A’s renew land lease option with San Jose for 7 years

With Oakland’s Coliseum City dominating the news over the last few weeks, it’s a shock to see San Jose come out of nowhere with news of its own. According to the Merc’s Mike Rosenberg, the A’s and San Jose have agreed to a seven-year option on the Diridon ballpark site next to the main train station. The new deal is essentially an extension of the previous land option, which was due to expire next month. The A’s will pay $25,000 per year to retain the option, the same terms as in the previous agreement.

The other big reveal in the article was that last month, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed met with baseball’s Commissioner-elect (and current COO) Rob Manfred in New York. While Reed didn’t make any headway in getting Manfred to loosen the Giants’ grip on territorial rights, it’s a positive sign for San Jose that the two had a meeting, which could lead to more discussions. Reed’s mayoral successor – either County Supervisor Dave Cortese or SJ Councilman Sam Liccardo – would be the new point person, both willing to take Reed’s baton. Retiring commission Bud Selig created a 3-man panel to act as a buffer so that he wouldn’t have to be directly involved. The panel (BRC) was apparently disbanded earlier this year, leaving Manfred to handle any new talks. It’s no guarantee of future talks for sure, but it does have some weight.

More meaningful is the impact of the land option deal. Though the A’s couldn’t build there tomorrow or even next year, the very presence of the land option keeps San Jose in the game and gives MLB a card to play against Oakland in case they turn future ballpark talks with the A’s into yet another circus. After all, it was Manfred who purportedly threatened Oakland with the immediate approval of a move to San Jose if Oakland killed the A’s lease extension. At the time many called it a mere negotiating ploy, which it was. Oakland folded quickly then, so there’s little reason to think it wouldn’t work on some level again.

Complicating things for MLB is that other tenant in the Coliseum, the Raiders. Since Coliseum City is ostensibly a Raiders project, everyone has to wait for the Raiders’ eventual approval or rejection of the project before knowing what to do next. The list of outcomes is short and clear.

  • Oakland and Raiders sign Coliseum City deal, triggering clause for A’s to escape lease and look to San Jose
  • Coliseum City talks break down, allowing A’s to start up talks with the JPA and Oakland while the Raiders look elsewhere
  • Mark Davis becomes indecisive and signs a short-term lease at the Coliseum, status quo

Lew Wolff has been clear about his disinterest in Coliseum City, so his becoming a signatory over the next three months is just wishful thinking. The terms of the lease extension have kept Howard Terminal out of the discussion, with the focus on the Coliseum only. The Oakland crowd will consider this cagey and deceitful, whereas San Jose (or pan-Bay Area) partisans will call Wolff’s moves prudent and in the best interest of getting a ballpark built ASAP. There’s some truth to both views, and they’re inextricably linked. For some time Wolff’s priorities have been simply to build a ballpark and figure out a way to pay for it. If the Raiders’ fate can be determined, the A’s will be the next domino.

Timing is also interesting. For a while I’ve been of the opinion that San Jose could never be completely ruled out as a ballpark option as long as so many things in Oakland remained uncertain. MLB’s tacit approval – twice – of the A’s-San Jose land option affirms that. If MLB truly wanted to affirm T-rights as iron-clad and non-negotiable, they wouldn’t allow the land option. They know the value there. To be certain, MLB does not want to break that glass if an emergency occurs, but it’s there and it allows MLB and Wolff to maintain focus on the Bay Area, instead of playing the usual stalking horse game with another market outside NorCal. All this comes out just after the 90-day countdown on Coliseum City begins and the Raiders accelerate towards the NFL’s February relocation window. MLB and NFL have been careful to enter in the A’s and Raiders discussions only when they had to, and to let the process in Oakland work itself out. The JPA is readying itself by hiring Robert Bobb to work with either New City Development or Lew Wolff.

Is this the winter when resolution occurs? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The winter will arrive soon enough.

P.S. – As usual, much of the initial Oakland reaction is, Why doesn’t Wolff (and Fisher) sell the team? Because they have no interest, and no one can force them to sell. Next question.

P.P.S. – How long will it take for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s office to call up Rob Manfred, asking for a meeting?

