AAA Shuffle Begins with Guber’s Purchase of OKC RedHawks

Though we’re at least two weeks from MLB and AAA franchises from coming to new player development contracts (PDC), at least one team has gotten proactive to secure its future allegations early. A group led by Dodgers (and Warriors) co-owner Peter Guber is purchasing the Oklahoma City RedHawks, currently the AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros. The franchise will fetch $22-28 million according to The Oklahoman. Currently, Mandalay Entertainment owns the team. That company is also headed by Guber, making the purchase largely a paperwork matter. Mandalay also recently sold the Dayton Dragons (A-Midwest League) for a whopping $40 million, reflective of the team’s incredible attendance record and financial success.

The purchase of the RedHawks means that the Dodgers will soon switch their AAA affiliation from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City, making ABQ another free agent in this fall’s affiliate shuffle. Historically the Dodgers have never cared too much about having their AAA affiliate within driving range, as Albuquerque has hosted their AAA team twice, as the Dukes and now the Isotopes for nearly 50 years combined. It appears that the Dodgers have been more concerned about developing pitchers at more than a mile above sea level, resorting to using a humidor last year.

Rumors remain strong that the Sacramento River Cats will drop the A’s and hook up with the Giants, leaving Fresno as another free agent. Las Vegas may be re-upping with the Mets despite the distance from New York. Nashville, which will open a new stadium next year, remains up in the air in terms of its continuing relationship with the Brewers. Colorado Springs may also be available depending on how talks with the Rockies go. The El Paso-Padres and Tacoma-Mariners deals also expire in a week, though those seem more secure than others; El Paso because of a brand new ballpark, Tacoma because it’s so close to Seattle.

Making affiliate deals is as much about the bottom line as any other factor. Fresno has looked increasingly unattractive in recent years because of unstable ownership and the Grizzlies’ habit of running in the red. Fresno’s biggest may be something it can’t control: the cost of airfare in and out of its smallish airport. Air travel costs may also explain why the Mets have few qualms about extending with the 51s, since NYC-Vegas flights are relatively cheap and plentiful.

Here’s a list of potential upcoming AAA affiliation changes:

  • Oklahoma City RedHawks (from Astros to Dodgers)
  • Sacramento River Cats (from A’s to Giants)
  • Fresno Grizzlies (from Giants to Brewers or A’s)
  • Nashville Sounds (from Brewers to A’s)
  • Albuquerque Isotopes (from Dodgers to Astros)

Other changes to look for in the future are the Round Rock Express (owned by the Ryan family) switching affiliations from the Rangers to the Astros after 2018, and the Reno Aces, whose relationship with the City of Reno and Washoe County has been strained at times. The Twins just announced an two-year extension of their PDC with the Rochester Red Wings, cutting off a potential switch candidate for the Mets. And the Angels extended with the Salt Lake City Bees earlier in the spring.

Newly HOK-acquired 360 Architecture to work with A’s on Coliseum ballpark

In the 60’s, a Kansas City architecture firm named Kivett and Myers worked on two venues at what would eventually be named the Truman Sports Complex. Those two stadia, Kauffman (née Royals) Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium, bucked the trend of multipurpose stadia and stood out as great examples of sports architecture. Still considered excellent venues at over 40 years old, Arrowhead and Kauffman burnished the reputation of Kivett and Myers, leading to their acquisition by HNTB in 1978. Architects from HNTB’s new sports practice split off to form Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK), whose sports group dominated the last 25 years of ballpark design. Then in 2009, the sports group (named HOK+SVE) broke off to form Populous, with the mutual non-competition agreements: HOK wouldn’t get into sports for 5 years, Populous wouldn’t go outside sports, conventions, and entertainment.

Now that non-compete has ended, and HOK is eager to get back into the sports game. Instead of starting up anew, they bought fellow Kansas City firm 360 Architecture, itself the product of the merger of two firms, CDFM2 Architecture Inc. and Heinlein Schrock Stearns. That’s enough mergers and buyouts to fill a season of Mad Men.

