Fall 2008 Progress Report

It’s time again for our seasonal progress report. Does it feel like the A’s are treading water, while everyone else is passing them by? In a sense, other teams are. The greatest solace A’s fans can take from the Cisco Field effort comes from the way they’re pursuing the ballpark. The three parks opening next year all involve massive amounts of public financing, taxes, or even questionable land acquisitions. Sometimes the more honest slog is the harder one.

The funding component has been downgraded due to the delay in housing-related revenues. Should we see more information on the additional commercialization of Cisco Field, the meter can move a little more to the right. The political process remains the same, even though a major milestone was passed in the form of an election. I had not originally factored the election into the equation, only the process of drafting and certifying the EIR plus the business relationship between the A’s and Fremont. Site acquisition and construction remain in stasis due to inactivity.

It looks like the Marlins have gotten the green light to proceed as Norman Braman’s lawsuit has been officially struck down, all seven counts of it. Once they get the financing, the race will be on as they’ll have about 24 months to complete a retractable roof ballpark. I mentioned earlier that the shortest construction time for such a stadium was 28 months. That stadium was Safeco Field, which you may remember opened in mid-July, 1999. Update: The Marlins announced that they will push back the opening date to 2012. They will either have to figure out a way to extend the lease at Dolphin Stadium one more year, or find another interim venue.

While I don’t like how the Twins and Hennepin County managed to get a county sales tax hike passed without it ever getting to the electorate (a feat that would be impossible in California), I love the location and how they crammed a 40,000-seat stadium into only 8 acres. I’m planning a Midwestern version of the ballpark tour I did earlier this year, and if it happens Target Field will be on the list.

Citi Field has proven to be the less controversial of the two NYC ballparks, though not quite controversy free. There is some concern that the “Citi” part may not hold up, as Citigroup has taken quite a beating recently. Surely naming rights would be appealing to JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America, right? Maybe not.

I have a sinking feeling that given the escalating costs to build the stadium and the need for additional financing, the parkland replacement promised for the neighborhood will take far longer to build due to a lack of funds. At least they’ll have the new train platform so that my friends from north in the Hudson River Valley can take the train in.

That’s the last planned update for this month, folks. See y’all in December for the community workshop.

Measure B with solid lead

Another 8,520 votes have been counted, and the results are:

Yes – 414,308 (66.78%)
No – 206,098 (33.22%)

The margin is now 2,112. Or rather, if 705 additional “No” votes had been registered from the current total, the measure would not pass.

9,800 votes remained to be counted as of Wednesday evening, so this new total may be “final” with a number of ballots thrown out. Opponents have indicated they may demand a recount, one that they would have to pay for.

880 Fremont widening completed

The big interchange project isn’t completely finished, but the bulk of it is. The northbound carpool lane opened today, following onto the opening of the southbound lane earlier in the week. That brings the freeway to at least 8 through lanes, 4 in each direction, plus at least 1 auxiliary lane between exits. Between 237 and there are as many as 12 lanes. Most importantly, the carpool lanes now extend from San Leandro all the way to Milpitas.

I had the chance to drive south from Newark to San Jose at 6 p.m., and it was smooth sailing near the ballpark site. We’ll see how the northbound commute looks today now that the its widening has been completed. It’ll still be fairly congested to be certain, but there should be some alleviation. I’ll be checking 511 to note any changes.

Update: 511’s Flash-based map shows an incremental improvement in speeds through the area. At 5:30 p.m., the 880 @ Mission was moving northbound at 32 mph, compared to 19 mph yesterday. At 6:30, they were going 47 mph. Going southbound, cars were traveling at the limit or better today.

Revised Plan and Notice of Preparation submitted

Early today, the A’s submitted their long awaited Notice of Preparation, along with a revised site plan. This time, the site plan is much shorter, as it acts mostly as an addendum to address concerns about traffic and parking:

  • Parking for fans at The Fountains Business Park (north of Auto Mall Parkway) has been eliminated. Instead, the A’s aim to replace 2,600 spaces there with a similar number east of 880. Fans would access the ballpark and village via a pedestrian bridge over the freeway. The purpose is to mitigate congestion at Auto Mall. The parcels haven’t been acquired by Wolff/Fisher, instead they intend to work with area businesses and landowners to provide the spaces. The Fountains would still be used for employee parking. The plan provides scenarios in which the “East of 880″ parking is used either immediately or in the long term as major development is completed.
  • The three primary stadium lots would provide 10,990 spaces. This includes the “Interim Lot” immediately to the south of the ballpark. Given the likely delays in housing development, this lot may be less interim than previously planned. In addition, the “Municipal Lot” along Auto Mall near the railroad tracks is planned to have 2,500 spaces.
  • Traffic routing has been designed to direct cars from specific exits to specific lots. Some of the streets would be designed or widened to include center reversible lanes, which would change direction before and after games. Electronic signage from the freeway and arteries and optimized signal timing would help control traffic management, similar to the system used for HP Pavilion.
  • The A’s would staff a parking monitoring system (tire chalking) which would identify violators, including frequent ones. A sort of soft validation system would be instituted, in which repeat violators would be warned after the second offense, and towed or booted after the third (I am refraining from the obvious sports metaphor).

The deceptively eye-popping takeaway from the plan is that a project alternative will be included that decouples the ballpark from the rest of the development, placing Cisco Field near the planned Warm Springs BART station. This should not be interpreted as a preference, as the whole, contiguous plan is obviously more synergistic. Still, having the alternative should make for some interesting discussion on this site and others – I didn’t see it coming. The A’s have not bought any of the land surrounding the BART station. It is not clear that any area landowners have any interest in selling to the A’s. NUMMI, in particular, may look at the ballpark’s location and use as a threat to their operations, for reasons discussed previously.

