Mark it down: April 7th

San José’s Rules Committee just passed a motion to have the A’s on the April 7 Council meeting agenda. The timing, as pointed out here and by Michael Mulcahy just a few minutes ago, coincides with the start of the regular season. The preliminary steps will look like this:

The Agenda language for a joint City and Redevelopment Agency item should read as follows:
1. Discuss actions that San José can take to prepare for the possibility that Major League Baseball (MLB) makes a decision allowing the Athletics (A’s) to consider relocating to San José.
2. Direct staff to prepare and return to Council with a Resolution indicating the desire of the City of San José to support the A’s if MLB favors a relocation of the A’s to San José; and, indicating that the City is willing to accommodate the A’s on the site at Park Avenue and Autumn/Montgomery Streets.
3. Direct a team of City and Redevelopment Agency staff to assess what steps may need to be taken to prepare the site at Park Avenue and Autumn/Montgomery Streets for potential consideration, and develop an outreach program to neighboring residents and businesses.
4. Direct staff to provide a status report and recommendations for additional actions that may need Council authorization to the Community and Economic Development Committee within two months of the April 7th Council hearing followed by a discussion at the City Council.

So there’s your site and your initial timetable, including a report from CEDC due within two months of the 4/7 session.

The possibility of a public poll has been raised to gauge interest. Vice Mayor Judy Chirco wants no part in the City paying for such a poll, saying that it would be funded with OPM (other people’s money). It appears that the poll would be well within the scope of the A’s to San Jose Study Group’s mission. Mulcahy mentioned that the group has already raised money, though he did not say which specific activities the money would be used for.

I wonder if the Study Group would also fund an economic impact report of the type Mark Purdy wanted last week. After all, outside of MLB, the Study Group would be well equipped as it has access to dozens, if not hundreds, of Valley business leaders. Plus, noted sports economist Roger Noll is up the street at Stanford for consulting purposes – though they may not eventually like what he has to say.

Mayor Chuck Reed, who gave San Jose a better than 50/50 chance to land the A’s (I really hate enumerating odds in this manner) re-emphasized the one voice mantra he’s been giving, going so far as to say this about territorial rights:

It’s up to Mr. Wolff because it’s truly a case of “inside baseball.” It requires him to take the lead. There may be a role for us to play. He’ll happily let us know if there is.

Several speakers were on hand. Most were positive, saying that they fully support the effort as long as no public money is involved. One speaker felt a better deal could be had at the Fairgrounds. Two members of the Shasta/Hanchett neighborhood voiced their disapproval and trepidation, especially when considering the combined effects from construction of a ballpark, underground BART, and overhead HSR. A member of the San José Downtown Residents Association spoke in support of the ballpark. So we may have the Shasta/Hanchett folks on side and the Downtown Residents on the other.

I believe the quiet period starts now at lasts through Opening Day. I’ll have posts every few days, probably nothing major.

SJ Rules Committee meeting + Study Group

San Jose’s Rules and Open Government Committee will have its weekly meeting on Wednesday, March 11, at 2 p.m. The meeting will be held in City Hall’s wing, rooms W118/119. The A’s portion of the agenda is as follows:

10.1a A’s Stadium in San Jose (Campos/Pyle/Herrera)
Recommendation: (1) Add an agenda item to the March 24, 2009 City Council meeting to discuss the City’s strategy for pursuing negotiations with the A’s and Major League Baseball. (2) Direct the City Manager and the Chief Development Officer to lead the discussions with the A’s organization and Mayor League Baseball. (3) Direct staff to return to the Community and Economic Development Committee every two months with updates on status of the discussion, providing ample opportunity for residents to receive regular reports on the project and express concerns as it develops.
DEFERRED FROM MARCH 4, 2009

10.1b A’s Stadium in San José. (Mayor Reed)
Recommendation: That the Rules and Open Government Committee place this matter on the agenda for the April 7, 2009 evening Council meeting to allow for maximum public participation in the discussion.

Approval of these items is expected to be little more than a formality, as it will pave the way for future discussions. Note the last date, April 7, which is just after Opening Day. I will be in attendance tomorrow and all subsequent City Council sessions.


