Kephart plays out the string

After reading tweets and reactions, and finally listening to Floyd Kephart’s spiel at Lungomare today, I can use one word to describe the whole affair.

Perfunctory

Unlike Kephart’s 50/50-or-less assessment of the project at this late stage, I can say with greater confidence – 80/20 – that this will be the last time you see Floyd Kephart in Oakland. He said that he’ll be there through the early part of October, but that doesn’t mean he has to come back if all signs point to no on the City’s part.

There’s a rendering. It looks modern. Great. The next one’s more interesting.

After reading Kephart’s spoken points and digesting them for a bit, I realized that what Kephart presented today, warts and all, was the most honest proposal anyone’s ever given in the four year saga of Coliseum City. Here’s why:

  1. It acknowledges that the A’s are likely to stay at the Coliseum for a considerable period, so the Coliseum stays intact.
  2. The arena stays as well, because the City wants it even if the Warriors leave.
  3. The project area was downsized to 132 acres, no planned phase west of the Nimitz.
  4. The funding gap, which according to Kephart would be $300 million, would be funded by a City-sponsored conduit bond.

The conduit bond is a tricky thing. This kind of financing has the tax-free, low borrowing cost benefits of regular municipal bonds, but municipalities aren’t on the hook for repayment, as Oakland and Alameda County were with Mt. Davis’s general obligation bonds. Instead, revenues from the development, such as naming rights and certain forms of tax increment on the project area would be used to the tune of $20 million per year. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s similar to the way the 49ers financed their gap through Goldman Sachs. During the pre-Harbaugh era, there was a legitimate question about whether the stadium could be paid for this way. A few playoff runs and highly renewed interest later and the 49ers were able to pull it off. The Raiders, well, they’re not in that position. The makes me wonder how the financing would work if there were revenue shortfalls. Who would be responsible, the Raiders? What if they defaulted? And why would the Raiders or the NFL approve such a plan, given the revenue uncertainty?

Kephart said a few other things I found noteworthy.

“Purchase of the (Coliseum) land is key to us staying. In the event that the Council says no…we’re not going to do the development.”

The land purchase is contingent on the City and County coming to an agreement on Oakland buying out Alameda County’s half.

“I’m on my 4th city administrator and 2nd mayor in 10 months. I’m under the 2nd ENA and I haven’t negotiated one significant thing except the ENA.”

That would’ve been a drop-the-mic moment if he was so frustrated that he wanted to quit. He wasn’t. But that’s a stunning admission of how little has actually been done. Kephart has been quick to blame the City, County, and team for his failure. Ultimately, it is his failure since he was brought aboard to bring everyone to the table and work out the deal, so this grousing seems like sour grapes. He made one more observation:

“I’m not the problem, and I’m not the solution.”

Kephart also claimed that it was the City’s responsibility, not his, to get the Raiders, A’s, or Warriors on board. That’s a complete backpedal on his part. Per the ENA, as part of the initial submittal due June 21:

(b) Proposed terms and conditions required to obtain a commitment from one or more of the Oakland Raiders, the Oakland Athletics, and/or the Golden State Warriors to the Project with an update on status of negotiations between New City and each team regarding its commitment to participate in the Project;

I don’t know when this all changed, but I got a hint of it a few weeks ago when NFL point man Eric Grubman was talking about Oakland on Fred Roggin’s LA radio show. Grubman mentioned that the City hadn’t presented anything to the Raiders, which sounded strange since I too thought that New City was responsible for signing the Raiders. Now it makes sense in terms of process, though no light was shed on why it evolved this way. Exactly how was the City selling this to the Raiders? And wouldn’t those efforts run in conflict with the City’s desire to “open” the process for alternatives?

Near the end, Kephart had a sort of kiss-off moment.

“While everybody might think that Oakland is the garden spot of the world, we have projects in three different continents and around the country. And I have lots to do.”

It’s true. The ponies aren’t going to wait for Floyd to come back to Del Mar, you know.

Hypothetical: Could a ballpark fit where the arena sits now?

One of the questions I’ve been fielding over the last few years, especially now that the Warriors are trying to move to San Francisco, is Can a ballpark fit in the space occupied by the arena? The idea is that if the Raiders could somehow find a way to stay in Oakland at a rebuilt (new on the existing site, not renovated) Coliseum, the arena could be torn down to make way for a ballpark. In doing so, none of the capacious parking would be affected except during the construction phases.

