Davis affirms desire to tear down Coliseum

As the NFL owners meetings get underway at the Ritz Carlton in SF, KTVU reporter Noelle Walker caught up with Raiders owner Mark Davis, who made it abundantly clear that he wants the Coliseum complex for himself:

Davis confirmed that if a Coliseum City plan goes forward at the current Coliseum site, he wants the old stadium demolished before a new one is built.

‘If we’re going to build on that 120 acre site, we would have to tear down one stadium to build another one in that same place,’ Davis said. ‘I don’t want to build a brand new stadium and then have it be in a construction zone for next two, three, four years.’

Davis doesn’t want a construction zone around a new stadium. Wolff put in the A’s lease terms that would give the team an out if their operations were impacted by the Raiders’ stadium (construction taking out parking). If by now you haven’t come to terms with the need for Oakland to make a choice (or else have a choice made for them), make yourself a pot of coffee in the morning and breathe in its aroma deeply.

In her report Walker termed the dilemma Oakland’s “Sophie’s Choice.” Call it that, a Catch-22, Kobayashi Maru, Hail Mary. whatever construct you like that doesn’t exactly fit but helps explain the dilemma. Oakland has chosen to try to juggle both teams. In the process it has looked indecisive. The NFL disapproves. And so Oakland’s best hope is in that very same NFL keeping the Raiders from moving because it deems Oakland’s proposal at least compelling, if not altogether sufficient. Might need to throw in an Act of Contrition on top of that Hail Mary.

SC County Judge declares A’s-San Jose land option illegal

Just in from Santa Clara County Superior Court: Judge Joseph Huber, who has presided over the smaller Stand for San Jose-vs.-City of San Jose case for a few years now, has called the land option agreement between the City and the A’s against the law. Wrote Huber:

“The city is and has been in violation of (the law) for several years and it does not appear it will comply with the terms in the foreseeable future.”

Combine that with the blows that San Jose has received in federal court, and you have to think that any chance of a ballpark happening in the South Bay is toast, short of a miracle. Yet it all comes down to some serious strategic errors on San Jose’s part that could have strengthen their case, in this local venue and the federal one.

Remember that it was former mayor Chuck Reed who wanted to go to the ballot box in November 2009 (!), then March 2010. The deal would’ve set up the possibility of a voter-approved stadium deal in San Jose. Instead, he had a discussion with former MLB president Bob DuPuy, who relayed then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s desires to keep the deal on the shelf. Reed complied, there was never a referendum or initiative, and San Jose’s position has looked significantly worse ever since. All San Jose has right now is a prayer for SCOTUS to take the case, which isn’t likely. Throughout all of the various legal battles, at different levels, the weakness of the option agreement has been cited. The A’s have little vested interest in San Jose, and the City is no closer to putting together a deal than it was six years ago.

Now that even Lew Wolff has for all intents and purposes given up on San Jose, the spotlight is on Oakland, where that city faces an uphill battle at Coliseum City and could entertain an A’s proposal should the football stadium plan fizzle out. That brings to mind three scenarios.

  1. If Oakland can’t get Coliseum City done and the NFL doesn’t allow the Raiders to move to LA, the Raiders would either be forced to limp along at the Coliseum indefinitely or consider a move to either San Antonio or even St. Louis. The former would be a continuation of the awkward status quo, with no new venues in sight for either the Raiders or A’s.
  2. Should the Raiders vacate, they would clear the path for the A’s to build a new ballpark at the Coliseum, infrastructure or other public contributions to be up for significant debate. Or maybe no new infrastructure (no baseball village) because no one has figured out how to pay for it.
  3. If Oakland gets Coliseum City to work out with only a football stadium (the NFL’s and the Raiders’ preference – no one sane is buying into the multi-venue fantasy at this point, right?), the A’s are pushed out (per lease terms) and have no obvious backup plan. Would MLB direct the A’s to start looking in the East Bay and maybe the broader Bay Area for ever diminishing land opportunities, or start playing hardball and making threats as it does with so many other markets? How does a stifled San Jose factor in? And what of the Giants?

It’s just as well, we’re so overdue at this stage for a stadium that San Jose will soon have to deal with Sharks owner Hasso Plattner on his designs for a makeover at the 21-year-old arena that bears his company’s name. And if the goal is to get on par with the best new hockey arenas, it won’t be cheap. That discussion is for another day.