Not coincidentally, a public/private consortium called the A’s to San José Study Group “have convened to discuss the political feasibility of bringing the Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball team to San Jose.” The group will be co-chaired by former mayor Susan Hammer and recent mayoral candidate Michael Mulcahy. Hammer presided over the construction and opening of the San Jose Arena (now HP Pavilion) during her anti-flamboyant tenure during the 90’s. Mulcahy, who was came in a distant 5th in the 2006 primary, was a pro-baseball guy from the beginning. The list of participants reads like a Baseball San Jose reunion. Unlike the last Baseball San Jose effort, which was old school/pound-the-pavement, the new one is decidedly electronic, including an almost 500-person strong Facebook group (I am not in the group).

Indulge the fantasy

It’s hard not to remember the late 80’s fondly as an A’s fan. Rickey in left, the Bash Brothers, Stew dominating Clemens, multiple ROY wins, Eck, the list goes on and on. While the team only went 1 for 3 in the World Series, the idea that the A’s were at the top of the heap was inescapable.

We got a glimpse of what the Coliseum looked like when it brought in 35,000 a night. Now, that usually left 14,219 seats available, but who was really counting? Not the Haas family, evidently. The place was vibrant, pleasant, and most importantly, the team won. Who could complain? Not me. I was just entering the giant bag of awkwardness that was high school, and the A’s were a great refuge from the social mores of adolescence.

In that context, it’s difficult to dissociate the Coliseum, forlorn for much of its life, from the team. The team provided the stadium a halo effect, much the same way a new model sports car will improve the perception of a car brand or dealership. The Coliseum was at times mentioned in the same breath as Dodger Stadium, a comparison which now sounds ludicrous but was fairly apt back then. Of course, the halo effect is never permanent, and nearly all vestiges of those salad days disappeared when the Raiders came back to town.

I don’t fault the end product, Mt. Davis, as much as I blame the circumstances that led to its construction. Unlike the 60’s-80’s era of multipurpose stadia, modern baseball and football diverged significantly in how the two leagues wanted their venues designed. Let’s look at how the two sports diverged:

  • Starting with New Comiskey Park, new ballparks capped their capacities at 50,000, eventually downsizing to 40-45,000 as the comfort zone. Football stadia hold crowds of 60-70,000, with some designed to hold thousands more for college bowl games or the Super Bowl.
  • With few exceptions, ballparks had 40-60 suites. Football stadia had at least double that number. Texas Stadium and FedEx Field each contain an astounding 300 suites. That creates more verticality and reduces intimacy.
  • Football stadia generally eschewed the use of cantilevered or overhanging seating decks. In ballparks, cantilevering is encouraged, though short of the point at which columns would be needed.
  • The first row of a ballpark’s lower deck is usually no more than 1 foot above the field. In football, it’s customary to be 6-10 feet above the field when in the first row.

When considering this divergence, it’s easy to see how Mt. Davis was constructed. Function ruled over form, with the mission being to stuff as many seats and suites into a small space as possible. The east side wing now sits as a massive concrete albatross, costing Oakland and Alameda County a combined $22 million in debt service and operating costs per year for the next 18 years. It’s fine to want the thing demolished, but if one or both teams are going stay there, someone has to pay for it. The meager lease the A’s pay hardly makes a dent. However, you’re not going to get more out of the A’s in the next lease than what you’re getting now. Who knows what an extension for the Raiders might look like? The Coliseum JPA is truly stuck. They have to justify the debt service somehow, yet it only costs them more to keep the two tenants in the Coliseum. How ironic that one of the Coliseum’s tenants has a white elephant as a mascot.

Still, let’s posit that the Raiders do actually leave after the 2010 season, leaving the A’s in the Coliseum for at least 3 years. Let’s go with the idea of demolishing Mt. Davis, then remaking the outfield to look like the old Coliseum. There are several improvements that could be made cheaply that would make the old girl a better experience for fans. The changes wouldn’t bring it up to par with a modern ballpark, but that’s not the point. It’s an interim step until the A’s and Oakland/Alameda County figure something else out, whatever that is.