360 is the shingle responsible for the city’s Sprint Center, MetLife Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes’ new stadium, and two upcoming venues: the New Atlanta Falcons Stadium and the new Red Wings Arena in downtown Detroit. If, as an A’s fan, you’re looking for something different in terms of sports architecture, those last two examples should give you hope.

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The Falcons turned the football world on its ear with their replacement for the not-old-at-all Georgia Dome. The iris-like retractable roof has perspective-based video screens and scoreboards embedded in its rim. The building’s metal panels comes with slits that light up and cathedral-style glass entries. Its part of an effort by Falcons owner Arthur Blank to have an iconic piece of architecture in Atlanta, a city sorely lacking at least in terms of modern work. 360 took that and went back through history, finding the dome at the Pantheon to be their inspiration.

In Detroit the focus is different. There 360 is putting together a “deconstructed” arena, where the ancillary operations of the building (concessions, etc.) are pulled away from the seating bowl. A single glass-ceilinged concourse serves most fans and connects to restaurants and even housing on the perimeter. The idea is to have the venue be part of a new, several-block redevelopment plan in downtown Detroit, just a stone’s throw from Comerica Park and Ford Field.

The full development will cover 45 blocks on either side of I-75, an area slightly smaller than Coliseum City’s core 120 acres. If the images in the above video look familiar, that’s because they’re reminiscent of 360’s work on the Fremont vision for Cisco Field. Again, there was a plan to pull the ancillary development away from the ballpark. The idea was to allow fans to come an hour or two earlier, then either watch batting practice, or shop and hang out at a restaurant or bar on the premises.

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It would be somewhat poetic to see that 2005 Oakland/2006 Pacific Commons concept resurrected in Oakland, with the sales pitch coming from a similarly-sized and scaled Detroit development that will be breaking ground in a few months. It’s that sense of scale that to me makes such plans more achievable than something gargantuan like Coliseum City that is so dependent on externalities. 360 Architecture is on a bit of a roll, and it would be fitting for them to achieve their biggest success on one the very first projects they worked on, in various forms over a decade. That’s some serious sweat equity.

Coliseum City Draft EIR Review: Scope

This is the first of a series of articles on the Coliseum City EIR. I’m using this post to set up the framework for discussions to follow. The topic for this post is project scope – an explanation of the project as envisioned, alternatives, pros and cons.

To understand the scope of Coliseum City, it’s important to first get a grasp on the size of the project. We’ve heard two figures bandied about frequently. 120 acres covers the Coliseum complex and surrounding land that the City and County control. 800 acres stands for the Coliseum lands (Area A) plus a huge swath on the other side of 880, most of which is privately owned. When you go to an A’s game, it certainly feels like a large piece of land, but because you can see all of it from the stadium it feels accessible and approachable. Nevertheless, that sense of scale can easily be lost.

Consider for a moment that the 120 acres we’re discussing is roughly the size of the Jack London Square area from Jefferson to Oak, or the same size as half of Downtown/Uptown if you take all the land bound by Broadway and 980, 10th St and Grand Ave. Coliseum City, even when only using that 120 acres (15%), is pretty large. At 800 acres, it’s the size of Downtown, Uptown, Old Oakland, Chinatown, and Jack London Square put together.

jls-outline

Boxed-in JLS is roughly the size of Coliseum City’s sub-area A (core, 120 acres). To the left is the 50-acre Howard Terminal.

If the designated Coliseum district east of the Nimitz is the core, the rest of the Specific Plan area is what feeds the core. While the new stadia, a transit hub and 5,750 residential units would sit in the core, the remaining sub-areas B through E are where the the bulk of Coliseum City’s permanent jobs will come from, along with the tax revenues needed to fund the stadia. Should the project reach full buildout, it would not only accomplish the goal of retaining all three current sports tenants (Oakland A’s, Oakland Raiders, Golden State Warriors), it would attract 10,000 new residents and more than 21,000 jobs.

