Monthly Archives: March 2010

Even more poll dancing

The Merc’s Tracy Seipel just got wind of a new poll conducted by SJSU’s Survey and Policy Research Institute. This time, the poll doesn’t ask a fuzzy “Do you favor the A’s moving to San Jose?” question, it asks if voters would approve giving city-owned land (Diridon South) to the A’s for their privately financed and operated ballpark.

The stadium poll question — posed by San Jose State University’s Survey and Policy Research Institute on behalf of the Mercury News — found that 62 percent of those surveyed favored the idea while 23.5 opposed it; 13 percent didn’t know and 1.5 percent refused to answer.

Cheered by the A’s and city leaders, the result is one of the first indications of how San Jose voters are leaning on the ballpark question, which the city hopes to put on the ballot in November — if Major League Baseball graces the move by overriding the San Francisco Giants’ claims to Santa Clara County. The A’s are anxious to move from the aging Oakland Coliseum and have said they cannot find a suitable home elsewhere in the East Bay.

In all of the recent run-up to the report that still hasn’t appeared, local and national writers have been speculating what exactly the MLB panel, Bud Selig, and his constituents, the owners, have been thinking. The near consensus has been that prior to any decision being made, MLB needs to square away the T-rights issue and compensation.

I don’t think that’s really the case. Instead, I think MLB is more afraid of using political capital for a T-rights negotiation without knowing where San Jose stands regarding the A’s. Now that two polls have shown the proponents of a move with a clear advantage, MLB may finally have traction to move ahead. It could easily present the recommendation, have Selig present the case to the owners, vote on the move, then negotiate the finer details over the next 2 years, until the next CBA is in place. Of course, Selig would have to make the case that this move doesn’t create a precedent that potentially harms the big market teams, which is no small feat. To that end, there would have to be language that indicates that the Bay Area situation is not analogous to any other move, which is at least true based on the history of T-rights here. It is that language that I believe is the biggest difficulty. Chances are that there would be a sunset clause in case of a failed vote or the A’s failure to get a ballpark built, which would be a correction of the last T-rights change for Santa Clara County.

If you’re all about free markets or unshackling Santa Clara County or Alameda County from T-rights, I doubt you’ll be happy. Chances are that this won’t go nuclear, it won’t even reach a public debate in the media. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

A Stadium That is Already Under Construction

This summer, my wife and I are taking our little monkies on a trip to visit one of her favorite cities: Portland, Or. In preparation, I have been reading about all the fun things to do up that way. Personally, I am excited to see the Portland Beavers in PGE Park.

Sadly, my web search (I always do web searches for the stuff I want to do rather than going to the website I know best right away, it’s like taking a scenic drive rather than hitting the freeway) turned up an article about the potential end of the Beavers. But what I found even more interesting than the Beavers moving to Tuscon, Arizona or Sugar Land, Texas was the reason for the potential move: a redesigned PGE Park to support the Portland Timbers move from the USL to MLS in 2011 (along with the Vancouver Whitecaps).

Brief digression, soccer teams have such cool names. I love that these MLS teams pay tribute to the history of soccer in the local region by naming their teams after their NASL predecessors. It almost makes me wish that the A’s were called the “Oaks” and the Giants were called the “Seals.” Can we start a letter writing drive to change DC United to the Washington Diplomats? If the A’s eventually move south I guess they would need to be called the Bees in this alternate universe. Imagine the alternate uniforms the San Jose Bees could have (think of a Jumping Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair inspired jersey).

Back to the matter at hand: The new PGE Park will serve as home to the Portland State Vikings football team in addition to the MLS version of the Timbers. This fact had me thinking about the long ago proposed New Spartan Stadium, first, but the as of yet unnamed new Earthquakes Stadium, second. How do the two, New PGE and New Quakeville, compare?

