New KRON-4 report

From today’s KRON morning news is this report (with video) from Teo Torres. Some of the details are a little off, like the mention of a site at 16th and Oak Streets, which doesn’t actually exist. It’s more likely a reference to the Estuary (Oak-to-9th) site, which extends further east to 16th Avenue. A mention of the Hegenberger/Coliseum South site is towards the end.

Matier and Ross talk Wolff

The always intrepid Phil Matier and Andy Ross spill the beans on sites:

Financial hurdles aside, the most pressing problem for the A’s is finding a suitable location.

A few weeks back, after the A’s had all but given up on the Coliseum parking lot for a new ballpark because of objections from the Raiders and Warriors, De La Fuente tossed up a Hail Mary — suggesting the team look at a waterfront site on the Embarcadero already set aside for housing and retail.

De La Fuente said the 65 acres between 16th and Oak streets, being developed by Signatures Properties of Pleasanton, could easily be expanded by about 15 acres to accommodate a ballpark.

But another source close to the discussions, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks, tells us the A’s have all but dismissed that site. Transit and freeway access are poor, and there wouldn’t be a lot of other development opportunities for the team that could help it defray its construction costs.

Another site under consideration, according to De La Fuente, is the old Home Base property on Hegenberger Road between San Leandro Street and Interstate 880, just southeast of the Coliseum.

That, sadly, is another nail in the coffin in the Estuary plan. Maybe if Wolff got a partnership going two years ago, when he joined the A’s as VP of venue development, he could have put together a comprehensive Estuary development plan that included a ballpark. Alas, we’ll probably never know.

A surprising note is the mention of the HomeBase site (Coliseum South). The notion of development momentum I’ve discussed in previous posts has to be there for a plan at the HomeBase site to work.

Recapping the situation

Tom FitzGerald of the Chronicle recaps the most recent statements by Wolff and has quotes from David Alioto, the A’s VP of sales and marketing. There’s little new except for the following tidbit:

The A’s may have been consistent playoff contenders, but one organizational weakness is the lack of season ticket-holders. The club won’t even reveal how many there are. The A’s offer a variety of partial plans because they have to.

“We definitely don’t have enough full-season ticket-holders,” Alioto said. “The quality of the team has always suggested there should be more, but even in the World Series years the season ticket-holders were never there.”

I’m certain the season ticket rolls have gotten better during the A’s run over the last five years, but yet they don’t release the numbers? They’re obviously not a charity case, but it wouldn’t hurt to fully explain their “plight.”

Lew Speaks

During the A’s superb 3-0 victory over the The O.C., A’s managing partner Lew Wolff sat down with A’s TV broadcasters Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse to discuss the team’s resurgence and the recent front office moves. The highlight of the discussion was a new set of details about the new ballpark plans. As usual, Wolff didn’t get too specific, but he at least gave viewers some nice details to chew on.

Quotes:

“We’re very close to sitting down with the city and sharing some ideas. I hope there’s some leadership there that can help us. We can’t do it alone.”

“We need some vision in the community and some vision in ownership.”

“As you know, I’m no fan of the Coliseum.”

“We need some vision in the community and some vision in ownership.”

New details:

  • Compact stadium, 32 – 35,000-seat capacity
  • Each area in the ballpark will be a neighborhood
  • 40 four-person boxes (minisuites) at the 12th row
  • Trying to make everything in the ballpark lower (suites, seats) for a better fan experience
  • Trying to avoid having to build a third deck (the PNC Park model)
  • Condominiums overlooking the outfield, around 20 units (sample outside Wrigley Field)
  • There is a focus on both enhancing the fan experience and keeping it affordable
  • The team is about a month away from meeting with the city to discuss plans

Comments:

  • The condo talk was surprising. If that doesn’t get people talking about a ballpark village concept, I don’t know what will. That’s why it’s important for Wolff that the eventual site is not just any site. It needs to be one that is attractive not just to the team, but to other developers to invest in the ballpark village or neighborhood.
  • By not having to build a third deck, construction and materials costs could be cut by $50 million or more.
  • So far, I like what I’m hearing. I look forward to interviewing some of the design principals when the time comes.

