NFL

Backers of Carson NFL stadium file ballot initiative as first step

Supporters of NFL stadium plan in Carson for Chargers and Raiders take first step by filing ballot initiative

Last summer, representatives of the San Diego Chargers approached the Starwood Capital Group to learn more about the 168-acre site of a former landfill in Carson.

By late January, the team had a binding deal to buy it.

In mid-February, the day before the Chargers announced plans to build a privately financed $1.7-billion stadium on the property, the team finalized an agreement with the Oakland Raiders to share it.

On Wednesday, as stadium backers filed a ballot initiative in Carson to clear the way for the project, more details emerged about the proposal that could bring two NFL teams to the Los Angeles area.

The Chargers are locked in to buying the Carson site with the deal scheduled to close at the end of this month. Still, both teams say they are continuing to pursue stadium options in their home cities.

"There are no contingencies, there is no option," said Mark Fabiani, the point man on stadium issues for the Chargers. "We have to buy it. Starwood has to sell it."

Signature-gathering is expected to start next week in Carson for the ballot initiative that would change zoning to move forward with a 70,000-seat stadium near the 405 Freeway at Del Amo Boulevard.

The team-financed campaign hopes to collect more than 12,000 signatures by mid-April. After 8,041 signatures are certified, the ballot measure will go to Carson's City Council. Its members could approve the plan themselves or schedule a public vote, likely this summer.

"The next period of weeks will be really important to determine community support," Fabiani said.

The Chargers are using the same playbook as St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Last week, the Inglewood City Council unanimously approved Kroenke's plan to build a stadium on the site of the Hollywood Park racetrack, less than two months after the plan's public unveiling. Kroenke's group collected 22,183 signatures supporting its initiative in less than three weeks.

If Carson's effort is as successful, the L.A. area would have two approved stadium plans backed by NFL owners competing to return teams after a two-decade absence.

The plans use different approaches, though. Kroenke wants a covered stadium as part of a sprawling entertainment and real estate development, while the Chargers and Raiders envision an open-air facility ringed largely by parking lots, with a 350-room hotel and, perhaps, an NFL-themed museum or entertainment venue. Developers plan to buy nearby land for more parking.

The economics are different too. A Carson stadium would be publicly owned, but its developers pledge no tax money would be spent on its construction, operations or the street work around the project. Kroenke and his partners would own their stadium and will seek to recoup tens of millions of dollars in street, sewer and public service costs.

"Period. End of discussion. Not one penny [of city money] will go into the project," said George Mihlsten, an attorney representing the joint venture between the Chargers and Raiders. In previous years, he worked with the NFL and billionaire Ed Roski on L.A. stadium projects.

The initiative, which took project backers about two months to assemble, would create a public authority in Carson to own the stadium and lease it back to the teams. The arrangement is similar to how the San Francisco 49ers paid for the $1.2-billion Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. An investment group led by Goldman Sachs lent $850 million to that public authority and a team subsidiary to finance construction, to be paid back by revenue from the stadium.

Goldman Sachs is lining up financing for the Carson project, as well.

The Carson stadium carries a $1.7-billion price tag, with the Inglewood stadium projected to cost $1.86 billion.

No NFL team has filed for relocation, but the league has formed a committee of owners to study its options in L.A. Backers of Inglewood stadium say they will begin construction in December, with or without a tenant, the Carson initiative says work can only start once a team has signed a 20-year lease to play at the venue.

Project officials say environmental remediation measures at the site are about 70% complete and should be finished within a year.

Carson officials have said they support the stadium project, though they hadn't had time to read the fine print of the initiative Wednesday afternoon.

"We're very excited about the prospect," Carson City Atty. Sunny Soltani said.

Follow Nathan Fenno on Twitter @nathanfenno

Follow Tim Logan on Twitter @bytimlogan

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