Lew to SJ: “Slow your roll”

In an effort to contain communications, Lew Wolff asked San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed to keep city officials from contacting Major League Baseball about the city potentially getting the A’s. This may be to avoid the spectacle caused by former Mayor Ron Gonzales, when in 2005, he staged a press conference complete with unconvincing signage in front of Phoenix Muni in an effort to convince MLB that San Jose was a worthy city. The event didn’t hold a candle to Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman’s use of showgirls a few months earlier at the 2004 winter meetings. Goodman repeated the performance in a misdirected manner last December, in front of a bunch of minor league moguls.

Back in 2005, both the mayor and the now-defunct Baseball San Jose group lobbied hard on San Jose’s behalf. There was talk of liberation for San Jose. Some suggested legal means to loosen the Giants’ grip on Santa Clara County’s territorial rights. Wolff had not yet assumed control of the A’s, and the city’s efforts were confusingly, yet transparently non-specific.

This time, it’s clear who’s going to talk and how it’s going to progress. If there’s anything we’ve learned about the last few years, it’s that MLB doesn’t like to be shown up. Even Bud Selig’s continued stubborn defense of his tenure during the steroid era shows the need to control the message, no matter how absurd it sounds.

As the San Jose saga begins in earnest, expect the communications to be tight. No room for overeager types looking to earn political points, no need to stray from whatever blueprint is/will be in place. If San Jose is, as Roger Noll says, the last chance to keep the A’s in the Bay Area – and more importantly Wolff believes it – Lew’s not taking chances.

San Jose gets the ball rolling

A group of San Jose City Council members wants to get moving on talks with the A’s by proposing the A’s be an agenda item for the March 24 session. Among the tasks associated with the item: commissioning a poll to gauge public support for an A’s move, and a request to set rules for any formal business discussions with the A’s.

What’s interesting about this is that the three members involved – Nora Campos, Nancy Pyle, and Rose Herrera – aren’t really considered part of the “gung ho” pro-A’s faction within City Hall. That group, led by Mayor Chuck Reed and Council members Sam Liccardo, Pete Constant, and Pierluigi Oliverio, have apparently been talking informally with the A’s and among themselves on how to tackle the situation.

The ever reliable SJ cheerleader, Mark Purdy, fired up the bandwagon as soon as he could. He even added a twist to his plea to MLB, requesting an economic study to determine what measurable adverse effects for the Giants would come out of an A’s move to San Jose. A fair request, IMHO. And speaking of polls, a very unscientific Merc web poll shows that 72% of the over 1,000 respondents approved of the A’s pursuit of San Jose. Another 9% conditionally approved the move based on the resolution of territorial rights.

Silly me, thinking we were entering another quiet period. Well, it’ll be quiet for a couple of weeks at least.

New FAQ

This is the new FAQ. The old FAQ has been renamed “Fremont FAQ.” It has not been edited or amended. The new FAQ leads off with a post-mortem on the Fremont plan. It is followed by a review of candidate cities, including Oakland, San Jose, and others. Information is subject to change and will be updated on a regular basis. BTW, comments are closed for the FAQ post. Send any info requests or corrections/clarifications to newballpark@gmail.com.

