New Site Photo Overviews

Just completed – three new site photo overviews. The finished overviews are:

  1. OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) – This site was mentioned in Peggy Stinnett’s column in the Oakland Tribune. She offers her take on a visit by Naoko Ezawa, who helped design Pac Bell (SBC) Park and represented developer KUD. KUD may very well be the Santa Monica firm hired by Lewis Wolff to visit and assess Oakland sites. Based on KUD’s portfolio, much of their experience is in developing waterfront properties. I visited the OUSD site several weeks ago, and while it has positives (mass transit, location), there are definitely issues in its shape, size, and the lack of parking (you can see this from the aerial photo in the file). The lot is shaped like an inverted “J”, and unless other surrounding blocks are acquired to round it out, it can’t properly accommodate a ballpark’s footprint. Also, putting it in a decidedly residential neighborhood may turn a ballpark there into Wrigley Jr.
  2. Coliseum B-C Lot – This may or may not be the main option for building a ballpark. It’s the least sexy option because it’s the most difficult to foster other surrounding development, but it’s also probably the cheapest to build because of zero land acquisition costs.
  3. Diridon South – The main San Jose site is just a block from the train station and two blocks from the HP Pavilion. San Jose’s Redevelopment Agency has been given the green light to acquire the site. Funds are a bit tight but it is expected that money to buy the site will come from the sale of other properties. There exists an issue with the PG&E substation on the west side of the site which probably won’t be easily overcome or circumvented.

Next up: the Laney College Athletic Fields, and the Uptown and Howard Terminal sites.

Note to Lew: Buy a radio station

A small bit of news that flew under the radar last weekend was the announcement that Susquehanna, the parent company of KNBR (680 and 1050 AM), is putting their radio business up for sale. In the salad days of the late 90’s KNBR and KTCT (1050, which later became co-branded as KNBR) were cash cows for Susquehanna. Lately they’ve become more of a liability to the parent company, as the 49ers’ and Raiders’ fortunes suffered, pulling away listeners and ratings. Susquehanna, based in York, PA, also owns the venerable KFOG and KSAN-The Bone rock stations in the Bay Area, and 20 more stations in 7 other markets.

It is unclear whether the stations will be sold as a group or as individual entities. Some, like KNBR-680, are the crown jewels and will fetch a pretty high price. 680 is one a handful of clear channel (not the company) stations throughout the country whose signal can be heard at night for hundreds of miles, in states as far as Utah and up and down the Pacific Coast. KNBR has had difficulty finding a good programming mix over the last few years for its lesser property (1050), sometimes going with edgier personalities such as Jim Rome and “J.T. The Brick.” On the other hand, it would also simulcast some of its other shows, such as “The Razor and Mr. T.” The morning drive-time slot has also been somewhat tricky, especially when KNBR brought a decidedly “morning-show” vibe to 680 in the “Not Just Sports Show,” which was killed only last fall. The Raiders had been on 1050 for several years, but were not renewed last season and subsequently moved to KSFO-560. Most recently, KNBR announced a four-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers, who had seemingly been on KGO-810 forever, but were let go after KGO saw a ratings slide.

If 680 and 1050 were sold together, the buyer would be given a virtual monopoly on sportstalk radio in the Bay Area, but would also be saddled with having to program for two 50,000-watt stations, which can be expensive. Signing the 49ers when they did probably helped boost the asking price of KNBR, but it remains unclear how the sale would be handled. KNBR already has Giants baseball exclusively on 680 and Warriors basketball (which switches between the two stations). It’s not unprecedented for a single station to carry three different teams, but that means that schedule conflicts could become a common occurrence.

This gives Lewis Wolff a potentially huge opportunity. As mentioned previously, the A’s will be off KFRC-610 at the end of the 2005 season and their next radio home has not yet been determined. If Wolff were to buy KTCT-1050, he’d have a built-in sportstalk audience on a 50,000-watt station, along with immediate programming in the A’s, who currently are relegated to vagabond replacement player status in local radio. Not only would the A’s get more immediate exposure; they would also be able to do many of the same revenue-hiding tricks that only the big boys are able to get away with.

