Niners and Raiders sittin’ in a tree

Could it be a marriage made in heaven? Or at least Santa Clara?

Matier and Ross revealed in this morning’s column that 49er officials met with their Raider counterparts “in a casual setting in the latter half of the football season about the possibility of teaming up.” Later in the afternoon, the 49ers issued a release denying such talks occurred. The idea of the two NFL franchises sharing a stadium has been floated here and elsewhere. Is it feasible?

The concept (if not the location) may be the most feasible for this area. The NYC market can only get one stadium built for its two megabucks teams. Despite decades of fierce loyalty, the Redskins’ FedEx Field was privately built, while built-up longing and disappointment helped broker a sweetheart deal for the Ravens. We know that public money is scarce at best for the 49ers and Raiders, as is land. So the better question may be:

Why are they pursuing separate venues?

Just as with the A’s situation, I’m not terribly particular about the eventual location of a stadium. The 49ers have been pumping up the Great America site, which sounds good on paper. It has transit links, plenty of parking nearby, and some land nearby which could be leveraged for development-based financing. Yet the 49ers’ apparent overtures towards the Raiders indicates that the financing part is far from complete. I’ve expressed my doubts about how the team is going to pay for this.

From a practical standpoint, sharing a venue makes a lot of sense.

  • The two teams will play 20-24 games total per year including playoffs.
  • The exposure that having two teams will bring to the venue makes naming rights much more attractive for potential bidders – perhaps twice as lucrative.
  • Having a single venue means that the two teams won’t be competing for a Super Bowl bid. They can throw their resources into co-hosting the bid, collectively getting better chances in the process even for repeat hostings.
  • The host city will be that much more interested in “helping” because of the promise of twice as many NFL dates.
  • Success with the venue would cascade down to the possibility of a high profile bowl game (yes I’m pointing at you, Emerald Bowl).

Of course, pragmatism often doesn’t rule such proceedings. Greed does. Still, this is a positive step that shows that 49ers management may have a better read on the market than most of the public gives them credit for. As for the Raiders, they understand that compared to a decade ago, they are in a position of weakness on and off the field. They’re now beggars, not choosers, so a lack of options could very well drive them towards this kind of deal. Will the fans of the respective teams stand for it? Sounds like a tougher bargain to me.

BTW – I know I’m going to get asked this – I’d prefer Treasure Island even though it’s a logistical nightmare (BART station at Yerba Buena Island included). Then one of the cities – take your pick.

What is infrastructure, anyway?

In the past month we’ve heard a lot about costs associated with the ballpark village. The $500 million figure for the ballpark itself is quite fuzzy, and depending on the final scope of “A’s Town” the final value of the project could be well over $2 billion. It could be very easy to lose sight of the hidden costs of the development. There’s much speculation about who is going to foot these hidden costs, but I sense that much of this speculation comes from good old-fashioned FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). That’s not unfair since we’ve seen municipalities get burned time and time again over the last 20-30 years on sports facility development. In this case there’s less chance of that because a project of this size has to have all details fleshed out before it gets approved. Why? Because if you take away the ballpark, it’s simply a housing and retail development, and as such it should get treated like any other housing and retail development.

Don’t let the ballpark fool you
The ballpark is the anchor of the development, and it’s expected to retain virtually all of its revenue including concessions and parking. Unlike most retail anchors such as department stores, it’s not expected to directly benefit the city through significant sales or property tax revenues. That may vary based on who owns the ballpark and land, but for now let’s work with the notion that when it comes to sales and property taxes the ballpark represents zero direct net benefit to the City and County. (Ancillary development may brings huge tax revenue for both the City and County but it’s too early to project how much.)

Okay, but what about costs associated with the ballpark? Wolff said last week that the A’s will pick up the tab for police presence. Is that simply police within the ballpark village area or the ballpark itself? What about traffic management? Or how about public safety at whatever transportation facilities are built there? Fire and emergency services? All of that stuff adds up. It’s possible that the A’s could capture those costs in their ticket and concessions prices. They could partner with the city on a ticket tax to fund such services, which would be a roundabout way of doing it.

