The Short List for Sports Arena Is Back

The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Monday to throw out its committee’s recommendation that the council force staff to study all five teams that applied for the chance to redevelop the city’s nearly 50 acres of land in Midway. The list staff must study will go down to three. 

And really, city staff clarified that this is now the top bidder’s deal to lose. Midway Rising, the partnership led by Chelsea Investment Corp. and the developer Zephyr, promised the most affordable housing units and must be prioritized by the city, the Council decided. Two others: HomeTownSD and Midway Village+ will also be studied in depth by city staff and a consultant the city is hiring. If Midway Rising is not able to deliver or other flaws are found, the city will go down the list respectively. 

The two bidding teams that did not promise to build a wholly new arena on the land were dropped, one explicitly because city staff decided it didn’t have the experience necessary to build a new arena. That bid, Neighborhood Next, promised the most total housing. The other because it did not provide enough housing. 

That bid was led by Brookfield, which had won a previous contest to develop the land. But it was thrown out after the city realized it must follow a new state law on how to use land it plans to sell or lease. It must prioritize affordable housing when deciding what to do with the land. 

The city decided it would also require a new sports arena on the land. Brookfield’s leaders had pointed out that if the city didn’t fully study each proposal, the public would never know if a rival’s promise of more affordable units was something guaranteed not to pull public funds from other housing efforts.

Council flipped: Three Councilmembers had voted in committee to study all five bids in depth. All three changed their votes to allow for a shortlist. Councilman Stephen Whitburn said he decided it would take too long to do that. 

“These projects are going to continue to evolve and financing required for them is going to continue to evolve,” he said. Thus, it may not even help to have all the information available before deciding on a shorter list.

Remember: All of the plans are still illegal. The three bidders propose new buildings and an arena that violate the 30-foot height limit on construction west of Interstate 5. The vote on Measure E to lift that for Midway was thrown out by a judge awaiting appeal. It wasn’t explicitly stated but part of the reason to study just three was likely to get down to one to support a new election campaign so the winning bidder could help make the case to voters again before the year is over.

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