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Carson Getting Charger Camp

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The San Diego Chargers will announce today a five-year deal to move their training camp in 2003 to a sports complex being built in Carson by billionaire Philip Anschutz, NFL sources said Wednesday.

The deal, rumored for weeks, is sure to fuel speculation that the Chargers are poised to move their franchise to Los Angeles, possibly to play in a stadium that Anschutz wants to build in the South Park area near Staples Center.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to adopt a redevelopment plan that has provisions that could be used for the complex land acquisition and financial arrangements required to build a football stadium. Anschutz has said he is interested in a privately financed stadium, which would be a rarity among modern sports venues.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has met with representatives of Anschutz’s group about the stadium proposal and said he is encouraged it would help bring the NFL back to Los Angeles. Tim Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, and Casey Wasserman, owner of the Arena Football’s L.A. Avengers, were scheduled to meet in New York today with NFL executives for further discussions.

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Anschutz broke ground in February on a $120-million sports facility at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Although they are free to leave their training facility at UC San Diego at any time, the Chargers have a contract to play their games at publicly owned Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego through 2020. But the contract has a clause that would allow owner Alex Spanos to “shop” for a new city in 2004 if the team exceeds certain salary restrictions imposed by the NFL.

The relationship between the team and City Hall has been rocky, largely over a ticket-guarantee deal that has cost taxpayers $25.3 million since 1997. Politicians have pleaded with the Chargers without success to renegotiate. The team’s 6-26 record the last two seasons has sapped fan support.

If the Chargers opt to move the franchise from San Diego, they will be required to pay 60% of the outstanding bond debt left from an expansion project undertaken by the city to make Qualcomm Stadium suitable for next year’s Super Bowl.

“Right now that’s $40 million,” Deputy City Manager Bruce Herring said. “That’s a fairly big incentive for the Chargers to remain in San Diego.”

But $40 million might not be as daunting a hurdle if Anschutz--majority owner of the NHL’s Kings and four Major League Soccer teams, including the Galaxy--were involved in the ownership of the team.

There has never been a suggestion that the Chargers’ training facility at UC San Diego is inadequate, and players recently acquired by the team joked with reporters at a mini-camp that they had heard the Chargers’ camp is the cushiest in the NFL.

But Charger General Manager John Butler has said he would like to get the team away from the distractions of San Diego’s beaches and night life for their preseason training. New Coach Marty Schottenheimer is known for running one of the toughest training camps in the NFL.

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UC Irvine and UC Riverside were considered as possibilities before the Carson deal was struck.

Charger President Dean Spanos has had preliminary discussions with San Diego officials about the need to replace Qualcomm, one of the oldest stadiums in the NFL. But in the wake of a five-year controversy over building a ballpark for the Padres, San Diego officials have shown little interest in replacing Qualcomm to placate the Chargers.


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