Or they could look at another source of tax revenue within the city itself. Section 5-1206 of the Fremont municipal code covers revenues from recreation and entertainment:

(a) Every person conducting, carrying on or managing any business consisting of entertainment, recreation or amusement shall pay an annual business tax of $1.50 for each $1,000.00 of gross receipts. This classification includes but is not limited to: Archery ranges/instruction, bowling alleys, firearm shooting ranges, golf courses/instruction, ranges, indoor and outdoor motion picture theaters, pool and billiard halls, rental animals for recreation riding, skating rinks, sporting events, swimming pools, theaters at which live entertainment is presented, vehicle courses/racing, game or computing arcades.

That means the tax rate for the A’s would be 0.15% in Fremont. That’s favorable compared to Oakland’s 0.45%, though I don’t know whether or not the A’s actually pay this tax in their current situation. 0.15% may not sound like much, but when talking about a baseball team, it’s actually good revenue. Consider this breakdown:

If Fremont and the A’s were to split the cost of gameday police and emergency services, that $171,120 would go along way towards paying for it. Keep in mind that this is tax revenue that would otherwise not go to Fremont. If there’s a possible source for these expenses or even a rebate for the A’s, this is it.

Permanent infrastructure
There are other types of infrastructure associated with residential or mixed developments. Roads, schools, and parks have great upfront costs, but are ongoing expenses usually covered by existing budgets. In Fremont, the city has had to cut some services and eliminate positions to keep the budget balanced. “A’s Town” would bring some nearly 8-10,000 new residents into the city via townhomes and other types of attached housing. Typical residential and commercial developments these days require developers to foot the bill for water, sewer, and other utilities, as well as building of streets within the development. That cost should not be an issue. It’s the other stuff that needs to be defined.

Arterial roads and freeways
Two major roads feed into the Pacific Commons area, Auto Mall Parkway from the east, and Cushing Parkway/Boyce Road from the north/south. A major piece of infrastructure was completed a couple of years ago when Cushing Pkwy was extended north from Fremont Blvd, officially connecting the two parts of Fremont’s Industrial Redevelopment district. Prior to this, drivers had to take 880 or cross the freeway to get to Auto Mall Pkwy. Cushing is perfect for ballpark traffic as it runs 4-6 lanes and empties directly into 880 South. Auto Mall Pkwy is modern and wide in the Pacific Commons area, but it narrows as you move further east towards 680. It’s this portion of Auto Mall that is a concern because it performs double-duty as a commuter corridor. Widening to a full six lanes from 880 to 680 is imperative, and that includes an overpass section that avoids rail lines, including the planned BART extension. Should that widening happen, Auto Mall may be used as a carpool route, which would be helpful for fans coming from 680.

Modern interchanges connecting to 880 in the area are already complete. Pacific Commons is in the middle of a massive redevelopment zone called “Industrial.” After the creation of the 3,000-acre zone west of 880, roughly $24 million per year in property taxes was diverted away from their usual destinations, in part, to fund four 880 interchanges: Auto Mall, Fremont, Mission/Warren, and Dixon Landing. All but Mission/Warren are finished, and the Mission/Warren interchange is due sometime in 2008. Debt service on the bonds used to finance the interchanges will run through 2013. Even if the A’s were to reverse position and ask for a bond issue – which they haven’t – the city would likely be averse to acquiring more short-term debt.

In a previous comment thread, someone asked if perhaps the CHP weigh stations could somehow be used to route traffic coming from 880. That isn’t likely with the east side station since it’s frequently used and houses other facilities. The station on the west side of 880 (South) is intriguing since it isn’t used much at all and is strategically placed adjacent to Pacific Commons. If the developer, city, and state could come to an agreement, it’s possible that the station’s entrance and exit could be utilized. That would mitigate much traffic that would normally use the Auto Mall exit. The challenges here are A) whether it’s actually possible to use a weigh station in this manner, and B) if Wolff can acquire the private parcel needed to complete the road that would run between the weigh station and Christy Street. I doubt a purchase of just the required easement would be feasible, since it would significantly reduce the existing facility’s parking. Then again, who knows? The road would only be 600 feet long and covers 1/2 acre.

