Developer Moores in last-minute SDSU money move

Will the baseball stadium plaques come back?

John Moores
  • John Moores

Ex-Padres owner John Moores, long a lurker around the margins of San Diego State University's attempts to take control of the city-owned acreage formerly known as Qualcomm Stadium, has finally outed himself.

On November 2, four days before the election that will decide the outcome of the university's battle with an investor group known as SoccerCity for development rights to the property, Moores personally produced $98,500 for Friends of SDSU, the political committee waging a ballot campaign on behalf of the school's takeover of the land.

The same day, disclosure filings show, Kara M. Kratzer, listed as a Rancho Santa Fe homemaker, came up with the same. Her husband John Kratzer is CEO of Moores-owned JMI Realty. Since August 2, records show JMI, hired by SDSU as a consultant to the project, has given a total of $122,000 to the pro-SDSU committee.

Moores has a controversial history as an SDSU benefactor, having cultivated university officials as far back as ex-president Steve Weber and his second in command, then-SDSU vice-president Sally Roush, with sizable dollops of cash for the school's athletic programs.

Two decades ago, in December 1997, Weber first approached Moores with a proposal for SDSU to share ownership of a new Padres stadium and ancillary real estate development, similar in outline to that currently proposed by the university.

"This letter is to introduce the concept of a public/private partnership, which would enable the financing and constructing of a baseball stadium for the San Diego Padres," Weber wrote Moores. "The partnership would be between you and San Diego State University, with whom you have obviously established a history of philanthropy."

Weber plied Moores with the notion of leveraging his charity for personal financial advantage.

"The partnership also assumes that whatever personal stake you intend to contribute to the baseball stadium is significantly stretched by the multiple tax advantages associated with a charitable contribution.

"With this contribution, and assuming naming-rights revenue and sufficient operating income, SDSU would seek to purchase a site and secure construction financing either as a governmental agency, through one of our existing nonprofit corporations, or through a newly established nonprofit."

To avoid detailed scrutiny of the arrangement, Weber argued for avoiding any say in the matter by the city's electorate. "Under such a scenario, a public vote would not be required. The stadium would be leased back to the Padres, and the site would be available for joint use for our educational programs."

No deal materialized, and a year later with the assistance of then-city manager Jack McGrory, mayor Susan Golding, and Union-Tribune owner Helen Copley, Moores mounted a successful 1998 ballot bid to build a downtown ballpark with public money.

"The city and its redevelopment arm, the Centre City Development Corp., will contribute $275 million to the project, largely through the issuance of bonds," Copley's Union-Tribune reported a week before the November election on the project.

"The bonds will be paid off with hotel-room taxes and new property taxes created by the project," the paper asserted. By 2015, however, city taxpayers found themselves on the hook for paying down the enormous debt, plus interest.

Flash forward to April 2016.

The Chargers having forsaken Qualcomm Stadium Moores and his JMI Realty launched another attempt to latch on to the aging venue's real estate.

"The JMI team (represented by President John Kratzer and Steve Peace), working in concert with Steve Black of Cisterra Development, another prominent San Diego developer (and SDSU alumni), will unveil their proposal to develop the Qualcomm Stadium site into a civic gem that all SDSU alumni and San Diego County residents will claim proudly," read the invitation JMI's presentation held at SDSU's Corky McMillin Center for Real Estate.

Moores himself, caught up in the twin scandals of the city council's Valerie Stallings influence-peddling affair and financial shenanigans at his fraud-tainted Peregrine Systems, along with a messy divorce battle, was no longer being publicly mentioned by the university as a partner in the future Mission Valley deal.

“Look, take my name off stuff. I don’t want my name used in affiliation with the university if it’s going to be a lightning rod for controversy,” then–Padres vice chairman Bob Vizas quoted Moores as saying in October 2002 after a student newspaper columnist questioned the propriety of the mega-millionaire’s $30 million of SDSU donations.

“A university spokesman noted that a plaque honoring the Mooreses on the school's baseball stadium, along with several plaques naming other benefactors, had recently been removed for cleaning,” the L.A. Times reported.

“Spokesman Jack Beresford said he did not know when or whether they would be replaced.”

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The Moores plaque at Tony Gwynn Stadium hasn't been there for years.

All of these machinations, past and present, are reasons to vote against both of the ballot measures. What's the hurry? That stadium and the land will be there tomorrow. Neither of the schemes really explains where all the necessary funds will come from.

It's Election Day afternoon and I'm hoping voters will have read Matt Potter's amazing piece about the eleventh-hour appearance of JMI Realty's infamous profiteering executive John Moores as financial player and supporter of the duplicitous SDSU expansion called Measure G.

I'm also hoping voters will have read San Diego Union-Tribune Jeff McDonald's Watchdog story about SDSU's illegal institutional shilling for that same Measure G. Measure G is the handiwork of developer and ex-city manager Jack McGrory, working in league with San Diego State and other established development interests. (SDSU stonewalled reporter McDonald's inquiries.)

San Diegans should respond to this unvarnished San Diego business-as-usual by voting Yes on Soccer City Measure E to bring us a major league soccer team, to redevelop the Qualcomm Stadium wasteland, to build a right-sized soccer stadium (where SDSU Aztecs also could play,) to create a new residential and commercial zone and to build a long-awaited San Diego River park in Mission Valley -- all without costing taxpayers a dime.

The Yes on E Soccer City idea comes from entrepreneurs led by a highly successful honest broker named Mike Stone. Stone is a relative newcomer to town -- he's lived in San Diego for about a dozen years after retiring from a career in finance on Wall Street. Stone's children have grown up here playing soccer, "the beautiful game" that American kids and the entire world love. Soccer City Yes on E is an entirely fresh new idea -- positive, hopeful and forward-thinking -- that deserves to be embraced by voters, many of whom signed petitions to put Measure E on the ballot.

As for Visduh's suggestion to vote everything down -- that classic defeatist San Diego response to opportunity -- it's a terrible idea. It would return Mission Valley and behemoth Qualcomm Stadium to expensive uncertainty and to more closed-door machinations of the usual suspects, including self-serving Mission Valley hoteliers and landlords. Instead, we can actively commit to a rare positive new proposal and vote Yes on Soccer City Measure E.

Good news. The right decision was made by the voters. Measure E was slaughtered. They saw the scam Mike Stone was trying to perpetrate. People smelled a rat. So did the many diverse organizations that endorsed G.

I am sure that the City fathers (and mothers) will screw up the negotiations with SDSU and the taxpayer will eat it. It is clear that there are more people who like SDSU than like soccer. Any stadium that is built could accommodate a soccer field. In spite of Soccer City's hype soccer is just not that popular.

G is not the final word; lawsuits, many of them, will follow. For all we know, one or more may be filed as soon as the results of the election are certified. The talk of demolishing an (im)perfectly good stadium and then building a new one from scratch is utterly foolish. The cost to just rid the site of the current structure would be daunting, as would the prospect of constructing a new one a short distance away. This vote is just the beginning of a long and tortured process that will consume, probably, decades.

Stadium design has changed a lot since that stadium was built. Teams (and team owners) like being in a more modern, cool-looking, energy-efficient arena. New buildings have been constructed for thousands of years. There's nothing unusual about it.

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