A San Jose Manifesto

Since the Earthquakes stadium renderings were released, many on this blog and elsewhere have asked how the fates of the Quakes and A’s are intertwined. They’ve asked if juggling two teams and two potential stadium deals – in the same city no less – makes things needlessly complicated. They’ve also asked if focusing on soccer even on a peripheral basis takes the focus off baseball. Such questions about motivation will persist for some time to come, and won’t cease until shovels hit dirt.

That brings me back to Mayor Reed’s ending quote from last week’s press conference:

“I’d like to thank Lew Wolff and the A’s. It’s Lew’s vision that makes it possible for us to build a ballpark in San Jose.”

I was then, and remain now, thoroughly shocked. Not shocked about the quote, as I figured it was coming sooner or later. I am shocked that it elicited zero response in the comments. The past six months, there’s been a lot of back-and-forth about what Wolff has been doing in San Jose, about what the nature of discussions are. I’ve heard outright denial that Wolff wants to move the A’s to San Jose, that the MLB panel will somehow ride to Oakland’s rescue, which given recent history is myopic to the extreme.

That quote above tells you everything you need to know. I shouldn’t have to spell it out. It’s Lew’s vision that brought the Quakes back, that tantalizes Quakes fans in that he may finally cure their scarred, oft-broken, oft-ignored hearts (they’re not fully healed yet). It’s Lew’s vision that may finally quell all of the talk of uncertainty regarding the A’s and their future. It’s Lew’s vision that may cement his legacy in San Jose, in the Bay Area, in California.

However, this is California after all. We don’t impress easily. One way or another, we force our sports teams to earn our praise and patronage (except for the Warriors I suppose). When it comes to stadium building, everyone here is a full-on bandwagoner. We’re skeptical to the nth degree, and rightfully so. As a result, we collectively aren’t easily swayed by nice sketches and renderings. Pols know better than to propose any publicly-financed facilities, no matter how nice they look in ads or how well they’re pitched in interviews. We innovate here. We propel the world. We want results because expect no less of ourselves. It’s how we survive. It’s how we thrive.

It’s with that mindset that I have to concur with Center Line Soccer’s Jay Hipps, who argues that despite the crappy economy and limp sponsorship numbers, the Quakes should plow ahead and build their stadium. I’ll take it a step further though. Not only do I think that it’s necessary for the Quakes, I also think it’s imperative for the A’s.

We talk here endlessly about attendance, population densities, and transit availability. All that stuff makes for nice presentation slides and lengthy reports, but it’s mostly academic. The thing that really matters is, as always, political will. Political will and political capital go hand-in-hand. Wolff can reach out to non-profits to get little boosts here and there, as he did in Fremont. All of those efforts combined don’t hold a candle to the value of getting the Quakes stadium built. Just as with San Jose Arena (publicly built), the actual building and opening of a new facility creates a veritable supernova of political capital.

With political capital comes momentum, which will come in handy during an election cycle. Momentum doesn’t just come from great ideas. Momentum comes from the execution of great ideas. An inexpensive soccer-specific stadium is a great idea, even if it’s value engineered to death. It’s the responsible way to move forward, and can show the citizens of San Jose that someone around here can get things done responsibly. That’s important because so many aren’t familiar with Wolff’s development history from 30 years ago. Half the people that live in the Valley are transplants. Some are from the Midwest and East Coast, others are from across a border or an ocean. They may be completely on board with a ballpark, but they want to want to see that train moving. They may need to feel that it will leave the station without them.

Wolff talks a lot about the pain that comes with the process, about how it’s an industry unto itself. The process isn’t as much the killer as the inertia the process creates. If ownership thinks the numbers can work given time, then inertia is the real enemy here. That’s not to discount the steady, methodical groundwork that’s been laid over the last several years. It’s simply no longer the time to be methodical. It’s time to be decisive. It’s time to break that inertia. It’s time to build. In fact, to paraphrase Ernie Banks, “Let’s build two.”