Parks
The municipal code dictates that for every 1,000 residents, five acres of parkland should be set aside. Using the projected additional population of 8-10,000, that means 40-50 new acres of parks. The developer could pay a “park land dedication fee” in lieu of some amount of land, but good parks tend to raise the value of surrounding neighborhoods, so we should expect some modicum of parkland. It’s possible that the developer would dedicate adjacent parcels to the city and Fremont Unified School District to create a shared school/park facility.

Coincidentally, the city owns 40 acres at the west end of Auto Mall, part of it to be used for the ACE/Amtrak station. It’s land Wolff covets for parking – and if parking is in its future, a public park isn’t. Perhaps a trade is in order…

Schools
The nearest public elementary school is across 880 from Pacific Commons, which makes sense since there is no residential development currently at Pacific Commons. Introducing 8-10,000 new residents means that at the very least a new elementary school is in order. Junior and Senior High Schools are at least 1.5 miles away. Again, the developer will be asked to dedicate land for the construction of a school, some 5-15 acres.

Fire/Hospital
A fairly new fire station is located at Auto Mall and Grimmer Blvd, just across the freeway from Pacific Commons. The hospitals in the area are located closer to city hall and the BART station. No change likely here.

Transportation
This issue is the big elephant in the room. It’s worthy of a series of posts to cover potential solutions, so I won’t cover that right now. Soon, very soon.


When look at infrastructure, it’s important to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sure, there are many details, but many of them are either already addressed (roads) or will be addressed within the auspices of the project’s master plan (utilities). While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of the information that must be studied, once residents get a real visual of the concept it will be easier to appraise. Until then, I’ll keep doing whatever I can to help shed light on the process.

Down on BART, Up on Silicon Valley

Don’t say you didn’t see this coming.

At a luncheon in San Jose sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Lew Wolff downplayed the importance of BART when he said,

“If BART was as effective as we thought they would be, the parking lots wouldn’t be as crowded.”

At face value it’s pretty poor logic. There are numerous reasons people might drive as opposed to taking mass transit: tailgating, cost when a party of five or more is attending, or convenience coupled with location (usually a dislike of mode switches or transfers). The oft-cited 15-20% of attendees using BART is a good percentage compared to NYC, where 13-30% of fans take trains to either Shea or Yankee Stadium.

Wolff could be referring to how BART doesn’t service all of the Bay Area. Livermore residents have long complained about being promised BART in previous expansion efforts. Or maybe it’s a veiled shot at the various Bay Area bureaucrats who chose not to include Santa Clara County in the original system layout. Whatever the case, he’s chosen to marginalize the effect BART has on attendance. After all, 80-85% currently arrive by car. Ample parking is a factor for getting fans to stay at the revenue-generating ballpark village, while finite mass transit schedules tend to make such a notion less palatable.

In the end this is largely a business decision. The developers can’t afford to base their decision much on a much-delayed transit project whose future is in doubt. If you think it’s cold and insensitive, you’re right. I don’t doubt that Wolff would welcome the BART option with open arms if it were beyond the planning stage, but as part of the compromise plan that Pacific Commons is, he (and the rest of us) will have to make do.


Not to be missed from the same article is this excerpt:

Wolff pitched the A’s as a future economic pillar of Silicon Valley.

The team, he said, would “add value to the economic base and further identify Silicon Valley as a specific place to be instead of having people believe it’s in downtown San Francisco.”

