Phil Anschutz and Magic Johnson to buy Chargers?

I’ve been in San Diego for the last 9 days, and as anyone who has seen the local newscasts down here can attest, they’re not far removed from Anchorman, at least in terms of content. Tonight was time for a shakeup, however, as a report from Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio indicates that AEG head/billionaire Phil Anschutz is teaming up with Laker great and former team part-owner Magic Johnson to buy a major stake in the San Diego Chargers.

Chargers chief counsel Mark Fabiani is busy trying to do damage control, but he’s also the same guy who said two weeks ago:

“If AEG buys a piece of this team, then people have a right to be concerned,” Fabiani admits. “But it’s totally hypothetical at this point. Goldman Sachs has talked to people all over the country, all over the world, not just in L.A. It’s all rumors.

Goldman Sachs has supposedly been retained by the Chargers in order to find a buyer for Spanos family patriarch Alex Spanos’ 36% share of the team, the largest of any individual partner. Much of the team has been divvied up among the elder Spanos’ children. Johnson’s interest isn’t certain, though the timing is certainly curious. Johnson sold his 4.5% stake in the Lakers in October. Current and prospective NFL owners aren’t allowed to hold stakes of MLB or NBA teams outside their respective home markets (though the NFL doesn’t currently have a Los Angeles franchise and the NBA doesn’t have a San Diego team).

Assuming that Anschutz/AEG is able to convince the remaining Spanos family partners that further trying in San Diego will only lead to a dead end, they’ll be able to get the ball rolling quickly on their $725 million, downtown LA stadium concept. While I still think the idea of building a 70,000-seat football stadium in downtown LA is ludicrous, this is AEG we’re talking about, and the company is practically infallible in town right now, with the success of Staples Center and LA Live! They’ll certainly get the benefit of the doubt. And amazingly, they could get it done without Ari Gold.

SJ likely to push election back to Spring 2011

Thanks to MLB’s indecision, the deadline to get a ballot initiative ready for a March special election in San Jose will elapse, forcing San Jose to put the ballpark question on the ballot to April 12 or June 7. Mayor Chuck Reed clearly showed his frustration, though he took a moment to spin it in a more positive manner.

“The commissioner’s delay is certainly making it more difficult to figure out when is the best time to go to the voters,” said Reed, who added that he has been “pestering” Selig weekly for a meeting but has yet to make contact.

For now, Reed and the city council has no choice but to wait for MLB’s decision.

“The more time we have to make those decisions, the better,” he said.

Potentially complicating matters is a possible statewide tax measure, which could be floated by Jerry Brown in an attempt to make up for ongoing deficits. Anti-tax voters may have a negative view of a ballpark measure, even if it doesn’t have a tax or bond component attached to it. That could also be counteracted by pro-ballpark voters, it’s hard to tell.

Of course, pushing the measure back a month or two also pushes the deadline back the same amount. If MLB doesn’t make its decision in the newly extended timeframe (whatever that is), we could see this drag on until the 2011 general election.

Cyber Monday Reality Check

Update 11/30 10:57 AM – There was an article at the Merc website about a San Jose special election in March being unlikely, but it was pulled. It may have to do with the deadline to place an initiative on the ballot for the special election. The article will run in tomorrow’s edition, so we should see it later today/tonight.

Sorry, no great deals for consumers here. There’s still plenty of stuff to read before Wednesday’s big rally planning commission session, so let’s let ‘er rip.

At A Better Oakland, V Smoothe has, as usual, a very realistic and substantial take on where Oakland is in the process. Thankfully, she references some of the work we’ve done here on site reviews (Howard Terminal/JLS West/Victory Court), and states her preference for Chris Kidd’s Jingletown site concept. More to the point, she defines what the purpose of the session is:

So basically, this is when you have an opportunity to go say what you think should be studied in the EIR. Like, for example, you could go and say, “I think it’s really important that the EIR examines pedestrian and vehicle safety impacts at the railroad crossing at the intersections of Embarcadero and Broadway, Franklin, and Webster” and that would be appropriate. If you went and said instead “I think Lew Wolff is an asshole and the A’s should stay in Oakland,” that would not be appropriate. Or productive. You don’t have to go to the hearing to have input on what gets studied — as I mentioned above, you are also encouraged to submit your comments in writing.

Just as important, she takes just two paragraphs to nail the frustration many fans have with the City of Oakland and Oakland-only boosters.