Fremont post-mortem
1. What caused the Fremont plan to fail?
A confluence of events created an environment that was not favorable for the ballpark plan. On the business side, the A’s experienced conflicts with big box stores at the existing and adjacent Pacific Commons shopping center (Costco, Kohl’s, Lowe’s). The two sides, with PC landowner ProLogis/Catellus acting as the intermediary, tried to negotiate a parking protection and mitigation plan but were unable to come to a proper compromise. The stores inevitably held veto power over the deal and in voting their disapproval, killed the original Pacific Commons concept.
The A’s were also adversely affected by changing economic conditions, namely the slumping housing market and the credit crunch. Financing of the ballpark was expected to be based largely on sales of housing development rights. Without a known recovery period, such financing had to be put on hold indefinitely. In addition, new stadium projects faced high interest rates, often several points higher than in previous years.
When the A’s changed their focus on the Warm Springs alternative, they quickly gained a huge adversary in the organized populace of the Warm Springs and Weibel neighborhoods. Those residents, worried about traffic and quality of life issues, visibly and vigilantly opposed a ballpark within 1/4 mile of an area school. When A’s owner Lew Wolff called on Fremont to stop all EIR work, he pointed to this opposition and the negative press that came with it as a major reason for cessation. NUMMI, the GM/Toyota auto plant near the site, also voiced its disapproval of the alternative.
2. What was the Warm Springs alternative?
A major rethinking of the baseball village concept. In the alternative, the ballpark would have been decoupled from the retail/residential areas. The new location of the ballpark would have been near the planned Warm Springs BART station, 1.25 miles east of Pacific Commons. The WS alternative would have required additional land acquisitions, possibly including land from owners not willing to sell. Decoupling of the village would have meant the higher-end lifestyle center shopping center would not have been feasible.
3. What will happen to the baseball village land?
Given current and near-term economic conditions, it’s unlikely that anything will be built on the land soon. Lew Wolff has expressed interest in moving forward at some point with development of the retail and residential vision, though this would appear to be a difficult sell to city leaders without an anchor such as a ballpark. The land is currently zoned for over 4 million square feet of office space. Additional land was purchased, including upwards of $24 million in sunk costs.
4. Is Cisco Systems still involved?
During the early December Fremont work session, a representative of Cisco’s real estate group expressed support for the baseball village, and beyond that, support for the A’s staying in the Bay Area. That appeared to indicate Cisco’s ongoing sponsorship of a ballpark in the Bay Area, wherever the final site may be.
5. If the ballpark can’t be financed with real estate proceeds, how would it be financed?
The A’s probably devised the original concept to cover two financial structural issues. Financial institutions preferred not to tie bonds and loans to revenue obtained directly from the ballpark because those revenues tended to fluctuate. By tying to an external and presumably more stable source, more favorable loan terms may have been available. The A’s will now have to revert to ballpark sources, which will likely drive the cost of borrowing up. A additional benefit the A’s may have been projecting was additional revenue that could have been used for payroll or player development, since it wasn’t going to be used for a mortgage payment.

Next steps
6. What will the A’s do in the near term?
The A’s maintain a lease at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum through 2010, with annual extensions through 2013.
7. What about long term?
Officials from Oakland, San Jose, and Sacramento have shown their interest in either retaining or moving the A’s. Other cities which have been engaged in MLB team pursuits in the past include Portland, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Charlotte, Monterrey (MX), and the Norfolk/Hampton Roads area. Only San Jose officials have spoken with the A’s so far.
8. When would a new ballpark open?
Given the political and economic climate, it’s unlikely that any new facility would open before 2014. Any deal between the A’s and a city would take at least a year to settle, perhaps more if a public vote is required.

Candidate Cities
Oakland
9. What advantages does Oakland have over other cities?
Oakland has been the A’s home for over 40 years, and the sense of tradition and history there is valuable and intangible. It is strategically placed within the Bay Area, centrally within the region’s 7 million residents. It maintains its status as a de facto transit nexus. The Coliseum has never had an issue with transit or parking infrastructure, and expectations about traffic loads and management were baked into the development of the complex. If a new ballpark site is found in or near downtown Oakland, there’s a good chance it would also benefit from good infrastructure, as parking is plentiful and BART runs through all but the waterfront/Jack London Square area.
10. What disadvantages does Oakland have?
Oakland has generally lacked the corporate support necessary to bump up revenue for the A’s from sponsorships to premium seat and suite clientele. This has forced them to do more with less, as has been famously chronicled in Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball). While the Coliseum is convenient for those who drive or take BART, it is situated in a lackluster industrial neighborhood, which does little to invite or retain A’s fans.
11. What is right/wrong with the Coliseum?
See the Deconstructing the Coliseum series (Part I/Part II) for an explanation.
12. What was the HOK study?
In 2000, the City of Oakland commissioned a study from noted ballpark architect HOK to look into future sites for an A’s ballpark. Candidates included the Coliseum, Howard Terminal, Uptown, Oak-to-9th (O29 or Estuary), Laney College, and two sites outside Oakland city limits, Fremont (Warm Springs) and Pleasanton.
13. What happened to the sites in the study?
Several sites ended up being developed or acquired for non-stadium uses. Howard Terminal was acquired to consolidate operations for shipping giant Matson. Uptown ended up being a centerpiece for then-Mayor Jerry Brown’s 10K housing plan, a mix of market rate and affordable apartments and condominiums. Oak-to-9th has been stuck in legal and development hell for several years. Peralta Community College District has shown no desire to develop Laney for a strictly commercial endeavor such as a ballpark. The Fremont site faced the challenges described previously, whereas the Pleasanton site, a.k.a. Staples Ranch, has been master planned for several phases of mixed use development.
14. Are there other sites in Oakland?
Several sites exist that have not been publicly or officially discussed as possible ballpark sites. The list includes the Broadway Auto Row Triangle, bordered by 27th St, 24th St, and Broadway. Another site frequently mentioned is the northeast corner of the decommissioned Oakland Army Base. Other sites which have been discussed include the Oakport site near the Coliseum, Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, and the 66th Ave/High St area, a.k.a. Coliseum North on this blog.
15. What happened to the Coliseum North plan?
Coliseum North was Lew Wolff’s trial balloon for a development similar to what eventually was planned for Fremont. It would have included a ballpark, retail, and residential development on over 100 acres north of the existing Coliseum. The plan would have utilized some of the existing parking at the Coliseum complex. The ballpark site was anywhere from 1/2 mile to 1 mile from the existing Coliseum BART station, which Wolff felt merited a new station (cost: $75 million). The plan fell apart when area landowners, many of whom had active businesses on their parcels, balked at selling, especially at lowball prices.
16. What is the Raiders’ status in Oakland?
In 2005, the Raiders and the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority negotiated a settlement which ended the team’s lease in 2010. The two parties have been in talks to explore a new venue at the Coliseum.

