La prensa

SDSU Claims No Documents Exist About Free Sports Arena Offer

Moody Center
Author: La Prensa
Created: 02 May, 2024
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9 min read
(Pictured: Moody Center, University of Texas at Austin)

 

By Arturo Castañares
Editor-at-Large

San Diego State University and the California State University Chancellor’s office now claim there are no public records related to a 2022 proposal from a private developer to build a new sports arena at no expense to taxpayers within the SDSU West campus in Mission Valley, although a term sheet was reviewed in mid-2022.

SDSU President Adela de la Torre, several University officials, and two private businessmen flew to Texas on a private jet in May 2022 to tour a similar sports arena built at the University of Texas at Austin’s campus yet there are no emails, text messages, or documents to detail the opportunity that was the reason for the high-level trip.

The trip came after discussions with Oak View Group, a Denver-based venue developer and operator that financed the then-new $345 million Moody Center in Austin under a deal that did not require any public taxpayer dollars but includes a profit-sharing deal with UTA that will provide millions of dollars to the University over the lifespan of the arena.

Three months before the trip, a San Diego Union-Tribune article quoted CSU Trustee Jack McGrory as saying he had discussed the possibility of a free arena with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Paola Avila, at the time the City was reviewing competing bids from development teams to build a replacement arena at the site of the current Pechanga Sports Arena in the Midway area.

Another CSU Trustee quoted in the February 2022 UT article was Adam Day, who told the UT at the time that he did not have details of any proposals for an arena in Mission Valley but would “love to hear more about it.”

“I’d love to hear more about it,” Day said. “Our fiduciary responsibility is to the system and the campus. If the athletic department and the resources that (a privately financed arena) spins off for the academic offerings that we have there, those are at the core of what we do and our responsibility. But there are a number of issues and hurdles that would need to be discussed and overcome,” Day said at the time. 

Although SDSU officials had told the San Diego Union-Tribune that there was no interest in pursuing a new indoor arena within the Mission Valley campus, the level of interest increased over the next few months, leading to the high-level trip.

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The trip to Texas was not publicly disclosed for nearly two years until La Prensa San Diego first reported it last month.

In response to the article, SDSU Associate Vice President and Chief Communications Officer La Monica Everett-Haynes emailed La Prensa San Diego to challenge details of the story, including asserting that the tour was the result of “an invitation from an SDSU donor” without naming the donor involved.

“The 2022 trip to visit multiple arena and sports complexes followed a personal invitation from an SDSU donor, not a company leading a development project,” Everett-Hayes wrote. 

But a lawyer for SDSU donor Dianne Bashor emailed La Prensa San Diego saying the trip was taken aboard a private jet paid for by Bashor at the request of SDSU Athletic Director John David Wicker, not at the insistence of Bashor or anyone representing her.

“When the SDSU Athletic Department reached out to her with a request to provide transportation for a delegation of University officials to visit Austin to see a new University of Texas arena and then continued on to the University of Houston to see their arena renovation, Mrs. Bashor was happy to be of help,” wrote Jon P. Rodrigue, Vice President and General Counsel of CalWest Apartments, Bashor’s company. 

Bashor, who has become a prolific donor to several institutions in San Diego including the San Diego Zoo, the Rady Shell, and the Boy Scouts, donated $15 million toward the development of Snapdragon Stadium and was honored with the naming of Bashor Field at the new outdoor stadium.

After the trip, OVG delivered a term sheet outlining the specifics of a proposed deal to build an indoor sports arena within the SDSU West campus along with the new open-air facility that is now Snapdragon Stadium. That term sheet was not disclosed by SDSU in response to a request by La Prensa San Diego submitted under the California Public Records Act.

Others who joined SDSU President de la Torre on the May 11, 2022 trip included SDSU Athletic Director JD Wicker, Executive Associate Athletic Director Curt Apsey, SDSU Vice-President for University Relations and Development Adrienne Vargas, CSU Trustees Jack McGrory and Adam Day, JMI Sports CEO Eric Jedson, San Diego developer Tom Sudberry, and businessman David Malcolm, a representative for Bashor.