First off, these two stadium projects are really different in a lot of ways. PGE Park is an existing structure that will be reconfigured a bit to accommodate a better soccer experience while the future Quakes home is brand spanking new from the ground up. Here is what PGE Park looks like now:

The changes to this stadium are pretty drastic. For a good summary, one should visit here. The Cliff’s Note version of the changes are:

  • Removal of the baseball dugouts to shift the soccer field North and West.
  • New Field Turf.
  • A new, covered seating area on the East side of the stadium with industry leading leg room (this will be where Left Field is in the picture above) bringing the capacity from about 16k to 20k.
  • Modern amenities like a restaurant, Club Level, Team Store and Group Seating.
  • A new Press Box and Team Areas.

The picture (Courtesy of the Portland Timbers) above shows the new seating in place of the former Left Field.

Another big difference between this stadium and the Quakes future home is the cost and financing. The Quakes estimates put the stadium in San Jose at approximately $40 to $60 Million. That is in addition to the chunk of change Uncle Lew has put down for the land (which was negotiated down to $89 Million for 66 acres). As has been documented here before, the stadium construction financing for Quakeville is not ironed out completely (Someone get Steve Jobs on the horn, we need iPad Pitch).

In Portland, the cost of renovation is $31 Million and is being financed by a mix of public and private money. Basically, the City of Portland (the City Council voted almost unanimously for the deal) is footing the bill for about $12 Million, while Merritt Paulson (Timbers owner) is covering about $22 Million in upfront cash and future payment guarantees. Paulson agreed, as a part of the deal, to cover all cost overruns.

One last big difference, PGE Park renovations have already begun. Not only is this verifiable by visiting the photo diary of changes, Maury Brown of the Business of Sports Network (and a Portland resident) has confirmed for me that heavy equipment is in place and tearing up the current yard already.

Man, I can’t wait until my friends from the East Coast are calling me for updates on pile driver positioning at a new A’s or Quakes (or both) stadium.

Size matters

To keep things light, here’s a classic fauxmercial from the late 80′s era of SNL, featuring the dearly departed Phil Hartman.

Okay, let’s dive right in.

I read this morning that some folks over at OAFC are complaining that San Jose partisans keep touting the city’s size, while claiming that Oakland’s population density is as important if not moreso. There’s only one problem with that argument: the fanbase as whole can’t be judged on the population density of a town that represents 10% of fans.

While Oakland is undoubtedly more dense than San Jose, when you start to look at Oakland in combination with adjacent and nearby cities and towns, the density gap shrinks significantly. For Oakland to match San Jose in population, it would have to annex or include every nearby city north to Berkeley and south to Hayward. The net effect of doing this not only approaches San Jose in terms of population, it also approaches San Jose’s area.

So for a comparably sized population and area, the difference in density is less than 300 persons per square mile – or 1 person for every 2 acres. It makes the East Bay look much more suburban than is often claimed – and really, there’s nothing wrong with that. The only truly metropolitan city in the region is San Francisco, with a whopping 17,323 persons per square mile. The other two major cities are just pretending.

If the regions are comparable in terms of area and population, then why does either matter? Politics, that’s why. As I’ve mentioned before, Oakland has not built any major sports facility without the help of Alameda County. I don’t see any evidence that it can. The Coliseum Authority is a joint powers body, and the recent 19-acre acquisition of the Coliseum-adjacent HomeBase site was done with the idea that any new stadium deal would have to be done within the auspices of the JPA. Now that sites at JLS have been proposed, Oakland’s pols have to make a very tough decision: either go it alone or introduce the Coliseum Authority (or some other new JPA) into the process. While a JPA (and Alameda County by extension) could have expanded bonding capacity, any deal involving a JPA will take longer and will be more politically difficult due to complexity.

Even though a new ballpark is expected to be privately financed, it’s expected that land and infrastructure improvements will be required. That means new on/off-ramps, additional parking – things that, so far, Oakland partisans have either neglected to mention or dismissed casually. This is crucial stuff, folks! You can’t dismiss it or wish it away, because like it or not, you’re in a competitive situation. You have to put your best foot forward. That doesn’t mean selling your soul or acquiring a bunch of land via eminent domain. It means giving more than the occasional press conference or sound byte to a sympathetic columnist. It means doing more than symbolic acts.