SJ makes Redev cuts, Ballpark funds safe

Long awaited but expected cuts hit San Jose as it decided to lay off 24 people of its 109-person Redevelopment Agency staff. The cuts are part of the state’s raid on redevelopment funds, San Jose’s take was $88 million ($62 million this year, $13 million next year, $13 million from last year).

However, there is some good news:

The state raid will not derail some of the agency’s highest-profile efforts, Mavrogenes said. Land acquisitions for a proposed ballpark near the Diridon train station to lure Major League Baseball’s A’s is to come from land sale proceeds, a separate money pot that Mavrogenes said will not be affected by the state’s move.

And the agency is contractually obligated to follow through on other pending projects, including the downtown “urban market” at San Pedro Square.

But projects still in development are likely to be delayed indefinitely, most notably the $350 million expansion of the aging McEnery Convention Center.

City has been using the practice of “land banking” for decades now, making its Redevelopment Agency one of the largest in the country. Land banking is used for development opportunities, many of them controversial. Results have been mixed at best. For every Adobe headquarters or San Jose Arena, there’s the failed Tropicana Shopping Center project or the Pavilion downtown shopping mall (not related to the arena). As the Diridon area transforms, SJRA is getting ready to buy up most if not all of the land in the area for the transformation.

Diridon: The Vision

Earlier today I had a chance to speak with Andrew Watkins, a candidate for the Master’s of Architecture in Urban Design at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. During the spring, he worked on HUGSD’s contribution in shaping the future of the Diridon Station area. He even posted his team’s renderings on his own web site, renderings that eventually made it to the Skyscraper City forum. Before reading on, head over to Watkins’ site project page to look at the images.

I asked about the process used during the study. Watkins said that students partnered up, with each time coming up with their own unique vision for the area. The coming high speed rail project serves as the main impetus, with additional emphasis on natural features in the area such as Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek, public spaces, housing and retail, and of course, the ballpark.

Here’s some of the Q&A:

  • Were the students given individual pieces and the whole stitched together, or was it a competitive vision situation? Groups of 2 created each concept. Each team had their own concept. HSR was main impetus… There was no filtering on concepts.
  • Would you say this more of an exercise master planning exercise than in architecture? We’re all architecture students, but yes, I’d say this was more about master planning.
  • How much of a focus was there on connecting with downtown proper? Everyone was cognizant of the downtown area. At the same time there weren’t any proposals that altered (existing) structure.
  • Was there a frequent exchange of info with City/Redev? They were good about answering questions, especially the first month. We also made a site visit to San Jose.
  • I particularly liked the bi-level circulation plan. How did that come about? It was necessitated by multilevel infrastructure. BART’s underground, HSR and trains above ground, buses at ground level. There’s a need to make connections with all four levels. We don’t want to have a bunch of hidden ramps and stairs.

It’s Watkins’ hope that all of the submissions will be published soon. Apparently the City’s budget woes have forced that to be delayed somewhat. As City has another Good Neighbor meeting tomorrow night (PDF), it wouldn’t hurt to have these drawings and renderings available to help citizens better visualize the possibilities in the area (no, I don’t expect that to happen until some months from now).

Looking at the image at the top and other renderings, I’m somewhat reminded of Embarcadero Center in San Francisco. That too has bi-level circulation, with the complex spread over several blocks and traffic running through it. In this case, high-rise offices would be replaced by midrise housing, parking, and retail/commercial.

I didn’t ask much about the ballpark, because information I had received elsewhere indicated that the group didn’t receive much about a future ballpark other than already publicly available information. So the stuff you may have questions about – such as the parking garage on the fire training site or the missing power substation in the image above – aren’t addressed. City has already acknowledged that the parking garage on the fire training site isn’t necessary, and that the substation will likely be reconfigured instead of moved.

Questions or comments? Fire away.

LA NFL stadium opponents agree to settle

It looks like this…

… is a few steps closer to happening.

The AP is reporting that the City of Walnut, a neighbor of the possible new stadium site in Industry, has chosen to settle with billionaire Ed Roski and his development arm Majestic Realty instead of pursuing further legal action against the stadium. Terms were not disclosed.