P.S. – The scant output over the last month was an intentional move on my part to see what would happen if I chose not to be swayed by every little gesticulation in the media over the A’s or Raiders. While readership was down a little, I felt it was the right move because there was no need to blog about mostly vague details or the rumor mill. Therefore I’m getting to stick to publishing 2-3 times a week while using Twitter to get out quick notes or retweets. If you haven’t already, follow the feed. Things should pick up again in June with the next set of Coliseum City deliverables is expected to be released.

Grubman: In Three Years Oakland Has Gone Backwards

Stan Kroenke's planned indoor stadium in Inglewood

Stan Kroenke’s planned indoor stadium in Inglewood

The NFL’s man in charge of potential relocations, Eric Grubman, called into to LA sportscaster Fred Roggin’s radio show today. Grubman fielded a lot of questions, including Roggin’s asking him to assess Oakland’s chances of getting a stadium deal done:

I’ve had multiple visits to Oakland. And in those visits – each of those for the past three years – I visited with with public officials, and I feel like we’ve gone backwards. So I feel like we’ve lost years and gone backwards. And that usually doesn’t bode well.

Grubman’s talking about the same Oakland that passed zoning changes and an EIR for Coliseum City, so from the process standpoint Oakland hasn’t gone backwards in the slightest. The financing piece is what remains a mystery, and I think I know why.

Coliseum City in dreamier times

Coliseum City in dreamier times

Three years ago, the big money tied to Coliseum City was Forest City, a proven mega-developer. They determined early in the vetting period that they weren’t going to make money, so they cut their losses. Colony Capital and HayaH Holdings took Forest City’s place. Rumors of other kinds of exotic financing surfaced (EB-5 visas, Crown Prince of Dubai). In the end, Colony Capital give up too, leaving Oakland scrambling to find someone to pick up the pieces.

Eventually that savior came in the form of Floyd Kephart. Kephart’s an adviser to the money, not the actual money guy, an added factor in an already complicated deal (his company gets a small cut). Over the past several months Grubman has dropped hints that the NFL prefers to have a simpler deal in Oakland, one without a middle man and preferably one not so contingent upon pie-in-the-sky development plans to help pay for a stadium. The league and the Raiders went into Coliseum City wanting a simpler, smaller outdoor stadium, a concept that didn’t take hold with Oakland until last fall. Even now there’s a lack of consensus about what the actual plan is, which probably frustrates the NFL to no end. If you don’t have a set concept for a stadium, you can’t have a cost estimate, and you can’t nail down the financing. Meanwhile, Stan Kroenke has financing down in Inglewood, the NFL is giving credit to St. Louis on its efforts to get public financing, and newcomer Carson, which has numerous details not in place, at least has Goldman Sachs working with the Chargers and the Raiders on 49ers-style financing for the shared stadium.

Over time the big question overshadowing Coliseum City has only gotten bigger. Everyone involved with Coliseum City knows this, you and I know this, and most importantly the NFL knows this. I’ve heard so many Oakland fans talking about how the NFL will provide $200 million or Davis can put together $400 million or even more. But anyone who has observed the NFL stadium loan process knows that the money is anything but a given. It’s directly tied to achievable stadium revenues, and is not the foundation upon which a stadium financing plan is built. Other financing has to be the foundation. The NFL awards a G-4 loan only after everything else is secured. Maybe Kephart has an ace up his sleeve that will help him deliver the project. Right now it’s easy to peg Oakland as the most behind the eight-ball in terms of actually building a stadium. Despite that gloomy outlook, things may play out in a way that keeps the team in Oakland – even without a new stadium on the horizon. Grubman advised against anyone putting forth definitive statements about any team’s future, and I agree completely. There are too many variables, too many possibilities to say anything with real confidence.

The other thing I’ve noticed over the past few weeks is how the media has covered the teams’ stadium prospects in the different markets. LA media is fired up about at least one team coming as they haven’t been in 20 years, with the Daily News and the Times providing unrelenting coverage and talking heads like Roggin regularly talking about it on the radio. San Diego sports radio has tried to prop up site alternatives in the city while the Union Tribune has constantly beat the stadium drum, led by columnist Nick Canepa. The Post Dispatch has worked the St. Louis and State of Missouri efforts, with Bernie Miklasz writing quite a bit about the Rams’ travails – at least until spring training started.

