Discussions should start now to plan for Olympic stadium, regardless of bid’s success.
By Andy Cohen
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner wants to bring the Olympics to San Diego. Actually, he wants to bring the Olympics to San Diego and Tijuana.
This is not exactly news if you follow local politics at all. Filner has been rather vocal about his desire to bring the 2024 games to America’s Finest City, and even more adamant about it being a bi-national effort.
“Within a week we will announce our bi-national committee, the chairs and the membership from both Tijuana and San Diego,” said Filner last week during his periodic “Pen and Paper” session with the local media in response to a question about his proposal. There are outlines and timelines drawn up already, there has been contact with the various Olympic Committees, drafts of logos, among other things. “It’s really been moving along,” said Filner.
Any bid for the Olympic Games will by necessity have to include plans to build a new Olympic Stadium. San Diego (or Tijuana, but presumably San Diego) would have to build a brand new stadium in order to be able to host the event. Neither city has one currently suitable for The Games where the opening and closing ceremonies will take place, as well as all of the track and field events (and possibly the soccer gold medal game? Although that should probably go to Estadio Caliente in Tijuana, the home of the Xolos).
Building a new stadium for the Olympics would solve another problem: A new football stadium for the Chargers and SDSU Aztecs. Perfect solution. Atlanta did it, converting their 1996 Olympic stadium into Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. Going from track and field to football should be even easier, one would think.
But we’re talking about a bidding process that could take several years, with the USOC determining its choice by the end of 2014 and the IOC choosing the 2024 site in 2017. Cities don’t make plans for venues until they know they’re the chosen site. And when a site is chosen, the construction of venues generally doesn’t begin until about four years out from The Games. Ostensibly that would mean construction on the new San Diego stadium possibly might not begin until 2020, oddly the same year that the Chargers’ current lease with the city on Qualcomm Stadium expires.
“The way I see this whole Olympic thing is it ratchets up what people see our city is able to do and what our expectations are and the excitement of something,” Filner said, feeding perhaps unintentionally off of President Obama’s “we do big things” mantra. “I was asked at every mayoral event during the election ‘What about the Chargers stadium? What about the Chargers stadium?’ But now, in the context, it’s not just a Chargers stadium. It’s ‘What about the Olympic stadium?’”
Filner is 100%, absolutely correct, only that’s nearly the identical argument that proponents of a new football stadium have been making all along (at least this one has). It’s not just a Chargers stadium, and it never has been. It’s a new stadium for the SDSU Aztecs, and a new home for both of San Diego’s college bowl games. It’s a venue worthy of a Super Bowl or five, and potentially a site for NCAA basketball tournament regional finals and Final Fours. San Diego might then be able to lure a MLS soccer team to town (Chivas USA is a likely candidate). Who knows? Perhaps the powers that be could be convinced to break from the norm and bring the college football national championship game here? And now, it could also be an Olympic stadium.
So we’re on the same page here, except for one thing: The Chargers really can’t wait until 2024, or even 2020. Something must be done well before then if keeping the team in town is at all a priority—and with some folks it most certainly is not. That’s understood. But let’s just for the sake of argument assume that for the majority of San Diegans keeping the team in the city—or at least in the region—is a priority. If Filner is truly serious about both luring the Olympics and keeping the Chargers in San Diego, and I believe he is, then plans for a new stadium need to be solidified within the next couple of years. And the new Chargers stadium could be built with the assumption that the longshot Olympic bid will bear fruit. Even if it doesn’t, at least he’s accomplished half of his goals.
And he should probably have a chat with the Chargers brass about it.
This part of the plan he has clearly not thought through very well. But with the rest of it he seems on his game. “The big problem with many Olympic sites is that not all cities had planned to use what they had built for after the Olympics. In one or two of those cities it’s just abandoned sites, whereas other cities have been very successful in using the venues and other infrastructure for things that really help the city. That’s how we’re gonna look at it,” Filner said.
For a little context, Filner explains that the Olympic Village, the home for the Olympic athletes for the duration of The Games, could be converted into affordable housing after The Games have left. Public transit would have to be seriously bolstered to accommodate The Games, which Filner says would be a “legacy afterward.” These are things that directly benefit the city in the long term.
To his credit, Filner acknowledged that the Olympic stadium plan should incorporate the Chargers, but he seemed to be operating under the assumption that the team would be reluctant to go along with the notion of having the stadium they play in be used as the Olympic centerpiece. That assumption, I believe, is completely baseless. It would take some clever design work to go from a football stadium with a modern, intimate feel to it to a track and field stadium—which have major inherent differences—and back to a football stadium. But it can be done.
“Until we are not a player in (the Olympic bid) process, I want to have them thinking in the context that it could be used for both,” he said.
Note to Bob Filner: All that would be necessary to make that a reality is to talk to them about it. It’s a near certainty that they will quickly jump on board. This would seem like the perfect opportunity to get the ball rolling.
This originally appeared at San Diego Free Press.