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Future of Qualcomm Stadium, grounds crew remain in limbo

Jacob Sisneros

by Jacob Sisneros, Editor in Chief

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Every weekday his hand hits the alarm at 5 a.m.

He gets dressed, drinks a cup of coffee and makes the one-hour commute from Temecula, California to the 50-year-old concrete giant located on Friars Road. The commute doesn’t bother him; it’s nothing compared to the drive that got him to San Diego.

In 1983, when he was 24 years old, Bill Gibbs left his hometown of New York City in a beat-up Mercury Comet to come to California and change careers. Gibbs first stopped in Los Angeles, realized he didn’t like it there and settled down in San Diego.

After the Chargers decided to move to Los Angeles Jan. 12, Gibbs’ job as stadium turf manager at Qualcomm Stadium and the future of the stadium — the place he has called home for the past 32 years — remain in limbo.

A banner for the Chargers remains outside the stadium.

“I listen if there’s something written or on the radio or something about (the future of the stadium),” said the 58-year-old Gibbs. “But it’s all speculation right now, and everybody who works here is kind of concerned, but there’s nothing we can do until we know for sure what is going to happen.”

Without the usual 10 games the Chargers play each year at Qualcomm, Gibbs and his staff are left with seven San Diego State football games for the rest of the year. SDSU’s lease with Qualcomm Stadium ends after the 2018 football season.

“Right now the Aztecs are their sole rental tenant,” said SDSU landscape services manager Joshua Koss, who has worked with Gibbs since 2014. “Both of us are kind of in the dark as to what is going to happen.”

        The university has been in negotiations with the San Diego investment firm FS Investors since Spanos’ announcement and are deciding between a number of options including demolishing Qualcomm Stadium and replacing it with a 30,000 seat stadium for soccer and college football.

        Bobby Slabe, 62, has worked as a groundskeeper at Qualcomm Stadium since 1991 and has worked with Gibbs for 26 years.

        “I try not to listen too much to (the negotiations) because I know when it comes, it will be the end of my job,” Slabe said. “I don’t see me worrying about it too much at this point, but I do hope they figure it out for San Diego State. I was very disappointed that the Chargers left.”

        Gibbs worked all three Super Bowls held at the stadium in 1988, 1998 and 2003 as well as two MLB all star games held in 1972 and 1992.

Gibbs said his crews would spend long hours together when they had to switch from football to baseball and move stands back and forth.

Qualcomm Stadium is the only stadium to host the Super Bowl and World Series in the same year when it held both events in 1998.

“(Qualcomm Stadium) has changed in the 30 years,” Gibbs said. “We had many more events when we had baseball here — when the Padres played here, it was always busy.”

The San Diego Padres left Qualcomm in 2004 for their new home at Petco Park after sharing Qualcomm Stadium with the Chargers from 1969 to 2003.

Jeffrey Siniard, 39, is a former contributor for the SB nation Chargers blog Bolts from the Blue and has lived in San Diego since 1978.

“The problem with Qualcomm (stadium) is that it was originally built as a multi-purpose facility — it was built for baseball and football,” Siniard said. “To engineer it strictly for football and to give it all the modern amenities that most new stadiums have you would have had to strip it down to its foundation almost and build up from scratch.”

Siniard said the last major renovation to the stadium happened 20 years ago.

“Compared to newer buildings it really is a relic,” he said. “It has that kind of quaint charm that you get from an older building that maintains its original character and you can’t deny the memories aspect of it, but I wouldn’t dispute anyone saying that it is (outdated). By every modern standard I can think of it is extremely outdated.”

Andy Zlotnick, chairman of the Qualcomm Stadium Advisory Board which advises city staff about stadium operations, said he remembers playing soccer games at the stadium growing up and he used to have season tickets to the Chargers with his cousin.

“I was there in ‘84 when the Cubs played the Padres in the NLCS,” Zlotnick said. “I slept (at the stadium) overnight to get the tickets.”

Gibbs has worked at the stadium since 1985 after relocating to San Diego in 1983 and working at Torrey Pines Golf Course for a year.

He graduated from Hofstra University with a bachelor’s degree in business management and worked his way through college mowing lawns and doing landscape maintenance. After having trouble finding a job in New York after graduation, he decided to pick up and move across the country.

Gibbs waters the newly laid sod at Qualcomm Stadium April 14. Gibbs has managed the field turf at the stadium for 32 years.

“I never really wanted to be a supervisor, I just liked doing the hands-on work, and that’s why I still do it today,” Gibbs said. “I’m still out there working side-by-side with the guys, and I still consider them friends even though I’m supervisor over them.”

Koss said he works closely with Gibbs to ensure the field the SDSU football team practices on is as similar as possible to the field at Qualcomm.

“A lot of the people that manage higher profile stadiums such as Qualcomm or Petco or anything along those lines they’re kind of protective,” Koss said. “A lot of them shut themselves off, but Bill is exactly the opposite of that. He’s very welcoming, very laidback.”