The City of Fremont has scheduled a community workshop for Monday, December 8, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The session will be held at the usual location, City Hall’s Council Chambers.

Interested parties can start submitting comments on the Notice of Preparation immediately, they have until December 18 at 4 p.m. to submit comments. Keep in mind that this is not the EIR. Instead the comments will help guide the Draft EIR, which may not be released until early spring.

Checking the couch cushions for financing

The Merc has a piece covering the three local stadium projects: Lew Wolff’s A’s and Quakes stadia, and the 49ers’ stadium in Santa Clara. We’ve discussed at some length the impact of the economic collapse and its impact on Cisco Field. While proceeds from housing sales will have to be pushed back while the market becomes friendly again, Wolff doesn’t appear to be appreciably scaling back the vision, as he is with the Quakes’ next home. From the article:

In a bid to wait out the real estate markets, he’ll tap other sources of cash, including private investors, parking fees and naming rights. On Monday, he hired the William Morris Agency to help identify a naming rights sponsor.

Naming rights to the stadium have already been sold, so that’s not under consideration. However, just about every other piece of the stadium can be sponsored, from suite concourses to kids’ play areas to the press box and broadcast booths. Every vertical surface that could be picked up on camera could have electronic or rotating signage. It wouldn’t surprise me if the concourses had numerous interactive displays for sponsors, or a show car parked beyond the outfield fence somewhere. If you’re worried that the ballpark itself was going to go mallpark, you have reason. It’s important to keep in mind that things have already been trending in this direction for some time. The sad truth is that these days it will take these kinds of efforts to pay for construction and keep the team from carrying a massive mortgage.

Measure B makes comeback – now passing

It’s taking thousands of provisional ballots to do it, but Santa Clara County’s Measure B has now passed the two-thirds threshold that is required for it to pass. The current tally with 9,800 ballots remaining to be counted:

Yes – 407,932 (66.67%)
No – 203,954 (33.33%)

The margin here is 24 votes, which translates into a true difference of only 9 votes. Or rather, if 9 more voters had voted No instead of Yes, the measure would be losing. I’m starting to wonder what the fate is of my brother’s absentee ballot, which may have been rejected because he accidentally circled one of the arrows instead of drawing the line connecting an arrow. Talk about too close to call.

Wolff talks to Argus reporter Artz

I somehow missed some juicy info on Argus reporter Matthew Artz’ Tri-City Beat blog. The news was too good not to make it onto the print edition, so now there’s an article as well. As expected, Wolff de-emphasized the housing component of the ballpark’s financing, going so far as to finance the construction of the ballpark first. The housing would happen later, though Wolff didn’t elaborate.

This is where it can get sketchy. Normally, banks will set a stadium construction loan’s interest rate based on revenue streams that will be used to pay it off. The more secure the sources, the better the terms. That’s a big reason why, when putting together the revenue streams, teams will often move away from in-stadium revenue. Attendance and concession money is far less stable than a sales tax hike (at least normally it is, not so much this year). Wolff indicates that he has backup sources, but won’t show his cards. Whatever the mix, the revenue mix will have to be clearly defined before a single dollar of a construction loan is given. It’ll be interesting to see who provides the financing now that every investment bank has either folded, been acquired, or converted into a traditional bank. (For more on the death of the I-banks, check out the new piece in Condé Nast Portfolio by Moneyball writer Michael Lewis).

The Notice of Preparation for the final project plan is expected in a month. When asked why it was delayed, Wolff cited the election. Shrewd handling of a political football? Sneaky dealings? Given the small percentage of the electorate that actually reads such documents, I believe the impact would’ve been small in either a positive or negative manner.

Artz calls attention to how the ProLogis stock price has dropped from nearly $72 to $5 in only six months. While startling, the decline should be kept in perspective. ProLogis is still going to pay out a dividend to its shareholders, which is more than can be said for a lot of companies. Their main industries are real estate and warehousing. With products generally not moving due to the credit crunch and its cascading effects, ProLogis was going to take a major hit. Growth will be slow as they aren’t developing anything on their own in the near term. As the gears of the economy start moving again, ProLogis will as well.

I’ve touched briefly on the idea of the A’s moving a major parking lot to an area across 880 from the baseball village. I puzzled at why that would be the case at first. My guess at this point is that they’re feeling pressure to move as much traffic away from Auto Mall Parkway as possible, and by moving parking away from Auto Mall, traffic would be siphoned to boot. Problem with this is that by moving parking across the freeway to the east, they get closer to NUMMI. Forget yesterday’s report that the plant will cut production in response to the economic downturn, NUMMI will rebound at some point thanks to it being mostly a Toyota plant. NUMMI considers itself a 24/7 operation, so anything that could potentially impact production or product/parts movement is cause for alarm. Considering how infrequent the use of this parking lot would be (90 times per year, half the time between 6 and 11 p.m., one-third on weekends), any concerns would seem to be overblown. Despite this, it’s well within NUMMI’s right to share their concerns and for the A’s and the city to devise a way to mitigate any impacts.

On a related note, the pedestrian overpass concept will likely cost at least $10 million depending on its width and load. Cupertino is completing what looks like a miniature version of Boston’s Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge over 280.

Something tells me the A’s might build something more utilitarian, but this one also has one very important design characteristic: it doesn’t need a column in the freeway median. They could also choose to make such a bridge wide enough to carry parking trams.