Howard Terminal Revisited (Again)
Yes, we’ve been here before. I suppose it’s time to discuss Howard Terminal yet again.
In June I attended a weekday afternoon Rangers-A’s game, followed by a ferry trip from Oakland to South San Francisco. San Francisco Bay Ferry was using that week to launch the new service, which to that point had its southernmost terminal at AT&T Park. I noticed many people who, when they learned of the free promotional ferry ride, decided to take a quick cruise across the bay.
While I was waiting for the ferry, I walked around JLS and near Howard Terminal to take some updated pictures just in case.
The best place for a ballpark may be the southeast corner, where the two cranes are located. The cranes can be and often are relocated. The area designated for auto processing is about 9 acres and is surrounded by the rest of Howard Terminal, a power plant, the Inner Harbor, and OFD property. The Trib’s Matthew Artz reported yesterday that tenant/operator SSA Marine (Matson) is suing to get out of the 25-year lease it signed only 7 years ago. Howard Terminal was chosen as a site for consolidated operations by SSA Marine. A planned multi-story auto processing/storage facility had to be scrapped amid NIMBY concerns and Howard Terminal only runs at 55% capacity thanks to market changes. Those may be the biggest factors in SSA Marine’s decision to file suit. The issue there is that while SSA Marine may ultimately want concessions on the lease, they may not necessarily want to leave or downsize their presence there. If the site I described as ideal were to be reused for a ballpark, SSA could only stage one large vessel at a time as opposed to two now. If SSA were to agree to relocate to elsewhere on Port property, it’s likely they’ll require a huge cut in lease terms while trying to maintain the kind of consolidation they were able to enjoy when they first inked the current deal. They’d also want to be able to expand if their container shipping business improves.
If the City and the Port wanted to use all 50 acres of Howard Terminal, the solution is simple: tear up the lease and start the process on alternative development (planning, EIRs, infrastructure, identified projects). From looking at the Port’s budget documents, SSA Marine provides a substantial portion of the $10 million in revenue the Port derives from Inner Harbor maritime activities. That figure isn’t broken out by location or by company, so it’s hard to speculate further on SSA’s impact. Regardless, any disruption or change to SSA’s operations has to be considered an opportunity cost, since the Port would be foregoing that revenue stream to take on a ballpark lease and other commercial lease revenue. Currently, Inner Harbor provides nearly as much revenue as the entirety of Commercial revenue at the Port.
In the picture above, you’ll notice that along this stretch of The Embarcardero, only one side of the tracks is paved street. The near side is gravel. This continues to Jefferson and Clay Streets, where the Jack London Square streetscape as we know it begins. If a ballpark were to be placed at Howard Terminal, a great deal of new street and pedestrian infrastructure would have to be planned and constructed in order to safely accommodate the anticipated large crowds. That includes at least one pedestrian bridge leading from MLK, Brush, or Market. Additional acreage at Howard Terminal could be repurposed for parking, though that’s a double-edged sword. If a large amount of parking is built there, streets will have to be beefed up to accommodate traffic increases. There’s no obvious place north of Howard Terminal where parking could be built without the demolition of existing structures.
East of Howard Terminal is a stark contrast. Jack London Square dominates and has a great variety of mixed uses. The waterfront building at 10 Clay Street is largely unused and could make a great A’s museum, as slo_town identified in June. Some negotiation would also have to be done with Oakland Fire Department because Station 2, where the Fire Boat is located, sits between HT and JLS.
Finally, there is the issue of the impact of the ballpark itself. Besides increased traffic and the distance from BART (3/4 mile to the 12th Street/Oakland City Center Station), the visual impact of a ballpark will be up for much debate. If the field is oriented to face downtown (away from the water), there’s a risk of a having a 500-foot-long, 10-12 story tall edifice bumping up against the water. If the field faces the water, the visual impact is much less since the ballpark will be “camouflaged” by the power plant, but the impact of lights on Alameda becomes greater. Either way it’s no slam dunk.
Still, when you look at the picture above, it’s easy to see why someone would advocate for Howard Terminal, challenges and all.