  • Get rid of the fences and concrete barriers. These “spite fences,” erected when the Raiders moved back in, are the antithesis of fan friendliness. They prevent views of the field from the concourse and limit sunlight from filtering in. The barriers have managed to make the concourse more drab and claustrophobic than it was originally.
  • Remove the last 4 rows of the lower level. By removing these rows, the lower concourse can be expanded 11 feet all around (with the exception of the stairwells). Circulation would be improved. New standing room areas can be introduced, as well as new ADA wheelchair locations, which would be properly elevated above the row of seats in front of them. Net loss of 2,000 seats.
  • Remove the last 3 rows of the plaza level. If you’ve ever sat in these seats, you know what I mean. You’re at eye level with the overhang. You half expect bats to hang from the ceiling. The wind whips through, making things uncomfortable. The seats themselves aren’t the most accessible because you have to contend with the stairs leading to the upper deck. This change only affects the sections down the foul lines, because of suites and the West Side Club. Net loss of 1,000 seats.
  • Tear off the tarps and remove the first three rows of the view level. The seats themselves are useless as long as the first row is used for circulation. For years, the A’s wouldn’t sell many of these seats until the seats above them were sold because of this problem. Instead, convert some of these rows into group or party areas. Cordon them off the way the East Side sections are separated, and the circulation problem goes away. I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a bunch of recliners at the front of section 317. Net loss of 1,400 seats.
  • Bring back the bleachers, iceplant, and monuments.
  • Handrails, please. The view and plaza levels are not particularly steep compared to other stadia, but they could still use handrails, especially for those who’ve had a few either in or out of the ballpark.
  • Upgrade the restrooms. This means new fixtures and the removal of troughs. An additional women’s restroom may be needed to properly address potty parity.
  • Reduce the number of suites by expanding them. It doesn’t solve the problem of not having an exclusive concourse. However, reducing inventory introduces scarcity, plus the suites can be redone in a more attractive way by including bathrooms and increasing space inside each suite. Net loss of 20 suites.
  • Move the Stomper Fun Zone to the outfield. Yes, it reeks of Coke bottle slides and gigantic gloves, but it’s a way to spiff up the look of the park. It advertises how family friendly the place is. Plus it’s not tucked into some out-of-the-way location as the current Fun Zone is. May reduce bleacher capacity a several hundred seats.
  • Combine the two DiamondVision screens. They’re old and obsolete, but if no one wants to pony up $5-10 million for a new LED board, combining the two screens would make for a decent sized screen. Or if they only used one, the other could be used for parts.

New capacity would be 44,500, down from the pre-Mt. Davis capacity of 49,219. Again, it doesn’t solve all of the other problems the A’s have with the stadium. It does create a more fan-friendly, intimate atmosphere, with needed upgrades to several locations within the Coliseum. I figure these modifications would cost $25 million, including the demolition and rebuilding of the outfield. I may be underestimating the cost, and I have no idea how it would be paid for. The Raiders could easily destroy the fantasy of so many A’s fans by signing an extension at the Coliseum, which contrary to popular belief, is what they were seeking when they settled with the JPA over three years ago.

How to expand a minor league ballpark

I’ll start off with an excerpt of a post on the SkyscraperPage forum:

11/27/2006

In response to your question regarding Raley Field, it was not built expressly to be easily expanded in the future. The stadium was designed specifically for its current tenant, Triple-A Baseball, and all of the comfort and intimacy that makes Triple-A Baseball so successful. That said, in the unlikely case that we would want to expand the ballpark to accommodate a larger capacity, the stadium would need significant adjustments but likely not need to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch.

I hope this helps. Take care, have a great holiday season and go River Cats!

Gabe Ross
Assistant GM, Director of Media Relations
Sacramento River Cats Baseball Club

“…not built expressly to be easily expanded in the future.” So you can’t simply slap an upper deck on top of Raley Field and then call it a day? Imagine that.

The operative question regarding Raley Field isn’t, “Can it be expanded?” but rather “How expensive will it be to expand?” Any stadium, as long as there is space, can be expanded, whether it’s a ballpark, football or soccer stadium (this means you, Quakes fans). The issue is whether or not it’s cost effective to do so. In the last post about a Mt. Davis-oriented Coliseum remodel, I mentioned that $250 million has to be the baseline or minimum cost because that’s how much is being spent on renovations to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Expansion could cost more, it most certainly won’t cost less.