If 10,000 sounds familiar, remember back to Jerry Brown’s 8-year run in Oakland. The key tenet of Brown’s tenure was the 10K plan, which sought to bring in 10,000 residents to Oakland. While he didn’t quite reach the goal he established for himself (10k residents by 2001, only midway through his first term), he loosened red tape and cozied up to developers to great effect, creating a building boom that Oakland hadn’t seen in decades and hasn’t seen since. Current mayor Jean Quan even resurrected the 10K moniker during her term, relying on big projects like Brooklyn Basin (O29) and now Coliseum City to reach that lofty figure.

As far as growth is concerned, Coliseum City fits many planning goals for Oakland and Alameda County. It has an intermodal transit hub (BART, Amtrak, AC Transit). It’s an infill development, meaning that it redevelops and repurposes previously developed land. Feedback from EBMUD so far indicates that the utility district will be able to handle the increased water demand the project would create. Local housing advocates want 25% of the residential units built at Coliseum City to be affordable for low-income residents. Rail operator Union Pacific doesn’t want residential built anywhere near its tracks, two of which are at the back of the Coliseum and behind the BART station. Caltrans wants some of the infrastructure money that could be raised for Coliseum City to go towards improvements along the Nimitz (on/off-ramps) to help traffic flow the area better. (See EIR Appendices for letters from these parties and public agencies)

The EIR, which totals more than 3,300 pages including Appendices, covers numerous development scenarios. They could include the so-called maximum buildout scenario, in which three new venues are built and all three teams are retained. Then there are scenarios in which one or two new stadia are built while the existing arena stays intact. They are a reflection of the market reality involving the teams. The Warriors have bought land in San Francisco on which they expect to build a new arena, while the Raiders are entertaining multiple cities outside Oakland and the A’s, while showing a renewed interest in Oakland, continue to keep San Jose in their back pocket. With lease terms the only thing binding the teams to Oakland, the City needs to show flexibility in case they can’t retain the franchises.

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All told there are 10 versions of the Project under consideration:

  • Project (see Executive Summary for description)
  • Alternative 1: No Project Alternative (all teams leave when leases end, Arena stays, Coliseum is torn down, minimal development comes afterward)
  • Alternative 2A: New stadia, existing arena stays intact
  • Alternative 2B: 1 new stadium or ballpark + new arena
  • Alternative 2C: 1 new stadium or ballpark + existing arena
  • Alternative 2D: New arena only
  • Alternative 2E: Existing arena only, no new venues built
  • Alternative 2F: Similar to Project, but with smaller football stadium (per NFL/Raiders specs)
  • Alternative 3: Reduced Buildout – similar to Project, but with about two-thirds of the residential units and other development
  • Alternative 4: Maximum Buildout – similar to Project, but 20% more residential units and total square footage

That’s a lot to consider, some of these alternatives may end up being infeasible because they don’t represent enough return to fund the project. Other possibilities were also considered but not studied further because they were considered infeasible from the get-go:

  1. A single stadium/ballpark configured north-south near BART station
  2. An alternate single stadium configuration
  3. A two stadium scenario with at-grade circulation (no elevated pedestrian concourse)
  4. A two stadium scenario with the elevated concourse
  5. Alternative site
  6. Retain Coliseum and Arena as is, no additional development
  7. A single stadium with no additional development
  8. A fully mitigated alternative (all impacts could be mitigated)

The first 4 options are more-or-less covered within the alternatives under consideration. #5 is interesting in that it notes:

“…CEQA Guidelines state that an alternative site location should be considered when feasible alternative locations are available…”

“To the extent that the sports franchises may consider off-site alternatives for their home field venues, those off-site facilities would need to be considered on their own merit and evaluated pursuant to CEQA is (sic) separate environmental reviews.”

Not that it need explanation, but Howard Terminal needs its own EIR as it would be a completely separate project. That’s actually different than the San Jose Ballpark EIR, which included multiple sites but was much smaller in scope than Coliseum City, so from a process standpoint it could work. #6 pretty much spells doom for the Complex should the tenants leave, whereas #7 answers the question of whether a stadium could be built on its own. #8 is practically impossible.