P.P.P.S. – My initial draft didn’t include that third “Indecisive Mark Davis” option. It’s a distinct possibility, though it comes with its own permutations. Davis wants maximum flexibility in whatever he does over the next couple years. He has looked at various non-Coliseum stadia to temporarily host his team. You might think the leading candidate would be Santa Clara, but the terms don’t work for him because he’d have to sign a longer-term lease to cover the additional construction required at Levi’s Stadium. The leading candidate is, would you believe… AT&T Park? The Oakland Raiders at AT&T Park. You can always count on Larry Baer to always have Oakland sports’ best interests in mind.

P.P.P.P.S. – Wasn’t San Jose’s lawsuit vs. MLB supposed to make the city persona non grata in baseball’s eyes? Yet they have a meeting. Funny, that.

Mesa, A’s show off Hohokam Stadium progress

With two months to go before completion, A’s ownership and the City of Mesa did a tour of Fitch Park and Hohokam Stadium today, emphasizing all the  improvements A’s players and fans will get to enjoy in a few months. I visited back in the summer. I should have a chance to check it out again in the coming weeks. Until then, take a look at tweets by local media showing the project’s progress. The new clubhouse isn’t quite finished yet, but the seats and scoreboard appear to be complete.

Think about that for a moment. Over the span of six months, the A’s are installing new scoreboards at Hohokam, the Earthquakes Stadium, and the Coliseum. That’s a lot of blinking lights!

As much as I loved the old school, laid back intimacy of Phoenix Muni, I’m looking forward to attending games at Hohokam, which is a fairly short bike ride from my brother’s house in Mesa. The spring pilgrimage looks to become an annual rite for me.

Lew Wolff and Mark Davis meet with Coliseum JPA

The second item in the most recent Matier and Ross column is short albeit promising one.

It was a rare sight indeed — A’s co-ownerLew Wolff, Raiders owner Mark Davis and their advisers in the same room with members of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority, talking about building separate stadiums on the Coliseum site.

Not much was said beyond that, especially from anyone on the JPA. Still, it’s an encouraging sign that the JPA and the two teams are on the road to a viable Coliseum City alternative. Even with this rather small step, it’s better partnership than Coliseum City, which has at been given a lukewarm response from Davis and a decided nay from Wolff.

I don’t expect any plans soon, but the winter would be a good time for an unveiling. Oakland would be past the election craziness and its holiday recess. Barring a lengthy last-minute ENA extension, it’s also likely that we’ll know the fate of Coliseum City.

If you want to dream about an Oakland ballpark in earnest, now’s a good time to start.

AAA Affiliate shuffle: Love the one you’re (not) with

A flurry of PDC agreements came throughout the day. It seemed that the A’s kicked things off before 10 AM with their 4-year PDC with the Nashville Sounds. However, the Giants and Sacramento River Cats scheduled their own press conference, also at 10, to talk about their 2-year PDC. Then all the other affiliates and PDCs got in line, finishing with a hastily agreed upon agreement between the Brewers and Colorado Springs.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin even sounded like a spurned lover:

“Very disappointing. We gave them 10 years there. A number of times we had a chance to move and we were patient with (the Sounds). I’m just disappointed they wouldn’t have given us two [more] years for what we put up with there.”

There happens to be Greer Stadium, the aging, 36-year old ballpark south of downtown Nashville which is being replaced by shiny First Tennessee Park. The agreement’s only for 2 years, which may allow the Brewers to try another city, since Colorado Springs is only slightly above the seventh circle of hell when it comes to desirable affiliate cities because of park factors. That doesn’t explain why the Rockies were so eager to bolt for Albuquerque, a city that is more than a mile above sea level. The game of musical chairs, which was truly kicked off by the Dodgers when co-owner Peter Guber bought a 50% interest in the Oklahoma City Red Hawks last week. OKC will be the new AAA affiliate of the Dodgers, which left the Astros to hook up with the Fresno Grizzlies.