Walnut City Council’s 3-1 decision comes two weeks after legislation written to help the Chargers move to the LA Basin was shelved. With the latest legal hurdles cleared, the path is much clearer for some team to move. I won’t rehash the candidates again, as last year’s post is still relevant.

The Bolts have a head start on all other teams (including the Raiders). They’ve been actively expanding marketing throughout SoCal, even hiring Wasserman Media Group to help. WMG head Casey Wasserman (himself a former Arena League team owner) believes that LA should have a team, though it may be best situated in Downtown LA, not Industry.

Wasserman even said on a recent Bill Simmons podcast (thanks MP) that there’s a fairly straightforward way for NFL to work in LA again, though it would presumably preclude a move by another team. In essence, the league would rally the owners together to build a new LA stadium under the guise of it being one of the rotating Super Bowl venues. Then the NFL would grant an expansion franchise and some piece of the stadium to the highest bidder, allowing the owners to recoup the development costs. If this sounds familiar, it is – it’s the Cleveland Browns plan.

Of course, having an Ed Roski-led stadium effort goes against such a plan and falls in line with a much more traditional, and as of this moment more concrete, “lure-em” model. Whatever happens over the next year, it promises to be good theater. For now, vote on which franchise (if any) you think is most likely to move to LA given the opportunity.

Clarification on Kings/Sharks on CSNCA

When the Sharks-CSNCA carriage agreement was announced last week, I fired off an email to CSNCA to ask what would happen in case of scheduling conflicts. Here’s the response:

Thank you for your email regarding the Kings and Sharks on Comcast SportsNet California. Your assumption about our telecasts in the Sacramento area are correct. When the Kings and Sharks games overlap we will move the sharks to the Plus Ch. If the Kings game concludes we will then join the Sharks in progress.

In the bay area the Sharks will appear on our main Ch. due to NBA blackout restrictions.

Thank you,

Richard Leeson
Director of Programming
Comcast SportsNet California

A similar arrangement will be needed in the spring when the A’s season begins. We’re a few months off from any schedule finalization there.

The Silly Stadium Sharing Situation

There seems to be a bit of confusion about Quakes’ stadium story. A Merc article covering Saturday’s dinner notes at the end the “long shot” possibility of the A’s and Quakes sharing a stadium. It doesn’t say where, when, or how, but it’s a nice piece of FUD to let hang in the air.

From a practical standpoint, it could make some sense. After all, it should be cheaper to build one stadium instead of two, right? Except it isn’t in this case. The tab for the Quakes’ much simpler home is estimated to be one-tenth that of the A’s ballpark. Come in that cheap, and the supposed efficiencies gained by consolidation are outweighed by other issues.

To illustrate this, I took my ballpark model and laid down a soccer field on top of it. Below is just the lower level. Capacity of the lower level alone is 17,000+.

As you can see, the field itself is a snug fit from corner to corner. A Mount Davis-like set of temporary seating sections (in yellow) would be used from time to time. As would be expected, those sections would tear up the grass like nobody’s business. The worst part? The Quakes’ season runs concurrent with the A’s, so you’d see this all season long. The seats are necessary because if they weren’t there all you’d have is a massive gap all the way to the wall, yet that area is a prime seating area for soccer.

In addition, seats down the baseball right field line are angled back towards the infield instead of along the sideline. Those seats would at best have suboptimal views, at worst have obstructed views. Soccer is unlike baseball in that there’s no focal point for most of the game, as there is within the 60’6″ between the pitching rubber and the plate. Action can occur anywhere on a soccer pitch, and in the case of a routine corner kick or throw-in, it can be generated from the edges. Soccer stadia are designed for all seats to have complete views of the field, a practice that is immediately violated when a regulation field is placed in a baseball stadium.

The upper deck (above) isn’t so compromised, mostly because it’s further removed from the action. In the previous image, the temporary yellow seats were there. Use of those seats would preclude the use of baseball bleacher seats. Still, the total stadium capacity would be over 31,000, which at this point is too big for MLS.