…And the attitude from so many City officials and A’s-in-Oakland boosters that we should keep the team because we just deserve them rather than because we have an actual plan for how we’re going to accomplish that infuriates me.

So it isn’t that I’m anti-Oakland so much as I’m anti-whining. And running around bitching about how unfairly Lew Wolff treats Oakland while doing absolutely nothing to further the goal of offering a viable stadium site is whining. While Oakland sat around feeling all put upon and pouting about being rejected and claiming there are tons of great ballpark locations all over Oakland if your ignore all the feasibility problems with them, San Jose, without any guarantee or even real reason to believe they could land the team, identified a site, bought up most of the land, certified an EIR, and built up significant community support for their proposal. That’s what being serious looks like.

Couldn’t have written it better, or more credibly, myself.

Over in St. Pete, Tropicana Dome has proven to be more costly for the city than expected, at $7.3 million per including operational costs and debt service. Rising insurance premiums and increased traffic control expenses are partly to blame. Besides those already sobering figures, the Tampa Tribune also asked whether or not the region can actually support the Rays in the long run. As studied nearly two years ago, the population of the Tampa Bay Area is not particularly large, and the location of the Tropicana Dome is nearly the worst within the region for attracting the greater populace. The biggest hurdle, however, could be getting a privately financed facility built in a region bereft of corporate interests:

The Tribune studied the Fortune 1000 list of major U.S. corporations and found only six companies on it based in the Bay area. Miami only had six, too. The median number of headquarters companies in a major-league market was 20.

Sounds familiar.

If you’re interested in the subject matter, there’s an article in the Chicago Tribune about the company that is converting Wrigley Field back from football to baseball. The very same field that, if the Ricketts family is allowed, would be torn up to build underground clubhouses for both home and visiting teams in left and right field, respectively.

Apparently the Marlins are trying to color coordinate the seats in their half-built, future ballpark with sponsor brands. Hmmm…

The future of Pacific Commons is Target and a multiplex

If you were wondering what was going to happen after plans for a ballpark village in Fremont died, you now have your answer: a new development called “The Block.” As the next phase of Pacific Commons, The Block will contain a 100,000+ square foot anchor retailer and a 16 screen multiplex, along with additional retail stores. You may remember back when the ballpark village was being planned, there was talk of a “lifestyle center” that would’ve been home to numerous high-end stores. Now it’s pretty much the same-old, same-old stuff. That’s not to say that Fremont couldn’t use a new movie theater – there isn’t a first run theater currently within city limits. But another Target? And wasn’t that already in the works elsewhere in the immediate area? Fremont’s citizens decided a couple years ago that they don’t want to think big, and this is further proof of that. Oh well.

Caveat citizen

A pithy piece on stadia and politics comes this week from an unusual place: a law firm. Attorneys Christopher Bakes, Scott Anders, and Jeremy Vermilyea of West Coast firm Bullivant Houser Bailey PC penned a succinct rebuttal (on Lexology) to a recent Wall Street Journal article on how municipalities are more averse to publicly financing stadia than before.

Bakes, a lawyer for the firm’s Sacramento office and an avowed Giants fan, represented the City of San Francisco in 1992 when the team threatened to move to Tampa, which gives him a pretty unique perspective on how stadium deals work. In his and his colleagues’ view, the problem for most stadium initiatives is not so much public financing as much as proper education of the public. That might be better termed “selling” the concept, in any case it’s part of the process. Here’s how they explain it:

Why stadium and ballpark initiatives fail. The key point missed by The Wall Street Journal is why so many stadium proposals became — and continue to become — problematic in the first place. It has far less to do with public funding than it does with good governance and public engagement, or (more likely) the lack of public engagement. This is because despite repeated failures at the ballot box and elsewhere, public officials and team owners almost never correctly interpret what is actually going on.

Voters don’t reject great ideas, they reject great ideas that aren’t carefully explained to them. When first proposed, ballpark proponents rarely list as a first priority the need to educate the public on why a ballpark is beneficial. It is as if the good public officials of Seattle (or San Diego, or Pittsburgh, or Minnesota) didn’t know about any of the troubles in Baltimore (or San Francisco, or Philadelphia, or Milwaukee), and simply moved along as if their new ballpark was the only one that had ever been conceived anywhere in America.