I’m a little disappointed that the Appendices don’t include revised or updated infrastructure cost estimates. In April I looked at the $344-425 million price tag, which didn’t include demolition of the Coliseum. Normally costs aren’t included in an EIR, but since they are so germane to the project it would be good to have them.

Finally, just to show how complicated the process, not only will various City departments and boards have to look at the project, some 15 additional public agencies may end up providing input or be required to give approval for various aspects of the development:

  1. Port of Oakland
  2. Alameda County
  3. Caltrans
  4. BART
  5. BAAQMD
  6. EBMUD
  7. CA SWRCB
  8. ALUC
  9. US Army Corps of Engineers
  10. CA Fish & Wildlife
  11. US Fish & Wildlife
  12. NOAA Marine Fisheries
  13. SF Regional Water Quality Control Board
  14. BCDC
  15. DMMO

Plus there will be comments from Union Pacific, neighbors of the Coliseum and other private interests. By the time we’re done, the EIR could reach 10,000 pages.

 

Coliseum City Draft EIR and Specific Plan to be released Friday 8/22

Update 8/22 2:00 PM – The documents are out.

The City of Oakland posted a Notice of Availability for the long-awaited Coliseum City EIR draft. Sometime tomorrow you can expect to find the EIR and the Specific Plan for the project here (#23).

The two documents have very different goals. The Environmental Impact Report is meant to show the various impacts the project would have on local resources. The Specific Plan is a long-range document designed to show how the project will be built out. In this case, the Specific Plan will cover 25 years of planning, with the focus on details such as building heights, setbacks, and streetscapes (this outline explains how SPs are constructed). EIRs generally do not include cost estimates, they will show what facets of the project will incur costs. From there it’s up to public agencies (Caltrans, CAPUC, etc.) or private interests to give the actual estimates. That’s part of the back-and-forth that occurs as part of the process. Specific Plan should include the infrastructure cost estimates made available earlier in the spring, with the potential for revisions or additional figures.

I’ll make every attempt to distill the facts in each document. Still, I highly recommend reading at least the Executive Summary of both documents. Big issues will be explained, and if you want to take a deep dive you can go into the sections. I will have my eye on several key matters:

  • The additional cost to demolish the Coliseum, which wasn’t in the infrastructure estimate
  • Comparison of alternatives and a possible recommended alternative
  • Parking study to contrast current use with partial and full buildout
  • Potential showstoppers

As is customary, there will be a public comment period immediately upon the EIR’s release. That 45-day comment period will last until October 6. Staff will compile the comments and formulate responses, not just from individual citizens, but also companies, those aforementioned public agencies, and other interested parties. Once those responses are compiled, staff will work on the Final EIR. When the Final EIR is released, it will also be subject to a comment period, then certification (assuming there are no showstoppers).

Two hearings are scheduled for public comments:

  • Monday, September 8, 6 PM – Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board Hearing at Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 1
  • Wednesday, October 1, 6 PM – Planning Commission Hearing at Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 1

I’m gonna try to cover everything over the weekend. Some of it will be terribly boring or even potentially irrelevant. I’ll be at the game Sunday with a group of friends, so if you want to talk EIR during the game let me know.

Part of Levi’s Stadium field being replaced after mishaps during practice

ticket-fri_night_lights

The ticket above may be rendered useless (and hopefully refundable) by Monday. That’s because Levi’s Stadium is having a bit of a grass problem. Sod that was planted in April came up in chunks and was causing falls during Wednesday’s in-stadium practice session, forcing Jim Harbaugh to relocate the session to the 49ers’ practice facility next door. Thousands of fans who attended the session went away disappointed. Today the stadium’s grounds crew began the process of replacing the middle thirdthe entirefield from goal line to goal line, first ripping out the old sod that wasn’t taking root.