That’s why San Jose, despite the territorial rights issue, has a competitive advantage. It doesn’t have to go through making that tough choice. It has already built a sports facility on its own, and can point to it as a success story, not hide from it as a political liability. It has the resources and the tax base to support big projects.

It has done due diligence. It has been patient. It hasn’t complained or lashed out (at least during the Reed administration) throughout the process. It has studied sites formally for four years. It has been executing its strategy to acquire land, and identified funding sources for it. These aren’t trivial steps. These are fundamental, crucial, expensive steps. It has reached out to the community to talk though issues. And most importantly, it hasn’t buckled at the first sign of resistance. Whatever the MLB panel’s criteria, surely near the top of the list has to be political climate. No amount of talk can substitute for real action in that regard. Look at it this way: I expect Chuck Reed to be reelected this year. I don’t expect Ron Dellums, who still hasn’t officially declared if he’s running again, to be reelected. In Fremont, Bob Wasserman survived his reelection campaign and if Fremont is the choice, at least he’ll be able to see the process through. Any project of this magnitude needs a champion, needs someone to carry the water and take the bullets when they come. At least in two cities, we know who’s going to do that. Who’s going to do that in Oakland?

Going back to the size issue, consider this: the A’s need less than 1% of San Jose’s population to become season ticket holders to become a success. Less than 1% equals 9,000 new season ticket holders, which rivals the A’s existing roll. Having “San Jose” on the front of the jersey is going to be major motivation on its own. Throw in even more wealthy communities to the west and existing A’s fans in southern Alameda County, and it’s not hard to see A’s conservatively pull in 15,000 season ticket holders, maybe even 20,000 in really good years. (The Twins have hit 24,000 prior to the inaugural season at Target Field.) 15,000 full season tickets equals 1.2 million advance tickets sold, not including partial packages, family packs, and other types of sales. Even San Jose’s share equals 729,000 tickets, or one-third of a 2.1 million attendance season.

Does size matter? You bet it does. Size means political weight. Size means massive sales potential. Size means huge civic pride just waiting to be unleashed. If you don’t have the size, you don’t have the clout. You have to scramble, you have to hustle. And the fact that Oakland will have to do that puts them at a disadvantage. It’s unfortunate, especially because Oakland has had a chance to put themselves in a better, more ready position. If Oakland loses the A’s, it won’t be entirely the city’s fault. They won’t have had the benefit of a fully willing and eager partner in A’s ownership. In the end, history will be written by the winners. Everything else will be a footnote.

Brief history of arenas in the Bay Area

My geekery of sports architecture goes well beyond the well trodden area of ballparks. As much as I love the diamonds and uniqueness of baseball stadia, I love sports arenas just as much. While it’s true that arenas don’t have as much character or defining attributes because of their multipurpose nature, there is plenty of great engineering and architectural value in many arenas that often goes unappreciated.

When the Warriors moved from Philadelphia to the Bay Area in 1962, they had multiple homes, making them a Bay Area barnstorming team. Most games were played at the Cow Palace, but plenty of games were also played at the Civic Auditoriums in both SF and SJ, plus War Memorial Gym on the USF campus. It was four years until a truly modern venue, the sparkling new Oakland Coliseum Arena, became the first permanent home for the W’s. The Coliseum Arena held 15,025 for basketball, which now seems puny but was quite good back then.

While the 60′s marked a nadir for stadium architecture, it produced some interesting arena designs, from the hideous (Madison Square Garden) to the sublime (LA Forum) and everything in-between. Designs then (and now) depended much on who the primary tenant was. If the main attraction was to be a NBA franchise, the seating bowl should have had a basketball focus. This was most evident in arenas on the West Coast, where the NHL hadn’t expanded outside of Los Angeles. Examples of basketball-first arenas include:

Most of the 60′s and 70′s-era arenas were not particularly large. The Forum’s 17,505 was downright cavernous compared to Seattle (14,448) and Portland (12,666). It took another three decades of trial and error before arenas settled into what could be considered the right size: 18-19,000 seats plus multiple concourses, suites and club seats.