Later in the piece, the Giants and 49ers efforts are lauded for their outreach efforts with the public. It’s noted that the Giants’ plan, from conception to opening, took eight years (1992 to 2000). The 49ers’ stadium is on a similar path, with initial work dating back to 2007 and a likely opening in 2015. In San Jose, the process started in 2005 and an opening isn’t likely until at least 2014.

That brings me to Oakland. We’re about a year removed from Let’s Go Oakland’s unveiling of four sites, which apparently was done just to show that at least on the surface there was more than one. Any amount of scrutiny, which wasn’t done by local media, would’ve shown that there were really two sites, JLS West and Victory Court. Now that Victory Court is the chosen site, the clock will begin on December 1, when the first planning commission hearing for public comment is held. If the process holds true, a ballpark wouldn’t open until… 2018 or 2019.

If you think Oakland is somehow going to be able to shortcut the process, think again. The last large development project completed in Oakland was Uptown. Compare what Forest City originally pitched to what was eventually built:

Obviously, market conditions dictated how expansive the project became. Still, it’s likely that citizens will point to this as part of the City’s track record when it comes to executing on large projects. If MLB places faith in Oakland to get the ballpark plan done, it will do so knowing that the timeline will be quite long, through 2018 or later. And if proponents try to short circuit the process? There is no shortage of potential litigants ready to gum up the works.

Then again, as the article stated,

It has far less to do with public funding than it does with good governance and public engagement, or (more likely) the lack of public engagement.

The whole thing could get done more quickly if there’s a lack of public engagement. If that’s what happens, God help Oakland and A’s fans.

There’s trying, and then there’s trying

This Thanksgiving, we should all be thankful that, despite the often misplaced or ill-timed effort, many people have been trying to keep the A’s in the Bay Area. To illustrate this, I’ve put together a map showing pretty much all of the sites that have been considered for a ballpark over the last 15 years. Below the map is a brief history and the fate of each site.

Competing sites:

  • # – Victory Court. Emerged as the preferred ballpark location by the City of Oakland after the unveiling of four sites by Let’s Go Oakland in December 2009. EIR process has begun, initial comment period open. Public hearing on December 1 to elicit public comments.
  • * – Diridon (South). Preferred San Jose site picked after two year deliberation process. EIR completed in 2009, a 3+ year process.

HOK East Bay study sites:

  • A – Howard Terminal. Waterfront site immediately west of Jack London Square. Eventually was leased by Matson to consolidate shipping operations.
  • B – Oak to Ninth. Waterfront site east of Jack London Square. Has development plans for 3100 homes, parkland, and commercial uses.
  • C – Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Home of the current stadium, has had interest from different parties for a ballpark elsewhere within the complex. Both the Raiders and A’s have leases through 2013. The Coliseum Authority is working with the Raiders on a football-specific successor to the Coliseum immediately to the south of the existing stadium.
  • D – Laney College. Plans envisioned replacing the college’s athletic fields with a ballpark. Peralta Community College District was not interested in such a use.
  • E – Uptown. The preferred site from the study due to its downtown location and access to mass transit and parking infrastructure. Any chance of a ballpark was derailed when the A’s showed little interest and the site’s chief proponent was fired and a developer-friendly housing scheme was heavily promoted. An apartment complex is now on site.
  • F – Pleasanton. One of two southern Alameda County sites included in the study. Was undeveloped back then, is still undeveloped now.
  • G – Fremont. The other southern Alameda County choice, the site was north of the NUMMI (now Tesla Motors) site. The area would be reconsidered several years later for another shot at a ballpark, but NIMBY resistance helped kill it.

San Jose study sites:

  • I – FMC/Airport West. Old military vehicle plant was briefly considered thanks to central location within Santa Clara Valley. Was eliminated in favor of a more urban locale. Became the site of the future San Jose Earthquakes stadium.
  • II – Reed & Graham. An asphalt plant next to I-280. Eliminated early on due to infrastructure issues. Plant still in operation.
  • III – Del Monte Cannery. A single-owner site that was ready for redevelopment, just north of Reed & Graham. A developer showed interest in building condos on the site, which is eventually what happened.
  • IV – Berryessa Flea Market. Located on San Jose’s east side, its major advantages were its size, a single owner, and its location near a future BART station. Like the Del Monte Cannery, the site has plans for future residential development. Such work has not yet started and may not commence for several years.