Still of overhead footage taken by KTVU's traffic helicopter

Still of overhead footage taken by KTVU’s traffic helicopter

New sod is expected to take root in around 2 months, so it’s not as if there wasn’t ample time for that to occur. When the Earthquakes hosted the Seattle Sounders 2 weeks ago, I found it curious that sod seam lines were still visible on the pitch. While the field was playable for that event, it suffered mightily under the trampling of 300-lb. linemen. The grass variety in use, West Coast Turf’s Bandera Bermuda, is not considered the cause of the problem, though the 49ers haven’t officially said what the cause is. Niners Nation claims that the sand base under the sod is the culprit. To get the field ready for Sunday’s game vs. the Chargers, the team is getting more sod rolls from WCT to fill in the area around the hashmarks.

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That sod will be extra thick at 2 inches, giving the sod a chance to stay integrated for at least this one game. That’s considered only a temporary fix, since such installations are not designed to permanently take root. After that sod is used, the entire field will be torn up and the subsoil system replaced, in favor of a revamped system that will hopefully allow the grass to grow better into the base.

I don’t think is what the 49ers meant when they advertised Levi’s as the greenest stadium in America. Tearing up, replacing, and irrigating sod multiple times over isn’t green in the slightest.

Typically stadium operators keep a small sod farm near the stadium so that bad patches can be easily replaced. It’s also common for the grass suppliers to keep a large amount (literally acres) available for customers in case of emergency.

While Bandera Bermuda is a relatively new grass variety, it isn’t untested. The surface is in use at Petco Park, Raley Field, and was used in the end zones at the Coliseum a couple years ago as a test for the Raiders. The stuff has also been installed at the Rose Bowl for UCLA’s upcoming football season, and was used at California Memorial Stadium for the exhibition soccer match between Real Madrid and Inter Milan. While the field didn’t play as smoothly and quickly as a permanent grass installation would, there were no severe complaints and most importantly, no field-related injuries. After the match, Cal Athletics worked on installing the lower-maintenance Field Turf surface at Memorial.

As seen with the soccer-vs.-football experience dynamic this week, using the same strategy at Levi’s as the one used at Cal is no guarantee of success. The players could tear through the new sod just as they did with the original grass. However, the extra weight and root structure should help the field withstand the pounding. The field is also expected to stay through the following Friday (8/29), a high school football doubleheader. By midnight on Friday the field should be shredded into oblivion, seeing that there will be three football games played there in six days. If the field doesn’t make it through this Sunday’s game, the high school games may have to be rescheduled for other locations or the home schools’ respective fields. I’ve been looking forward to Friday Night Lights, since it’s the cheapest priced event at Levi’s so far ($20) and the seating is all general admission, meaning that fans can sit pretty much anywhere that’s open (probably the lower bowl only). It would be a shame if the event were cancelled, but if the injury risk is too high, no sense in pursuing it further.

There are many growing pains associated with opening a new venue. Unfortunately for the 49ers and fans, some of them have been painful (traffic for the soccer game) or even lethal (a man died at last Sunday’s game from heat-related causes). Everyone’s a guinea pig until things are ironed out. Here’s hoping that the new field takes hold, so that the focus is on the ball and what the players do with it, instead of the surface. After all, we already have one compromised stadium to deal with in Oakland.

Selig’s Lamentations and the Law of Unintended Consequences

To hear outgoing MLB Commissioner Bud Selig explain it, he was stuck in the middle. Powerless. The issue was forever “complicated.” He wished he could’ve resolved it. So when he rolled through Oakland on his farewell tour, there was no staged ceremony near home plate, no televised gift of a rocking chair made of bats. The only real exchange was a series of questions from local media, asking him if he could’ve done more get the A’s to a new ballpark. All he could say was that a ballpark was needed. Acknowledging that the so-called Blue Ribbon Commission/Panel/Tribunal was effectively shut down, the only thing missing was a hook to pull him off the podium.

