The Big Lew Wolff Interview, Part 5
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.
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?
So why should we be holding up jobs and construction and so on over an argument that I think is -
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.]