The short answer to this is: No. If I’m being generous, I’ll say barely

To understand why, you need to look at the way the complex was laid out in the first place. Remember the old sewer interceptor? It runs in an easement through the Coliseum complex, splitting the stadium and the arena. EBMUD, which maintains the interceptor, needs to have 24/7 access to the interceptor for maintenance.

CC-easements

EBMUD’s sewer interceptor is the green line that separates the stadium from the arena

Combine that with the power lines and other utilities that run through the complex, and suddenly the choices for siting the venues were reduced. If the interceptor had not been there, or had been rerouted around the edge of the complex, the venues probably might have been placed in line with 880, allowing for more of a buffer around both instead of pushing the arena up against the freeway. Such an arrangement would’ve been better for fans going to the arena from the then-years-from-completion BART station, since they would’ve had a more direct route there instead of always having to walk around the stadium.

Nevertheless, here we are. The arena is situated within its own 8 acre parcel in the complex. The fit is tight thanks to the multi-lane 66th Avenue off-ramp.

oracle_space

Ideally there should be a minimum of 600 feet in either direction

Last month I suggested the HomeBase site, which has 50 feet more width than the arena site yet is also less than 600 feet wide. This is obviously narrower. A tight fit equates to two specific limitations. First, there’s little flexibility in terms of orienting the field. If the A’s wanted to orient the field the same way as the existing field, they would need:

400 feet (home plate to center) + 50 feet (backstop) + 110 feet (lower deck) + 40 feet (concourse) + 30 feet (concessions and restrooms) + 60 feet (staging and infrastructure) + 50 feet (street side buffer) = 740 feet. For reference, the diameter of the Coliseum from the club entrance behind the plate to the back wall of Mt. Davis is 100 feet longer.

To further illustrate the squeeze, let’s drop everyone’s favorite ballpark, PNC Park, where the arena is. I’ll include the approximate location of the sewer interceptor so you can see the problem.

Yellow line represents sewer interceptor

Yellow line represents sewer interceptor easement

The resulting dimension down the right field line would be around 275 feet. Talk about a short porch.

Compromises could be made to make the fit better, like reducing the size of seating decks, concourses, and buffer areas, all of which would negatively affect fan experience. The field orientation could also be rotated 15 degrees north (counter-clockwise), opening up space down the RF line while reducing space in the opposite corner.

Of course, we can’t discuss this option without considering the circumstances and ramifications. Should the Warriors leave by the summer of 2018, there would still be nearly $60 million of debt remaining on the arena. It’s likely the City and County will have to swallow the debt while the A’s paid for a will construction costs, perhaps including demolition of the arena. Combine that demolition and site prep time with a two-year build, and the A’s would be in a new ballpark there by the start of the 2021 season. If the Raiders were also staying, Mark Davis could get his stadium on the current site, also by the 2021 NFL season. Where the Raiders would play during the construction period is anyone’s guess. Same goes for the remaining Coliseum debt.

Back to the ongoing Coliseum City saga. Chris Dobbins of the JPA and Save Oakland Sports announced that the public is welcome to attend Floyd Kephart’s presentation at Lungomare on Tuesday morning (unclear on the time of the event).

lungomare

I’m interested to see if any activists showed up.

The Oakland Dilemma

Frankly, I’m tired of writing about Coliseum City, what’s (not) happening. Instead of devoting 500 words to running out the clock or whatever metaphor you feel is most appropriate, I’ll simply leave this here:

chicken-and-egg

Hypothetical: If the Raiders left, how would you improve the Coliseum for the A’s?

Before I begin, let me preface this post by stating that I have no information that says definitively that the Raiders are leaving Oakland. This is mainly a thought exercise. The Raiders could conceivably leave for a new football stadium next to the existing Coliseum. They could go to Santa Clara or San Antonio for a few years before returning permanently. They could leave for Inglewood or Carson for good. In any case, this is meant to be a discussion about benefits for the A’s, nothing more. What happens to the Raiders is not under the A’s, A’s ownership’s, or fans’ control. There’s little East Bay politicians can do save for writing enormous checks to Mark Davis. So for the purposes of this post, let’s leave what the NFL and the Raiders may or may not do out of it. 

Should the Raiders leave for God-knows-where after the 2015 or 2016 football seasons, the A’s and the Coliseum JPA will have some serious choices to make regarding the old venue. The main goal would be to make the Coliseum a more pleasing baseball environment for players and fans alike, while not costing an arm and a leg to do so. The cost issue comes into play because, if we’re assuming that the A’s would pay some amount for this transformation, there’s a question of how much they’d be willing to put into this project as opposed to funneling more money towards a ballpark on the same grounds. That’s the tension at play, and when considering the various decisions that have to made cost-benefit should be at the forefront.

