View a presentation on the Gillespie Field Sports Village concept by clicking here.
Tune in Friday to our radio show at 5 p.m. on KNSJ 89.1 FM to hear our interview with Robert Germann, proponent of the Gillespie Field Sports Village.
By Miriam Raftery
February 26, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – Imagine a new Chargers stadium and sports entertainment complex next to Gillespie Field on vacant land formerly occupied by the El Cajon Speedway. Sounds far-fetched? The 250-acre site is surrounded by four major freeways and a trolley stop close by. Approximately 180 acres are currently vacant—and none of this land has been used for aviation.
Chargers fans’ future is in limbo, with the team threatening to move to Los Angeles County and share a stadium with the Raiders. The team wants a new stadium, but thus far San Diego county and city leaders have not come up with a solid plan for an alternative location and environmental contamination prevents rebuilding on the existing Qualcomm stadium site.
The Gillespie Field Sports Village concept is the brainchild of Robert Germann. “Let’s focus on more than football,” he says. “Let’s create a `village’ where the Chargers, sports enthusiasts, families, business and opportunists can come together under one roof. There should be no desire to relocate to LA."
Germann believes the project could serve as a travel and tourist attraction that would boost the economy and most importantly, provide jobs here in East County, while keeping the Chargers in town at a location that is easily accessible. “Football season supplies the multiplier effect and generates revenue for countless businesses,” he says, citing restaurants, bars, retail stores, grocery stores and hotels as examples.
There are hurdles to overcome, such as Federal Aviation Administration approvals and support from multiple political entities. It’s been estimated that a new Chargers stadium could cost upwards of a billion dollars.
Germann proposes shared funding with the NFL, Chargers, County of San Diego, the cities of Santee and El Cajon, tribes that would stand to benefit by bringing sports fans closer to casinos, and potentially private donors such as heavyweights in East County County including Jimmie Johnson (the project could even include a new raceway, Germann suggests), Taylor Guitars, which has its manufacturing facility near Gillespie Field, and others. For local cities, some of the buy-in could come in the form of land swaps to offset cash investment.
What about the much-heralded Aerotropolis redevelopment plan backed by local Chambers and the East County Economic Development Council? Germann says his plan would be compatible with that concept, since the main runway at Gillespie would be contained and nearby industrial sites would not be included in the sports complex plan. Thus they would still be ripe for redevelopment, though perhaps with a revamped name. Chargeropolis, anyone?
What would need to go would be flight schools that have recently increased training of foreign pilots at Gillespie – a problem that has plagued neighbors, including Germann, a Santee resident who in the past has called for the airport to be moved but has since come to the conclusion that retaining the main runway for private pilots while adding the stadium and sports facility is a better use of the land.
Germann unveiled his proposal just days before a different group of Gillespie neighbors in Fletcher Hills announced plans to sue the county over complaints that the flight school students have increased noise, safety risks, and lead pollution from aviation fuel at their homes.
Those residents would likely welcome a shut-down of the flight schools, though it remains to be seen whether some may have issues with traffic, lights or noise from a pro-sports stadium.
As for Germann, he says he has no vested interest (such as land speculation) other than a desire as a Chargers fan to keep the team close to home and as a bonus, to reduce flights over the homes of residents, including his home behind Rattlesnake Mountain.
The Gillespie site has major infrastructure on flat land with nearby construction and concrete companies. A new stadium at Gillespie could be shared eventually by the Aztecs, local community college teams and other East County sports. Imagine a CIF high school football championship there, soccer, or other uses.
The site straddles the cities of El Cajon and Santee. El Cajon has the highest poverty rate (29%) in San Diego County, with unemployment rates as high as 60% in the Iraqi immigrant community here and in double digits among some other groups. So bringing jobs to the region makes economic sense.
The biggest obstacle may well be wooing the Chargers away from downtown San Diego, where no doubt the city will be offering incentives to keep the Bolts. But where? It could take a decade or more to develop a suitable site, and the Chargers may not be willing to wait that long to “bolt” to a new location.
“The clock is ticking,” Germann observes. “The public desires the right decision and the Team does not need to keep threatening to relocate.” He urges civic leaders to put our region on the map and “Give the community of San Diego what they have been asking for thirteen years,” i.e. a permanent home for the Chargers with a new state of the art stadium and if built at Gillespie, a sports and entertainment complex as an added bonus for the community.