Raley Field was planned with the idea that it could eventually hold a major league team, and in an arguably easy manner to boot. What happened from conception to construction to change this?

Blame it on the rain

In Fall 1999/Winter 2000, Northern California was deluged with incredible amounts of rainfall. Raley Field had a short 9-month construction period, and the rain put the schedule severely in jeopardy. In addition, the team and West Sacramento wanted to adhere to a $40 million budget, which doesn’t sound like much in terms of ballparks but at the time made Raley Field one of the most expensive minor league ballparks in history. Eventually, the ballpark opened over a month into the 2000 season. Coincidentally, the River Cats were forced to play home games at the Coliseum to high school basketball game sized crowds.

Rain made the construction period longer, which incurs additional labor cost. Precipitation also caused a rethink in the construction methods. Changes were made almost on the fly, including a major structural modification:

Because of the time restraints the initial design was changed from steel H-columns to poured-in-place reinforced concrete columns, and supporting the suite level with prefabricated steel trusses.

The structure ended up looking like this:


Up top is the view from the concourse, with the suites above. Below that is a picture of the underside of the Solon Club down the rightfield line, though the image is curiously flipped.

It’s pretty clear to this untrained eye that the beams and girders above the concourse were not designed to handle to load of a level of suites and a massive upper deck, especially in earthquake country. The change is an important piece of value engineering that will make expansion more expensive, should a MLB team be interested in Sacramento. Assuming that the concrete columns are built to handle both suites and an upper deck (I have no reason to believe otherwise), new structural work would probably have to be in place above the columns. That means the entire existing upper level, which contains the Solon Club, suites and the press box, would have to be demolished. That’s just as well, since these amenities probably aren’t up to modern MLB standards, especially the small press box.

But wait there’s more!

Every new ballpark has some 3,000 or more club seats. Seats are often disbursed between two different club levels: one at a mezzanine level, one at field level behind the plate. Nationals Park has taken this a step further by having three separate club areas, while designating all lower level seats behind the plate as club seats. If you want to sit behind the plate without paying through the nose, be prepared to have your nose bleed. I digress.

The Solon Club has 450 club seats, which is not sufficient. In a renovation they’re going away, to be replaced by more luxury suites. There’s also the Founders Club, the primo seats behind the plate which have at-your-seat food service but no club concourse of their own. Let’s say that the area behind the plate gets ripped apart to accommodate such a transformation, a la the Scout seats at US Cellular Field. That’s probably good for 500 seats.

Where do the other 2,500 go? The only place would be the front of the upper deck, above the luxury suites. It’s not a premier spot for such seats, but it was done successfully at PNC Park, so there is a precedent. Go this route and you have to build two new concourses – one for the club and one for the regular upper deck. To understand the impact, take a look at some cross-sections. Before:
pitch-raley-original
After:
pitch-raley-expanded
We’re talking about triple, quadruple the amount of concrete that was used for the original ballpark. The new structure also requires greater amounts of high-strength steel, with enough concern for seismic safety that it’s not out of reason to overbuild the structure (PETCO Park).

Getting to the minimum

Adding up the expansion looks like this:

  • Existing seating capacity: 11,093
  • New right field seating to replace berm: 5,000 (berm held 3,000)
  • New upper club: 2,500
  • New upper deck reserved: 12,000
  • New left field bleachers: 2,000

That brings the estimated new capacity to 32,500. Plus there are some not-so-miscellaneous items:

  • Additional construction work would be required, mainly the move of the clubhouses from left field to under the lower seating bowl.
  • Can’t have a wraparound double deck grandstand in right because that would block the view of Tower Bridge and the Sacramento skyline.
  • The railroad track (inactive?) that wraps around the outfield limits space a bit.
  • New ramps, elevators, and escalators would be required and would be expensive.
  • Planners might have to figure out a way to include a third gate somewhere. Two gates as currently constructed aren’t enough to handle nearly triple the crowd size.
  • New scoreboards and ribbon boards would be required. As a reference point, compare Kauffman Stadium’s new “crown” HD video board in center, which was installed last year for $8.3 million.