The immediate change we can safely assume the A’s will make is to take control of the Raiders’ locker room, one floor above the A’s current leak and sewage-plagued clubhouse. The Raiders got control of the old, 50,000-square foot exhibit hall space when the came back, turning it into spacious locker rooms for themselves and visiting teams. The A’s will occasionally use the area for hosting groups, since the Coliseum lacks proper breakout spaces at any level except for the East Side Club. Once the A’s commandeer the exhibit hall, the old clubhouse problems should go away. The old clubhouses could themselves be remodeled into memorabilia-filled bunker suites or other premium accommodations that are currently lacking at the Coli. It might cost $10-20 million to renovate the space properly, which might include moving the workout room, trainer’s room, and offices at the clubhouse level. Since all of the benefits would go to the A’s, it would make sense for them to foot the bill for the remodel.

Beyond that, changing the Coliseum could go in any number of directions.

Option A: Return to the pre-Mt. Davis Coliseum (cost estimate: $35-50 million). The frequent refrain I’ve heard so far is a call to transform the Coliseum into the pre-1995 version, with the old bleachers in the outfield and the ice plant above it. Doing so would require the demolition of most if not all of the Mt. Davis structure, plus the construction of replacement seating and landscaping. While that would be perfectly acceptable to the A’s and A’s fans, the City and County are still on the hook for the Mt. Davis debt, so the idea of spending more money on demolition and additional seats that would not generate anywhere near the requisite revenue to pay for them doesn’t sound promising in the slightest. Besides, how many years would this configuration be used? Five? I would expect all parties to pass on this plan if it were ever proposed.

Want the hills back? It'll cost ya.

Want this again? It’ll cost ya.

Option B: Lop off the top part of Mt. Davis ($10 million). The best way to bring back the view of the Oakland hills, without incurring the cost of completely demolishing and rebuilding the Coliseum, is to take down the upper part. What’s the upper part, you ask? Well, that depends. It could be as little as the upper deck, which practically starts as high as the rim of the original upper deck. Or it could include removing the upper two suite levels, making the total struck roughly as tall as the original upper deck’s lower rim. The BART plaza, East Side Club and associated seats (Plaza Reserved) could be kept around, though with the large number of obstructed view seats they’d serve a better purpose as an outfield restaurant bar, much like the kind many ballparks are instituting these days. On the downside, there would be a lot of expense just to open up the views. Again, it’s a high-cost/low-benefit situation.

Top of the original bowl is as tall as the bottom of Mt. Davis

Top of the original bowl is as tall as the bottom of Mt. Davis upper deck

Option C:  Leave Mt. Davis as is, fill in foul territory with seats ($25 million). Given the $100 million lower deck renovation at Dodger Stadium, this seems like I’m undershooting things quite a bit. But most of the money at Dodger Stadium went towards extremely well outfitted clubhouses and a large, swanky club restaurant behind the plate. There are some structural things to address, such as dugout expansion and realignment. The bullpens might have to be moved. One way to go would be to scrap the existing lower bowl and make it more like one of the original cookie cutters, like Shea or Riverfront. Chief benefits would be more seating at improved angles, plus additional concourse space in theory. However, it would be expensive to implement and would eliminate most of the views from concourse, at least down the lines. Plus the way the concrete beams that support the Plaza level are only 4 feet above the lower concourse floor, so a concourse expansion would have to be another 4 feet lower than the existing lower concourse in order to allow for proper circulation.

An expanded concourse has its downsides and challenges

An expanded concourse has its downsides and challenges

Option D: Move home plate back eight feet, bringing every seat on average 6 feet closer to fair territory ($5-10 million). Also known as the Ken Arneson plan, this proposal would sacrifice views from the Value (upper) deck in order to bring everyone else several feet closer. I like the idea of the Monster-type seats in the outfield, though I would also like to see a wholesale rework of the bleachers with steeper pitched seats if they’re going to add a premium option. That way the first row could be as little as 8-10 feet above the field, instead of the 15-foot high scoreboard wall that exists in the power alleys. While they’re at it, the metal “notch” sections that fill in either down the lines for baseball (sideline for football) should be replaced. They have a nasty tendency to pool water when it rains, and they’re more weathered than the permanent concrete sections. Changes like these certainly won’t be eye popping or easy to spell out in an offseason ticket sales pitch, but they can certainly help the vast majority of fans without incurring great expense.

