The future is temporary
Spurred by LoneStranger’s thought experiment on AN which carried over to here in expanded form, I had an email back-and-forth with him about what’s possible post-2013. I suggested a concept that he add to the post, and when I realized how long it would take to flesh out and how much longer it would make his post, I decided it deserved its own treatment. So here goes nothing.
First off, I have to say that I have no idea what will happen in the next 18 months. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was at the game last night and hung out in the right field bleachers for the duration, which was quite impressive. Lew Wolff will be on the broadcast in the third inning this evening to talk – something, probably about the team for the most part. For the A’s to stay at the Coliseum after the 2013 season, those two have to start negotiations on some kind of lease extension. I’ve heard out of Oakland that the City is going to play hardball and try to get the A’s to commit long term. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and others have been comfortable in claiming that the A’s have nowhere to go. I’ve also heard that discussions between the City and Raiders have been accelerating, perhaps to the point of getting something announced prior to the Raiders’ lease ends (also in 2013). Any future at the Coliseum for either team depends largely on what happens with the still nascent Coliseum City project, and we probably won’t know anything about that until the end of the year at the earliest.
Knowing that new stadia for the Raiders and A’s can’t possibly be ready before 2016, the most practical solution would be to figure out a way for them to co-exist for another three years. Oakland and Alameda County want to use that extension as leverage against either team, but that’s not a great play. The Raiders could easily become roommates at the 49ers stadium for at least three years, leaving the Coliseum in the lurch. If the Coliseum JPA chooses to shut out the A’s, the decision will provide more than enough justification for MLB to hasten a move to San Jose – even while MLB is keeping Oakland in the game by not deciding anything yet.
Now, if circumstances conspire to have the A’s leave 2013 due to construction of a new football stadium or other reasons, the A’s will have to play somewhere. There’s no stadium in San Jose as Municipal Stadium is too small and unacceptable amenities-wise. They may be able to play at AT&T Park for a while, though as we’ve seen this week scheduling the two teams to not overlap schedules can be tricky.
Barnstorming for a series here or there can work from a marketing standpoint. The players union, on the other hand, will probably have considerable objections to a barnstorming team, especially one that has to do it for three or four years. The union and its members would prefer permanence. It’s not the minors, it’s the majors, and the players deserve major league treatment. While there’s been no poll on this, I imagine that free agents could look at the situation and declare it a organizational demerit, just as the Coliseum now isn’t exactly a selling point.
Then there’s the matter of cultivating the fanbase. If the team is going to stay in Oakland or move to San Jose, every effort has to be made to cultivate that fanbase. Having a traveling team hampers that effort significantly, so I would expect that the A’s and their civic partners would do everything possible to make a temporary home seem as permanent as possible. The transitional three years are very delicate. With the San Jose Earthquakes, we’ve seen what happens when the organization delays building a new stadium – the fanbase gets restless. The stakes are much higher with MLB, and Bud Selig isn’t going to approve a temporary solution that doesn’t at least attempt to maximize revenue.
Knowing all of these factors, I suspect that the A’s would play those transitional years in a temporary stadium. It may not hold more than 20,000 seats. It would be built in the vein of numerous temporary facilities such as the soccer stadia at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa or some of the venues at the London Summer Games.
London’s Olympic Stadium holds 80,000 for the games, but was designed to be deconstructed to a 25,000-seat permanent capacity by virtue of a large, removable upper deck. Some of the materials used are either recycled or are recyclable. Many concession stands are not permanently installed, which reduces costs and simplifies the dismantling process.
The Basketball Arena, which has been affectionately nicknamed “The Mattress”, is an entirely temporary structure. At 12,000 seats, it can be considered the bigger cousin of the 3,200-seat tent arena the Warriors are building in Santa Cruz. After the Olympics and Paralympics, the arena will be removed, though there doesn’t seem to be a fully coherent re-use plan in place.
I think the A’s could easily build a 20,000-seat temporary stadium at either HomeBase lot next to the Coliseum or on the Hunter Storm part of the Airport West development near Earthquakes Stadium site in San Jose. Either site would work because it would be available for cheap or free and there would be no worries about competing development, at least in the near term. Infrastructure already in place for the nearby stadia could be leveraged (concessions, facilities) with potential additions easy to scale back or value engineer. In both cases, already approved EIRs or uses would already be in place, with supplemental studies possible but easier to anticipate and manage than completely new studies. And if the A’s plan properly, they could re-use parts of the old stadium in the new one, though that has proven trickier to execute than conceived. Once the temporary facilities have completed their work, they could be dismantled and re-used, donated, or recycled, leaving behind a perfectly ready-to-build site.
Cost would be the huge mover. The Quakes have spent the last few years ratcheting down the cost of their new stadium, only to introduce new features when demand arose. That, and the construction methods they’ll be using, could be very useful if they wanted to deploy a temporary stadium anywhere. How much of the stadium would be seats, as opposed to bleachers? What kinds of premium facilities would be built, and where would they be located? How fancy would the clubhouses be? These are all valid and hard-to-answer questions, and there’s no doubt that MLB would have a lot of input into how any temporary stadium would be situated and conceived. Chances are that the project would cost at least $30 million, and could escalate quickly. Would it be worth it? That’s for A’s ownership to figure out.