All of this was done in the last 24-48 hours

All of this was done in the last 24-48 hours

Sooooo…. Nashville? It’s nearly 2000 miles from Oakland with nary a direct flight link them together since neither city has a major hub airport. Nevertheless, the River Cats-turned-Sounds will be playing in a fabulous, Populous-architected ballpark next year. First Tennessee Park will be at Sulphur Dell, the site of an old ballpark (also named Sulphur Dell) that dates back to 1870. Like Sacramento pre-River Cats, Nashville had a lengthy gap in 60’s with no pro baseball in town after Sulphur Dell closed in the 60’s. Herschel Greer Stadium opened in 1978. The Brewers came calling in 2005 and have been there ever since. The Brewers, Sounds management, and civic leaders have been trying to get a new ballpark in Nashville since 2007 (sounds familiar), finally putting together a deal that raised $65 million in public bonds while tying Sounds ownership to some $37 million in private development surrounding the ballpark. It’s a deal similar in structure to Petco Park, though there is some fuzziness on whether that private investment truly has to come in and when. Construction only started in earnest in March, making the development time very short, much like El Paso, Reno, and Sacramento.

Certainly the A’s front office was attracted by a brand new ballpark, as it would make for an easy transition for players who don’t make the big club. Sounds owner Frank Ward was probably salivating at the prospect of a winning, contending team playing in his new digs, as the Brewers-affiliated Sounds haven’t gone to the postseason in eight years, a cumulative .504 winning percentage since becoming a AAA city in 1985. Coincidentally, the Sounds finished with a 77-67 record this season, good for second in the American Southern division, but the team has generally been inconsistent.

FTP is bounded by 5th Avenue N, 3rd Avenue N, Jackson and Harrison Streets. While a 1,000-space parking garage will be built next to the ballpark, the site is only three-quarters of a mile from Printer’s Alley, Nashville’s well known downtown nightlife area. Numerous hotels are located downtown, with several more located along Music Row to the southwest. Catch some live music, maybe a Predators game at Bridgestone Arena, or take a tour of legendary Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry.

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After going over several different design options, it was decided that the ballpark would be oriented south-southeast. The northern edge would have an entry gate behind home plate, but otherwise there wouldn’t be the usual contour following the seating bowl that you usually see at most minor league parks. The idea is that ancillary development would occur to the east and south, between the park and downtown. If done correctly, a “ballpark village” of sorts may emerge, capturing visitors and locals who may park downtown and walk to the park. Again, there are shades of Petco Park in the site plan, although at a much smaller scale.

The full Sounds 2015 schedule is not yet available on the team’s website. When it is I’ll put together some sample ballpark trips you may consider. Next summer I’d like to do a AAA trip consisting of Nashville, Memphis, Indianapolis, Louisville, and perhaps Columbus again. The closest cities (within a 4 hour drive) are Atlanta, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, so putting together trips that involve MLB teams, especially the A’s, will be tough. If you’re planning a trip, you may find yourself flying through ATL, so that may work to your advantage.

As for the River Cats? I wish them luck. Their PDC with the Giants is only 2 years, a somewhat surprisingly short term considering the fan cultivation effort that is obviously the goal of the affiliation switch. They should do fine in 2015 thanks to a honeymoon period of sorts. The River Cats have a good promotional machine that should crank up into high gear with the Giants involved. If they can regain some of the attendance losses they’ve suffered the last few years, the change will have been worth it.

Quan, BayIG strike back with “basics” of Raiders deal

Matier and Ross reported today that the City of Oakland and BayIG, the group behind the Coliseum City project, have put together the “basics” of a deal that would include a ~$1 Billion stadium for the Raiders and development of up to 800 acres surrounding the stadium.

Now, Zach Wasserman, an attorney representing backers of a hoped-for sports, housing and retail complex called Coliseum City, says the “basic terms” of a financial deal have been worked out among his group, the city’s negotiators and the Raiders.

The big takeaway is that the City and County, which would be giving up land and paying for infrastructure costs as part of any deal, would also have to pay off the remaining $120 million in Coliseum debt. That is an enormous giveaway on Oakland’s part no matter how you slice it. Both City and County officials have insisted in the past that any large plan like Coliseum required the debt to be taken care of – preferably by the developers. If you can remember back to the “adult conversation” in December, County Supervisor Keith Carson practically hijacked the proceedings by having the first 10-15 minutes of the meeting spent on recounting the debt liability faced by the JPA.

Carson emphasized that there will be no future project if debt isn’t addressed first.