Revolutionizing the suite

Remember the old term “box seat?” It’s not one that really gets used anymore except when referring to ultra-expensive luxury boxes (suites) or field level boxes, which are little more than expensive field level seats. Box seats at ballparks were usually sold in groups of six and had steel railings that defined them and cordoned them off from other boxes or seats. When the innovations called suites and club seats forever changed how stadiums and arenas were built, box seats became something of an anachronism. Now it appears that they may have a place again, if the Wolffs have their way. Don Muret from the East Bay Business Times reports on the venue development group’s interest in minisuites, club boxes, and other types of seating that fill a pricing and marketing void that exists between individual club seats and luxury suites.

“We heard from a lot of teams that said they have too many suites,” Wolff said. “In most markets, there aren’t a lot of companies that can fill a 25-person suite consistently for 81 dates. We’re thinking of having 40 traditional suites and 40 minisuites.”

Lewis Wolff is the co-founder and chairman of Maritz, Wolff & Co., a privately held hotel investment firm, and Keith Wolff said he and his father are fully aware of how difficult it is to keep hotel rooms regularly occupied.

The same principle can be applied to a sports facility setting, Keith Wolff said.

The minisuites would likely have two rows of two seats, with a drink rail and two bar stool-style chairs in the back of the box, Wolff said.

“For a company that has only 20 employees (such as Maritz, Wolff) but has relationships with a lot of clients and desires a unique experience, it would be perfect,” Wolff said.

For the average fan who doesn’t care about such things, this is just more money talk. But for the Wolffs, it may potentially be a revolutionary idea that other teams and ballparks copy once they see it in action. The move in this direction has no doubt been shaped by the Wolffs seeing how difficult it is to regularly sell the suites in McAfee Coliseum. The sweet spot for building suites has typically been 50-60 in a new ballpark, but by lowering the number of full-sized suites to 40, the A’s could limit construction costs and drive up demand, giving them a better chance at selling them out. At the same time, the creation of 6-8 person minisuites could give small businesses a more palatable option for luxury seating as well. When looking at the Bay Area pro sports landscape, it’s also an important differentiator for getting patrons in this rich, but finite market.

Fremont Update

I had been playing phone tag with the folks at NUMMI, and I finally got a reply to my inquiry about the NUMMI property which has been discussed for use as a ballpark site. Follow me on this:

  1. According to NUMMI, they have no official position on a ballpark.
  2. There is no official position because the NUMMI Grimmer site is not being considered for a ballpark.
  3. The plans to build a warehousing facility on the site are not formal yet and are still under discussion.

Confused? Now you know how I feel. The problem is that no one recently (as of a week ago or so) opened up any discussions with NUMMI about a ballpark plan. So they don’t have a position. That could change quickly if Wolff or Fremont’s Mayor Wasserman gets the ball rolling, at which point NUMMI would have to render a new opinion on the matter. It may end up that a ballpark could be planned on land across Grimmer from NUMMI, which would limit available parking but should be big enough for a ballpark at the very least. I’ll try to get a clarification on this over the next few days.

Mt. Davis: The gift that keeps on giving

The Chronicle’s Chip Johnson writes about the Raiders’ PSL situation, which is not good to put it lightly. The team’s poor on-field performance, coupled with the well-known availability of tickets without hefty PSL fees, makes the likelihood of PSL mass-renewals particularly bad. If PSL’s (personal seat licenses) aren’t bought, the citizens of Alameda County will have to foot the bill even more than they are currently:

Taxpayers are right to be ticked off because the annual subsidies of nearly $20 million will only climb if fans abandon the PSL plan when it expires at season’s end — and there is every reason to expect they will.

It doesn’t take a degree in quantum physics to calculate the savings of purchasing game-day ticket because sellouts at Raiders games have been as erratic as the team’s performance. For every PSL holder who opts out at the end of the season, count another brick on the pile for John Q. Public.


The fallout may hit the A’s as well. Lew Wolff has said he’s aware of the local public’s negative perception of PSL’s, and it’s not insignificant. PSL’s represent a huge part of the upfront financing: $75 million for the Giants in building Pac Bell/SBC Park, and $40 million for the Cardinals and their new Busch Stadium. Even the Giants aren’t fully insulated, as their mediocre, Bonds-less season is making current club seat holders think twice about retaining seats after their seven-year price protection plans end.

Regardless of whether a new ballpark is publicly or privately financed (or some mix of the two), PSL’s will most likely be part of the financing mix. Even SB 4 has specific language authorizing the sale of seat licenses. The question is, “Can the A’s and ballpark supporters convince the public that seat licenses at a new ballpark are nothing like the Raiders’ situation?” Considering the amount of talking up and selling the idea that will be required to distinguish such a plan, it’s a tall order.