On the East Coast and Northern states, where hockey approached or surpassed basketball in popularity, arena design had to follow the contours of a hockey rink, which has much larger dimensions than a basketball court. To split the difference, many of the arenas above split the difference by creating a larger flexible floor area which extended beyond and above a typical hockey rink. Portable or retractable seats could then be used to fill in the space to whatever was on the floor. For Oakland and LA, the event floor took on the shape of a race track or oval.

Looks like a reasonable compromise, right? On paper, yes. In practice, not so much. The reality was that it worked much better for basketball, while hockey was mostly an afterthought. The next two graphics show the Oakland Coliseum Arena’s basketball and hockey layouts (approximate).

Hockey views, especially from the corners, were terribly compromised. Here’s a shot from SI/Getty of an old LA Kings game at the Forum (yes, that’s the same Rob Blake who scored a power play goal tonight for the Sharks).

You can see the tunnel to the arena bowels almost next to the boards, yet there are no actual seats at the ice as they’re elevated several feet above the action. It wasn’t that great for basketball either, as the corners had significant empty space that should’ve been filled with seats. It’s no surprise that just by reusing the shell at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, digging forty feet deeper, and constructing a more basketball-friendly seating bowl, architects were able to add nearly 5,000 in capacity to the arena.

No arena with the racetrack bowl design has been built since the soon-to-be abandoned Amway Arena (Orlando, 1988) now-demolished Charlotte Coliseum (1989), which was made to resemble a Forum or Madison Square Garden on steroids (24,000 basketball capacity).

Portland’s Rose Garden was among the first arenas to pioneer the use of the combination of dual-rise and retractable seats in the ends, making the venue friendly for both sports without creating crippling compromises in the process. Of the arena’s nearly 20,000 seats, only 14,000 are permanent. Even though Portland only has the Blazers as a major league franchise, a NHL team could easily move in without batting an eyelash. Below are a Wikipedia picture of an empty Rose Garden in hoops configuration, and a diagram of the technology used for the seats from Irwin Seating.

If San Jose’s truly serious about bringing an NBA team, this is the biggest improvement they’ll need to make. Not only would it make the building better suited for hoops, it would probably bring basketball capacity over 19,000. A new arena in San Francisco would also have this feature as a given. It’s not cheap, but in the long run it’s a worthwhile investment. This is even the case if, like the Oakland remodel, a San Francisco arena had a basketball-focused seating bowl. It makes more sense to have as much floor area as possible to accommodate as many dates and events as possible. The Cow Palace doesn’t have any great technical innovations, but as part of a larger exhibition complex it has a lot of available floor space, which is a big reason why it continues to be in demand when other much younger venues have long since been reduced to rubble.

Warriors for sale

Let the bidding begin. Here are several links for you to peruse:

The Golden State Warriors surprised everyone today by announcing that they have hired Galatioto Sports Partners to help facilitate a future sale. GSP is no stranger to the business, as they just finished the sale of the Charlotte Bobcats to Michael Jordan. They also have some serious league experience onboard in former NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik.

Beleaguered owner Chris Cohan may be looking for upwards of $400 million for the team, even though Forbes pegged the W’s value going into this season at $315 million. Assuming Forbes is correct, that’s at least a 27% premium, which could make some prospective buyers balk. Larry Ellison is obviously the most prominent suitor, but there’s no shortage of moneyed interests from all over the Bay Area that could take a shot.

Beyond the sale, which will probably take at least a year to consummate, there is the issue of where the W’s will play after their lease (and Oracle’s naming rights deal) ends after the 2016-17 season. While Oracle Arena is unquestionably a superior basketball venue compared to HP Pavilion, it remains to be seen if that will be satisfactory to whomever buys the team. If Ellison buys the team, it would stand to reason that he’d take the Oracle brand and use it as a cornerstone for a new arena deal, perhaps in San Francisco. Kawakami muses on this further:

According to my sources, almost all of the major parties interested in the Warriors are looking to possibly move the team to San Francisco, in a newly built (privately financed) arena in Giants’ parking lot adjacent to AT&T Park.

