The Big Lew Wolff Interview, Part 5

Part 5 of 5 (Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4)

LW: How about redevelopment? Don’t you want to talk about that?

ML: I’m getting right to that. Actually let’s talk about T-rights for one more question. If there was a dollar value attached to the T-rights here, is that something you’d consider? Is there a threshold or limit for that?

What do you mean, pay for this (Santa Clara County)? We should be paid for what we or the Haas family gave up?

ML: Well, I suppose this is an academic thing.

We’ll leave that up to the commissioner.

ML: Okay. Fair enough. On to San Jose and redevelopment. There are two properties remaining that have to be acquired. We last heard that they were supposed to be wrapped in June but we haven’t heard anything from the City about that. I’m guessing that they haven’t done it because of all the shakeup with the budget and the ending of redevelopment. Now that they’ve filed a lawsuit there’s all sorts of stuff up in the air.

San Jose went and acquired half the property or more, which is good for us because they’re committed. I spent most of my adult life in redevelopment. We’re not looking for redevelopment to hand us a check or a bond issue or anything. That’s true in Oakland too. The value of the land that we think it is, if San Jose needed that money to be paid to be the last properties (we’ll do it). We thought at first that we’d end up leasing land. Owning the land would be better for us. Whether it’s redevelopment, the city, a special district, whatever the hell they come up with, it makes no difference to us because we’re not looking for anything different than we would be normally. So in a funny way it’s a little better for us.

ML: Really?

Well, look. If we’re fortunate enough that they announce that we can go you have to close your eyes and say, “What will that mean?” The whole community is gonna be excited about that. The thing that bothers me is that – even in this economy – we need a ballpark whether the economy is good or bad. Right?

ML: Yeah.

So why should we be holding up jobs and construction and so on over an argument that I think is -

ML: Petty?

Petty. As a percentage of what we’re doing, the cost of the land, I don’t know what it’s going to be, if you’re going to spend $400-450 million the land is not going to be a situation where it costs X percent and it’s too much so we’re not going to build a new ballpark.

I hate to see what’s happening to redevelopment, because I think it’s one of the few aspects of government that has a cost-benefit to it. I’m still surprised – and I like Governor Brown – I didn’t get why he did that. The answer is that I’m sorry about what’s happening to all of these cities in California. We have a real shovel-ready project if nobody interferes with it. It’s not a concern. Your blog talks about it all the time which I think it good but it really isn’t a problem for us. We have one problem, and that’s the decision. Is that clear?

ML: Yes, and it’s somewhat reassuring in light of what we’ve learned in the past 6-7 months.

I didn’t say it was good for all cities.

ML: I’m not going to lie. There are a lot of people on the blog who read and comment who look at this and say, “That’ll be one more thing that eventually eliminates Oakland or some other city because they won’t have the resources to make it happen.”

By the way, they’re right. Not San Jose though – they’ve spent the resources. Their EIR is done. We may have a lawsuit from some phony – you know all that stuff. Starting now, somewhere else? Forget it, it’s not gonna happen. Anywhere.

ML: Did you even conceive that something like this would enter the equation when you started?

No, not at all.

ML: Going back to the first question, so much has changed in six years. 

A lot has changed and sometimes things that look negative may be positive for certain people, and vice-versa.

ML: The last questions I have are more fun stuff. I was considering bringing a book that I bought last year when I visited Target Field.

The Target Field book?

ML: The big book, the commemorative book. 

I have it.

ML: It’s beautiful, covers the entire history of how they got to that point. Other sites that were considered. Politics, and then finally the actual construction. Have you been to Target Field and maybe the Marlins ballpark?

I have been to Target Field but not the Marlins ballpark.

ML: What do you take away from Target Field?

Are you talking about the history of it?

ML: No, just the ballpark.

I think it looks terrific. It’s actually built on a smaller site than we have. It’s cantilevered out over -

ML: Over streets and railroads.