In the Bay Area? You have news coverage from the Chronicle and BANG, plus in-depth stuff from Bizjournals. Columns and radio air time have been remarkably light on the Raiders’ stadium issue, especially when compared to the 49ers’ move to Santa Clara and the A’s efforts to leave Oakland. I can’t figure out exactly why. Sure, the nomadic history of the Raiders has to be a factor, as is the Davis name. There has to be more to it, though. Are people tired of the stadium saga? Are they coming to grips with the idea that at least one team will leave the Coliseum complex? There are supporting fan/civic groups in the East Bay, but they don’t have big voices. In the past Dave Newhouse would’ve been the guy screaming bloody murder about it all, these days it’s Matier & Ross sprinkling in a scare once in a while. The loudest voice is a college-aged superfan from the Sacramento area who knows little about politics, especially Bay Area politics. If a decision is made to move the Raiders in the next year or so, many will be left wondering how it all happened, and they can start with the media. The flip side of this light coverage is that there are no frequent calls to provide public financing, a refreshing change of pace.

Hell, I’m only interested in the Raiders insofar as it affects the A’s. If the Raiders leave in 2016, that’s fine with me since I can focus on what it’ll take to build a new ballpark for the A’s at the Coliseum. I’d love to be more empathetic, but frankly I’ve been waiting 20 years for a proper ballpark for the A’s, half of those years writing this blog. The quicker the A’s can determine their own future the better. And if that means the Raiders are gone, so be it.

Nashville’s new AAA ballpark opens

If you hadn’t heard, the A’s changed AAA affiliates this year, going with the Nashville Sounds after the Sacramento River Cats chose to pair up with the SF Giants. After 36 years at Herschel Greer Stadium and multiple failed attempts to find its replacement, the Sounds moved into shiny new First Tennessee Park. FTP is located downtown, steps from the Cumberland River and blocks from the State Capitol building and Bridgestone Arena, home of the NHL Predators. Poetically, FTP was built at Sulphur Dell, the site of Nashville’s first pro ballpark dating back to the 1850’s.

The Tennesseean has a nine-part series on the development of the ballpark and fan reactions to it. Despite the proximity to the river, the ballpark was oriented southeast by architect Populous towards the downtown skyline. Eventually development will fill in the blocks between the ballpark and the Capitol, creating a sort of walkable mini-district between the two.

The façade behind home plate doesn’t follow the bowl shape, allowing for a great deal of additional usable concourse and flexible space. Five 33-seat suites dominate the seating behind home plate, including bar tables and glass door access to the suites (instead of the normal bunker suite configuration seen this low). To me this is the most controversial element of the park since it removes around 200 prime seats in favor of suites.

Seating at First Tennessee Park

Seating at First Tennessee Park

Additional suites are located above a club level that goes completely around the infield, which tells me that Sounds ownership knew there was a market for a healthy number of luxury options. Nashville’s a city on the rise, and has seen some success with its NFL and NHL franchises, so much that some are talking about Nashville being a major league city in the future – though not anytime soon. Maybe if MLB decides to expand again?

The big distinctive feature of First Tennessee Park is its massive guitar-shaped scoreboard, inspired by the old scoreboard at Greer. A huge video display takes up the “body” of the guitar, while a traditional line score is displayed on the neck. Another small video panel sits within the headstock.

The terrible weather that plagued much of the Eastern part of the country during the winter threatened FTP’s short construction timeline. Nevertheless, the Sounds and Populous got it done, completing the stadium in 410 days. That’s about as long as it took to build Aces Ballpark in Reno, though much longer than the 332 days needed to finish Southwest University Park in El Paso. So far, FTP is starting off on a good note.

P.S. – In June Southwest Airlines will start a non-stop route between OAK and BNA (Nashville). That’s a good thing considering the number of relief pitchers that will probably be going back and forth as the A’s search for bullpen solutions.

The Five Story Makeover

Progressive Field reopened for business this week after a $25 million renovation, most of the focus on the outfield. I agree with this comparison:

It has everything to do with those terraces on the upper deck. Designed for groups of standing fans, the effect was supposed to be a series of patios leisurely overlooking the field. Instead there are these blocky mini-façades that are both overly busy and distracting. While some unifying paint work will soften the look, I can’t help but think that these terraces are little more than glorified seat coverings – not as bad as tarps, but not much better.