Going back to the field, think about the logistical problems. MLS teams typically play twice a week, 30 regular season matches per year plus various “friendlies.” That translates to about 17 home dates. Assuming that home dates are bunched together and timed to miss A’s homestands, there would still be at least eight switchovers per year. Let’s say that somehow the $250,000 cost to do the same job at the Coliseum could be cut in half, it would still cost $1 million per year. Project that out for 25 years and index for inflation. And it would still leave the players from both sports hating the field. Practical? Hardly.

Quakes fans now have something to dream about

At the Soccer Silicon Valley Foundation’s second annual dinner, Lew Wolff and the Quakes revealed new conceptual images and a fly-in video of the future stadium. If you haven’t been following this, here’s a quick refresher:

  • Location: Airport West property between SJC and SCU, near Lowe’s
  • Size: 15,000 plus berm and plaza space to approach 20,000 total
  • Design: Horseshoe soccer-specific stadium, oriented northeast-to-southwest
  • Architect: 360 Architecture
  • Roof: Covers roughly half of seating area, with lights tucked underneath
  • Video board: Two-sided, like Cisco Field concept
  • Transit availability: Caltrain, future BART station
  • Projected opening: ~2012
  • Cost: $40-60 million

The design is distinctly European in flavor, as it trades in a top-mounted deck of luxury suites for three rows of premium (club) seats along the pitch/field. By all accounts, the field itself will be slightly sunken from ground level. A single concourse under the main seating serves all. The U-shape is meant to contain noise and if anything direct noise out towards the airport, which is a good idea.

It’s possible that the main seating bowl will be all steel, which takes a page from Stanford Stadium. That should make the stadium less expensive to build and noisier to boot. Next up is the fly-in video.

Don’t get used to having “Earthquakes” on the roof. Once a naming rights sponsor is secured, you’ll see the sponsor’s name there.

The big takeaway from this is that the Quakes finally have something tangible in the stadium realm to sell to fans and potential sponsors. It’s been a long time coming, and hopefully getting the necessary funding won’t be such an uphill battle anymore.

I’ll end this post with video of Wolff at the event last night. He pretty much covered everything in this post.

Comcast moves Sharks to power play line

As expected, the Sharks have officially moved from CSN Bay Area to CSN California. The main reason given is that the Sharks will now have more room to air games and related programming without the congestion that was choking CSNBA the last several years. This is especially important from the HD delivery perspective, as the “Plus” channels meant to carry additional programming aren’t in HD.

Beneath the surface, the real motivation by Comcast is to conjure enough demand to force the other cable systems (Charter, Suddenlink) to carry CSNCA throughout the rest of Northern and Central California. The Sharks are asking shocked and angry consumers to call their cable systems to request the channel. We’ve seen this movie before, and we know how it usually ends.

While two networks will have their schedules freed up, there remain a few chances for conflicts. I studied the recently released, tentative 2010 A’s schedule, and compared it to the Kings’ and Sharks’ schedules. Here’s what I found:

  • 10/1/09 – Sharks @ Avs, Opening Night, 7 p.m. on Versus against A’s @ M’s, 7:10 p.m. on CSNCA. No conflict.
  • 10/3/09 – A’s-Angels @ 1:05, Sharks-Kings @ 7:30. No conflict.
  • 4/6/10 – A’s-M’s TBD (7:05), Sharks-Flames @ 6:30, Spurs-Kings @ 7:00. Use of the Plus channel will be required.
  • 4/8/10 – A’s-M’s TBD (12:35), Canucks-Sharks @ 7:30 on CSNCA-HD, Clippers-Kings @ 7:00. Probably no A’s conflict.
  • 4/10/10 – A’s-Angels TBD, Coyotes-Sharks @ 7:30 on CSNCA-Plus, Mavs-Kings @ 7:00. If the Angels choose to make this one of their Saturday evening games, there will be a conflict. If it’s a day game, it’ll be blacked out because of Fox Saturday exclusivity.
  • 4/12/10 – A’s-M’s TBD (7:05), Rockets-Kings @ 7:00. Use of the Plus channel will be required.
  • 4/13/10 – A’s-M’s TBD (7:05), Kings-Lakers @ 7:30. Use of the Plus channel may be required if Kings game is not carried nationally.