Anyone’s thoughts on how the A’s (and Giants) should be treated are largely colored by three views:

  1. Oakland’s standing as a major league host city
  2. How much power the Commissioner has over teams and whether he should wield that power
  3. The sanctity of territorial rights and baseball’s antitrust exemption

There was never a question of whether the Coliseum is decrepit enough to be replaced; of course it is. There’s also little question of whether San Jose is large enough or wealthy enough to host a team if not encumbered by territorial rights; of course it is. The three items listed above, however, are up for serious debate. And despite the A’s 11th-hour lease extension last year and the hurried extension talks this year (done to give Selig something to hang his hat on as much as anything else), those questions will continue to dominate the discussion moving forward. All we get for the next few years as A’s fans get is a brief respite. Frankly, that’s rather welcome at this point.

Selig touted the 22 parks built during his tenure as head cheese. Virtually all of those parks have a single thread in common that Oakland can’t give at this point: public funding. The notable exception is San Francisco, where the Giants were somewhat ostracized for daring to privately finance their yard. The Lodge thought that baseball was on a slippery slope to No-Subsidies-Ville, with noted baseball town St. Louis playing hardball with its beloved Cardinals enough that the team financed $290 million for Busch on their own. They didn’t need to worry, as the extortion game succeeded in Miami and Minneapolis, even through the recession.

Oakland doesn’t have cash to offer. Despite their repeated shows of incompetence, Oakland’s pols are not crazy enough to offer cash straight up (I think). But they’re showing signs of being willing to offer up a big swath of Coliseum land, which in the long run is nearly as good as cash. If the City/County hadn’t gotten so legally entangled with the Raiders, Oakland would’ve been in the position to offer a Coliseum City-like deal to the A’s. Selig would’ve acknowledged the skin that Oakland was willing to wager, and I’d be watching the game in a new ballpark right now instead of an old one. That’s not to say it would’ve been a good deal for Oakland. It would still be a big-time subsidy. But it wouldn’t have been as disastrous as Mount Davis, that’s for sure.

Selig took the acting commissioner job in September 1992, as Bob Lurie was finalizing a deal to sell the Giants to the Vincents (Naimoli and Piazza). Still carrying the scar from losing the Braves to Atlanta, he purportedly held off the deal long enough (enduring a lawsuit in the process) to allow San Francisco interests to pull an ownership group together. After failing to save the 1994 season, he worked hard to avoid further work stoppages, though he sacrificed the Montreal Expos to do it. After he screwed over the original TB Giants owners, he settled with another group to get them an expansion team in 1998, helping to infuse baseball with cash after the Lodge took it on the chin with the owners’ collusion lawsuit. In the process, he bound the Rays to practically unbreakable lease at a domed stadium. Plus he forgot that San Jose and Santa Clara County, which were gifted to the old Giants ownership when they pursued a ballpark in the South Bay, remained granted territories to the Giants after the new SF-only ownership group took over. All of that happened while he was acting commissioner.

As the elected, properly sworn-in permanent commissioner, Selig orchestrated the Expos contraction-then-expansion ownership swap among three teams that netted baseball a handsome expansion fee and brought baseball back to DC. To satiate O’s owner Peter Angelos, he and his executive team cobbled together a deal that made the O’s majority owner of a new regional sports network, MASN, which owned broadcast rights to the Nationals. Apparently Selig didn’t see the TV rights bubble coming or the conflict such an arrangement might create. The Nats, whose initial term on MASN is now up, want in on that bubble while the O’s are unwilling to pay market rates. Naturally, the teams are in court. Selig, who gave Angelos MASN to get him to stop a lawsuit against MLB, now sees two teams stuck in trench warfare, arguing over hundreds of millions of dollars. To mollify the Nats, Selig is giving the team money from his eight-figures-per-year iscretionary fund. These days $25 million or so is small potatoes compared to the riches Ted Lerner sees going forward, so the struggle continues.

