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.

SunTrust Park: The name is bland, the money is not

At some point during the 2017 baseball season, someone in the media is going to make a flub, calling the Braves’ new stadium “Sun Life Park.”

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Who could blame the person? “SunLife Stadium” and “SunTrust Park” sound so very generically close to each other. The Braves and Atlanta-based bank SunTrust are moving forward anyway, with a 25-year deal whispered to be worth a whopping $250 million. That’s twice as much as the value of the Cisco naming rights deal struck in 2006 for the Pacific Commons ballpark. It would also place among the top five in the nation on an annual basis.

$10 million a year would go a long way towards financing the new Home of the Braves, where $622 million in development cost translates into $50 million a year for those 25 years. SunTrust will become the sixth bank to have naming rights at a Major League Baseball facility. Banks tend to be more regional than most national consumer brands, so they tend to partner up with teams in their respective backyards.

  • Chase Field, Phoenix – acquired naming rights in merger with BankOne, originally from Cleveland
  • Comerica Park, Detroit – originally from Detroit
  • Citi Field, New York – based in New York
  • Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia – based in Providence, RI, claims Northeast as its region
  • PNC Park, Pittsburgh – based in Pittsburgh

Only one major bank is headquartered in the Bay Area, Wells Fargo. However, Wells Fargo already has naming rights deals with three arenas in Philadelphia, Des Moines, and Tempe (on the Arizona State University campus). There’s also one at a small arena in Dothan, Alabama, but who’s counting that? Wells Fargo could pursue naming rights at a new venue in the Bay Area, but with three already in place they may consider that enough.

As for the renderings? Looks a lot like the Braves’ current home from the outside.

MLB 2015 Travel Grid (Schedule) Now Available

Every year it happens like clockwork. MLB releases its tentative schedule for the next year in early September, and I cut it up and remix to make something suitable for planning ballpark trips. I call it a Travel Grid. The Travel Grid is table of all games based on each team’s home schedule. One variant places the teams in regional clusters, allowing users to connect the dots to plan trips.

Sample of Travel Grid in PDF format

Sample of Travel Grid in PDF format

Want to do a 3-5 days seeing games from Washington to Boston? It’s possible. Want to catch games at both Chicago parks and Milwaukee? If it’s there you’ll see it. I started doing this a few years ago to help me plan my own trips. I hope it’ll help you plan yours.

The schedule starts a week later than what you’d usually expect, on April 6, and ends October 4. Every 5-6 years this reset has to occur, as we “lose” a day every year. The late start may help avoid more rain postponements that have seemed to be more frequent in recent years. The downside of that is the postseason running dangerously close to November. The All Star Break will be July 13-16. Much of the pain for the A’s will be frontloaded, as they’ll experience 2 of their 3 longest road trips (9-10 days) in April and May.

A’s interleague opponents will be the NL West, which will bring about a few changes. Instead of the 2+2 format the A’s and Giants series’ took on the last couple years, the teams will play 6 times, 3 in SF in the summer and 3 in Oakland as the last home series of the season. That sets up the possibility for some cool roadies. In mid-June the A’s will play 3 at the Angels and 2 at the Padres. If you’re looking for lengthy A’s East Coast trips, things don’t look as promising. Other than series at the Indians and Yankees to end the first half, there are few trips where you can stretch out and follow the team for a week unless you’re willing to take on multiple leg flight schedules. The team has a particularly brutal stretch next September when they visit the Rangers, then fly to Chicago to meet the White Sox, then back to Texas for a series against the Astros.

That said, if you’re looking to put together ballpark visits, the schedule’s pretty friendly. East Coast possibilities for 5-7 day trips (the length I like) are available pretty much every month. Similar length Midwest trips are ripe in June (Rust Belt) and July (Chi-StL).

The 2015 Travel Grid is available in two layouts: an alphabetically ordered (left-to-right) table and the aforementioned regional cluster layout. Both are available in Excel, CSV (comma delimited), and PDF (poster view) formats. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments or send me a tweet.

Regional

Alphabetical

Enjoy!