Complicating things a bit is the fact that the Kings have not yet announced their broadcast schedule. It’s possible that some games may be carried by their OTA affiliate, if they have one this season.

Subsidies and Realities

In light of the Merc article containing economist feedback on the economic impact report, there’s been a small amount of blowback from San Jose and other media. While I haven’t trumpeted or killed the report critically, I feel that it has enough realism and conservatism baked in to pass muster with the public.

During the City Council session yesterday, there were some comments about omissions in the report. Some of the unknowns:

  • How much parking will be built on site and how much will it cost? Will the City foot some/all of the bill?
  • What is the fiscal impact of sales of construction materials for the ballpark?
  • No mention is made of land lease terms, or the cost of additional land acquisition.

It’s been understood for some time that new infrastructure in the area, including parking, will be for the benefit of the transit hub and the downtown community as well as the ballpark and arena. Future demands are too great to have exclusivity, especially for a parking garage.

In the report, the alternative development plan involves a new corporate campus, or up to 1 million square feet of mostly office and some retail. The space is expected to be built out over two-plus decades, with the final space available in 2038. That’s a major departure from a ballpark, which would be completely open in 2014. Height restrictions prevent buildings of 20 stories or more, so the chances of building anything as architecturally iconic as a ballpark are slim. You need not look further than the Adobe headquarters for proof:

The only thing memorable about the HOK-designed complex is the art installation on the north exterior, otherwise known as the San Jose Semaphore project.

Speaking of Adobe, they didn’t exactly start out in San Jose. Originally a Mountain View-based company, Adobe was lured downtown with a $33 million subsidy and favorable lease terms. Most of the land in the picture above is owned by SJ Redevelopment, not Adobe. In hindsight, it’s proven to be a good deal because as of this moment, Adobe is the only Fortune 1000 company located downtown. In the past few years, several companies have left, leaving a massive vacancy rate in their wake. Knight-Ridder was acquired by MediaNews, with the Bay Area papers absorbed by BANG. Power producer Calpine emerged from bankruptcy and promptly moved to Houston. Even new deals were sunk, as City tried for years to bring middleware maker BEA down from the northside, only to have Oracle acquire them after the deal was consummated. The target building, Sobrato Tower, remains vacant as City tries to find a tenant yet again. Finally, Adobe bought the old San Jose Water Company site, but there’s no telling if/when anything will be built there.

To better illustrate downtown’s plight, here’s a map showing where the city’s six Fortune 1000 companies reside in blue, along with a red/black square denoting the ballpark site’s location:

These companies have little incentive to move. They have full control over their parking, are just as close if not closer to where their employees live as downtown, and for the most part don’t need downtown amenities, such as they are. It also doesn’t hurt that for the companies that have large, long-held real estate portfolios, they also have Prop 13 on their side. It wasn’t that long ago that much of north and south San Jose was cheap farmland, ready to shape however the developer saw fit.

Faced with this un-downtown-like reality, it’s no wonder why SJRA projects all the way to 2038 for office space. Downtown will always have smaller businesses, law firms, and media companies there. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing more large corporations, but city fathers should also understand that there are other ways to enhance downtown. A ballpark is Exhibit A in doing just that.

To that end, they’re focusing on this hub concept, for both transit and entertainment. Retail went with Santana Row and a series of expansions to Valley Fair, so the best things left are transit (coming with BART and HSR) and entertainment (sports, arts). As mixed up and broad as their vision for downtown has been for the last 20 years, it’s good to see it coalesce around a more focused set of objectives.

Mayor(s) Press Conference

Mayor Chuck Reed introduces former mayor Susan Hammer, who speaks in support. Next up, County Assessor Larry Stone.
City Council meeting is next and will take up the economic impact report.

SVLG head Carl Guardino announced that SVLG officially supports the move.

Reed’s last quote:

“I’d like to thank Lew Wolff and the A’s. It’s Lew’s vision that makes it possible for us to build a ballpark in San Jose.”

Mark Purdy is headed inside to talk to some of the featured speakers.

1:45 – Council hearing Econ impact report now.

2:25 – Council unanimously approved report.