That’s not to say that acquiring a station will be easy. Once any station goes on sale, literally hundreds of suitors line up for a shot. Existing behemoths such as Clear Channel (yes the company) and CBS/Infinity/Viacom have tons of cash to throw at any acquisitions. An open auction process could drive the price up for either or both stations. KNBR also has a 2% minority stake in the Giants, which further complicates things. Breaking the two stations apart and allowing them to compete would be good for the listening public and potentially reduce any conflict-of-interest issues. Buying KTCT would cost the Wolff/Fisher group millions of dollars, but it would guarantee the A’s a stable home on local radio for years, if not decades to come. That can’t help but raise the value of the franchise.

Comcast to O’s & Nats: “Not so fast my friend”

You probably know by now some details about MLB’s payoff to Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos over the Expos’ move to DC. MLB allowed the O’s to set up a new regional sports network (RSN) called Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. MASN is to be run by the O’s, with Angelos having complete control over broadcasts of most O’s and Nats home games. MLB has a stake in the venture that will grow annually, but the stake is capped at 33%. The Nats get a “market share” price for the rights to broadcast such games; estimates had the amount at $25 million.

That all sounds well and good for baseball (unless you’re a Nats owner who wants a little more control over the situation), but it appears that baseball forgot to consult with a company that’s normally a big player in such deals: Comcast. Comcast is the dominant cable operator in much of the country, and it considers the mid-Atlantic area its backyard (it’s headquartered in Philadelphia). Comcast also runs regional sports networks throughout this area, and its position as both network (Comcast Sports Net) and distributor (Comcast Cable) gives it some unique power.

What happens when you don’t consult Comcast on these things? It’s America, so Comcast sued MLB, the O’s, and MASN. In the meantime, Comcast is refusing to show Nats games that would normally appear on cable (those home games again). This hardball tactic has worked before when negotiating per-user fees for carrying the RSN, or even carrying it in the first place. The cable provider holds most of the cards in these battles, and they can wage the PR battle that normally hits the teams harder than the cable provider.

Comcast isn’t happy about not being able to bid on the rights to carry the Nats. Since MASN is an O’s venture, the O’s would leave CSN once their contract was up in 2006, leaving CSN in the lurch. If it sounds familiar, you don’t need to go far to find similar examples.

Comcast can go a number of ways with this. They could win the suit and have open bidding for the Nats. They could ask for a piece of MASN. They could also choose not to carry MASN at all, or carry it only on expanded basic cable instead of cheaper basic cable. This may also be simply a ploy to get a favorable deal to carry the RSN. But based on their recent expansion, I’m led to believe that they legitimately wanted a chance to broadcast the Nats. This may end up in the courts for quite a while since there’s no obvious middle ground. The losers will be the fans, and the eventual Nats owner as well since broadcast rights fees factor into the Nats’ final purchase price.

That’s a long-winded rant just to get to how this affects the A’s. It comes down to one suggestion for Lewis Wolff: Play nice with Comcast. CSN opened up shop in California last fall when they got the nod to carry Sacramento Kings games. They’ve positioned themselves as the Central Valley’s RSN, and they’re poised for a bigger advance throughout California. They are on digital cable throughout the Bay Area (channel 401 if you’re interested). They don’t have any of the Bay Area’s major pro teams yet, but you can be sure that as each team’s contracts expire, Comcast will swoop in for the kill. They have the built-in advantage over Fox Sports Net because of that distributor position. It could turn out good for viewers as it may cause a sort of bidding war, and FSN, which has a difficult time carrying 4 teams (Giants, A’s, Warriors, Sharks), may step away a bit, allowing for better coverage for all teams. That is, unless you like hunting for FSN+.

Comcast will be the ultimate roadblock for the A’s if Wolff were interested in setting up his own RSN. Comcast could use the same tactics they used with YES/Yankees, or even drive an RSN out of business, as they did in Minnesota.

