Howard Terminal Revisited

Everyone likes trains, right?

This short video was shot yesterday afternoon between Jack London Square and Howard Terminal. There’s no better illustration of the impact of trains through the area. They are the lifeblood of the port’s operations and an important conduit for commuters on Capitol Corridor. Should a ballpark be planned for Howard Terminal, multiple pedestrian bridges will have to be built to span The Embarcadero in order to ensure fan safety. However, that’s not the only issue.

The sign above is your typical underground pipeline warning sign. Many pipelines are found alongside railroad tracks since both are meant to go long distances. In this case, the pipeline has a much more local purpose – the Oakland Power Plant.

The tank in the upper left of this picture doesn’t hold water. It holds oil for the plant. Nasty, potentially flammable stuff. The plant itself is not operational 24/7, it’s meant to provide peak-demand power when needed. Oakland Power Plant spans 3 blocks and is owned by Houston-based Dynegy, along with the plant in Moss Landing.

The CA Public Utilities Commission and the Port of Oakland have occasionally gotten into skirmishes about the plant. There’s no denying the importance of a piece of power infrastructure like this, but the Port has resisted attempts by past owners to expand the plant. An audit performed two years ago (warning: PDF) by the CPUC revealed instances of lax training and emergency preparedness, though nothing was deemed dangerous within the scope of the plant’s operation.

I’ve been told that with Matson’s long-term deal with the Port, it’s nearly impossible to relocate them. The City has been mum on a specific site in the area, but given the circumstances it may be better to focus on other land nearby. Which is too bad, imagine the building below as part of a majestic concrete/masonry ballpark façade. (It’s part of the power plant.)

So where to focus? The best place may be the area north of Howard Terminal and the power plant, bounded by the BART tracks/5th Ave on the north, MLK to the east, 2nd St to the south, and Market/Brush Sts to the west.

No, it’s not on the waterfront. It does have a nice view of Downtown Oakland. It’s also a shorter distance to the 12th St BART station, just over 1/2 mile as opposed to 3/4 mile from the station to Howard Terminal. Admittedly, it would be strange to have BART running right past the place even though there wouldn’t necessarily be a co-located station. Fortunately, there is some vacant land that would be perfect for station portals if all parties could get it together. Just as important, it’s a shorter stumble to-and-from The Trappist.

Most importantly, land deals would be done with individual private landowners, not the Port. Port land is really City land, but that doesn’t make it any easier to do a deal given the politics involved. We’re talking about 5-6 blocks, the same amount as Diridon South.

Is this doable? I have no idea. I’m just as in-the-dark about actual proposals emanating from Oakland as many of you.

27 Responses to Howard Terminal Revisited

  1. LeAndre says:

    nice observation ML,

    although I feel like most of these issues aren't completely mandatory to solve. This area is already one of the city's dominate areas, public events are already held at JLS often and none of these issues is really a problem…

    I realize adding 35,000 people through out a season is a big increase and adjustments will need to be made, but I honestly don't see it being anymore complicated than AT&T…

    The train can be annoying, believe me…but after the RR crossing go up (which usually takes a matter of second being that its Amtrak) you cross to the other side…Do you know for sure by MLB standards if building a bridge over the tracks is mandatory?

  2. Marine Layer says:

    You can't take the chance of having fans – especially drunken fans – try to dodge freight and commuter trains on the Embarcardero. It would be really bad planning to ignore this, and it would only take one accident to cause a serious public outcry. These aren't MLB standards. These are real safety considerations that would be borne out in an EIR.

    AT&T has light rail trains on King St, which are much lighter and easier to stop because they are electric as opposed to the diesel beasts in Oakland. No comparison there.

  3. Anonymous says:

    ML–assume its doable (although purchasing land from private land owners could be the ultimate challenge)—what changes in the demographics of the city and available corporate sponsors to want anyone to invest $500M of their private money?