Given all of that, I’m pretty sure that the whole thing would cost a lot more than $250 million. No, they wouldn’t have to demolish Raley Field and start from scratch. But they’d have to demolish a lot of it.

Oakland buys land near Coli for grocery store

The latest attempt to improve things in the enormous Coliseum Redevelopment zone comes courtesy of City itself. CEDA is buying 6.3 acres for a cool $7.7 million – chump change as far as urban Bay Area real estate is concerned. The land will apparently hold a new grocery store, as Oakland is brokering a deal with an unnamed retailer. I’m guessing it’s Lucky/Save Mart as the Safeway-owned Pak’n Save is on Hegenberger.

The site appears to be immediately south of the AC Transit bus yard. AC Transit is involved in the deal, which may point to an expansion of the yard along with adjacent development. For those who may look to patronize the store prior to entering the Coliseum, it’s 1/4 mile north of the BART station, much closer than the aforementioned Pak’n Save.

The price of the land is what piqued my curiosity. At $1.2 million per acre, that’s within spitting distance of the $1 million per acre that Lew Wolff was offering for Coliseum North land. Perhaps the price would not have been so low three years ago. Still, it’s interesting.

Learning to love Mt. Davis

Well, since no one took me up on my offer from February 20, I took it upon myself to figure out a unique way to reuse the Coliseum in a cost-effective, yet modern (in ballpark terms) manner. I’ve been in nearly every inch of the Coliseum as a fan or media person, yet there’s always something to learn when doing an exercise such as this.

One common refrain I’ve heard from fans is, “Knock down Mt. Davis and bring the Coliseum back to its pre-1995 glory and everything will be just fine for the A’s.” There’s nothing wrong with tying a little nostalgia to wishful thinking. Still, it’s one of the more unrealistic notions I’ve ever heard. Oakland and Alameda County still have $22 million in debt service due on the renovation for the next 18 years. Foul territory and sightlines would still be bad, the stadium would be ADA-deficient in many ways, and the stadium would continue to be a poor revenue generator. That’s a bad situation for the A’s and all fans except the hardcore type. If hardcore fan interest were enough, this blog wouldn’t exist.

I suppose the foul territory problem could be remedied a bit by constructing a new set of field level sections which hug the foul lines more closely. It doesn’t solve the curvature of the seating bowl, but it’s a start. Of course, you do that and you get something that looks like this:

Ah yes, Shea Stadium. We know what happened to Shea.

How then, to leverage the investment made in 1995 to make it work for the A’s? The seating bowl sucks and has to go. The regular bowl suites are crap compared to other ballparks. There’s a dearth of club seating. For a place this big, how could it be this… cramped?

The answer is to utilize the one part of the renovation that is modern and spacious. That’s Mt. Davis. Not the whole thing, mind you, just the parts you need. At the same time, use just a portion of the old seating bowl, from dugout to dugout. Before I get to that, I have to explain why Mt. Davis is a good thing.

Embrace the space

Compared to the original Coliseum, the Eastside stand is downright cavernous. It has high ceilings, wide concourses, separate access for club seaters and suite holders. All 90 suites are on their own concourses. The Eastside Club is 40,000 square feet of fairly well appointed, perfectly usable and rentable space. The Eastside has all of the things a modern ballpark needs, more than enough in fact. There are three levels of suites. One level can be converted into the minisuite concept Lew Wolff likes so much, the other two can be kept as regular suites. Some can even be expanded into XL sized suites. The upper seating sections of the Club can be converted into restaurant seating, making for excellent views of the field much like the old Westside Club.

Even better, those temporary football seats can be replaced with something that works better for baseball. Knock out those block seating sections and you have an open concourse. It’s easy to build in good ADA compliance while getting rid of those aluminum risers. As the new baseball-friendly lower seating sections get built, all of that space underneath can be utilized for a new A’s clubhouse, batting cages, and other team facilities.

There remains the Mt. Davis upper deck. Those seats are about as useful as teats on a bull. Nothing wrong with removing those sections completely along with their connecting ramps. It’ll reduce the stadium’s height, making it far less imposing and removing forever the unfortunate toilet bowl overhead shot from any future broadcasts. Excess seats could be donated to local colleges and high schools for their own use. US Cellular Field underwent a similar kind of renovation in 2004.

