Going out of pocket

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of heading out to spring training in Arizona, you’ve probably come away from it feeling it was a great fan experience. Compared to the regular season, the Cactus League is more relaxed and the players more accessible. Unlike Florida’s Grapefruit League, most of the teams in the Cactus League are based in towns in and around the Phoenix area, making it easy to catch multiple games in a short timeframe (including doubleheaders). You might even be able to get a round of golf (or at least 9 holes) in before the customary noon tilt.

The ballparks may be the best part of spring training. They have around 10,000 seats, roughly the size of a AA or AAA park. Often, there is a small amount of chairback seating, most of the rest bleachers. A grassy berm frequently surrounds the outfield. There are no club seats and fans are encouraged to roam all over the grounds.

That isn’t to say there aren’t creature comforts. The newest ballparks have a full deck of luxury suites. Most ballparks also have expansive team practice facilities right next door. This season finally brings the Dodgers to the desert, after spending nearly 60 years at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL.

Given the state of affairs at the Oakland Coliseum, it may seem congruous for the A’s to have spent their last 30 springs at simple, ordinary Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Muni has been around since 1964, which makes it older than the Coli. Muni does not have a grassy berm. The last time I went in 2003, it didn’t even have an enclosed press box. In fact, it was the only Cactus League ballpark that had an open air press box, which sounds great except on those exceedingly warm days, when it had all the ambience of an average bus shelter.

So it’s not overly surprising that Lew Wolff’s looking for upgrades to the old girl. The strange part comes from the financing of renovations. Wolff knows that the City of Phoenix is strapped for cash much like any municipality in the nation. Instead of the normal “ask city for money, city raises bonds” deal typical of all spring training ballpark deals, he’s offering to pay for renovations upfront, and when the city gets back on its feet well enough to pay it back, it can do so. The A’s are locked in until 2014, so there’s no threat of them leaving immediately. Besides, where would they go? Tucson?

Wolff’s already done this “paying for renovations” type of thing only two years ago, when the Quakes paid for a bunch of improvements to SCU’s Buck Shaw Stadium in exchange for an interim lease while they figured out how/when to build their permanent stadium. So far, so good for all concerned.


In related news, Wolff reset the vision for the new Quakes home, which is expected to seat 15,000. Two architectural firms are bidding for the work, and construction giant Devcon is pricing the whole thing out.

While the A’s and Quakes are working on two different facilities with completely different sizes, layouts, and site plans, I’m starting to think that Wolff is trying to time the future construction of both venues in a manner that is more efficient in terms of labor. For instance, if Devcon is bidding on both facilities, with the plan to work on the Quakes stadium first (because it’ll take less time to build) and the A’s ballpark immediately thereafter, many of the specific phases of construction work can be packaged together. Wolff has been talking with local labor unions from nearly the beginning. Packaging the work is a great potential buy-in point for them (interesting note on union financing from Jay Hipps’ article).

Former Fremont councilman Dutra supports A’s

Today’s Argus has an opinion piece by former Fremont councilman Dominic Dutra. In it he argues that a win-win solution is still possible. The crux of his argument:

The city should strive to honestly and forthrightly address these impacts while also citing the potential for growth in office, commercial, residential and other development.

While impacts are certain to exist, the A’s appear to be making significant and good faith efforts to address these concerns in order to mitigate them to an extent acceptable to most reasonable people.

Of equal importance, if traditional economic development patterns hold true, this planning effort should result in ample evidence that a stadium located adjacent to vacant land, major freeways and transportation hubs (such as the proposed BART station) would lead to significant economic growth for years to come.

Parallel with this planning effort, the city should perform a financial analysis to determine what the long-term financial benefits to the city would be in terms of additional property tax, sales tax, business tax, redevelopment tax increment, etc.

These future revenue enhancements then could be weighed against the cost of increased service demands.

Whether or not either of the alternatives is certified, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to revisit the economic impact report released 20 months ago. The economy has changed drastically downward in the last 6 months, and it would behoove all to see how projections may have changed in that timeframe. It would be helpful for baseball village supporters or those who may want to put a similar concept in place in the “downtown” Fremont area.