Estuary Photo Overview

After the A’s unusual 1-0 win over The O.C., I drove out to the Estuary to finish taking pictures of the site. For those that are curious about what the Estuary site is, I’ve compiled the pictures into a PDF presentation with captions and descriptions. For now, I’ve refrained from adding much of the information in my previous Estuary posts, but at some point I’ll put it into a complete site analysis.

I intend to give all of the likely candidate sites this same treatment. The sites I will cover are:

  1. Estuary (Oak-to-9th)
  2. Oakland Coliseum South (Hegenberger/HomeBase)
  3. Oakland Coliseum Parking Lot (B & C lot)
  4. Oakland Uptown (Telegraph/San Pablo & 18th/20th St)
  5. Oakland Howard Terminal (west of Jack London Square)
  6. San Jose Diridon South
  7. San Jose Reed & Graham Plant
  8. Fremont Warm Springs
  9. other sites as they are publicized

Here’s the link for the Estuary presentation. You’ll need Adobe Acrobat or another PDF viewer to open the file.

Pointers or suggestions are appreciated.

Diridon South update – KRON

KRON-4 profiled the Diridon South site on their 5 p.m. newscast earlier this evening. There is a news story and a video clip on that same page.

Important in the story is the following:

But the head of the redevelopment agency says that’s simply not true because the money to purchase the 14-acre site is coming from the sale of several properties already owned by the city.

“In the last year, we have spent $20 million on neighborhoods, Mavrogenes said. “We have another $34 million this year and another $20 million next year, so this will not affect that at all.”

I’m somewhat skeptical of this, but I suppose it’s possible.

San Jose pursues ballpark site, other neighborhoods left out in the cold?

Barry Witt of the Merc writes that on Tuesday, San Jose mayor Ron Gonzales and the City Council held a closed-door session to approve the Redevelopment Agency’s pursuit of the 13.9-acre Diridon South site, which has 10 separate property owners. This has leaders in other San Jose neighborhoods worried that funds used to purchase the properties, valued at $20-40 million, will be diverted from their projects.

Where does this money come from, you ask? SJRA has a large pool of money available to them tax increment funds, loans, and other sources. Most of this is reserved for other projects, but there’s always some unreserved portion remaining. The unreserved portion usually gets allocated as well, but sometimes it’s left to accrue interest.

The kicker is that analysts projected a $25 million operating surplus for SJRA in its five-year plan (2004-05 to 2008-09). A proposal had that surplus go into a Priority Future Projects list, on which such projects could be acted upon in the first two years of a revised budget, but it could just as easily be used for a ballpark site, since SJRA doesn’t require any major discussions or hearings to change how unreserved funds are spent.

The mayor and city council argue that SJRA’s budget will be big enough to handle all consituents’ concerns, but if the price tag on Diridon South escalates to near the $40 million mark, SJRA might have a tough time figuring out where the rest of the money comes from. It’s not expected that any funds would be diverted or extra loans taken out to secure the site, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

The other question to ask is “Why doesn’t SJRA send this money back into the general fund to offset the budget shortfall?” A good question that has a very simple answer – they don’t have to.

Brief comment about attendance

I didn’t attend the night-after-Opening Night game for the first time in 4 years to attend the BART hearing. I listened to the game on the radio on the way home, but I didn’t get an idea of how sparse the crowd was until I caught the rest of game later on TV. For those that don’t know, here’s the attendance of Tuesday night’s game:


I realize that it was chilly, and many spent some good money on Opening Night, but that’s still rather pathetic. The Brewers had a similar dropoff from Monday to Tuesday, and they’re in a brand new, albeit lacking, stadium. The argument about attendance is not so much about seasonal attendance, it’s about the wild fluctuations from game to game and the anemic revenue streams derived from the gate. Wednesday will be the first of many BART Double Play Wednesdays with $2 tickets and $1 hot dogs. It’s a certainty that many stayed home Tuesday night to take advantage of Wednesday’s promotion. It’s good to have promotions for families and casual fans, but the A’s are getting peanuts compared to other teams. And as long as large swaths of seats are shown empty on game telecasts, the media will continue to hammer the point.