I don’t think we can afford to build that structure in California privately. They’ve had some help there (in Minnesota). What we’re planning to do is this. When you air-condition space like special restaurants and things. Because of San Jose and the economy and so on. We’re gonna have all of the great concessions but we’re not gonna have a stadium club because we want the downtown to provide that. The less air-conditioned space you have the more you can put into the field. Target Field is great. Give it to me tomorrow and I’ll take it in a second.

But we will be the closest to the field of any ballpark ever built in baseball, at least in my lifetime. And it’ll be fun. We just want to have fun. We want the fan to walk in and have fun. We don’t need to have a monument or tribute like Yankee Stadium – it’s incredible there, the materials and everything. It’s a $1.5-2 billion or whatever it costs. What we want is for somebody to go and say, “Gee, that was really a fun experience. I felt like I was really close to the player.” Each of our places in the ballpark – and my son can go over this with you – are neighborhoods. So it might be better to be in LF standing up than it would be to be behind home plate.

The average (attendance related to) capacity last year based on our study: 51%. So everybody’s saying we’re making this thing too small. Number one – we’re in a two-team market even though the other team doesn’t agree. [laughs] Number two – we think less is more. We want players to look up and have the stands filled. As much as they shouldn’t care whether it’s one person or 50,000, they do care.

ML: They absolutely care.

And so does the manager and so does the staff and the ticketing group. We have 130 people we employ and deserve to have a proper operating environment.

ML: Okay. Going to the Cisco Field renderings that were released last year by Baseball San Jose. A bunch of us, because we’re stadium geeks, started to dissect the pictures to figure out what’s in there, what’s going on. We were able to divine a few things and maybe some of my guesses were wrong. The first thing that stuck out from a pure baseball standpoint – because that’s what we watch, the action on the field – in RF you have that big wall of something facing Autumn Street. The dimensions of the field -

I’m gonna defer to my son Keith. who lives up here in the Bay Area. I’m gonna have him call you or you can call him, either way. He can sit down and explain this to you. It can be a separate blog time. I like it, but I just don’t have the info.

ML: Is Keith dealing with most of this technical stuff now, nose to the grindstone?

He’s my son so I don’t want to overdo it. He’s a little less emotional than I am. Probably smarter, Harvard MBA and all that. He’s a real estate developer and a good athlete. Billy wants to see more of Keith but Keith’s nose to the grindstone, trying to keep everything going here. On both soccer and baseball plus he has other activities outside of that. You’d get a kick out of talking to him.

ML: I’d love to do that, whether that’s soon or after the decision is made.

The other thing is the architect, who used to be with HOK then left – if the two of them were here you’d get a kick out of talking to them. They’re great people. I’ll work on that.

ML: That’s the stuff that we (on the blog) really want to talk about. You mentioned Billy Beane just now. Do Billy and Keith have an ongoing dialogue over how the ballpark should be developed? 

What Billy wants is to do is be able to walk into an office where he doesn’t trip over boxes and stuff. The answer is that we have Steve Vucinich [Ed.: VOOSE! A's equipment manager]. He has a continuing list of all things the things he’d like to see in the ballpark. He’s been keeping the list for so long that it’s been getting yellow, he teases me. We will use all of our people – we have already but not to the degree when we start actually determining storage space, down to the details. We have great resources for this. Better than just consultants.

ML: That reminds me of when what is now Chase Field was being planned, they left a lot of the conceptual stuff to Buck Showalter, a manager. 

A manager would like to have more space between the foul line and the stands. We want to have one inch. So we’ll have that kind of battle going.

ML: I like that kind of battle. It’s a good thing to sink your teeth into. One more question. During the Fremont unveiling, you referenced ancillary development items such as the baseball village and museum. What happened to the museum concept? 

We probably don’t have room for it there. My partners, the Fishers, they contributed a wing to an art museum in San Francisco. They talk about a museum all the time. They look at the art of baseball. Or maybe they’re talking about pure art. They’ve also been down here and have had a conversation with the local museum. [Ed. - As we are talking I look out the window at the San Jose Museum of Art, a short throw from where I sit.] They have a great art collection, it’s not necessarily sports-related or sports memorabilia. We haven’t thought about it, but we’re open to those kind of fun things. Right now we don’t know if we can incorporate too much of that into the ballpark because of the size. So it isn’t perfect. If John Fisher were here he’d be talking about bringing great contemporary art to a baseball park and I’d be talking about bringing somebody’s uniform.