    My point being–it takes 2 to tango—and I have a hard time believing that there are private investors out there, including Wolff, who would be into putting up the capital–

  4. Marine Layer says:

    That may be true 9:05, but that's not the point of the post. Let's not turn this into yet another pissing match.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I reside about twelve blocks from the Howard Terminal, and never felt like it was much of a walk. Of course, I did a lot of walking in NOLA and Europe.

    But I digress. All of these are legitimate issues with the area, but I think of them more as dilemmas than problems. Depending on how the stadium was finally situated, a parking garage could be built on the site of the World Market and several bridges extended from their into the stadium.

    It might be unrealistic in the end, but who's to say that a section of the track couldn't be enclosed by the actual stadium? Let it pass through in a sound dampening tunnel to alleviate some of the noise and work it in as a "feature" — an A's player hits a passing train with a HR, and people in X Section get half of their next Amtrak trip or some such.

    It might be difficult to suspend freight operations during, before, and after a game, but they're far less frequent than Amtrak. Still, if foot traffic could be guided in a specific direction, it would alleviate the need for "several" foot bridges. Have OPD, stadium workers, etc., directing foot traffic.

  6. Anonymous says:

    On a related note, why not incorporate part of the BART track into the stadium itself? All the infrastructure needed (stairs, elevators, platform) would already be there.

    It could be a "special" stop; trains would only stop in the stadium during specific hours. Otherwise, they would continue as normal between West Oakland and 12th. St/City Center.

  7. Marine Layer says:

    There isn't anything there to integrate. The track is on an incline so there's no platform or ways to access the track.

  8. Anonymous says:

    No, not at the Howard Terminal site, the alternate option — the one where the 5th St. tracks are the Northern edge. I'll have to look again, but the incline doesn't (I think) begin until after Castro.

    A pass-thru system could feasibly be worked in between Brush & Castro. It could even be pushed further out just past Brush, towards Market.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    Interesting read.

    What kind of trains run out behind the outfield in Seattle? I wodner how they manage the pedestrian traffic around those?

    It's been a while since I was in Seattle and all I remember is that you could hear the trains go by during the game.

    To beat a dead horse… Uptown was the spot in Oakland. It's too bad it didn't happen.

  10. hamachi says:

    so there hasn't been any response form the city or MLB yet? I thought we would have heard something by now.

    At the corner of 2nd and brush is a co-lo facility and I doubt they'd sell after they just did a large amount of rehab work with new generators and such.

    and PGE is laying new underground power cables to that power plant now (from lake merrit I think?).

  11. Anonymous says:

    It's closer to BART but farther from the interesting parts of JLS. However, I could see some of the industrial properties around this converted to commercial over time as a result of the ballpark. Basically, JLS would be extended to the northwest. That would be really cool.

    I don't see the problem with train noise. It doesn't harm the experience in Seattle. It's actually kind of charming.

    Hopefully, the "top secret plan for world domination and A's baseball that only one anonymous commenter on a blog is allowed to know about" is something like this and not just The Coliseum II.

  12. Jeffrey says:

    Anon 8:22- I swear I might have to become a Pittsburgh Pirates fan or something if it is Coliseum II.

    I would get season tickets to San Jose or something in the JLS/Dowtntown area in Oakland. I wouldn't at the Home Base site

  13. Marine Layer says:

    2:00 – This pic is probably what you're looking for. It's the corner of Castro & 5th. There is vacant land for a station portal.

    Jeffrey – Freight and commuter. Nearly everything is elevated above the tracks, even though there isn't much parking directly east of the stadium (across the tracks).

    hamachi – Do you know what the big steel frame structure at Howard Terminal is? Here's a pic.

  14. LeAndre says:

    Anon 9:05,
    Wolff already tried to invest his $500M in Oakland, according to him. I'll stop there.

    Can anyone tell how many different businesses and land owners it would take to purchase for that site?