So, let’s tally up what we know are the costs of Coliseum City so far:

  • $344-425 million in infrastructure cost
  • $120 million in Coliseum debt

That’s up to $565 million in project costs, all without building a single stadium, hotel, or office building. And there’s more. Not included is the $80 million in arena debt, the responsibility for which is up in the air. In the EIR (you guys have been reading that, right?), the City states that of the 800 acres covering the entirety of the project, 535 are publicly owned. That includes the City, County, JPA, and EBMUD. The remaining 265 acres are privately owned, making those properties subject to negotiation. Most of that land is on the west side of 880, but some important pieces are right next to the Coliseum or in between the Coliseum and the BART station. Now let’s take a low market rate offer of $2 million per acre. That’s another $530 million that would be borne probably by developers, but could also be paid to some degree by the City since Oakland has eminent domain capability. No matter who pays for it, the total cost of land, infrastructure, and dealing with outstanding debt is $1.1 Billion. That’s the cost of the Raiders stadium right there, or two A’s ballparks.

The counter is that the Raiders, NFL, and BayIG are paying for the football stadium, which may or may not have a retractable roof, may have 56,000 or 68,000 seats, etc. The potential upside is 10,000 new residents, 21,000 jobs, and retaining all of the teams – though it still hasn’t been articulated how any sort of carveout for the A’s would work.

Now compare that to what Lew Wolff is offering, which is to pay off the debt on both the Coliseum and the Arena. While we haven’t seen plans, the planned development is not expected to be as expansive as Coliseum City, as Wolff has said that acquiring private property for this purpose is a bit sticky for his liking (Coliseum North being Exhibit A). Besides, even 120 or 200 acres is a lot of land.

We haven’t yet heard Alameda County’s side, and Carson is certain to raise questions about the giveaway. The City can come to terms on a deal, but without the County as a partner the deal isn’t sealed. I fully expect a sequel to the adult conversation, when all of the costs and liabilities are laid bare. If the A’s get it together in time, there may even be a sort of competitive situation with two bidders. Let the rich guys duke it out over what is purported to be high quality, valuable land. Chances are that such a discussion won’t happen until after the election. After all, there’s something fishy about the timing of this release, considering that last week Oakland mayoral candidate and CM Rebecca Kaplan took credit for “saving the A’s in Oakland” (h/t Zennie Abraham).

AAA Shuffle Begins with Guber’s Purchase of OKC RedHawks

Though we’re at least two weeks from MLB and AAA franchises from coming to new player development contracts (PDC), at least one team has gotten proactive to secure its future allegations early. A group led by Dodgers (and Warriors) co-owner Peter Guber is purchasing the Oklahoma City RedHawks, currently the AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros. The franchise will fetch $22-28 million according to The Oklahoman. Currently, Mandalay Entertainment owns the team. That company is also headed by Guber, making the purchase largely a paperwork matter. Mandalay also recently sold the Dayton Dragons (A-Midwest League) for a whopping $40 million, reflective of the team’s incredible attendance record and financial success.

The purchase of the RedHawks means that the Dodgers will soon switch their AAA affiliation from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City, making ABQ another free agent in this fall’s affiliate shuffle. Historically the Dodgers have never cared too much about having their AAA affiliate within driving range, as Albuquerque has hosted their AAA team twice, as the Dukes and now the Isotopes for nearly 50 years combined. It appears that the Dodgers have been more concerned about developing pitchers at more than a mile above sea level, resorting to using a humidor last year.

Rumors remain strong that the Sacramento River Cats will drop the A’s and hook up with the Giants, leaving Fresno as another free agent. Las Vegas may be re-upping with the Mets despite the distance from New York. Nashville, which will open a new stadium next year, remains up in the air in terms of its continuing relationship with the Brewers. Colorado Springs may also be available depending on how talks with the Rockies go. The El Paso-Padres and Tacoma-Mariners deals also expire in a week, though those seem more secure than others; El Paso because of a brand new ballpark, Tacoma because it’s so close to Seattle.

Making affiliate deals is as much about the bottom line as any other factor. Fresno has looked increasingly unattractive in recent years because of unstable ownership and the Grizzlies’ habit of running in the red. Fresno’s biggest may be something it can’t control: the cost of airfare in and out of its smallish airport. Air travel costs may also explain why the Mets have few qualms about extending with the 51s, since NYC-Vegas flights are relatively cheap and plentiful.