A’s ownership promoted sites:

  • 1 – Coliseum South. Site pitched by Lew Wolff shortly after he was hired by Schott/Hofmann. Ownership agreed to pay 50% towards a study on the site, which included the HomeBase and Malibu lots. The Coliseum Authority balked. In 2010, the Authority bought the land with an eye towards a Raiders stadium and ancillary development plan.
  • 2 – Santa Clara. North of Great America, the site was also considered for a Santa Clara ballpark plan over a decade prior. In order to prevent a ballpark from being built, the City added a street through the property that gets very little vehicular use.
  • 3 – Coliseum North (High/66th). A broad redevelopment plan that would have bought 100 acres of industrial zoned land and changed the zoning to residential/commercial, with a ballpark as the centerpiece. Existing landowners balked at moving and Wolff/Fisher were not willing to pay much more than a nominal amount for the land, leading to the plan’s demise.
  • 4 – Pacific Commons. Took the Coliseum North redevelopment concept and moved it to Fremont, on Cisco/Catellus-owned light industrial (yet undeveloped) land. Plan died as the broader economy went into the tank in 2007.
  • 5 – Warm Springs. Rebirth of the original Fremont plan would’ve had the ballpark decoupled from the residential and commercial components. Area residents decried the location’s proximity to local homes and the lack of road infrastructure. The plan came and went quickly, which made the team look further south.

Have a good Thanksgiving, everyone.

Athletics After Dark Stadium Debate

We were contacted last week by Athletics After Dark to participate in a debate over the merits of keeping the A’s in Oakland vs. moving them to San Jose. On the pro-Oakland side is Jorge Leon, representing San Jose is Jeffrey August. Listen to the show and chime in.

Jeffrey’s comment added:

Hey All… That is me taking the San Jose side. To be clear, I am still 100% in favor of anything happening in the Bay Area (Oakland included). In this debate, I took the San Jose side, but as you can probably tell from most of my answers that is strictly because I believe the path to privately financing a stadium in San Jose is much more clear.

Some general observations:

I feel kindred to Jorge Leon. He is a good guy and has his heart in the right place. It is hard to criticize a guy like that.

Dale Tafoya is a rock star. I have been listening to his podcasts for a while (and I don’t always agree with the things David Feldmen says on them, ha). I hold him in the same esteem as Tyler Blezinski and ML. These are three guys we should all be thankful are part of our fanbase and have a DIY work ethic. I get more than the majority of my A’s news from these three guys (and their internet based media outlets).

Last, there was a couple of moderators that were originally scheduled but then actually didn’t appear. Zennie Abraham and Rich Liebermen. I believe it was scheduling conflicts for both. I was actually looking forward to getting grilled by Zennie, that will have to wait for another day.

Lastly, let’s hope there is no need for a podcast like this next offseason.

Half a world away, a similar tale

Across the pond, there is a soccer team that bears some resemblance to the Oakland A’s. Although they don’t wear green and gold, Tottenham Hotspur is a scrappy team that manages to compete despite not having the unlimited financial measures of the Big Four teams: Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Chelsea. They are so well-liked that the Fisher-Wolff-Beane troika headed over to Tottenham to get some pointers on stadium building, and along the way forged a partnership between Spurs and the San Jose Earthquakes. Earlier this summer, some of the English club came here and played a friendly with the Quakes, the result of which (0-0) foretold how the early Premier League season would go for Tottenham Hotspur.

Like the Quakes and A’s, Spurs play in what’s considered an old, antiquated venue, White Hart Lane. The compact, 111-year old stadium was built in stages, as many of the older stadia were, and currently seats a cozy 36,310. Unlike their new stateside partners, Spurs almost always sell out. Not only do they sell out, they have a season ticket waiting list of 34,000. Imagine having a waiting list so long that you could fill two of your own stadia. It’s a severe understatement to say that it’s an enviable position in which to be.

Knowing that demand is so strong, Tottenham Hotspur management has been aggressively looking for a new venue. A plan to build a new White Hart Lane at the current site has had its cost estimate escalate significantly, creating doubt within the team as to whether or not the plan could be pulled off, especially without massive public funding. Called the Northumberland Development Project, the plan would have a new, 56,250-seat White Hart Lane as its centerpiece, along with 200 affordable housing units, a 150-room hotel, a supermarket, and a public square. Current estimates run at around £450 million (US$718 million) for the stadium alone, much more for the complete 20-acre development. Tottenham head Daniel Levy explained the situation.