What would this redone Coliseum look like? Here you go:
newlook
It’s pretty simple. The bullet points:

  • Keep Mt. Davis.
  • Keep the Plaza level seats behind the plate, along with the press box, Westside Club, and a handful of suites that’ll be turned into party suites.
  • Everything else gets knocked down, including the tarped-off upper deck.
  • Put in new bleachers and bullpen locations with ice plant behind them.
  • Build half of a simple, new two-deck grandstand with a new press box and new exclusive club areas behind the plate. No suites needed.
  • Turn the old press box into an A’s Hall of Fame Museum and preserve the broadcast booths.
  • Add a kids play area in the outfield.
  • Update the fixtures and technology throughout.

The big weakness in the concept is the field orientation, just east of true south. It’s not what the makers intended, but it shouldn’t be a problem as long as the new grandstand was constructed in a way that properly blocks the setting sun. That shouldn’t be a problem. The sun also won’t be in the batter’s eyes as he won’t be facing the setting sun and a midday sun should be pretty high in the sky.

The concept seats 34,000 with plenty of space for more. More importantly, it manages to preserve many of the best features of the old Coliseum and complements them with truly modern ballpark elements. The cost? The best comparison is the Kaufmann Stadium renovation, which cost $250 million.

Herhold: Get ready for the NIMBYs… in San Jose

Remember when the residents of Warm Springs got their pitchforks and torches polite signs and protested the A’s invading their neighborhood? If you thought that San Jose was somehow immune from NIMBYs because it’s downtown, think again. Merc columnist Scott Herhold writes about residents of the Shasta/Hanchett neighborhood west of downtown. They’re getting ready to make their voices heard amidst the renewed ballpark efforts in San Jose.

This is not a new or inconsistent stance. When the ballpark EIR commenced in 2006, these very same residents had plenty of concerns about traffic and light and noise impacts. Back then, the ballpark was expected to hold up to 45,000 people with a height over 200 feet including light standards. Cisco Field is expected to hold 32-35,000 and based on drawings, would be much lower than 200 feet thanks to its two-deck design.

NIMBYs have more to worry about than just a ballpark. Diridon Station is eventually going to be a massive transit hub with BART running underground and HSR running above ground. Preliminary sketches of the HSR platform could have its canopy be 100 feet tall or more. High speed trains also make noise, though it’s not of the diesel engine variety. The whole Diridon area is slated for medium rise development, which means lots of future construction, including piledrivers. Adobe bought the nearby San Jose Water Company land and plans an expansion at some point.

Proponents of the ballpark point to all of the naysaying regarding the arena’s development. The arena didn’t destroy either Shasta/Hanchett or the further away Rose Garden, and it actually led to redevelopment of downtown and the Cahill Park neighborhood immediately west of Diridon Station. A ballpark promises to bring 30,000 people into downtown 81 times a year, at many times simultaneously with a 17,000-person HP Pavilion event. A resident’s approval may simply depend on whether or not bringing that many people into SJ is considered a good thing. San Jose isn’t forever gripped in a small town/big city conundrum as Fremont is. San Jose’s inferiority complex is palpable and pols for the last 20 years have tried to address it in numerous ways.

Herhold’s status as a Shasta/Hanchett resident adds a twist. He acknowledges that so far, residents are majority opposed. At the end of his column, he proclaims his support of the ballpark, as long as it’s a good deal for the city. He noted the success of HP Pavilion and its effect on the stretch of The Alameda that runs north of his neighborhood. I live closer to SJSU, so I don’t have a stake in Shasta Hanchett. However, I may move there at some point to raise a family and take advantage of the schools there. It’s also not a bad place if, in the future, I want to walk with my growing child to an A’s or Sharks game. That said, I’m with Herhold on the ballpark issue. If the city can make a good deal, let’s do it.

Note: I originally posted this without mentioning the neighborhood that would be most affected by a ballpark: Delmas Park. It’s directly under the approach to SJC airport. Sadly, Delmas Park isn’t a moneyed enclave like Shasta/Hanchett or the Fremont neighborhoods. It’s naturally going to be more difficult for them to have a say in all of this.