San Jose
17. What advantages does San Jose have over other cities?
San Jose has experienced enormous growth over the last 30 years, making it the 10th largest city (population) in the US. San Jose is also a major component of Silicon Valley, where dozens of Fortune 500/1000 companies are headquartered. Silicon Valley/Santa Clara County has somewhat untapped potential for sports franchises, as only the NHL’s Sharks call the area home despite the area’s wealth.
18. What disadvantages does San Jose have?
The San Francisco Giants currently have territorial rights to Santa Clara County. The A’s can’t move to the area unless 3/4 of MLB owners vote to change T-rights. In addition, San Jose’s charter is set up so that no public money could be set aside for construction or site acquisition without a public vote. San Jose’s South Bay locale is less central to the Bay Area than other cities. Transit links between San Jose and the A’s existing East Bay fanbase are quite limited, at least until BART is extended to the South Bay.
19. What is the status of the BART-to-Silicon Valley project?
In the November 2008 election, Santa Clara County Measure B, which proposed a 1/8-cent sales tax increase on top of a 1/4-cent sales tax increase approved in 2000. The project’s Environmental Impact Report is still undergoing revision based on value engineering changes implemented in 2007. The project itself is still in its Design Phase. Construction is not scheduled to begin until later this year at the earliest, with service not scheduled to begin until at least 2018, up to 4 years after a ballpark opens in San Jose. Recently projected sales tax revenue shortfalls threaten to push out service until 2025, as VTA takes a phased approach to extending the line.
20. What is the Diridon South site?
Diridon South is a 14-acre site covering three large city blocks in the Greater Downtown San Jose area. It is located two blocks south of HP Pavilion, and immediately southwest of Diridon Station, the transit hub served by Caltrain, Amtrak, and VTA light rail and bus service. For more about the Diridon South ballpark site, click here and here.
21. What additional information do you have on San Jose?
See the posts “Lucky? San Jose” and “San Jose Looms on the Horizon” for more on the political situation.
22. What if the A’s try to move to San Jose and the deal either falls through or MLB doesn’t approve the move?
It is expected that the team would start to look outside the Bay Area and perhaps outside Northern California for a new home.

Santa Clara
23. What advantages does Santa Clara have over other cities?
Santa Clara is also a major component of Silicon Valley. It has a defined entertainment district, which contains the Great America theme park, plus a site for at least one stadium. Santa Clara also has its own city-owned power company, which can provide a team lower power rates and increased public borrowing potential.
24. What disadvantages does Santa Clara have?
The 49ers are working on a stadium with Santa Clara. Already, the A’s and 49ers have a sort of gentleman’s agreement in place to prevent either party from interfering in each other’s stadium efforts. It is also unclear if Santa Clara has enough space for both 49ers and A’s venues plus the required parking for both and Great America. Great America, which is owned by Ohio park operator Cedar Fair, has expressed its disapproval of the plan while offering to sell the park to the 49ers for a price.
25. What is the current status of the 49ers’ stadium plan?
The City of Santa Clara is pursuing a change to the EIR which would include a doubling of use from 10 to 20 days per year. This would presumably accommodate the Oakland Raiders, who could potentially share a stadium with the 49ers.