“We have made no secret about the fact that the cost of (planning) consent will be extremely high. The revisions to the plans, to meet stakeholder approval, has added in excess of £50m to a development that could well cost in the region of £450m to bring to fruition.”

Levy said that extra costs nearing £50million had been accrued in a bid to preserve English Heritage sites close to the Northumberland Development Project, bringing to total projected cost to around £450million.

None of that money has been offset by public funding – a revenue source that both the revamped Wembley and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium were able to utilise – a state of affairs that clearly rankles with Levy.

He continued: “Had we not made these changes to retain historic buildings then English Heritage indicated that they would have no option but to advise that the application be called in and that permission would be refused.

“Meanwhile this development has not attracted a penny of public money.”

As the plan worked its way through the political realm, a government entity called English Heritage raised concerns. English Heritage objected to the plan on the account of demolition of several historic buildings within the plan area. That forced Spurs to submit a new plan that would have scaled back the vision significantly, preserving threatened historic buildings. The plan was approved by the Borough of Haringey, and all seemed well and on target. Right?

Fast forward a few weeks to mid-October, when rumors of a major move started to circulate. Spurs saw the escalating cost, resistance in the process, and it’s inability to secure public funding for the project, and started to look elsewhere. The new target is now the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, which would be reconfigured to work as a 60,000-seat, modern Premier League venue. We’ve seen this happen successfully in Atlanta with Turner Field, so the precedent is there. Whether or not it’s a prudent move is up for serious debate.

Assuming that the Olympic Stadium reconfiguration moves forward, it wouldn’t be available to Spurs until the 2013 season at the earliest. The site is only 6 miles east of the current White Hart Lane, a distance which might make you wonder why anyone would complain. But this is London, where neighborhoods are much more pronounced than we’re used to in the States. Imagine that MLB had just 20 teams, and all of them played all league play exclusively in an area 1/3 the size of California, from San Luis Obispo to Sacramento. Suddenly you can see how identifying with a part of a city, not just the city proper, might make sense. Tottenham is a rather diverse part of London, with a sizable black population. It is also poor and crime-ridden. Yet that doesn’t stop Spurs supporters from packing White Hart Lane, even though many of them come from well outside the immediate area. A move to Stratford, where the Olympic Stadium is located, is considered unconscionable by some fans and locals, while others consider the location of the stadium little more than a site to visit only for games and not much else, like the Coliseum. It would move the team from North London to East London and break up the North London derby, which pits Spurs against local rivals Arsenal. Stratford is also diverse and poor, though it benefits from not being built up the way Tottenham is, and from ongoing redevelopment work being completed to create the Olympic Park.

But really, six miles? That’s the distance between the Coliseum and the West Oakland BART station. If little-to-no public help is forthcoming, and there’s an opportunity to re-use a brand new venue six miles away, shouldn’t it be explored at the very least? It would seem that the line between emotional ties and practicality has no fence to sit on, which sadly is an all too familiar struggle in our neck of the woods.

Ah, but there are even more complications to this. West Ham United has also shown interest in the Olympic Stadium. There was also a promise made by the UK that when the Olympics were completed, the stadium would have its capacity cut in half with the idea of keeping it a track and field facility. Spurs and their possible stadium partner, AEG, want to remove the track and make the stadium a more intimate soccer venue. Early on there was talk that Spurs’ interest in the Olympic Stadium was a mere negotiating ploy to squeeze out some public funding for White Hart Lane. However, the talk of moving has only gotten more serious since then, as the time for the club to determine its future draws nearer.

You can’t blame Tottenham Hotspur from wanting to maximize its potential. After all, even though they sell out practically every match, their average attendance ranks as only slightly more than the league average. They’re leaving a ton of money on the table – money that could help them be more competitive with the likes of the Big Four. It may all come to a head in the coming months, and it will be interesting to see if it plays out anything like what we’re seeing in the Bay Area.

It’s good hittin’ weather

It’s the halfway point of the NFL season, which means that football is completely dominating the sports world. The NFL Network had its first Thursday night broadcast of the season, and two college football games will be played in MLB ballparks this weekend: Illinois-Northwestern at Wrigley Field, and Army-Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium. The Yankee Stadium football layout is from home plate to centerfield, making seats at the 50-yard line no great shakes. Wrigley Field is much more interesting, as it orients the gridiron much like AT&T Park but with less space to accomplish the task.