Unlike Coors Field, where much of the RF upper deck was ripped out to accommodate a lengthy outdoor bar, at Progressive Field the Indians choose not to remove the upper deck risers, which would’ve freed up space and eliminated the need to build around them. So while the capacity has dropped to around 37,000, it could go back up if team saw the need to “expand.”

Photo from “Did The Tribe Win Last Night?” blog

 

Much better conceived is the two-story “Corner Bar” along the main concourse. Several rows of seats in the RF corner were replaced with standing areas, the bar itself having its own patios. And the RF gate has been rearranged, allowing for direct views from the expanded entry plaza instead of the very broken up look it used to have.

As part of the redone outfield, the visiting bullpen has been moved to CF in a stacked configuration. The old bullpen bench and access to it remain, allowing fans to wander in and sit there for a spell. It’s a neat “new” feature to give to fans.

Coors Field in 2014, Rooftop Bar in RF upper deck

Coors Field in 2014, Rooftop Bar in RF upper deck

The Jake and Coors were well known in the 90’s for great attendance records, both teams surpassing 3.5 million in season attendance on multiple occasions. As the novelty wore off, both venues started to look cavernous. It took the better part of a decade for ownership to figure out how to adapt the parks to an evolving fanbase. The Coors project perhaps looks more appealing, but the work at Progressive is more comprehensive. Either way, it’s nice to see both parks keeping up with the times.

Opening Day success, Wolff says San Jose “Not worth nasty battle”

Well, that was nice. The A’s finally won on Opening Day for the first time in forever, Sonny Gray nearly pitched a no-no, the scoreboards were a huge success (with a few hiccups), and many new A’s made solid debuts.

Off the field, Lew Wolff broke his own news, courtesy of Phil Matier:

Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff said a possible move to San Jose is ‘not worth a nasty battle’ over territorial rights with the San Francisco Giants, and is hopeful the city’s new mayor can helpthem get a new stadium built in Oakland.

Wolff also fought back against the constant critics, while reserving praise for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. I’m not sure what’s going to convince the critics that Wolff is serious besides an actual groundbreaking ceremony. I’m glad that at the very least Schaaf doesn’t have the same combative tone as her predecessor.

Whether Wolff was told outright by The Lodge or not, San Jose is not in the plans anytime soon. And if Wolff actually wants to get this done while’s he still breathing (something he’s alluded to in jest more than once), Oakland’s the only path. The only way San Jose opens up is if a Raiders’ plan is approved, kicking the A’s out. Then you have to deal with the payout, the CBA, all these things that The Lodge has avoided like the plague over the last two CBA ratifications and would prefer to avoid again. Of course, many of the A’s brass are totally on board with building in Oakland. Broadcasting veep Ken Pries, from last July:

From our position, we just don’t think that (Raiders project) is going to happen – we are betting it doesn’t.

This isn’t hard to figure out. A’s ownership knows that the money is in San Jose. Anyone with a brain can figure that out. Wolff and Fisher also know that they are boxed in, try as they did to escape that box. With the Raiders’ future up in the air, the A’s should take advantage of a potential Raiders departure. As I mentioned Saturday, there are still issues to work out in terms of revenue sharing, but they’re minor compared to a T-rights fight, whatever that may entail.

Unlike Coliseum City, there’s no real timeline or framework for the A’s to do anything. So far their strategy is to wait the Coliseum City process out. If they, like MLB, are gambling on Coliseum City failing, the Coliseum should be delivered on a silver platter. Then again, Wolff did hedge a bit by re-signing that land option in San Jose.

Hey, Lew’s gotta have a Plan A and Plan B, right?

We’re All Screwed

Great sentiment to take into a new season, isn’t it? Things may not seem that dire, but consider that I’ve been writing this blog for ten years and we’re no closer to a stadium than we were in 2005. As Howard Bryant explains in his latest ESPN The Magazine article, we may actually be further from a solution than before. There remains a single site in the Bay Area that baseball is willing to consider, and it is encumbered by a competing development process (Coliseum City). Everyone involved has acted and looked bad and has generally failed abysmally:

  • A’s don’t want Oakland, still covet San Jose
  • Giants remain greedy and recalcitrant
  • MLB provides no leadership
  • Oakland interests trashed A’s ownership, tried to force sale of A’s to no avail
  • San Jose sued MLB, making them a non-entity in terms of negotiation while lawsuit was ongoing

Bryant goes on to explain that MLB is banking on the Coliseum City falling through and the Raiders leaving, which would leave the A’s at the Coliseum to work out a deal, a solution presenting itself with no intervention required on Commissioner Rob Manfred’s part. Convenient, right?