You can see where this is leading. An anecdote: one of my new Aussie friends is in town this week. After showing him the sights in SF last weekend, we’ll run around the valley tomorrow. I drove to a point in South Fremont to give him the lay of the land. I found myself having difficulty explaining the geography of the Silicon Valley, whose edges are blurry and whose shape is amorphous. San Jose proclaims itself as the capital. Both Sunnyvale and Santa Clara lay claim to the “heart.” It may be that this fragmentation forever prevents the definition of a center, whose criteria may be arbitrary. But Wolff is also right about Silicon Valley’s lack of definition. “Silicon Valley Athletics at Fremont” would go a long way towards creating that sense of place. Many companies in the valley consider themselves more “citizens-of the-world” and are not locally focused.

Wait, there’s more.

Wolff downplayed the importance of mining Silicon Valley companies to buy up season tickets at the planned 32,000-seat stadium. He said the team wouldn’t be dependent on luxury boxes and would still rely on drawing kids and families.

“We weren’t soliciting box seats or anything like that today,” Wolff said after the meeting.

The team had a special pitch for business leaders who happen to be A’s fans.

Of course they weren’t soliciting box seats. They don’t need to. SVLG is a readily available marketing and sales machine for the A’s. I’ve heard that luxury suites are already largely spoken for. The 4- or 6-person suite concept seems perfect for that “special pitch” to smaller firms. That could in turn open prime seats up for families and hard-core fans (if they can afford the seats).

Giants say “Top that!”

Not to be outdone in the technology department, the Giants have fired a preemptive shot across the Cisco/A’s bow Tuesday, when they announced the construction of a new high definition video/scoreboard. The Mitsubishi-made, 28-ton behemoth will replace the old monochrome scoreboard and Panasonic video board combo in centerfield. They’re also adding 220 feet of color LED matrix boards to replace the old monochrome “in-game” boards down each base line, along the club level.

Some specs on the new scoreboard:

  • 103 feet wide x 31.5 feet high (3245 square feet)
  • 32:9 aspect ratio (double-wide HD)
  • 1480 x 832 resolution above the line score (128 pixels high)
  • 20 mm physical pixel pitch

It’s not as large as the board installed at Turner Field in 2005 (5760 square feet), but it’s still impressive. It’s wide enough to put two HD feeds side-by-side. Or show Ben-Hur without letterboxing stripes at the top and bottom of the screen (2.76:1 aspect ratio). The display promises to be amazingly sharp. I suppose that will help the Giants’ increasingly geriatric lineup check out their highlights. Or at the very least they could show a neat widescreen video of how Barry Zito’s curveball travels.

How can the Cisco/A’s match this? 1080p, baby.


It looks like the “A’s real estate investment trust” is closing in on the important 25-acre parcel (blue rectangle in middle of pic below)

Total holdings could grow to 200 acres or more when all is said and done – about the size of CSU-East Bay.

During a Wednesday conference call, Wolff hinted that the financing mechanism could involve rebates of taxes associated with the ballpark village. Is that simply a repackaging of a tax increment financing (TIF) or PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) plan? We’ll soon find out.

Playing the waiting game

Well, if you were expecting anything significant from tonight’s session, you probably came away disappointed. Lew didn’t give details. There were no fire-breathing opponents. And while the chambers was packed, the tone was predictably civil, if not downright subdued. Press coverage: Merc / Argus / Chron

Still, there were some important things to come out of Wolff’s brief presentation and Q&A:

  • The team name will be “____ Athletics at Fremont” – not “of Fremont.” Does that make a difference? Should someone actually take the name literally, it would appear that the team doesn’t “belong” to Fremont, even though it’s part of the community. Feeling marginalized yet? Or dizzy? This leads me to believe that a regional name is seriously under consideration.
  • 2,900 housing units is the current number, but more interesting is that Wolff indicated that most of the housing would not be mid-rise condos, but rather townhouses. Townhouses could be worth more on average than a typical mid-rise condo unit, but they’ll take up far more room in the project area, and as noted before, space is at a premium.
  • The A’s are underwriting the $500,000 cost of the EIR and related studies, though the city is contracting all of the work. Wolff apparently has anticipated the instant calls of conflict-of-interest problems by vaguely referring to one study as not as favorable as might be believed. On a related note, I recognized one of the consultants from San Jose’s ballpark study work. The consultants were not introduced because, as Wolff said in jest, he couldn’t remember all of their names.
  • City Manager Fred Diaz recommended a letter of interest, similar to one drawn up between the 49ers and the City of Santa Clara.
  • There were sentiments by both Wolff and council members to accelerate the process, tempered by comments from the public and environmental groups to keep the parties moving on a thorough EIR study.
  • Bo Magnussen of Magnussen Lexus inquired about the impact to the Fremont Auto Mall nearby. He had contacted someone at Coliseum Lexus in Oakland to see how much sporting events impacted their dealership. The traffic generated on event days was in fact detrimental, so Magnussen pleaded with the A’s and the city to figure out a way to mitigate that impact on weekends. The obvious way at first would be to have Saturday games at 7 p.m. instead of 1 p.m.
  • There will be many community meetings, but none have been scheduled yet.

