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.