It’s with that perspective that Selig has found himself stuck trying to satisfy both the A’s and the Giants. There’s Selig the legacy-protector, who would prefer to keep the team in Oakland if they could just pull out their checkbook. There’s Selig the Lodge-unity-protector, afraid to take the territorial rights issue head on for fear of reprisal from one faction of owners or owner. Then there’s Selig the procrastinator, whose blind eye towards many baseball issues (PEDs, inner city youth development, growing economic disparity among teams) made this particular outcome entirely predictable. Some want to give Selig credit for MLB Advanced Media or growing TV revenues, when really he just stood aside and let his underlings innovate for him. I mean, really, Selig and MLBAM? The guy doesn’t even have email.

Complete conjecture on my part: I suspect there was a plan at some point in which the Nats-O’s TV issue was resolved permanently and the under-the-table payments could be rerouted to either the A’s or Giants as part of another temporary deal. If the A’s were granted San Jose, the Giants would be given a “refund” of their revenue sharing payment. If the Giants kept the territory, the A’s would get the piece of the discretionary fund as financial ballast as they built in Oakland (remember, per the CBA revenue sharing goes away if the A’s build anew in the Bay Area). Over time such payments would taper off as the teams adjusted. With such funds indefinitely in use for another conflict, there was no solution to be had. Another consequence of the Nats-O’s dispute is that any thought of creating a new Bay Area RSN with the Giants in control in a similar arrangement to the O’s now has to be considered verboten.

So yes, Selig is right to an extent. The problem is complicated. Still, all it would’ve taken is better foresight to manage this and all of the other problems. They are merely ways of moving money around a table, out of one pocket and into another. Some have argued for MLB to establish a stadium loan program like the NFL’s G-3/G-4. That’s not happening soon because the NFL’s TV dollars used to establish G-4 dwarf baseball’s national TV revenue $6 billion to $1.5 billion. The big market owners see the new TV contracts, in which each team receives $50 million per year, as enough in terms of support when coupled with revenue sharing and the luxury tax. That’s enough to give the sense of competitive balance that Selig likes to tout. Then again, we all know that’s an illusion.

Competitive balance means allowing the poor teams to play as if they don’t see the glass ceiling. That’s your Oakland Athletics, now and into the foreseeable future.

Rethinking Coliseum City with the A’s in mind

As summer drags on, the deadlines for Coliseum City continue to slip. Whether it’s the EIR or commitments from teams, the multi-billion dollar project moves further into the pipe-dream category than anything resembling real progress. Talks between Oakland, BayIG, and the Raiders (ostensibly) continue at least through October, with BayIG expected to produce real working agreements at that point.

A’s owner Lew Wolff has made himself into something of a foil of Coliseum City. He has never bought into the plans because of the enormous complexity and cost, not to mention the placement of the A’s as a Phase III addition off to the side, scheduled for 2022 or thereabouts. Now Wolff has been in talks with the JPA about an alternative to Coliseum City, which would pay off the Coliseum and Arena debt, which currently total $191 million. Presumably that would be in exchange for rights to free or discounted 120 acres of Coliseum complex land. Should Coliseum City meets in demise and Wolff be given the opportunity to develop at the Coliseum, there are numerous things that can be done to improve upon the ideas first explored with CC. The goal would be to make a more truly attractive, cohesive neighborhood, as opposed to a mega-development with every kind of building crammed into every conceivable open space.

jrdv-coli_city3_plaza_rail

Concourse Park as the “spine” of Coliseum City, football stadium to the left

When I first saw renderings for Coliseum City, I liked the idea of a spine running through the complex that connected the BART station to the venues and surrounding development. However, when I looked through the master plan released earlier in the spring, I noticed that the spine, or concourse, also acts as the only park in the entire complex. In the 120 acres, what you see above is the only open space. For some that’s fine given the urban context, but it’s also an odd choice given that the anchors are sports facilities. Shouldn’t there be a ballfield, basketball/tennis courts, or something else where residents (yes, there will be residents) can play? Or will everyone in Coliseum City have gym memberships? Not to mention the fact that the concourse will be 30 feet or so above the parking lot or street level. That makes accessibility tough for everyone except for people coming off BART.