As negotiations to replace the stadium continue Gibbs said his future is murky.

“I have plans to retire, I’m just not sure what I’ll do after,” he said. “I’ll do something productive, but it probably won’t be related to this field. It may, I don’t know.”

 

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1 Comment

One Response to “Future of Qualcomm Stadium, grounds crew remain in limbo”

  1. Tobi Padwick on August 14th, 2017 5:44 pm

    If this stadium goes away there is a very good chance San Diego may be on the outside looking in on any pro football in say the next 20 years…(Unless you see the city building a new 1.5B NFL stadium in the next 2 decades after the whole charger thing…I don’t.) and that the Aztecs may cap their future potential, eliminating any chance of them ever moving into the Group of 5 elite FBS conferences.

    I stumbled across this interesting article by Logan Jenkins, a San Diego editorialist that exactly lines up with my feelings as a former resident.

    http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/columnists/logan-jenkins/sd-me-jenkins20170118-story.html

    He argues that the city should do a partial demolition, undoing the 1990’s expansion and reducing capacity back to about 61,000. I think this would be ideal as that is a capacity SDSU could quickly grow into, with the Chargers no longer competing with the Aztecs for fall football ticket sales. This is a point the SDSU’s leadership IMO appears to have a poor grasp on.

    The Chargers leaving in a huff is the best thing that ever happened to SDSU and SDSU football. It opens a world of possibilities.

    You can find programs all over the country where a pro team leaves and all of a sudden the top collegiate sport in the area is able to build large followings. Once the pro competition for that sports dollar is gone, there is a major opportunity there. Look at the University of Seattle basketball. For that matter look at SDSU basketball before and after the Clippers. (And I totally get Steve Fisher is easy to sell…but so is your football coach’s success.)

    SDSU football doesn’t draw what they do for any other reason that the presence of the Chargers. If SDSU was located in Sacramento, a similarly large California city but one with no NFL cuckoo, and had a big enough stadium, they would be drawing 60,000.

    Disagree with me? Look at what Fresno State pulls in a much smaller metro area.

    There is a lot of football ticket dollars that will be available to SDSU starting this fall. With a stadium to absorb an increased capacity of fans, a strong product, and aggressive marketing, it would not be at all inconceivable to see SDSU selling out a 60,000 seat stadium in 4-6 years. It could frankly make them a potential target of Pac-12 (or Big 12) expansion in the very near future….and it does open the door for the next pro spring football league (basically there is one every 10 years) to put a team in San Diego that unlike the NFL won’t directing compete with SDSU for fall football ticket sales.

    SDSU does not appear to be anticipating any fan growth and would instead prefer to tear down the stadium and replace it with a 40,000 seat stadium that they will instantly fill… I think that is lazy, wasteful, and short-sighted. California is filled with sub Pac-12 level schools who cannot secure the funding for football stadium expansions.

    If they build a 40,000 seat stadium, SDSU will not have the revenue for future expansion efforts. This move will remove the potential door to the Pac-12 that the charger’s departure has created (which SDSU’s leadership frankly may not see.) California is very combative about public University spending on football. IMO, SDSU should take over the stadium after the city demolishes the new expansion to get it to back to 61K and then tarp the upper deck (ala The Okland Colieseum’s “Mt. Davis”), Reducing “capacity” to roughly 40,000 allowing “cost-free” expansion in the future.

    If SDSU’s attendance exceeds 50,000, the Big 12 will come to look because SDSU is one of 3 FBS universities in Southern California, one of the country’s richest recruiting grounds, with over 27M people. This could very much force the issue with the PAC and push the Cal State school into the PAC in order to protect the PAC-12’s key recruiting territory from poachers like Oklahoma, OSU, Baylor, Texas Tech, and TCU.

    I would strongly encourage SDSU to rethink their position on the stadium. If they take the stadium, the city will likely concede (in some way) a heck of a lot of land with that to the university. SDSU will have to pay money, but SDSU needs land. That makes it worthwhile to the university.

    If you have a 60,000 seat stadium and you are mostly filling it, you’ll have the money to do the kind of spot demolitions and rebuilds (I get that the layout is ok, not ideal. You could bit by bit do the kind of things Orlando did to the lower decks of the citrus bowl in order to move the lower decks closer to the field.). Those 20,000 extra seats are money in the bank for your rebuilding efforts.

    If you have sole football ownership of the San Diego Market and a stadium that is right sized at 61,000, you might be smart to conference call Texas AD Mike Perrin and OU AD Joe Castiglione and ask how they feel about SDSU at that point. OU has a bit of a recruiting problem with TAMU in the SEC that caps how good they can be. SoCal recuiting could do a lot for that. + SDSU and BYU?

    If you are a sub Pac-12 California University playing in a 40,000 seat stadium, you don’t have that money or even the perception of a fanbase of 60,000. If you try to expand, you are likely to be jacked.

    MO, but I think SDSU is not taking a long enough view at this.

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