping proposal with way more units than you could ever hope to get. Then, after much protracted "discussion" and public outrage, you "settle" for what will still make you insanely rich. You shift the costs to the suckers, and you promise the bureaucrats a nice retirement triple-dip "position" with one of your companies, and you funnel sweetheart contracts to your fellow parasites. It's called "free enterprise." How could we be against mommy-dearests and pop-tarts?

Response to post #32: You are absolutely right. The Chargers came out with a rendering of the possible stadium in downtown. Cost: $800 million (no retractable roof). Chargers will put in a mere $200 million. NFL might come up with $100 million: that is not only a joke, it is preposterous lie. The league doesn't have the money now and wouldn't put it into a small market anyway. Any funds the league has will go to L.A. Yes, look at the SD lawyers and bureaucrats that went to work for pro teams: McGrory was one of them. The same goes on in other cities. The public doesn't seem to care that it is getting fleeced. Yesterday's report by the grand jury should have been a victory for the anti-stadium subsidy group. The mainstream media spun it the other way. Best, Don Bauder

Redundant here.... let the Owners pay what they wasnt with there own finances and no help from the tax payers for the stadium.

Response to post #34: It's not going to happen. Scamming cities and states for taxpayer money is deeply inculcated in NFL culture. If an owner paid for a stadium, he or she would be a pariah among other owners. (There are a couple of exceptions to that, but in those exceptions, the owners almost always got infrastructure from the government.) Best, Don Bauder

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