Alternative to the alternative

Over the weekend I got an interesting message from someone who worked for the City of Fremont. Apparently, there was a small push to get the city and the A’s to consider a Fremont ballpark site other than Pacific Commons and Warm Springs. The source even got a mock-up aerial photo showing where the ballpark would be placed:

For those who are not familiar with Fremont, the site is Central Park. The ballpark would be placed next to police headquarters, a short distance from the park’s Lake Elizabeth. It would displace a cluster of softball fields, which could conceivably be relocated. Central Park is located at the corner of Paseo Padre Parkway and Stevenson Boulevard, and is at the outer edge of what could be considered Fremont’s “downtown” area.

The major advantage to this site is its proximity to BART, 1/2-mile away. Since it’s on parkland, it also wouldn’t require private land acquisition. According to the source, there is plenty of potential for parking in the commercial area to the west. The site is actually along the path planned for the Warm Springs Extension. BART would tunnel under the park, including the lake.

Two issues immediately pop up regarding the site. It’s about 3 miles from either 880 or 680, and the drive is on what are currently congested, major arterial streets (Stevenson and Mission Blvd.). If you look closely at the broader view below, you’ll also see that anyone driving will be going through a whole mess of residential area, much of it single-family residences in the Irvington and Mission San Jose neighborhoods.

In the past on this blog, someone has brought up a similar concept. I had always considered it difficult because of the distance from the freeways. This concept died in City Hall despite some persistence. No explanation was given as to why.

What do you think of this concept? Does it solve the problems presented by the Pacific Commons and Warm Springs alternatives, or does it introduce more problems than it solves?

NFL to LA: Who has the advantage?

Picture your regular poker night. For me, the routine usually includes the consumption of craft brews and single malt scotch, followed by the near immediate loss of money. It’s a familiar scene, practiced nightly in homes all over the country.

Now imagine that scene with a bunch of multi-millionaires and billionaires sitting around the table. For some, their chips are the controlling shares of their respective teams. Another player has a stadium site and resources as his buy-in. They’re all playing a single hand. Some will fold early. Others will stay in a little longer. Someone will win, but he won’t win everything, just as the big winner in poker night doesn’t win all of the money. Someone else will do pretty well in the second spot, and someone will go home unsatisfied.

This analogy works best when considered in this context: No one has started playing yet and no one’s desperate. It’s important to remember this when trying to analyze the situation and then predict how it’s going to play out. For now, owners say the right things about staying in their current cities. The guy dangling a carrot in LA wants to deal with teams on his terms, instead of making the first deal that becomes available. Once you take this into account, and then factor in all of the different players and their unique situations, it becomes clear that the only prediction to make at this time is that we will probably be wrong.

Let’s look at the players to try to get an understanding about how they’ll do things. First, the team owners. I mentioned previously that these teams are not desperate. When a team is guaranteed $107 million in TV money every year, it’s clear that it can financially tread water until the next CBA at the very least. The NFL has even girded its loins by creating its own rainy day fund in case of a labor stoppage. The only instance in which an owner would get to that point of desperation would be that he was either so debt-ridden or lost so much money in the last year that it made “liquidating” the team a necessity. No current owner fits that description.

