Setting Oakland’s table
Update 12/8 17:23 – Susan Slusser has an update on the Ballpark Digest “report” and Lew Wolff’s reaction. Jane Lee filed something similar. From SuSlu’s update:
Ballpark Digest is reporting that the Major League Baseball committee investigating the A’s ballpark situation is favoring the new proposed site in Oakland; I am trying to determine the veracity of that, but there are no sources cited. The A’s have not heard that and – stop me oh oh oh stop me if you’ve heard this one before – team owner Lew Wolff told me in an e-mail, “Not to my knowledge. We have, as I have said when asked, exhausted all options in Oakland.”
If the A’s are not granted the territorial rights they want in San Jose, they are under no obligation to move to a site recommended by the committee. They can spend no money at all and stay at the Coliseum, or the owners can sell the team. I’m not sure there are many prospective buyers who believe the better market is in Oakland right now, either, but maybe Joe Lacob can take another look at the club and try to inject some of the enthusiasm he’s put into his new Warriors ownership. Lacob was part of a group that tried to buy the A’s when the Wolff group got them. I can state with certainty that the current group does not believe that the optimal market is in Oakland. It’s pretty obvious.
Note: When Lacob was interested in the A’s, he was going to partner with Billy Beane. When Peter Guber was interested, he was going to partner with Bob Piccinini. BTW, it’s wet and dreary today. I’ll go with SuSlu’s hint.
Update 12/8 11:15 – I asked Maury Brown, who is also at the winter meetings this week. His response?
RT Nothing. Owners meetings was last time @newballpark: Are you hearing anything regarding the A’s stadium situation this week?
Indeed, the talk at the Winter Meetings is that an Oakland recommendation is now pretty much a done deal — with the additional spin (albeit accurate) that this proved the committee was right all along in waiting things out before making a recommendation.
Which is great, as long as MLB is setting Oakland up to succeed. Then again, they could be setting Oakland up to fail. At least The Town is getting a shot. This would also invert the situation in terms of how I perceived it: San Jose is the hedge, Oakland is the main option.
Robert Gammon does his best to equate Oakland’s stadium proposal to San Jose’s, but he misses a major, major point.
Before I get into that, there’s a bunch of good factual stuff.
- Parking availability shouldn’t be a big issue because of the large inventory in downtown. Still, the City wants to build 2,500 spaces on site, which could prove problematic in that it triggers larger EIR impact for traffic and requires a large land acquisition, which could prove difficult.
- Peerless Coffee doesn’t want to sell. Neither do its neighbors.
- Among infrastructure upgrades, an extra lane from an 880 off-ramp (880 N to Oak St is my guess) would be needed.
- A pedestrian bridge from JLS to Victory Court would also be needed. (Note – pedestrian bridges recently completed in Walnut Creek and Berkeley cost over $6 million)
- 980 Park is being dismissed because of timeline/deadline issues, not site feasibility (this line by the City has been pretty constant).
- “The league’s experts selected the Victory Court site as the most viable spot for a new ballpark.” That makes sense. Still doesn’t make sense why it took a year to get from four sites to one, when the number could’ve been two and whittled to one quickly.
- Gammon projects which City Council members will be for and against the project, at least as far as the EIR funding is concerned.
- As mentioned in the last post, the traffic study is moving forward. After that, it’s probably up to MLB.
- Total price tag to make improvements and acquire land: $80-100 million. At A Better Oakland I speculated that $100 million would be a likely amount. The total could vary based the amount of land acquired, or the scale of certain land and infrastructure improvements.
The part I have to pick apart is this:
Under Oakland’s plan, the Central District of the city’s redevelopment agency would sell twenty- to thirty-year bonds to finance the land purchases and infrastructure upgrades. The bonds would then be paid back with property tax revenue generated by the ballpark and the surrounding planned development, which is to include housing, retail, and office space.
This is, of course, a classic TIF scenario. That’s not really a big deal procedurally since the site and surrounding area falls under one of two redevelopment districts. Gammon’s quick to equate what Oakland’s doing to what San Jose’s doing, but there’s a major difference, in that it’s $100 million of additional indebtedness to be incurred by the Oakland Redevelopment Agency. San Jose hasn’t had to raise any bonds and won’t have to raise any bonds for its project, so no additional debt there. If Wolff ponies up for the rest of the San Jose land, he may end up causing San Jose to forego a vote, the last remaining procedural hurdle. $20+ million for peace of mind and a green light from MLB? Not a bad investment.
While $100 million in RDA funds is not going to be up for voters to decide, it’s still not going to be a slam dunk politically. The big issue will be the cost of the land acquisitions and the possibility of eminent domain, which appears likely even in this early stage. If Oakland underestimates the amount needed to buy the properties, it will severely impact its ability to complete other parts of the project, whether it’s a parking garage or that pedestrian bridge. And given Peerless Coffee’s $30 million relocation estimate, acquisitions alone could break the bank. Legally, eminent domain proceedings can happen fairly quickly. Politically, they could prove difficult. And if Oakland lowballs as they did with Uptown? It could drag on for a while. Already another project in West Oakland is scaring landowners due to the potential use of eminent domain.
Thankfully for Oakland, there’s a way to make it work within whatever the budget is. The easiest thing to do would be to scale things back a bit. This doesn’t mean that eminent domain can be ruled out, but it may be that Oakland won’t have to make lowball offers in an effort to stay under budget. It may even be able to pull off regular negotiations with affected landowners.
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned anywhere is that Oakland doesn’t need to acquire the Peerless Coffee parcel, or really anything else between Oak and Fallon Streets. It may want to pick up pieces of land at the northwest and southwest corners (Oak & 5th, Oak @ UPRR) to create nice public plazas for a ballpark, but it doesn’t need to grab all 20 acres. If you look at the way I’ve placed and oriented the ballpark in the above image, the footprint is well removed from Fallon St. Reduce the amount of land needed and it suddenly becomes much more feasible. Sure, there will still be the need to relocate a triplex, some warehouses, a storage facility, the fire training site (already acquired), and East Bay Restaurant Supply, but that’s a lot better than having to slog through negotiations with a dozen or more different landowners. You may recall that San Jose’s land acquisitions started with 20-22 acres and were reduced to 14 in the end. The smaller ballpark requirement, less parking needed, and budget constraints all contributed to that eventuality. This is what awaits Oakland, though Oakland will create for itself hard limits on what it can spend. In San Jose, they can sell a piece of land here or there to shore up the fund, or even depend on an old man’s kindness. In Oakland they’ll need to get it exactly right, or else it’ll fall apart. Quick note: Based on the numbers in the latest ORA budget report, this project would raise total TIF debt from $440 million to $540 million, an increase of 23%.
What I don’t understand is exactly why MLB is having Oakland put together 20 acres in the first place. I wonder what would happen if Oakland went to MLB and said, “Okay, we love the idea, but we’d like to scale it down to make it more feasible.” Would MLB be flexible, or would it have a hard line? If, as I’ve discussed previously, Oakland is a hedge, MLB should be pretty flexible in its requirements. If they aren’t, I might be a little suspicious…
Gammon ends with this:
In other words, for the A’s to move to San Jose, the league must conclude that Oakland’s ballpark plan is unviable. At this point, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
“At this point.” Well, yeah. No one’s had to work out the hard stuff yet. Clock’s ticking…