Chargers In Carson: Here's How It Happened
Part 1 of 2
July 27, 2017
Rising out of the South Bay oil fields, refineries and miles of landfill sites of the past century the emboldened City of Carson will start celebrating its 50th anniversary in February 2018. Undoubtedly the Los Angeles Chargers who begin playing at Carson's StubHub Center this August for the next three years will be part of the festivities.
The scenario seemed highly unlikely on January 12, 2016 when the NFL Los Angeles relocation committee rejected the then-San Diego Charger and Oakland Raider proposal to build a stadium in Carson and elected to go with the City of Inglewood and then-St. Louis Ram bid. In the face of adversity, two distinct silver linings emerged for the City of Carson.
One: Carson Mayor Albert Robles, the City Council and staff were primed and prepared due to two previous unsuccessful attempts to build an NFL stadium in the city. They legally positioned themselves to negotiate one clever and rare Southern California land deal by virtue of not being selected by the NFL committee.
Two: One year minus one day later on January 11, 2017 the Chargers and team President Dean Spanos informed the City of San Diego that they were leaving "America's Finest City" after 56 years. The plan included playing at StubHub in Carson for two seasons before moving into Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park along with Stan Kroenke's Los Angeles Rams beginning in 2019.
Soon the clouds broke again for Carson as heavy rains in the Los Angeles basin delayed the opening of the Inglewood project until 2020 allowing the Chargers to add one more season to their StubHub schedule. That 50% projected windfall further benefits the city's revenue and resources not to mention the added exposure.
"Because I grew up in the city, attended local schools, literally played at all the parks and my first job was in the city I have a special appreciation for the opportunities that the city can give to its residents, particularly our youth," said Mayor Robles last week at Carson City Hall.
"There are only 30 cities that have an NFL team. And now Carson is going to have an NFL team in the Chargers. That's going to give us a phenomenal opportunity to market the city and the opportunities for our businesses and to bring in more residents through this development expansion phase. It's coinciding perfectly."
"When the Chargers were exploring their stadium situation they were the team that originally came to the city and said: "We'd like to be part of building the stadium in the city." They obviously recognized the location, the accessibility to their fanbase towards San Diego, access to all of Southern California through our freeway system."
"As we went through the process as partners and we were being considered by the NFL for a football stadium they acquired a greater fondness for the city. A greater appreciation of the community and their due diligence to location was absolutely true."
"When the Chargers' situation in San Diego didn't go as they wanted it to they elected to come to L.A. I think it was a no-brainer for them. "Hey, we want to go to Carson because we know Carson is an awesome city."
"I consider myself blessed to be mayor at this moment in time. We are a very diverse city. Diversity to me is balance. Our population here in Carson is 25% Asian, 25% African-American and 25% Anglo give or take 1% point. And it's been that way for over 30 years. Our economic base is just as diverse. We have a thriving retail sector. That is true diversity. That is balance."
Robles is the very first Mayor and council member in the history of Carson that actually grew up in the city. He was elected to the City Council in 2013 and elected Mayor in November 2016. He graduated from the University of Colorado with a Bachelor's Degree, earned a Master's Degree from the University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate Degree from the University of California at Berkeley.
Robles praised his staff and associates including Ken Farfsing - City Manager; Idris Al-Oboudi - Director of Parks and Recreation and Community Services; John Raymond - Economic Development Director and Kathryn Downs - Finance Director. "It's that level and caliber of staff and personnel we have that is contributing to all the great things coming to the city."
"We have a strong 15-year relationship with AEG (Anschutz Entertaiment Group) and StubHub (formerly The Home Depot Center) When they were in negotiations with the Chargers the president of AEG contacted me and gave me the heads up that this was a possibility," said Robles.
"Subsequently, I was contacted by a representative of the Chargers informing me of their decision. So there is confidence and mutual respect there. During the NFL relocation process I met with Mr. Spanos a few times."
"I was in constant contact with his legal representatives and negotiators making sure we put forward our best effort to see if we could persuade the rest of the NFL team owners to pick Carson. We didn't prevail in that regard but I think there was on behalf of the Chargers an appreciation for the city being a partner with them."
Due to the NFL not selecting Charger/Raider/Carson proposal the city acquired a privately owned 157-acre site adjacent to the 405 Freeway between Main Street and Avalon Blvd. It was a former landfill. For the past 20 years different developers considered various proposals to no avail.
There has always been interest in Carson due to its location. The 157-acre site was owned by hotel chain developer Starwood during the NFL relocation process in 2015. A representative of the Chargers and Raiders approached the city about whether or not the city would be open to being home to an NFL football stadium.
Robles: "We said: "Been there, done that. We're not interested. That site is already being developed. Starwood has a major development plan for an outlet mall, retail center and apartments. That site has been vacant for 50 years for as long as the city has been around. And we don't want to delay it anymore. That project is moving forward."
"The NFL representative persisted. We replied: "If you're so confident that it's going to happen this time... if it doesn't happen the city gets the land free and clear. There was some pause, hemming and hawing. But they ultimately agreed. "
"After the announcement, while it was clearly disappointing, for the first time in our city's history we now control the destiny for that 157-acre site which presents incredible opportunities for us. We have land that is available for development and there are a lot of exciting projects coming into the city. Now we get to dictate terms to the developers."
Local employment opportunities are an added benefit with the Chargers playing at StubHub Center. AEG and the Chargers had a job fair in early July where 5,000 individuals were offered various jobs in the city. Robles expressed appreciation that a number of Carson residents would be hired in the process.
Two months ago they had a Draft Day community event at StubHub Center inviting all Carson residents, stake-holders and a lot of Charger fans from San Diego. But the main target audience was the Carson residents introducing the Chargers to Carson.
Robles: "The Chargers will be playing at StubHub for three years. It's a smaller venue than the NFL are used to but I can tell you having been to StubHub for many, many Galaxy games, concerts, events including championship boxing... it is a phenomenal venue."
"The NFL people are going to want to have the type of experience that the Charger fans and all fans that come to StubHub are going to enjoy. It's going to be one of those unique experiences."
AEG and the Chargers are aware that attendance patterns at a Galaxy soccer match are different than those at an NFL football game in terms of fan experience. The stadium will have a projected 30,000 seating capacity for the Charger games. They are working with the Carson staff to revise a traffic mitigation plan that also takes into account the parking demands and needs.
"The Spanos family have been to StubHub Center and seen it. But I believe when football fans get an opportunity to see a football game in a venue like StubHub to seeing a football game in a venue with 100,000 seats and you're in the last row, it is not going to compare. The NFL fan experience at StubHub is going to set a new standard," declared Mayor Robles.
"I think the StubHub experience here in Carson is going to be something to talk about, something that's going to spread like wildfire. It's going to become one of those highly coveted events that people want to go to because they know it's going to be over in three years."
"It's only going to last for a short period of time... and it may never come again."