  15. Anonymous says:

    LeAndre–your right–he did—when he proposed a ballpark village in the Coli parking lot–which would have had some level of return on his investment—but the ballpark village concept is a goner these days—which goes to my point–I am sure he would be happy to build it in Okland provided the city/county pays for the park–once again–reasonable from my perspective–

  16. LeAndre says:

    Anon 4:20,
    you obviously don't remember when Wolff said the ballpark village wasn't going to pay for the park…he didn't even expect to see a profit from it in the near future…he was just trying to use the park as a catalyst for prime real estate…

    Even with the village concept you would still need investors…and according to ML he tried at the coliseum parking lot…village-less, not to mention other areas he's apparently "exhausted".

    We've been over this time, and time, again

  17. Anonymous says:

    Nope, that ain't it. You're about a mile off.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The Andre, why are you hung up on the concept of a man buying a sports franchise for hundreds of millions of dollars just to build some condos? People build homes and turn a quick buck all the time. What the hell makes you think someone with experience in the industry would go to such unnecessary lengths?

  19. Andrew Sarris says:

    I think it would be very cool to have BART, Amtrak, and all the freight trains run through the outfield, just like in that fine John Candy – Richard Pryor movie "Brewster's Millions".

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088850/

  20. Anonymous says:

    Prime real estate, uh?? That just takes me back to the point that I made on a different post last week. Lew Wolff knows absolutely about the game of baseball and only cares about building hotels. He is a frickin' carpetbagger!!!

  21. LeAndre says:

    "The Andre, why are you hung up on the concept of a man buying a sports franchise for hundreds of millions of dollars just to build some condos? People build homes and turn a quick buck all the time. What the hell makes you think someone with experience in the industry would go to such unnecessary lengths?"

    Wow…name calling from an anonymous person, cute…I don't really know how to answer your question because it doesn't really make any sense.

    All I said was "he was just trying to use the park as a catalyst for prime real estate"…um never said that was a bad thing if that's what your implying. On the contrary, I thought it was a positive move, helping to create a ballpark scene, but the economy disagreed…my whole point was to show how Wolff isnt against investing in Oakland for the simple fact that he already has tried…your question(s?) said nothing to dispute that…

  22. LeAndre says:

    BTW ML,
    I'm sure you've read it by now but this post you made on the Howard Terminal Revisited was wrote about and linked from V Smoothe in the local section in the SF Gate

    its a nice little read…

  23. Anonymous says:

    LeAndre– are you serious…was this tongue in cheek–suprised you even noted it…pretty hilarious

    "Marine Layer makes a persuasive case against the waterfront location, but who knows what will happen. After all, according to some guy I met at the bar, not only is the new ballpark definitely going to be at Howard Terminal, but Major League Baseball has promised to fund all the construction and infrastructure costs to build it. Sweet! And he heard it from his neighbor, whose step-brother's girlfriend's best friend actually works for the company putting the whole deal together. So he obviously knows what he's talking about."

  24. hamachi says:

    ML: that's a big structure for stacking cars after they get unloaded from the dock. it used to be filled all the time.

    they were going to erect a huge structure to hold all of that stuff, but local nimby's were scared of the increase in traffic so it was dropped.

  25. hamachi says:

    and the trappist is awesome. just hard for me to go now that I have a little geeklet in tow all the time. I'll console myself with homebrew on tap I guess.

    and for those who made it to JLS last weekend for the Eat Real Food Fest. damn that place was packed. we all hope the market hall finally opens and that we can see crowds like that all the time!

  26. LeAndre says:

    5:10,

    Why are you surprised?…it was supposed to be hilarious…V Smoothe is a very well known Oakland blogger who ML knows about, which is why I posted it…

    you really should just stop trying to insult people…your very bad at it

  27. Anonymous says:

    LeAndre– actually the tongue-in-cheek insult belongs to VSmooth to all of the Oakland folks on here who were referring to a friend of a friend who knows someone…..who says the A's are staying in Oakland–

    Personally I find his comments refreshing…as he seems to understand where things are headed

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