ML: You know what? I went to Cowboys Stadium last year and there were several contemporary art installations throughout. And it’s really beautiful and striking. 

John will be a big influence on this facility.

ML: That’s great. One last thing. When you look at the renderings, I’ve had a few people tell me it looks like a modernized mirror image of Fenway Park. 

You know, I don’t see it that way but I’m not sure. It is small and compact. Again, I’d like to defer that to the meeting with Keith and so forth. I mean, if we had Fenway Park right now I’d be very happy. [laughs]

ML: [laughs] For years, Fenway had 33,000 seats and no one complained.

You gotta always remember we’re in a two-team market. While there’s plenty of baseball, there’s plenty of other attractions in California, in fact there are more attractions than in Boston for the consumer. We gotta be careful about that.

Is that helpful? I’m pleased you were willing to do this. Believe me.

ML: I’m pleased that you had time to sit down and discuss this.

I guess the point is that I keep getting beaten up, and if people feel that way fine. I feel there are areas where we’ve really been diligent that people don’t want to think about.

ML: This was really great. It’ll be really productive when it gets posted. 

[Ed. - I had originally meant to follow up the museum question with one about honoring A's history but was thrown off by Lew Wolff's response that I forgot it. We were also heading into a hard stop. I'll be sure to broach that in the discussion with Keith Wolff.]

64 Responses to The Big Lew Wolff Interview, Part 5

  1. Mike says:

    With the Warriors. Yea the new owners do want to be in S.F. They have already had talks with the Giants owners about joint effort in building next to At&t.

    The new Sf logo was hated by a lot of the fan base, but don’t blame the new owners for that one. The logo package was the old owners group doing and submitted a year before it came out. It was funny how pissed I found out the Warriors were for me leaking the new logo everywhere. But in the end it also worked out for them. Yea it killed their plans for a reveal. But after they had the online contest to see the new logo. They got national credit for using new media to reveal it since they had to change their plans because of fans leaking it as ESPN said. (Still laugh at that)

    The comment about the Golden State name. They use to play all over the state in just one season. They had games in SF, Oakland and even Bakersfield. So they were called Golden State since they had no one true home. The name then stuck. I remember back in the early 90′s the news did a walking poll in Oakland asking where Golden State was and where the team played. There were some interesting answers. The Colorado guess still sticks out.

  2. jk-usa says:

    @Jeffrey–the good gnarly, like funky, cool, rad? I’m with you on that one. It’s a cool city and I spend a lot of time there. I requested to have my census training there last year at the plush Federal building. What a view! I use to work part time in production at the Trib in the late 80′s and I loved it over there. One funky, gnarly building, and nice people to work with. I’ve talked to Dave Newhouse a few times about sports.( This is when he still had his radio show on KNBR). My wife was raised in Oakland and has family and friends still there. I’ve served on 2 juries the last 15 years there, and would hit a new eatery every day, or hang out at the gnarly library. You can row boats with your sweetie on Lake Merritt, it’s so calm and quiet on the lake, with an awesome view of old and new buildings alike. (I love the architecture of about 80% of the town, which is pretty old but so cool and charming).A ballpark @VC would jump start much needed development at JLS and Oak to 9th. The negative perception of Oakland kind of bums me out, especially on SFGate after another unfortunate murder is reported. I promote the place all I can with friends with cool things to do and good places to eat. They need retail oh so bad there in the O. The amount they lose to Emeryville, WC, San Leandro, even little Alameda is staggering. Big chains are staying away mostly. J Brown tried with some success, and I know mayor Quan wants a new Target downtown along with other retail along Auto Row and the old army base. A Fry’s there at the old base would be cool. Hurry, before Emeryville gets it (no more room left in E-Ville I think?)
    I love the town, I love the A’s, I want them to stay somehow. I live in Hayward now but would consider buying a condo near VC in 6 years if I take early retirement at 55., with or without the A’s there. Hopefully with them there:)

    Sorry for the long-winded post.
    Night all.

