Former San Diego Chargers Stadium Site Moves Closer to Becoming a Campus

Former San Diego Chargers Stadium Site Moves Closer to Becoming a Campus

San Diego State Project Deemed Pivotal as Economic Generator

BY LOU HIRSH (via CoStar)

An Innovation District with classrooms, incubators, research institution space and related academic offices is part of a larger western campus being planned by San Diego State University. Illustration: SDSU, Carrier Johnson and Culture

An Innovation District with classrooms, incubators, research institution space and related academic offices is part of a larger western campus being planned by San Diego State University. Illustration: SDSU, Carrier Johnson and Culture

San Diego State University officials are targeting a 15- to 20-year timeline for building out a planned new western campus that is deemed crucial to repurposing the stadium site vacated by the National Football League’s Chargers team.

The project’s education, housing and commercial components also have potential implications for bolstering the San Diego region’s innovation economy and its ability to attract companies seeking highly trained talent in technology and other industries.

Voters in November approved a plan that calls for the university to negotiate with the city to purchase 130 acres within a larger 230-acre site in Mission Valley. The project is expected to include much-needed parks and recreational space while also dealing with chronic traffic congestion in that high-demand commercial neighborhood in central San Diego.

At a recent forum presented by SDSU’s Corky McMillin Center for Real Estate, university Assistant Vice President Gina Jacobs said the first two elements of the project — a new multi-purpose stadium and 75-acre public river park with hiking and bike trails — could begin construction in fall 2020 and see completion by the end of 2022.

Completion of the 35,000-seat stadium, which is planned to house college football and other local sports events, is expected to be followed by demolition of the 52-year-old stadium that housed the Chargers for most of the team’s half-century tenure in San Diego, before it left for Los Angeles in early 2017.

The old stadium still hosts SDSU football and other occasional events. Jacobs said the new stadium sits on a large-enough footprint that it could be expanded in the future to accommodate a new NFL team, should the league decide one day to return to San Diego.

San Diego State officials continue to hold public input meetings and are currently working with the city on early environmental impact reports. Later this year, the university is expected to complete negotiations with the city for the land purchase, and construction of the stadium and river park is scheduled to begin after the university receives final approvals from the city and the California State University system’s board of trustees.

Between 2023 and 2033, the other components of the western campus are expected to be built out, starting with the university’s new “Innovation District” designed to include 1.6 million square feet of classrooms, incubators, spaces for research institutions and related academic offices adjacent to public walkways and gathering spaces.

The campus is planned also to have 5,000 underground parking spaces, and plans call for the retention of two existing trolley stations on the current stadium site.

“We want to put the cars out of sight and out of mind,” Jacobs said. “We want to continue to work with the community to make sure this is walkable and has mobility and transit as a high priority over vehicles.”

Significant Opportunity

The proposed project includes 4,600 apartments spanning about 15 blocks that would house graduate students, faculty and staff as well as the general public in some affordable and market-rate units. Those are expected to be followed by 95,000 square feet of retail, with the university looking to attract a 12,000-square-foot grocery market among other neighborhood-serving stores and eateries. A 250-room conference hotel and a 150-room select-service hotel are also planned.

San Diego State has been considering a western campus for the past several years as it outgrows its main 288-acre campus to the east off Interstate 8 that now serves almost 35,000 students. Jacobs said the university will be enrolling about 10,000 new students for fall 2019, after receiving 94,000 applications.

Costs have not been formally projected for the western campus, but university officials have said SDSU’s portion will not come out of tuition fees. Instead, they plan to finance it through sources including bond issuances by the Cal State system and revenue from commercial tenant rents.

With several major freeways passing through it, Mission Valley is considered the geographic center of San Diego and remains among its tightest and high-demand areas for retail, apartments and office space. At the same time, it has become notorious as one of the city’s most congested and non-walkable neighborhoods, with many deeming its busiest streets as downright dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists.

A proposed park and innovation district for San Diego State University’s expansion. Illustration: SDSU, Carrier Johnson + Culture

The SDSU West campus and other developers’ new projects in the vicinity are aiming to address the long-discussed problems. Jacobs said the university is looking to get its environmental impact reports finalized later this year in conjunction with the city’s expected completion of a community development plan update for Mission Valley, which was last refreshed more than 30 years ago.

Derek Hulse, managing director in the San Diego office of brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield, said that in addition to addressing chronic deficiencies in Mission Valley, the SDSU western campus could reap larger job-creating benefits for the region. One possibility being discussed in business circles, he said, is having the new SDSU innovation district serve as a center for research in the area of cybersecurity, forming a new specialized industry cluster that capitalizes on an existing large regional technology infrastructure.

Hulse said he thinks the SDSU campus as currently envisioned represents a significant opportunity to create a new tech-focused hub for the region.

“We always talk a lot about the impact that UC San Diego is having on the Torrey Pines mesa (in La Jolla) and the biotech industry,” Hulse said, noting now could be San Diego State’s moment to shine.

A larger college-age contingent in Mission Valley could further make the region attractive to employers in a city that already has the nation’s third-largest group of millennials as a portion of the overall population. Jolanta Campion, Cushman & Wakefield’s San Diego research director, noted SDSU has a $6 billion annual regional economic impact, and 61 percent of graduates remain in San Diego after their studies.

Nearly a quarter of the city’s workforce is in the 20-to-35-year-old millennial group, which is increasingly impacting corporate preferences for workplaces and employment locations, Campion said.