That includes Ellison, I’m told, though I believe he’d want to own the Warriors wherever they play–his company’s name, after all, is on the current arena.

With a bigger sponsorship base and a new luxury downtown arena, the Warriors would almost certainly have a higher revenue stream if they were located in San Francisco.

I’ve heard that the Giants could be involved in several of these forming groups, either as a background partner (remember, they’re also minority owners of Comcast Bay Area) or larger player in the purchase.

Right now, AT&T Park is used about 100 dates a year, for Giants games and concerts, etc. If there’s an arena built next door, that’s possibly another 100 dates for that area, and you can easily imagine more retail and other use of that corridor.

It’s not out of the question, though it’s a given that a new arena would have to be privately financed. In any event, W’s fans have to be happy that the one thing they’ve wanted the last decade – Cohan selling their team – is one step closer to happening.

SEIR Community Meeting

I rarely get to these things early. Just so you know how rowdy the place is, here’s Council Chambers 3 minutes before they were set to begin.

6:37 PM – Wow, there are as many city employees here as attendees. This should be fairly quick. Darryl Boyd briefly went over SEIR process, followed by Dennis Korabiak, who recognized all of the familiar faces and cut out much of the layperson explanation stuff.

6:45 PM – Q&A starts early. A couple of A’s fans have arrived. Some in the affected nearby neighborhoods would prefer that no parking structure get built between the arena and the ballpark, which means that if any parking were built at all, it should be at the arena lot.

6:51 PM – Reminder: Comments on the SEIR are due by March 29. A Planning Commission hearing to certify the SEIR would occur in May, followed by the City Council deciding to place a ballot measure in June/July. Boyd notes that the session is not for debating the EIR, they’re for presenting a summary of the SEIR and for taking in and recording comments.

6:58 PM – Question about how noise is being measured. The city is bound by CNEL in certain areas, such as the southern approach to the airport east of the ballpark site. In the SEIR, it is mentioned that monitoring will have to be done pre- and post-construction. Averaged and incidental noise will be measured. Boyd clarifies that in areas that will have “significant and unavoidable” impact, such impacts cannot be mitigated to a “less than significant” level. From the SEIR:

NOISE-2b: After the ballpark design is finalized and pPrior to the first ballpark event, a detailed acoustic study shall be conducted by the City of San José to confirm the predictions of the long-term noise levels at noise sensitive uses within the 60 dBA Leq contour line shown in Figure V.E-2 Figure IV.B-2 of the ballpark, which have been made in this SEIR. The study shall be used to determine noise attenuation measures to achieve a 45 dBA Leq interior noise level at nearby residences located within the 60 dBA Leq contour line. Attenuation measures at the stadium shall include, but not be limited to, distributed speakers for the public address system and limitations placed on sound levels associated with various activities. Measures taken with affected property owner’s consent, at receptor locations may include, but are not limited to installation of dual-pane windows, mechanical air conditioning, sound walls and improved ceiling and wall insulation.

Necessary remedial measures shall be implemented, or otherwise assured to be implemented within one year to the satisfaction of the City Manager. Implementation of mitigation measures NOISE-21a and NOISE-21b would reduce impacts associated with baseball games. However, impacts would remain significant and unavoidable.

7:09 PM – Question about the impact of blimps (MetLife, Goodyear) hovering over neighborhoods as they have to get out of the way of landing planes. Apparently, this was experienced during the last time the NCAA men’s regional was held at HP Pavilion.

7:25 PM – One more question about global warming/climate change impact. One commenter wanted a simple explanation for the cumulative impact, it couldn’t be easily given. Two tables used within the SEIR address carbon footprint for a metro and greenhouse gas emissions for the ballpark, related but in the end difficult to easily tie together issues. FWIW, here’s the damage:

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara carbon footprint: 1.573 metric tons (7th lowest among US metros, SF-Oakland-Fremont is 8th)
  • 13,439 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year from the project. Of that total, nearly 10,000 metric tons would come from traffic to and from the ballpark.
  • Water use is expected to be 165 acre-feet per year.

And that’s it. I’m gonna try to catch the last set of hoops matchups.