Sacramento
26. What advantages does Sacramento have over other cities?
Sacramento has a good track record of fan support. The NBA Kings had consistent sellouts in the 80’s and 90’s despite terrible teams. Fandom reached a peak in the early 2000’s, though it has fallen off as of late. The Sacramento River Cats, the A’s AAA affiliate, have been at the top of minor league baseball attendance since the opening of Raley Field. Raley Field could conceivably be expanded to accommodate a MLB franchise.
27. What disadvantages does Sacramento have?
Sacramento is already contending with a volatile situation with the Kings, whose owners are looking for a new, privately financed arena. The citizens voted down a publicly-financed arena in 2006. While Raley Field is a premier AAA venue, the cost to expand and renovate to modern MLB standards could be upwards of $200 million. Sacramento’s market is smaller than 1/2 of the Bay Area. It also lacks the corporate dollars other markets have that are considered necessary to keep a major league franchise competitive. A longer treatise on Sacramento can be found here.
28. What about the RiverCats?
The River Cats are owned by former Sharks CEO Art Savage, who is a friend of Lew Wolff from before their baseball ownership stints. Savage brokered the innovative financing deal that built Raley Field. Savage would have to be compensated by the A’s if the A’s moved to Sacramento. The Cats would also have to be relocated to another market, where they would have to put together another ballpark deal and would probably face a less lucrative financial situation than the one they had in Sacramento.
29. How interested is Sacramento?
New mayor Kevin Johnson (formerly of the Phoenix Suns and Cal) is working out the details of new arena plan at Cal Expo. Should that plan fail and the Kings leave town in the future, he has indicated he will work to get another major pro franchise in Sacramento. The A’s are at the top of the list. The Kings are doing badly financially in their current home, ARCO Arena, but there is no clear cut relocation city on deck. Candidates include Kansas City (which has a new arena and once was home to the Kings) and Las Vegas (which has no arena deal at the moment).

Other cities
30. Portland?
During the Montreal Expos’ flirtations with other cities, Portland became a leading candidate to its well-organized, well-presented bid. At this point, however, Portland’s leaders are focused on two smaller projects: a new soccer stadium for a MLS franchise, and a new ballpark for the AAA Portland Beavers.
31. Las Vegas?
Mayor Oscar Goodman led the charge for a retractable dome MLB stadium. At the time, gaming interests expressed disapproval over the possibility of a private enterprise such as a MLB team getting public funds while competing with the casinos for the entertainment dollar. Goodman eventually backed away when he felt that Las Vegas was forever being used as a stalking horse. Right now the economic climate in Las Vegas is perhaps less favorable than any other market in the nation.
32. Charlotte?
Even prior to the economic collapse, Charlotte was considered an overextended market in terms of pro sports support. The Research Triangle may be more suitable as it only has one franchise and fewer sports alternatives. Both are considered medium-sized markets.
33. San Antonio?
San Antonio was another suitor in the bidding for the Expos. The effort was derailed when supporters couldn’t come to an agreement as to where a ballpark should be located. Some argued for a downtown ballpark, others wanted to leverage more of the metro population by placing it closer to Austin.
34. Monterrey, MX or San Juan, PR?
Both are Spanish-language markets with large enough interim venues. Unfortunately, the bar for supporting a MLB franchise is so high that it is uncertain that either market could work in the long run, especially without brand new ballparks.

Other outcomes
35. Is there a chance of contraction?
Contraction is a situation in which one or more teams are shut down by MLB. Due to the almost everyday scheduling during the MLB season, two teams would have to be contracted. The cost to buy out two teams would run $500 million by the time the next window for contraction could occur, which would cost each remaining team $16 million. MLB would also probably face lawsuits and a threat to its antitrust exemption, which it has sought to maintain at any cost. Unless MLB experiences massive revenue reduction over the next several years, it would be hard for the league to justify contraction to the public.

Quick note

Working on the FAQ right now everyone, expect a new version out by Friday. Also, I’m working on Coliseum concepts.

Consider this an open thread.

Lew’s “Dear John” letter

It’s a breakup, folks. While the FCN and others will continue to protest at Fremont City Hall tonight even though the A’s aren’t on the agenda, Lew Wolff sent a letter to Fremont officials and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. I’m certain some still think that Lew and Fremont still have some nefarious scheme afoot to somehow backdoor approval of the project. That makes little sense given that he’s taken his #1 ballpark lobbyist and shifted his focus from Fremont to San Jose.

On a related note, KLIV interviewed San Jose mayor Chuck Reed about the possibility of a ballpark. Reed said all of the usual things, including a very clear piece of guidance for the team, “I would expect them to pay for their own stadium.”

DirecTV not to carry A’s games on CSN California?

In a further sign of the tightening economy, Comcast and DirecTV are sparring over A’s games on the new-and-improved Comcast SportsNet California, which as you remember, signed the A’s two weeks ago. DirecTV already carries the channel, but it hasn’t come to terms over the carriage of the A’s 2009 season, which includes 145 regular season games (75 in HD).