  • Al Davis (potentially Mark Davis), Raiders. The team has been sniffing around the East Bay for a possible site, first by properly working with the Coliseum Authority, then by hiking out to Dublin to see if they were interested (they weren’t). Crossbay rivals have shown interest in a shared facility, but so far the Raiders clearly haven’t. That leads some to deduce that LA is the next logical step, except that logic does not necessarily apply in the franchise’s movement history – why should it now? Al spent over three decades wresting control of the franchise from others. It’s very difficult to see him allowing his family to piss away controlling interest in the team in one stroke. The team clearly has the advantage of an existing fanbase in SoCal. That may actually work against them in a sense, as LA investors may be more interested in bringing in a less difficult brand to town. For the time being, Al and Co. have done the best job of keeping their cards close to the vest.
  • John & Jed York, 49ers. One of the problems that doesn’t get mentioned much is that the Yorks are from Youngstown, OH, which from a cultural bonding standpoint is as far away from the Bay Area you can get without having a drawl (John actually has one). Jed’s young urbanite image makes him more approachable than his dad, though there remain questions about whether or not the prince can handle the job. When compared to Ray Ratto’s musings about Mark Davis, there’s no doubt that Jed wants the throne. Like the Raiders, the Niners have been sniffing around SF and Santa Clara, with the potential for options elsewhere in the Peninsula (Brisbane). Unlike the Raiders, the Niners have publicly shown interest in staying indefinitely through either an extension at the ‘Stick or one of the new stadium options.
  • Ralph Wilson, Bills. The 90 year old has scared fans in western New York by scheduling the occasional game in Toronto. Rogers Centre is too small to be a permanent NFL facility, and the Bills sell Ralph Wilson Stadium out consistently despite its small market status and inconsistent on-field performances. They’re getting over $7 million in annual subsidies from Erie County. They still get over 70,000 for each home game. A move would send thousands upon thousands of Bills fans to Niagara Falls in order to plummet to their demise. Now, it is true that if a team could be snatched from Baltimore or Cleveland, it could also happen to Buffalo. No argument there. It’s just that no one’s really getting hurt by the team remaining in Buffalo as it rides out the recession, so it makes more sense to stay away from the possible PR nightmare that would be associated with a Bills move.
  • Zygi Wilf, Vikings. Like the previouslly mentioned owners, Wilf’s not a local. He’s from New Jersey. All of his attempts to get a stadium deal done so far have fallen miserably short, as the Vikes missed the cut to get financing along with the Twins and UofM football program. Comments likening the Vikes’ stadium project to federal stimulus were inappropriate. Options are simply running out. That could put him on the fast track to LA or to sell to someone else who could move the team to LA. Of the teams with uncertain stadium futures, Wilf is the least tenured. He has the least pull in his home market. Who knows if threats to “throw in the towel” are real or not, by verbalizing such sentiments the Vikes are going to this part of the playbook before anyone else.
  • Wayne Weaver, Jaguars. Occasionally when we talk football on the blog, someone brings up the prospect of having a team play in the Central Valley, either Sacramento or Fresno. The idea is that the large Central Valley population should be sufficent enough to support a NFL franchise. The short schedule would seem to support this since there’s less individual financial outlay compared to baseball. Jacksonville, however, is a prime argument against the idea. Its metro is 1.4 million, though it is a high-growth market. Weaver isn’t entirely a local boy, but he moved the Jacksonville shortly after he was awarded the Jags. Recently, Weaver dismissed any LA talk, though the door may be open now that an option has materialized.
  • Alex & Dean Spanos, Chargers. Again, here’s a case of a team being passed to an heir. Dean Spanos is supposedly buddies with LA’s Ed Roski, but the Spanos family doesn’t want to sell controlling interest. Meanwhile, the Bolts’ efforts to get something going in Chula Vista have stalled. LA would appear to be a very convenient move for them. After all, the team was originally the Los Angeles Chargers. The family has more firmly planted roots in Stockton, not San Diego. Slam dunk, right? Well, the numbers show that the Bolts don’t have to commit to anything right away. Of course, they’d want to make a move before another team does. Perhaps the process will give the Chargers first dibs. Then again, Al Davis may have something to say about that. Update: Looks like the Bolts just made the first move by hiring LA marketing firm Wasserman Media Group to expand the team’s reach into LA and Orange County.

That leaves the last guy at the table, the “outsider,” Ed Roski. Roski’s no stranger to sports, LA real estate, or politics. He has a small city with an approved EIR as his pocket aces. He can wait everyone else out if he wants. He can send out signals that end up playing interested teams against each other – not the NFL’s preferred modus operandi, but still possible. It would look like a reversal of the Montreal Expos’ move to DC, in which several candidate cities whined and dined MLB prior to the league showing the whole process to be a farce.

One thing that could dramatically alter the game would be the imposition of a deadline, especially in LA. I don’t expect this to happen as I’m certain the NFL and Roski have an unspoken understanding about how this should proceed. If one or more city-team relationships deteriorate, there could be some nudging towards desperation, though it wouldn’t be an overriding factor. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. In the end, there will be a clear loser in the city whose team leaves. The clear winner? The NFL, even if a team never moves to LA.

Note: I’m leaving out some additional teams who have made noises, such as the Saints and Rams. They would need to show renewed, consistent efforts (and failure) towards securing a new stadium deal to enter discussion.