A positive I saw was that there were several supporters whose origins/nationalities did not fall into the typical baseball fan profile. One even mentioned the use of the ballpark as an occasional cricket ground (!). Fremont is a city whose population is now just under 50% Asian, so demographics may be a factor when it comes to public support.

There was a small contingent of “Keep the A’s in Oakland” folks, but if they had filled out comment cards, they weren’t called up.

Fremont City Council meeting on Tuesday

According to the posted agenda, the ballpark presentation is the only item planned for discussion. Note the approximate time shown for the presentation: 5:30-6:45 p.m.

JANUARY 16, 2007

AGENDA

FREMONT CITY COUNCIL REGULAR MEETING AND WORK SESSION
CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS
3300 CAPITOL AVENUE, FREMONT
5:30 P.M. (Please Note Time Change)

1. PRELIMINARY
1.1 Call to Order
1.2 Salute to the Flag
1.3 Roll Call
1.4 Announcements by Mayor / City Manager
2. ORAL COMMUNICATIONS
[Any person desiring to speak on a matter which is not scheduled on this agenda may do so. The California Government Code prohibits the City Council from taking any immediate action on an item which does not appear on the agenda, unless the item meets stringent statutory requirements. The Mayor will limit the length of presentations (see instructions on speaker card) and each speaker may only speak once on each agenda item.]

Times Are Approximate

3. PRESENTATION OF BALLPARK VILLAGE CONCEPT 5:30-6:45 p.m.

Public Comment

4. ADJOURNMENT

The acquisition of an 18-acre office park across the street from Pacific Commons swells the A’s holdings there to 170 acres or more. Perhaps they’ll redevelop. Perhaps not. I hope they fold that property into the presentation, so that we get an idea of what the “complete” vision looks like.

Excerpts from Wolff on Ronn Owens show

Before I forget, Chris De Benedetti’s Argus article on Lew’s meeting with Fremont is worth a read.

I didn’t transcribe everything from the hour, but there were some choice exchanges. Here are a few:

Wolff: We’re going to do the smallest ballpark in Major League Baseball.
Owens: Which is how many people?
Wolff: About 32,000 people
Owens: That is small.
Wolff: Very intimate, but when you look at the displacement of all the other teams, something like 25 teams could live with 30-35,000 seats.
Owens: … if you want to sign the top people, you gotta make the big money. Are you going to be able to make that kind of money with a 32,000-seat stadium?
Wolff: With a new facility, whether it’s 32 or 42 (thousand), we will increase our low net profit two or three times.

A caller asked about the ballpark shuttle:

Wolff: As far as the traffic issue – which everyone seems to have an opinion on before they’ve heard the plan we have – we are working to have a multi-modal system of both getting closer to BART in the Fremont area but there are other forms of transportation we are working on. It’s a whole package that will be presented first to the city before we announce it on the Ronn Owens show.