Coliseum City Draft EIR Review: Ballpark Setting

The renderings in the Coliseum City Specific Plan (co-mingled with the EIR) date back to July 2013. So far, no announcements have been made about architecture firms winning the business for any of the Coliseum City venues. With that in mind, when looking at the renderings don’t worry too much about how they look. They’re effectively placeholders, there to show the mass and complete the layout of the buildings within the plan. If you’re asking about a dome on the stadium or how many seating decks are in the ballpark – don’t bother. It’s highly subject to change.

That said, we can look at a few aspects, such as how the ballpark is placed and oriented within the ballpark. That is the subject of this post.

First, let’s look a bird’s-eye view from the south, with the entire project built out.

birdseye-view_north

Coliseum City with new arena on the other side of the Nimitz

The BART bridge is to be replaced by a much wider pedestrian concourse, connecting a better-connected transit hub, residential development at the BART station parking lot, hotels lining the concourse, and the broader development with the venues. The concourse will be built at what is currently 73rd Avenue, the street connecting San Leandro Street to the Amtrak Station. Doing this moves the dividing line of the complex further south/east, with the bulk of the developable land on the north/west side of the concourse. Several high rise condominium buildings flank the concourse where the existing Coliseum currently sits.

birdseye-view_east

View east across Nimitz down pedestrian concourse

The concourse is widest outside the football stadium and at 880, where there are two (!) bridges spanning the Nimitz.

birdseye_closeup-view_north_ballpark

Above concourse, looking towards ballpark

The Plan describes two levels of circulation: the elevated concourse and street level, where most of the buildings and the ballpark will be situated. Fans would descend stairs to the plaza that leads to the ballpark. There could also be a trolley or streetcar station at this intersection. The plaza and the four blocks surrounding it are the focus of what is called the “Next Generation Sports and Retail District.” This area would be closed to cars on event days, allowing for a big party zone between the two venues.

cutaway-entry

Side view showing concourse and street level elevations, plus cutaways of venues

Should Coliseum City come to fruition, there won’t be anything like it in the country, with two or three venues anchoring a big district. It would also be huge for the City if the large swath of commercially-zoned property slated to be office/R&D could be put together as a potential campus for a large tech company. Right now all of that activity is focused on the Peninsula and the South Bay, with Google, Apple, and Facebook devouring huge tracts of land for future expansion. At the moment Oakland is a few degrees removed from such activity, but that’s where they should be thinking.

district-med

The Plaza between the ballpark and stadium

I’m still not a big fan of orienting the ballpark to the northeast. While that’s proper in terms of MLB guidelines, the orientation turns its back on the plaza and feels like a missed opportunity. It would be nice to have people walking along the plaza be able to see into the stadium, the way you can from much of the Gaslamp District in San Diego. The idea is to fully integrate all elements of the plan, and this is a miss.

There is a publicly-accessible area of the ballpark beyond centerfield, where a Park-at-the-Park like grassy knoll provides views. But getting there requires walking along the edge of the complex, along a perimeter road, past a hulking parking garage. It’s not the friendliest or most accessible approach. A nice side effect of this approach is the fans traveling south on BART will get a good look at the ballpark as they arrive at the Coliseum (City?) station.

View into ballpark with loop road and publicly accessible "knoll" in foreground

View into ballpark with loop road and publicly accessible “knoll” in foreground

Another thing that bothers me, though it’s entirely understandable, is this from the Project Description (page 3-39):

Operation and scheduling use of the Ballpark would be restricted from having major events (including baseball games) on the same day as football games at the adjacent Stadium. Since no large events could occur simultaneously, parking for the Ballpark would be accommodated within the same on‐site parking facilities as used by the Stadium including the 3,240 surface lot spaces and 7,500 dedicated event parking garage spaces.

The Plan calls for more than 18,000 parking spaces, an 8,000-space improvement over the current complex. 13,000 of those spaces would be in garages, and of those spaces 5,000 would be off limits because they would be slated for hotel and residential use. The net gain for event use, if some of the office parking is used, is an extra 3,000 spaces or 13,000 total. Despite the great reduction in available tailgating space (only possible 3 surface lots totaling 4,200 spaces), a parking restriction like the one described above would remain in effect. That would limit the ability of schedule makers to freely assign weekend home series for the A’s in August, September, and October. It also shuts out any possibility of going to both Raiders and A’s games in the same day within Coliseum City: an A’s game at 1 and a Sunday night Raiders game at 5, or vice-versa. It’s better than sharing a field, I suppose.

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.