Then there’s the placement of the ballpark. Off in the furthest corner of the A lot, fans would take a redone BART bridge from the station, then descend from the concourse and walk 2-3 blocks to the yard. That would miss a major opportunity to integrate the ballpark in a way that not only features the venue, but also invites people to visit.

Speaking of that redone BART bridge, that’s part of the opportunity. For decades now A’s, Raiders, and Warriors fans have gotten desensitized to the concrete-and-chainlink cage that takes them from the BART station to the venues. The biggest compliment anyone can make about the BART bridge is that it’s serviceable. Otherwise it’s generally a negative. It looks foreboding, especially the part over the railroad tracks where the chainlink completely covers you. At 20 feet wide, it’s subject to frequent foot traffic jams, usually caused by vendors taking up a third of the walkway on either side. And it ends with Joe Fan face-to-face with Mt. Davis’s hulking backside. It’s not particularly pleasant. The experience is conducive to simply walking as fast as possible. Rare is the leisurely stroll across.

The BART bridge, where the motto is "Just Keep Swimming"

The BART bridge, where the motto is “Just Keep Swimming”

Coliseum City’s infrastructure plan calls for up to $22 million to be spent on a redone BART bridge. The bridge is 800 feet long. At that length, $22 million can go a long way (hopefully not the way the Bay Bridge East Span went). The bridge will eventually be widened to prevent those large crowd traffic jams. There’s also an opportunity to make the plaza much friendlier, with places to stop along the way, see the ancillary development under construction, and appreciate the view. What view, you ask?

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

Imagine this: You’re coming to your first game at a new A’s ballpark on BART. You see the familiar lights off to the side as the train stops. The lights are a little different, somehow less distant. You take new stairs that bring you directly to the bridge, instead of having to go down then back up. The stadium lights continue to guide your way. As you get closer bits of the ballpark are revealed. First it’s the RF grandstand in the distance, then the scoreboard. Then you get little peeks inside the ballpark. You arrive at a huge, 20,000 square-foot public plaza with monuments to Dennis Eckersley, Joe Rudi, and Chief Bender. The center field gate, to your right, beckons.

But you know better. You know the history of the Coliseum. You know to keep walking along the plaza to the smaller right field gate. Immediately outside that right field gate is a huge bronze statue of Rickey. You know the pose. 939. The statue is placed exactly where third base was in the old Coliseum, only 60 feet higher, maybe because it seemed like Rickey lifted that base 60 feet in the air. That’s the gate you use. That’s the gate you teach your children to use.

When you’re inside, one old friend has returned: the Oakland Hills in left. No longer blocked by a concrete wall of suites and football seats, Leona Quarry, now partly developed, comes back into view. There’s something in front of it, though.

Mary Avenue Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge in Cupertino. Photo by R.S. Shaw

$14 million Mary Avenue Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge in Cupertino. Photo by R.S. Shaw

Somehow you missed some pretty great architecture that you were walking on. You must’ve been really excited to the see the ballpark, eh? Well, you can take in the new view of the bridge and the hills from your seat. Life’s pretty good.

P.S. – I almost forgot – there’s a football stadium too. Like the Coliseum City plan, there’s space set aside for it just as there was for a ballpark. The stadium flanks the plaza the same way the ballpark does. Some fans in either stadium will have views into the opposite venue. I can’t say how it would be financed or what size it will be, whether it will have a retractable roof, or any other details. The point is, the space is there. It’s up to Mark Davis, the NFL, and other investors to figure the rest out.

Notice in the overlay I put together that the combination of the two stadia, even with the plaza in between, is only slightly larger than the old Coliseum, which covers 20 acres (Levi’s Stadium has a 17-acre footprint) . Despite placing two stadia there, only 1100-1200 parking spaces are lost. Those could be recaptured by reclaiming space after the arena is demolished, though I would prefer to keep the arena there if there’s a way to operate it without running deeply in the red after the Warriors leave.

P.P.S. – Now I’m sure you have a lot of questions. That’s good, because I left out a lot of details. Fire away.