NFL encourages Niners and Raiders to shack up

This isn’t difficult, folks. NFL stadia are expensive, at least twice as much as MLB ballparks due to all of the associated costs. It makes sense for both teams in a two-team market to explore ways the mitigate cost. Carl Goldberg of the NJ Sports & Exposition Authority says it best:

“It’s unreasonable to think that each of these individual franchises would be able to invest the billion dollars necessary to build a new stadium alone,” said Carl Goldberg, chairman of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, which owns the land under the new Jets-Giants stadium. “The whole thing seems to be a horrible waste. Let’s not forget that they only play 10 games per year per franchise. Doesn’t it make more sense to build a better facility, with better fan appeal and a better fan experience, for both teams?”

This is not rocket science. It makes sense. It won’t destroy the “legacies” of the two teams if done correctly.

Update 1/26 9:42 a.m.: Per Hal Ramey’s interview with Jed York (via John Ryan’s article), the 49ers have dropped their request for redevelopment funds from $130-160 million to $28-45 million. Part of this reduction may have come from certain parts of the project being left aside, such as movement of the onsite PG&E substation (funny how that’s a recurring theme). Movement of the stadium to the overflow parking site just across the street from team headquarters would allow them to forego the substation move. From the beginning I’ve advocated this option because simply put, the overflow lot doesn’t get much use. The original plan had the stadium on a lot immediately north of the Great America entrance, which made little sense (especially for Cedar Fair).

The rest of the reduction could be attributed to lower construction costs. I’ve heard figures of contracts going for 20% lower right now as opposed to this time last year. This drop could last as long as the recession or longer, so teams looking to build, such as the A’s and Niners, should feel sufficiently spurred on by the prospect of a less expensive stadium.

Updated Diridon South map

Apologies to readers for getting this out later than expected.

diridon-map-acquired

The red parcel is the one remaining to be purchased that would be integral to building a ballpark. It is the site of Aeris Gas, which provides welding supplies and specialty gases. The location was formerly named ARC Gas Products, and over the years has merged with other Northern California locations to form Aeris. Last fall, national supplier Matheson Tri-Gas acquired Aeris. When the Diridon South site became a discussion topic in 2005, this business was considered one of the more difficult to relocate due to its specialized equipment and facilities. A move could be quite expensive. Will the city be forced to use eminent domain to acquire the land?

The blue parcels are only to be used to accommodate the widening of Autumn Street into Autumn Parkway. One of those blue parcels, the CarQuest Auto Parts store, is already vacant. Combined, the land is adjacent to Los Gatos Creek. In conjunction with the Autumn Parkway project, the creation of a greenbelt between the creek and the street would appear to be in order.

San Jose apparently has $22 million set aside for acquiring the remaining land. That would appear to be sufficient from a market value standpoint since the total amount of land is around 3 acres, and values at their 2006 peak were $7-8 million per acre – and have definitely dropped in the past 6 months.

There remains the issue of relocating the PG&E substation. The 2006 estimate for moving it south one block was $30 million.

Don’t want San Jose info? Then don’t read this.

Over the past few weeks, I had been working on a lot of San Jose-related material, after sensing a tidal shift. While I’m not counting out Fremont, I’m also not nearly as optimistic about it as I had been at this time last year. The real estate market and the retail economy make prospects difficult at Pacific Commons, and Warm Springs has myriad issues of its own. So I started going into my San Jose archives, as there was so much detail there that I needed a refresher. This is the first of many posts to explain what the San Jose option is and what it represents. Keep in mind that while San Jose is considered by many in the media to be one of the commish’s “other communities,” no official outreach has been made by the A’s to San Jose.

Fortunately, Katherine Conrad at the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal has already taken care of some of the background work that I had scheduled for myself. In her piece on San Jose’s readiness should the A’s attentions move south, she pointed out that only a few acres remain of the Diridon South ballpark site to be purchased. SJ Redevelopment project manager Bill Ekern noted that the city “assembled about 12 acres of the 14-acre site needed for a ballpark.”

I sent requests to both Conrad and Ekern to find out which parcels remained to be purchased. Conrad responded, saying that she had a map and would furnish it tomorrow. I’ll update the maps below accordingly once I get the info. In the meantime, here’s an overhead view to get you (re)acquainted with the area.
diridon-arena-area-sm
Diridon Station (Caltrain) is one of only two real, multi-modal transit hubs in the South Bay (the other is Mountain View). While BART will brings additional hubs, Diridon is set to become one of the most heavily used transit hubs in the nation with the promise of BART, increased Caltrain service post-electrification, and high speed rail. That’s in addition to Amtrak, Capitol Corridor, ACE, plus VTA light rail and bus service. For a better sense of what the area might look like once HSR is up and running, check out the video below, put together by the CAHSR Authority. The point-of-view is from the new neighborhood to the west of the tracks, with the camera moving north along the tracks. At the midpoint of the video, the northern edge of the ballpark site is visible to the right.