Another caller called into question Wolff’s sincerity about his motivation for wanting a ballpark, citing the A’s excellent business model as a reason to keep the status quo. Wolff’s response:

Wolff: In the year 2000 the Giants opened their new ballpark. In the six years prior to that time our attendance and the Giants’ were within 0.5 million of each other. From that time and through 2006 the Giants are attracting 1.5 million more than we are… during that period we’ve won more games and been in more postseason play, so…
Owens: Obviously the ballpark.
Wolff: Right. The ballpark is a factor, a big factor, and we need a new ballpark. The answer is, we’ve been competitive because we have brilliant people that are getting a lot of players but we lose them because the team can’t support that activity. Now everyone has a different opinion on that, but that’s a fact. I think that the ballpark is 40 years old. We share it with the football team. It’s not easy. And if you don’t see that, I can’t convince you.

When asked about territorial rights:

Wolff: We didn’t have a lot of negotiations because the Giants feel (Santa Clara County) is their territory. It wasn’t a matter of money… Statistically and socratically, we could make a good case that SCC should be our territory, but that issue is one I’ve stopped fighting on because both on the league level, and the Giants have preferred to keep their territory.

And here’s the debate between Wolff and Bill, a definite opponent of the ballpark:

Bill: Listen, Mr. Wolff. I don’t know who you’ve been talking to with the city of Fremont. My name is Bill, and we’ve formed a committee to stop the Oakland A’s from coming there… The citizens of Fremont don’t want the traffic, don’t want the crime. I don’t know what the city is telling you, but we can’t even keep fire stations open in this town. And you’re going to have a complex that will bring, on a good weekend, 40-50,000 people in an area that’s not equipped to handle it. And I’m not alone in the city. There are a lot of people that do not want the Oakland A’s in the city of Fremont.
Wolff: … If we can provide answers that can make you more comfortable, we hope we can win you over. If we can’t we won’t -
Bill: Well, I’m gonna tell you – there’s probably about 70 or 80% of people in this town that do not want you… This city is not equipped to handle you. We have eight police officers on the street in the evening… There’s gonna be a whole lot of problems associated with a sports complex and a village over there.
Owens: What about the fact that they would bring in revenue to the city, which would enable them to hire more, wouldn’t that be a factor also?
Bill: No, because the city is not equipped. The city doesn’t have the resources. We don’t have the fire engines. We don’t have the police department. We don’t have the ability to handle that crime that gonna be here.
Wolff: Each and every one of your comments – we have room to discuss and give you our answers -
Bill: Unless you want to float the money… the city tried to pass a utility tax twice because they don’t have the resources to handle the police department, the fire department, the traffic, etc. -
Wolff: Number one – we’re not asking for any taxes to be levied on anybody. The generation of what we do at the village, if – and it is a low density urban village – if it’s something the community wants – will generate its own revenue to pay for schools, taxes… We’re gonna try to go through a process to answer the very valid questions you’re asking. We think baseball is a very clean, healthy, family sport. We have very few incidents or problems where we play today, and we’ll have less in Fremont.
Bill: First of all the crime rate in Fremont is rising. You need to look at the statistics. Number two, if you put this on a ballot now, the city won’t even let this go to a ballot measure because they know it’s going to go down to defeat.
Owens: It’s interesting, because that’s what I was going to ask. I would have to presume that before you even propose a ballpark, you’d have to do some kind of polling to see if the people wanted it there.
Wolff: We’re going through a process of determining what we want to put on the land. Right now that land could be developed with about 3.5 million square feet of office space. Just the same problems (Bill) is talking about could be generated even worse by that.

Wolff went on to say that the A’s haven’t done a survey, but they have gotten numerous positive phone calls regarding the project.


The “net profit” comment was a bit of a surprise. Here’s a quick explanation. Putting an extra 10,000 seats on the ballpark means adding an extra deck. That would cost around $100 million. Over 25 years at 6%, that’s around $7 million a year. Divide that figure by $35 per person ($24 per ticket + $11 in concessions), and you need 200,000 extra people per season just to break even on the additional cost associated with the additional seating. That boils down to roughly 2,500 additional attendees per game. Once you get past the 25,000 mark, attendance tends to be marginal. It makes more sense to have additional temporary or portable seating that can be made available for big games.