Source: Yahoo

Those drag routes across the back of the end zone are sure to be exciting. Update 11/20 – Big Ten officials and the teams’ head coaches had a pow-wow and decided to disuse the east end zone shown above. Instead, both teams will drive toward the safer west end zone when on offense. Bizarre.

Over in Philly, the Eagles are doing something really cool – they’re taking their home stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, off the power grid. To achieve this, 80 wind turbines and 2,500 solar panels will be installed. As large as that is, those renewable energy sources will only provide 15% of the expected output, while a plant that burns either natural gas or biofuels will handle the rest. Still, it’s an admirable effort and something the A’s should look to duplicate – at least the wind/solar part. The Giants, of course, were the first to cover their roof with solar panels. Less than a mile east of the Diridon site, Adobe placed several wind turbines within its building complex.

Enough of the feel-good. Let’s get back to greed business.

  • AEG’s Tim Leiweke wants the citizens of the Southland to believe that a downtown LA football stadium can be built without parking. And that it’ll cost only $725 million. With a retractable roof.
  • As for possible tenants in such a stadium, the Chargers can pay a set amount each year to get out of the team’s lease at Qualcomm Stadium. The amount decreases every year for the next decade.
  • Apparently the NFL is willing to go to any length to get the Falcons out of the 18-year old Georgia Dome. The argument this time: the Dome prevents the Super Bowl from being played in “the elements” as it should. WHA?!?!?!
  • Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which is rapidly approaching its 20th year in service, is ready to undergo a series of improvements, including the removal of more than 2,000 seats, replacement of the existing seats with wider ones, and a drop in the number of luxury suites, from 72 to 50. The O’s are also changing their concessionaire from oft-criticized giant Aramark to Delaware North.
  • Perhaps emboldened by winning a public battle to get Mesa, AZ to pay for a new facility to replace HoHoKam Park, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has his hands out for $200-300 million in TIF-financed renovations to Wrigley Field. Unlike most TIF financing structures that we’re familiar with in California, the money wouldn’t come from property taxes. Instead, funds to pay back the loans would come from a portion of the ticket taxes currently paid on tickets to Cubs games. The “amusement tax” would be frozen would be frozen at 12%, and planned raises to the tax would pay back the loans. Aside from the even more expensive tickets to come, it’s not an entirely bad idea since the Cubs are as consistent in terms of attendance as any team in baseball.
  • TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha is nearly 80% finished and on schedule for hosting the 2011 College World Series. The 24,000-seat, $128 million stadium looks like a smaller version of the redone Kauffman Stadium, which is a good thing.
  • Drayton McLane is trying to sell the Astros for $800 million, including a stake in CSN Houston.
  • According to AOL Fanhouse’s Jeff Fletcher, nothing happened this week at the November winter meetings regarding the A’s. Wait a few weeks, perhaps.
  • Speaking of being emboldened, Bryan Grunwald has an editorial at SFGate touting his 980 Deck ballpark plan. Will anyone listen?
  • The Trib comes out in favor of Victory Court, saying, “This is a great jumping off point for newly elected Mayor Jean Quan. She has to be all-in for this project and she must convince city leaders to do the same.”
  • Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is still trying (in vain?) to get some kinda of arena deal done that would keep the Kings in town. A meeting today marks the one year anniversary of an arena task force assembled to work a complex land swap that fizzled two months ago.
  • A report commissioned by the SF Board of Supervisors estimates the cost of hosting the 2013 America’s Cup at $42 million, plus $86 million in forgone revenue caused by giving development rights to whomever fixes up Piers 30/32 for the event. Race organizers and other business interests have pledged up to $32 million to help defray the cost. In the sports world, that sounds like an incredible deal.

If there’s anything else about venues worth including, send it in.

Not so breaking news

The EIR Notice of Preparation is here. Guidelines for the CEQA (EIR) process can be found here.

The informal selection of Victory Court as the preferred ballpark site has been the worst kept secret in Oakland for several weeks now, and we’ve known about the Planning Commission meeting since last week. So why are the regular media choosing to cover it now (EBX/Trib)? Must be a slow news day.