The parcels are laid out in a sort of jigsaw puzzle look. I’ll add another map identifying the parcels that have been acquired and remain to be acquired. The grey areas are Autumn and Montgomery Streets, important one-way thoroughfares through the area. The city already has plans to convert Autumn into two-way, four-lane Autumn Parkway, which will eventually connect north up to Coleman Ave. Currently, Autumn Street dead-ends at the Union Pacific tracks north of HP Pavilion. The project has already been identified by SJ Mayor Chuck Reed as one his leading long-term stimulus construction projects.
diridon-map-sm
Conrad’s article also clarifies an important point regarding the EIR. Minor modifications would require an affirmation of traffic and noise impacts. This would incur a comment period, which would subsequently bring out of the woodwork many of the initial critics of the ballpark plan and EIR. In 2006, the EIR was certified with little fanfare or complaint because the Fremont plan was in its initial, positive stages. Many down here felt the EIR was a lost cause, albeit smart for the city to keep it in its back pocket. Should the A’s officially focus on San Jose, those same parties who felt threatened in a vague way will be spurred on since they’ll probably feel threatened in a real, specific way. That’s not to say that the outcry back then (or in the future) is anything like what Warm Springs residents are unleashing upon Fremont. Sometime in the next several weeks I’ll rehash the EIR and my observations about the process.

City of Industy voters approve NFL stadium bonds

Ed Roski and the city of Industry has now created a lot of intrigue for several NFL teams looking for new stadia and their current home cities. Industry’s voters approved 60-1 (out of only 84 registered voters) a package of up to $500 million in infrastructure bonds to support Ed Roski’s dream of a new NFL stadium on a hill within the city limits.

While the city isn’t actively seeking out any specific NFL teams (or vice-versa), Industry has now thrust itself into official stalking horse position. Four teams currently have outdated facilities: SF, Oakland, San Diego, and Minnesota. Jacksonville is often mentioned, though its facility is actually up-to-date. Its problem is its small market status.

The sticking point is likely to be which owner is willing to sell controlling interest of the team to Roski and his partners. The Raiders and 49ers have shown no interest in doing this. Chargers exec Dean Spanos and Roski are often cited as friends, but Spanos maintains that he wants to keep the team in San Diego (for now). Vikes owner Zygi Wilf just bought the team a few years ago and probably doesn’t want to sell unless he runs out of options. Jacksonville is the fourth-largest market in Florida, though it is growing.

Wolff rules out City of Santa Clara

Not sure why the Merc’s Internal Affairs even brought this up. They bothered to ask Lew Wolff if he’d be interested in the City of Santa Clara as a future home, given the Selig letter. As I mentioned on Wednesday, there isn’t enough room for the A’s, 49ers, and Great America. The 49ers and Santa Clara are committed to seeing their project through to this November’s election. A ballpark would require a new EIR whether it were alone or paired with a football stadium. If, hypothetically, Santa Clara County were opened up this summer, Santa Clara the city would be at an immediate disadvantage compared to San Jose. It would have one distinct advantage in that it already controls land under consideration for a stadium. San Jose only has half of the Diridon South site.

Warm Springs now 1A, Pacific Commons 1B

Matthew Artz at the Argus/Tri-City Beat blog confirmed something I had heard last week: Warm Springs is now the preferred Fremont option. Pacific Commons is now the “alternative.” This has to be due to the continued lack of progress on the Catellus/big box front.

Update: New article here.

Let’s be clear about what Warm Springs brings to the table. Its only real advantage over Pacific Commons is its proximity to the future BART extension. That’s it. Pacific Commons is better as an integrated project. It’s less expensive because it doesn’t require additional land acquisitions. We can debate all day whether who’s the more difficult party to win over, the big box stores or Warm Springs residents. It’s not an enviable position for the A’s to be in, which is why the commish is giving the green light for Wolff to explore elsewhere.

For those who believe Sacramento is that elsewhere, here’s a preemptive no.