What effect Warm Springs?

Why all the fuss about Warm Springs? Well, if you remember the HOK study, Fremont was considered as a potential site. In fact, it came in third behind the Uptown site and the Coliseum site. With the Warm Springs extension slated to come online around 2010, it may become a viable site if an Oakland site can’t be worked out. Below is a picture of the area, with the ballpark site area in green:

The large road running down from left to right is I-880.

The Warm Springs Specific Plan (choose #4 for the Existing Conditions report) involves all manner of different development uses. The land right now is vacant, and is owned by many different parties, including GM, as part of the property is within the NUMMI plant. There is only a brief mention of a ballpark with no details.

A ballpark could be built here if the land was successfullly acquired for the ballpark effort. MLB has said that a Fremont site wouldn’t violate the Giants’ territorial rights because Warm Springs is just north of the Alameda-Santa Clara County border. It’s plenty spacious and there would probably be few homeowner NIMBY issues because there aren’t any homeowners there.

That’s not to say it’s without downsides. History of recent ballpark construction indicates that suburban sites are less successful in spurring development than urban sites. Because of the Bay Area’s never relenting real estate market, it’s not likely that a ballpark would become a white elephant, but it would still be difficult to convince voters of a ballpark’s economic benefits over a bunch of housing or retail on the site, especially if much of it is taken up by parking as is shown in the HOK study. There’s also the issue of traffic leading to the ballpark. If the intention is to get more Santa Clara County fans, the net effect would be 3,000 extra cars clogging up one of the Bay Area’s most congested interchanges just south of the site, I-880 & Hwy 237. Extending BART all the way south to Milpitas and San Jose would help, but getting that built is another story. Lastly, if any money was required of Fremont, it would be difficult to come by, since they’re making some serious cuts including the highly controversial “burglar alarm” police response cut.

BART to Warm Springs – not a ballpark item

I attended the BART public hearing on the Warm Springs extension earlier tonight. The proceedings were mostly civil, except for when David Schonnbrunn of Transdef, who was the only opponent of the plan. Schonnbrunn criticized the plan for being wasteful and not smart-growth oriented. While I agreed with some of his points, I felt that I had to speak up to defend the plan, even though I was only there to observe and had no intention to speak.

My comments had to do with the fact that I live in San Jose and work in Fremont. This makes for a usually stress-free reverse commute, but during afternoons it isn’t always pleasant. I would take public transit regularly to work, but public transit takes as many as 3 different transfers to get from door to door. Add to that some thoroughfares that are not bike-friendly, and it makes for a serious deterrent to going green. One of my quotes, which was played on the KTVU’s 10 PM newscast, went like this (I’m paraphrasing myself):

I work in the Warm Springs area. The place is woefully underserved, and to make things worse, it’s difficult to transfer from Santa Clara County’s VTA to AC Transit (Alameda County). I would say that at least 1/4 of the workforce at my employer comes from Santa Clara County, and many of them would seriously consider using transit if it were easier. If I could take a single bus from downtown San Jose to Warm Springs, I could bike the rest of the way and abandon my car at home everyday. In fact, if the extension were already in place, I would already be doing this. The best part is that I would be encouraged to use BART more, but even if I didn’t, the indirect benefit would be positive because it would motivate AC and VTA to better synchronize their service offerings. (AC runs many hub-based routes from BART stations, whereas VTA runs more point-to-point routes.)

I didn’t stick around to see how much my comments resonated or to get interviewed by KTVU reporter Diane Guerazzi, but they did have enough affect that I caught a few smiles from the BART officials out of the corner of my eye, and there’s the newsclip to boot. Even if BART doesn’t come to San Jose as soon as Ron Gonzales wants it (or even never), the Warm Springs extension will help Valley travelers much just because it’s closer. Having potentially one less transfer to make is a very big deal to public transit users.

My next post will cover the effect the Warm Springs extension could have on a new ballpark. The extension is due for a final decision in June.