Still, there are a few takeaways, and credit goes to Robert Gammon in that regard. Mostly, they have to do with Mayor-elect Jean Quan’s view of the project, which is more meaningful than anything any other Oaklander, elected or not, has to say on it.

  • MLB’s commission wants a ballpark done for Oakland in time for Opening Day 2015. This is reasonable considering the normal 18-24 month EIR lead time, which could actually go longer because of Oakland’s recent history with large project EIR’s. Given Lew Wolff’s admission that he has been denied further extensions to the Coliseum lease, it leads to wondering about how a gap between the end of the 2013 season and the start of the 2015 season would play out. Is Oakland holding that extra year as leverage with the idea of pushing MLB in its direction? Is MLB entertaining Oakland’s bid in order to secure that extra year or perhaps more if necessary? Beyond those two parties, there are even more interesting questions. If the Raiders secure their own Coliseum stadium deal, won’t that impact an A’s 2014 year in the Coliseum, and vice-versa?
  • Quan said she also believes a new ballpark at Victory Court will help businesses in closeby Chinatown and could provide the impetus for a new hotel/convention center. It’s strange that the big unifying development strategy for all of downtown Oakland is a ballpark. It makes sense for a ballpark to be a major attraction, but the linchpin? That doesn’t make sense. However, that’s the direction that Oakland is moving towards with this hole-in-the-donut strategy. What if the ballpark doesn’t pan out? That doesn’t mean that Oakland will be ready to go with Plan B, whatever that is. It’s one thing for corporate interests to help pay for a ballpark. That’s not going to happen with a convention center complex. Those projects are usually 100% public/redevelopment funded. From a purely numbers/potential standpoint, a ballpark makes sense because it’s essentially “free” money and buzz, especially if the financing part can be worked out. Something else in the ballpark’s place could take many more years to get going.
  • Quan believes that the only way Major League Baseball would turn down Wolff and Fisher’s request to move the team to San Jose is if the City of Oakland shows that it has a viable plan for a new A’s ballpark and that city leadership is committed to making it happen. If true, this spawns a number of new questions about MLB’s timeframe. Will they set a hard date to complete the EIR and land acquisitions? Will MLB set targets or milestones for the project? What if Oakland doesn’t meet those milestones, or new challenges or opposition shows up? Could MLB create for itself an easy out if things aren’t going well? What constitutes fair or unfair is almost entirely subjective.
  • In another Gammon article about Quan, it was noted that as part of Quan’s “Not Don” campaign, a mailer “repeatedly pounded Perata for the Oakland Raiders deal, a financial debacle that will end up costing East Bay taxpayers more than $600 million. At least two mailers, showed a mostly empty Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, with the message: ‘Thanks, Don.’ ”  The challenge for Quan is to show that she can more competently get a stadium deal done than Perata. The key to this is transparency at every stage of the process. Since the original four sites in May were whittled to one with no public vetting and at least a few commenters will chime in on 12/1 with their own recommendations, it’ll be fascinating to see how the preferred site and alternatives are handled. Will all buildable sites have to be included in the EIR? What if the EIR actually recommends a different alternative to Victory Court (unlikely but still)? The dagger in the Fremont plan was the abrupt change from Pacific Commons to Warm Springs, with no public input beforehand. In San Jose, the Diridon site was not the frontrunner at the outset and only became the preferred site over time. From a selling the public standpoint, how warm are the citizens of Oakland to any stadium deal, even one that has the team picking up the entire construction tab? We’ve seen a Facebook group, we have yet to see a single poll on the subject.

While we’re waiting for the process to kick off, I’ve found a couple of nuggets that might be helpful. First up, a cursory look at the California EPA’s Cortese list shows that none of the parcels at Victory Court fall under brownfield or contaminated status.

Source: Project EIR Notice of Preparation

One of the more curious aspects of the project is the land grouping, including the Laney College parking lot. While it makes sense for the ballpark to use the Laney lot as part of its parking infrastructure, it’s also quite possible that like the Diridon plan, there could be no parking at the ballpark at all. If there’s no parking at the ballpark, there’s also less environmental impact from the ballpark. That doesn’t mean that the 880 on/off-ramps won’t need improvements, but it could mean that the cost for those improvements won’t be as severe as they could be. Instead, fans would be encouraged to park at Laney (expanded or not), downtown, or at JLS. It’s only one of many details that will have to be addressed as part of the process.