  3. Mike says:

    Talk about something that needs to stay in Oakland and not move and waste our money, check this out.

    Spend a little and improve what they have in Oakland. Doesn’t it make you feel all warm about all the toll hikes.

    JK you know Oakland well, do you know where they’re currently located?

  4. eb says:

    .@Jeffrey I’m not arguing about what people call the region. Obviously it’s referred to as the San Francisco Bay Area. I guess I just disagree with your comparison to NY and LA, in regards to Oakland/East Bay(or San Jose/South Bay for that matter) being merely suburbs to SF. Each region of the Bay has its own distinct culture, large populations and identity. Obviously, SF is sort of the leader of the pack, as it is a historical/media/cultural leader.
    As to Oakland having less value due to violence, I completely understand that and agree. But saying the city/region is next to or fully devoid of value, that seems like hyperbole. I’ve listed and decried the merits of Oakland, so I’ll save us more of that. :)
    In the end though, I agree with most of all you have said. I never think the Warriors will have Oakland in their title and the division among A’s fans certainly wears on you. I catch myself getting annoyed about what a poster might write and internalize it as an attack on the area where I grew up, instead of keeping my thoughts on A’s baseball. Heck, I probably did a little of that in this response, it’s hard not to.

  5. b-man says:

    Yes, Lacob will never come out and say it but all signs are pointing to a W’s move to SF once their current lease at Oracle runs out. We’ve all seen the initial hints with major franchise announcements now taking place in SF exclusively. CSN showed Lacob sitting next to Larry Baer at the Giants-Phillies game tonight. I happened to also attend a Warriors-Mavericks game this year and saw Baer sitting courtside with Lacob. It could very well just be a couple sports execs chumming it up, but with Baer being the man behind getting AT&T built, and the Giants’ recent ambitions to develop a new arena next to AT&T at Pier 48, I would definitely wager that preliminary discussions on a Warriors’ move to an SF arena have already begun.
    Despite the SFGate hate and crime in certain neighborhoods, Oakland is a cool town that is on the rise again. However, the city’s future in regards to its sports teams is looking very much in doubt. The City and Coliseum Authority need to step it up or within 10 years they may have no teams at all.

  6. pjk says:

    ..and when the Warriors move to Frisco, they will quickly become the San Francisco Warriors (no more of this Golden State nonsense) and they will seek out the Sharks as a subtenant. Hopefully, the Sharks will stay where they are. Oakland if it had any good sense would turn over the entire complex to the A’s for development as they see fit; a new ballpark surrounded by a Santana Row complex, etc. That way, Oakland could save one team instead of losing all three. But we all know where the A’s stand with Oakland, and it is in a distant back seat to the Raiders and Warriors.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Jk, the best kind of gnarly.

  8. Jeffrey says:

    Eb, I consider the value of the name “Oakland” to be similar to the value of the name “Anaheim.” more folks in the region would identify with a “San Francisco” just as more folks in So Cal identify with “Los Angeles.” There is positive value in “Oakland” to a small segment of the population, but on balance, the ambivalence and ignorance more than outweigh the positive value to that small segment.
    Of course, this is not exactly a science and entirely debatable. Either way, if the A’s have new yard in Oaktown, I will be a frequent visitor.

  9. b-man says:

    Regarding downtown Oakland sites, has anyone ever been crazy enough to suggest building on Lake Merritt or is the idea completely blasphemous? If part of the Southwest portion of the lake was infilled (just below 15th St by Lake Chalet), it looks like there would be adequate space for a ballpark. Even if this was feasible, I assume no Oakland politician would ever risk supporting the idea.