Of course, progress made recently on the EIR process won’t necessarily translate into actual deal success. City archives all over the state are full of dead EIRs from projects that were never built.

An under construction Coliseum in more hopeful times

An under construction Coliseum in more hopeful times

Nevertheless, that’s the outcome MLB sees. It’s one that A’s management is willing to play along with, for now at least. It doesn’t mandate getting a ballpark built right away or even soon, thanks to a lease that can take the A’s through the 2024 season.

Like Lew Wolff assuming that The Lodge would work out a deal for San Jose, MLB assumes that the Raiders are in LA after 2015. But even that’s difficult to forecast at this point. Stan Kroenke’s Inglewood stadium plan has the most momentum at this point, and the Carson concept is being spearheaded by the Chargers. Both teams have plans to accommodate a second team, though they have both declared that a second team is not a necessity. The NFL wants no more than two teams in Southern California (including the San Diego market). Those two teams could be the ones spearheading separate stadium projects. Or they could partner together on a single stadium. The Raiders, not having their own stadium plan to push, have to hope that Kroenke’s plan falls through and Carson succeeds, allowing the Raiders and Chargers to be the LA teams. If Kroenke gets his stadium, it doesn’t matter whether the Chargers stay in San Diego, move to Carson in their own stadium, or partner at Inglewood, the Raiders are the odd man out. There’s the odd chance that either the Chargers or Raiders could move to St. Louis, but few outside of St. Louis are considering the idea seriously.

Therefore, MLB’s hopes rest with a very silent man who has little interest (and zero actual financial interest) in baseball. Kroenke owns or has owned franchises in every other major sport, including top tier English soccer (Arsenal).

Whither the A’s in all of this? As usual, that depends. If the Raiders are shut out of LA because of the Rams’ and Chargers’ activity, the Raiders would effectively be forced to work on a stadium in Oakland, ostensibly at the Coliseum. Naturally, that would conflict with the A’s and MLB’s plans. Don’t believe for a moment that either team or league is going to actively work with the other on a joint development plan. With no public subsidy in sight, the Raiders and A’s will look to horde whatever revenue-generating opportunities they can, whether we’re talking entitlements or parking. Either way, that will run into conflict with Oakland’s designs on the Coliseum land, which are to create a new neighborhood with up to 10,000 new residents. Strangely enough, a “same as existing” use plan for the Coliseum lands would work best for entrenched interests in the area, including East Oakland residents concerned about gentrification and businesses west of 880 fighting against losing industrial land.

Should the Raiders look elsewhere in the East Bay, the A’s would be in the driver’s seat for the Coliseum. Yet as previously investigated sites are eliminated – Camp Parks and Concord NWS have their own plans underway – the Raiders will be even more boxed in at the Coliseum. Worst case they stumble to Santa Clara, where they would play tenant to the 49ers instead of the JPA. Chances are that they’d partner with a developer (SunCal?) for the Coliseum. Finally, that choice that I’ve been talking about for years, the one nobody in the East Bay has wanted to talk about publicly, would have to be made.

That doesn’t mean any choice would be made immediately, let alone a stadium built. Look at what happened for the San Jose Earthquakes. The team was reborn in 2008, had a stadium promised in 2010, didn’t start construction until 2012, and didn’t open until 2015. Seven years, and for a city that Lew Wolff actually loves. It’s easier to start construction when you’re absolutely sure the checks will come in.

Having to privately finance an entire stadium is hard enough, now the A’s would have to do so in small market Oakland. It’s not even so much about whether Wolff and John Fisher want to do it, does MLB want to subsidize it for 30-40 years via revenue sharing? If the A’s are going to carry a big mortgage in Oakland with iffy corporate support, revenue sharing seems an absolute necessity to keep the A’s in good financial health. That’s the alternative to negotiating with the Giants.

And if the Raiders build at the Coliseum instead? Well, the A’s would be able to leave the Coliseum, but for where? San Jose is not a player in this scheme, but you’d be surprised at what avenues can open up once MLB runs out of options and leverage. That might mean Diridon, it might mean Howard Terminal. It would be fitting for MLB to actually do something after years of actively sitting on its hands. As long as the A’s remain in the Bay Area, even severely delayed progress would be well worth it.