For my comments on the original SJ Ballpark EIR, see this post.

Comcast working behind the scenes

During Sunday’s radio pregame show, A’s broadcasting veep Ken Pries addressed how CSNCA was going to be carried on various systems. It doesn’t completely clear up the confusion, but it’s progress.

On DirecTV, the channel will carry the broadcasts with no blackouts. CSNCA currently exists on a non-basic tier, so CSN and DirecTV are trying to figure out a way to include the channel on basic. No word on whether or not Dish network will give the channel the same treatment.

CSNCA is moving from 400 to 89 on Bay Area Comcast. 89 may sound like an extended basic channel, but the definition of extended basic is about to change. The move coincides with Comcast’s own digital transition. Throughout the rest of the year, they are taking all analog channels above 34 (35-99) and moving them to digital. That means that everyone who wants those channels will need some kind of set top box to enjoy them. Those who have STB’s won’t notice. Those using their TV’s analog tuner will need STB’s. Comcast and other cable operators have a few more years to complete their digital transition, but it’s in their best interest to move these channels as quickly as possible. 7 or more digital standard definition (SD) feeds fit into a single analog channel slot. 2 HD feeds fit into one analog channel. Comcast will be able to take all of the analog channels and stuff them into 7-8 slots, which will free up a tremendous amount of bandwidth for additional broadband data and on demand video, plus new HD channels as they get rolled out. Comcast will continue to move more analog channels to digital until 2012, when their own transition deadline comes up.

Weekend newswrap 3/1

First off, the SF Business Times reported on Friday that the City of Oakland and the A’s will start talking about the team’s future in Oakland in a few weeks. The talks will be headed by new City Administrator Dan Lindheim. Lindheim was also Oakland’s head of CEDA, so he should have all of the tools necessary to talk sites, whether it’s the Coliseum or elsewhere in Oakland. V Smoothe has a good writeup of the Oakland side of the situation. There are questions about how both the A’s and Oakland would proceed, and the political ramifications of the answers to those questions, but that deserves a much longer post in a week or two. Look for an unusual Coliseum revamp post later in the week.

Next up, VTA ordered up some sales tax revenue projections for the next three decades. Unfortunately, they came up woefully short in terms of monetary needs for BART-to-Silicon Valley construction, operating costs, and funding for other transit programs. That will force VTA to delay the extension’s downtown San Jose tunnel and full operation until 2025. In the meantime, VTA will look to terminate the extension at the planned Berryessa station, 2.5 miles northeast of downtown and 3.5 miles from the Diridon South site. Looks like all those claims of having the best transit hub in the state are a bit premature, though an economic recovery could potentially improve those revenue projections. Depending on legal issues, more frequent and electrified Caltrain plus High Speed Rail could conceivably arrive in San Jose earlier than BART.

Finally, the development plan for the Cal Expo Fairgrounds was released. The plan, which covers 350 acres between Arden Fair and the American River, includes a new arena for the Kings. If it looks similar to the Pacific Commons baseball village concept, that’s because it was done by Gensler, the same firm that worked out the land use for the A’s in Fremont. A scaled-down fairgrounds is included, with a large amount of open space and a new fairgrounds pavilion as the anchors. No developer has signed onto it, and there will certainly have to be some serious legislative machinations done in the Capitol to get this done, considering it is state-owned land. The presentation also describes two funding scenarios, one in which TIF is used and another where TIF isn’t used. Another important point: the plan stretches out until its completion in 2036. If anything, the plan suffers from extraordinarily bad timing. Surely there will be some sort of deadline set for interested parties to take on this enormous plan. Will the economy recover quickly enough for that to happen? After all, the arena is in the first phase.

Site redesign

It’s been nearly 4 years since I started this blog, and for a while I’ve felt it needed a change to its rather generic, stale look. To that end, I’ve started using a template normally used for WordPress but adapted for Blogger. The only major change is that it’s a wider template, better for use with high resolution, widescreen monitors. I’ll be able to incorporate larger pictures and additional page elements in the process.

Comments and/or suggestions about the new look? You know what to do.