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Sources familiar with the trip and the offer suggest that OVG outlined a deal similar to the Austin development where the private developer would fund the construction and operations of the new arena through a 35-year lease with CSU, in exchange for allowing the SDSU men’s and women’s basketball teams to use the facility for free for their home games.

OVG would operate the arena for concerts and other events to recover its investment then the group would share profits from the arena with SDSU on a 50/50 basis.

The private group also offered SDSU the option to participate as equity partners by investing in the development of the arena and reaping profit-sharing sooner, but no final details were determined.

One of the participants in the Texas meeting said OVG seemed “extremely interested” in pursuing an arena in Mission Valley because of its central location, superior access to a trolley stop, freeways, and shared parking with Snapdragon Stadium.

After the trip to Texas, McGrory spoke again to Gloria and explained that there was a possibility of a free-to-taxpayers arena in Mission Valley, but Gloria insisted the City intended to move forward with selecting a developer for the Midway project which would include a new indoor arena.

Just a few months later, sources within City staff claimed Mayor Gloria’s office was pushing for the selection of a development group headed by Brad Termini without allowing staff to properly vet their proposal and financial viability.

Termini and his family had donated more than $100,000 to Gloria’s campaign during the 2020 elections, making Termini that largest private donor to the new Mayor.

On September 8, 2022, the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee voted to select Termini’s Midway Rising group to enter into exclusive negotiations with the City.

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One of the speakers who urged the Council to select the Midway Rising team was Brigette Browning, the head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, a coalition of 136 labor unions representing over 200,000 workers in two counties.

"I would really like to acknowledge that all of the projects have signed agreements with organized labor," Browning said while testifying before the Land Use Committee, "and they're all good projects, but we believe that because Midway Rising has the highest number of affordable housing units and it will create the most number of permanent union jobs, it is absolutely the best project to go forward," Browning added.

Browning, who has also been the long-time leader of the UNITE HERE Local 30 union of hotel and restaurant workers, is considered the most powerful union leader in San Diego.

Weeks after Termini’s group was selected it was discovered that they had paid over $200,000 to political consultant Dan Rottenstreich, Browning’s husband, but Termini’s group failed to file lobbying forms with the City to disclose Rottenstreich's involvement before the Council voted to select his group. Some of the disclosure forms were up to 226 days late but were only filed hours after the Council's vote.

When Browning spoke in favor of selecting the Midway Rising team at the City Council’s Land Use Committee, she failed to disclose her conflict-of-interest after her husband had been paid by the team.

Browning also failed to file a required Department of Labor disclosure when a union leader has a financial conflict-of-interest and failed to recuse herself from the project which had paid her husband.  

One of the main reasons Browning cited for supporting Termini’s project was that the group included a unionized hotel that would leave permanent jobs after construction.

But the following year, Termini eliminated 250 middle-income affordable units and the unionized 200-room hotel from their plan, but Browning never complained about the loss of hundreds of jobs for her union.

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Just a month after Termini’s group was selected for the Sports Arena development, Day resigned from the CSU Board of Trustees before SDSU negotiated a tenant deal with the new Major League Soccer team scheduled to begin playing at Snapdragon Stadium in 2025.

Day, the Chief Administrative Officer for the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, resigned to avoid a conflict-of-interest because of Sycuan’s role as a financial partner in the new MLS team along with principal owner billionaire Mohamed Mansour.

One of the other financial partners in the new MLS team is Brad Termini.

In February, the San Diego City Council voted to review creating a tax increment financing district for the Midway Rising project that would provide tens of millions in public bond financing to pay for infrastructure improvements for the project to be repaid by capturing future property revenues to repay the bonds. 

This week, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to study participating in the tax increment financing district and dedicate the County's portion of new property tax revenues to help pay for the Midway Rising project costs.

After La Prensa San Diego’s March 23rd article about the potential arena in Mission Valley, SDSU announced plans for a proposed renovation to Viejas Arena that experts expect could cost up to $200 million given the lack of handicap access and luxury boxes needed to bring the facility up to modern standards.

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