Here’s a list of potential upcoming AAA affiliation changes:

  • Oklahoma City RedHawks (from Astros to Dodgers)
  • Sacramento River Cats (from A’s to Giants)
  • Fresno Grizzlies (from Giants to Brewers or A’s)
  • Nashville Sounds (from Brewers to A’s)
  • Albuquerque Isotopes (from Dodgers to Astros)

Other changes to look for in the future are the Round Rock Express (owned by the Ryan family) switching affiliations from the Rangers to the Astros after 2018, and the Reno Aces, whose relationship with the City of Reno and Washoe County has been strained at times. The Twins just announced an two-year extension of their PDC with the Rochester Red Wings, cutting off a potential switch candidate for the Mets. And the Angels extended with the Salt Lake City Bees earlier in the spring.

Newly HOK-acquired 360 Architecture to work with A’s on Coliseum ballpark

In the 60’s, a Kansas City architecture firm named Kivett and Myers worked on two venues at what would eventually be named the Truman Sports Complex. Those two stadia, Kauffman (née Royals) Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium, bucked the trend of multipurpose stadia and stood out as great examples of sports architecture. Still considered excellent venues at over 40 years old, Arrowhead and Kauffman burnished the reputation of Kivett and Myers, leading to their acquisition by HNTB in 1978. Architects from HNTB’s new sports practice split off to form Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK), whose sports group dominated the last 25 years of ballpark design. Then in 2009, the sports group (named HOK+SVE) broke off to form Populous, with the mutual non-competition agreements: HOK wouldn’t get into sports for 5 years, Populous wouldn’t go outside sports, conventions, and entertainment.

Now that non-compete has ended, and HOK is eager to get back into the sports game. Instead of starting up anew, they bought fellow Kansas City firm 360 Architecture, itself the product of the merger of two firms, CDFM2 Architecture Inc. and Heinlein Schrock Stearns. That’s enough mergers and buyouts to fill a season of Mad Men.

360 is the shingle responsible for the city’s Sprint Center, MetLife Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes’ new stadium, and two upcoming venues: the New Atlanta Falcons Stadium and the new Red Wings Arena in downtown Detroit. If, as an A’s fan, you’re looking for something different in terms of sports architecture, those last two examples should give you hope.

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The Falcons turned the football world on its ear with their replacement for the not-old-at-all Georgia Dome. The iris-like retractable roof has perspective-based video screens and scoreboards embedded in its rim. The building’s metal panels comes with slits that light up and cathedral-style glass entries. Its part of an effort by Falcons owner Arthur Blank to have an iconic piece of architecture in Atlanta, a city sorely lacking at least in terms of modern work. 360 took that and went back through history, finding the dome at the Pantheon to be their inspiration.

In Detroit the focus is different. There 360 is putting together a “deconstructed” arena, where the ancillary operations of the building (concessions, etc.) are pulled away from the seating bowl. A single glass-ceilinged concourse serves most fans and connects to restaurants and even housing on the perimeter. The idea is to have the venue be part of a new, several-block redevelopment plan in downtown Detroit, just a stone’s throw from Comerica Park and Ford Field.

The full development will cover 45 blocks on either side of I-75, an area slightly smaller than Coliseum City’s core 120 acres. If the images in the above video look familiar, that’s because they’re reminiscent of 360’s work on the Fremont vision for Cisco Field. Again, there was a plan to pull the ancillary development away from the ballpark. The idea was to allow fans to come an hour or two earlier, then either watch batting practice, or shop and hang out at a restaurant or bar on the premises.

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It would be somewhat poetic to see that 2005 Oakland/2006 Pacific Commons concept resurrected in Oakland, with the sales pitch coming from a similarly-sized and scaled Detroit development that will be breaking ground in a few months. It’s that sense of scale that to me makes such plans more achievable than something gargantuan like Coliseum City that is so dependent on externalities. 360 Architecture is on a bit of a roll, and it would be fitting for them to achieve their biggest success on one the very first projects they worked on, in various forms over a decade. That’s some serious sweat equity.