  10. jk-usa says:

    Hey guys, here’s an interesting site on most walkabe cities/neighborhoods in the US.
    Walk Score measures how easy it is to live a car-lite lifestyle—not how pretty the area is for walking.
    Walk Score uses a patent-pending system to measure the walkability of an address. The Walk Score algorithm awards points based on the distance to amenities in each category. Amenities within .25 miles receive maximum points and no points are awarded for amenities further than one mile
    Of the top 50 most populous US cities, New York was #1, with a Walk Score of 85.3 out of 100; SF’s #2, with a score of 84.9/100; Oakland’s #10, with a score of 68.2/100; and San Jose #19, with a 54.5 score. The lowest rated big city is Jacksonville, FLA at 32.6. Most southern cities ranked poorly.
    They break it down into neighborhoods too.
    FWIW, The Coliseum site gets a walk score of 57 out of 100. DT San Jose, where Cisco may be built is 74, the highest of all SJ hoods. The VC site, which is listed as Produce/Waterfront is rated at 89. Uptown and the 980 decking site is listed as San Pablo Gateway, and that’s rated a 94/100.
    Overall, Oakland is broken down into a whopping 129 neighborhoods! SJ has 16 defined hoods. SF has 91. Top rated big city NY has 259 hoods, with 5 scoring perfect 100′s (Rikers island is at the bottom with a score of The lowest rated big city is Jacksonville, FLA
    Of 2500 overall cities ranked, Cambridge, MA is #1, followed by NYC, Jersey City, SF, Berkeley, Boston, Patterson NJ. Oakland’s at #23, and SJ is #79.
    My last 6 places I have lived, covering about 25 years, my neighborhoods scored 67, 49, 54, 25, 73, 61.

  11. Chris says:

    I just wanted to thank Marine Layer and Lew Wolff for the interview. Waiting to hear from MLB is driving me nuts.

  12. Anon says:

    When folks mention about Oakland as funky and gnarly and stuff, it conjures up old memories of my childhood with Too $hort:

    Straight from the West, Oakland is the best
    Baby it’s so fresh (Oakland)
    It’s called the Big Bad O, city of players on the go
    You gotta have Trues and Vogues (Oakland)
    Baby, that’s my town, when all the tops come down
    You’ll hear my funky sound (Oh-oh-oh-Oaktown)
    O-A-K-L-A-N-D, that city was made for me
    Just rocking to the beat (Oakland)
    Drop tops rolling down the strip, baby it’s the tip
    Don’t stop dipping til I quit (Oaktown)
    Trues and Vogues on my car, baby I’m a star
    I’m playing at Player’s Park (Oakland)
    Everybody on the floor, do you really want some more?
    We’ll get funky like Playboy $hort (Oh-oh-oh-Oaktown)

    Sorry….i still have that song stuck in my head… :X

  13. jk-usa says:

    @Anon–cool, bro!

  14. Sid says:

    @Jeffrey Athletic- You make a great point on Lew Wolff’s “patience” with the situation and I got a “bad” feeling on why.

    If I am right and Bud Selig is trying to move the A’s from the Bay Area and give the Dodgers to his frat buddy “Lewie” then why wouldn’t Wolff be “patient” I ask?

    From Lew’s point of view 1 of 2 scenarios play out:

    1. Bud Selig does the “cowardly” thing and moves the A’s out of the Bay Area, solves the Dodgers bankruptcy issues, kicks out Frank McCourt out and awards the Dodgers to Wolff/Fisher for all their troubles. As I detailed before this scenario is the most profitable for MLB and that is why it is Selig’s #1 option….from a business perspective, although I think this is BS.

    2. Selig’s plan to move the A’s to another market falls through and he has no choice but to open up San Jose to the A’s and Wolff gets his privately financed ballpark…..This is what I want to see happen.

    In either case Lew Wolff “wins”…..With that being said why not “kick back” and let Selig do his thing?

    Selig having known Wolff far longer than the other owners I am sure has sat down with “Lewie” and told him this… the record.

    Even Selig wouldn’t leave his buddy for over 50+ years in the dark and not at least have a “off the record” convo with him.

    Wolff in turn seeing he wins big either way sits around praises Selig for the “fine job” he has done with MLB and tells the other owners “not to lobby” for him and and let Selig finish his process.

    Wolff has even told San Jose to not sue because of this. What Wolff is doing is the “smart play” and it is easy to see why.

    Wolff wins big here…..He is just waiting for the final word which should come once the Dodgers mess is resolved in the next 8-12 months. Perhaps a bit longer…

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