Hardball negotiations aren’t unfamiliar ground for the two parties. They’ve been duking it out over CSN Northwest for a while. Comcast is trying to bump up subscriber fees for both of its California properties, CSNCA and CSNBA. Only last week, DirecTV and Salt Lake City channel KJZZ finally came to a retransmission agreement 50 games into the Utah Jazz season.

Years ago, DirecTV was quick to sign agreements with the various RSN’s as their strategy was to siphon sports-loving subscribers away from the big cable companies. These days, it appears that carriage is now considered on a case-by-case basis. They have reason to do so, as a rising subscriber fee for a channel gets passed along to the consumer, and we all know how much we like our pay TV rate hikes.

Will this get resolved prior to the start of the season? Hard to say. A bunch of issues are on the table, from blackout rules to the Sharks’ potential move to CSNCA. The Earthquakes also don’t have a TV schedule for their upcoming season, and it’s been assumed for a while that the A’s and Quakes are sort of a package deal.

A different perspective

The best take I’ve seen on the demise of the Fremont plan comes not from the sports page, but from the Examiner’s Architecture and Design writer George Calys. His insightful piece de-emphasizes the hot-button issues that seemed to dominate the media of late and gets to the true bottom of the situation: money. Here’s a sample:

The residential market is suffering a shut out. What’s that got to do with a ballpark? The proposed ballpark village (like others already constructed or underway) relies on a mix of residential properties to make the project “pencil out”. Without the condos, homes, and apartments that are a part of the development, you don’t have a project. Anyone noticed how the residential market is practically scoreless?

The entire model for delivering Cisco Field and the baseball village completely blew up in a 6-month span. It’s bad enough if you’re the A’s and you’ve already put up millions to pay for additional real estate, EIR studies, and such. The collapse of virtually every part of private enterprise spelled doom for the plan. Any thoughts of planning anything similar in fashion or scope should be reined in. Some of you have asked whether Site A or Site B can support X amount of ancillary development to support a ballpark. For the time being, it’s not even worth projecting because of the economy. If the A’s are focused on building a ballpark anytime soon, wherever it is, it will just be that. Nothing more.

For Oakland fans with solutions

Okay, Oakland-first partisans. Here’s your chance. By virtue of the comments at today’s SFGate article, many of you think staying in Oakland is the cheapest and most reasonable choice. Instead of just spouting off a comment (you know who you are), lay out your plan. Here’s the handy-dandy drawing from a few days ago. Take it and redraw it in the manner you think would work best. I’ll even accept the Coliseum option from the HOK study, if you can fulfill the requirements below.

The fun doesn’t end there. Next, you have to explain how much it’s going to cost and how it’ll be funded. It’s perfectly okay to say it’ll be privately funded if you can say what the private instruments are. I’m not requiring a pro forma spreadsheet showing all of the sources, just show you can pencil it out.

Finally, set us in motion. Give a timeline showing when certain key milestones can be reached.

Submit your plan to newballpark@gmail.com. I’ll put up a post next week containing your solutions, with attribution and a distilled explanation for each. I will not print diatribes about A’s ownership, Bud Selig, Al Davis, politicians, or anything else not germane to your concept. You have until the end of Wednesday.

Now it’s official

Notice of Cancelation [sic]

The A’s Ballpark project agenda item including the Notice of Preparation (NOP) has been canceled from the February 24, 2009 Council Meeting.

The Oakland A’s have requested that both the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Notice of Preparation (NOP) processes be stopped while they take time to evaluate the options. The City has also directed our environmental consultant to stop work on the project.

The February 24, 2009 City Council public meeting regarding the A’s proposal has also been canceled.

Should the A’s wish to resume the project a new NOP will be issued and new comment period will be established.

DAWN G. ABRAHAMSON
CITY CLERK

Office of the City Clerk
(510) 284-4060
(510) 284-4061 Fax
cclerk@ci.fremont.ca.us

Fremont EIR work halted

Matt Artz again has the scoop on the Fremont process. Take a look at the comments below the blog blurb, especially the last one by FCN founder Deepak Alur. It appears that post the Warm Springs NOP, work can’t move forward because the A’s haven’t dropped off a check to underwrite the work (which they’ve done on all other occasions). Money talks, right? The in-progress EIR has been rendered useless, and any new work requires the A’s willingness to spend the money and time required to see the new NOP through. I would suggest that if the A’s aren’t going to foot the bill, that’s their message to Fremont to “let me down easy.”

Noticed one other thing while rummaging through some stuff in the attic.

The word “Fremont” is nowhere on the ball.