The Giants and Cardinals both made changes to their venues as they waited for their purpose-built ballparks to materialize. In both cases, they built fan goodwill that was cashed in when their ballparks opened. Just as the A’s built new training facilities and rebuilt a ballpark in Mesa, a similar investment could pay off in Oakland. It couldn’t come until everyone knew the Raiders were leaving, so we wait. And wait.

Oakland, the non-entity

They didn’t come, they didn’t see, and they didn’t conquer.

That was Oakland’s vibe at the NFL owners meetings. St. Louis made its stadium presentation previously, while San Diego did theirs yesterday and Carson made their preso today. It’s even possible that, unless Oakland pulls a rabbit out of its hat, it may not be invited to make a presentation in October either.

One of the many versions of Coliseum City that didn't solidify into a proposal

One of the many versions of Coliseum City that didn’t solidify into a proposal

Look, the bad news was known weeks before this week’s meetings. Oakland was not invited to make a presentation in front of the owners in suburban Chicago this week, because, to put it mildly, the NFL didn’t believe Oakland had a presentation to make. Here’s how you know how bad it is – in April Mayor Libby Schaaf hired one-time planning director Claudia Cappio to be the new assistant city administrator in charge of development. Among other responsibilities, Cappio became the de facto spokesperson for the project. That’s never a good sign, because when the City puts out a staffer and not a single Oakland politician wants to lay claim to the project, you know it’s in bad shape. What happened to Fred Blackwell? Remember him? Is he no longer consulting for the project? Oh that’s right, he left for a private sector gig. Blackwell clearly saw the writing on the wall.

The most damning statement came from NFL point man-cum-hatchet man Eric Grubman, who said this about Oakland’s situation:

‘The Oakland Raiders have great fans in Oakland city and the county of Oakland and a lot broader territory, but the facts on the ground are that there’s been no viable proposal that’s been made to the Raiders,’ Grubman said. ‘We’ve said one thing consistently to any of the markets that have been engaged in trying to put forth a proposal and it really rests on a couple of pillars. One of them is that a proposal has to be specific. The second is that it has to be attractive to a team and the third is it has to be actionable.

‘What actionable means is it can’t just be an idea to the extent that there is enabling legislation or enabling financing activities or there are litigation threats or anything of that nature, anything that needs to be assembled in a time frame where a club can act on it. Thus far, those sorts of tests have not been made in Oakland so as of yet, there is no proposal for the Raiders to consider.’

The irony of this is if the words above were uttered by Lew Wolff he would be ripped in column after column by the usual lazy critics. Wolff’s statements about Oakland in the past have largely had a similar tone and verbiage. But since Grubman doesn’t represent a specific team, and is in fact an arbiter of sorts for the NFL, these words will be met with little debate by potential critics, and mostly resigned disappointment by others. Yet look at that second paragraph. It is on par with Wolff saying that people can’t just point to a site and hope it into becoming viable. It needs to pencil out. And for three years and counting, Oakland has not made Coliseum City pencil out, not to any appreciable degree.

Thing is, I agree to some extent with what Oakland’s doing. It tried, it found out that the NFL wasn’t interested in a complex developer-finance scheme, it looked for alternatives and found nothing but resistance. All that’s left is to give up or wait for the NFL to kill Oakland. The former provides some (though not much) political cover for pols regarding constituents who want to see the City move on from Coliseum City. The latter provides cover when facing Raiders fans. In the meantime Oakland can finish the process, since it won’t hurt to do so with 10 or 40 days left in the ENA. Two months until the next meetings is not enough to rally the resources to make Coliseum City or an alternative happen, especially if Mark Davis isn’t committed to the effort.

There also has to be some detached bemusement coming from Rob Manfred and the Lodge. Unless Manfred worked out some sort of wink-nudge deal with Oakland, Manfred has to be wondering what kind of effort and political will he can expect out of Oakland for a ballpark. Observers have been poking holes in Coliseum City for years, and Oakland has done little to prove them wrong. Consider that the main accomplishment at Coliseum City was the passage of a planning-oriented EIR. That’s a procedural step, not a truly major milestone. Manfred will certainly play nice with Oakland once a ballpark process begins, but if he doesn’t like what he hears, don’t be surprised if he turns the heat up on the City and even Wolff. Manfred’s previous job was to get the best deals out of everyone MLB worked with, from cities to media outlets.

For now, desperate Raiders fans are left to criticize other cities’ stadium proposals in hopes that their success or failure will “trap” the Raiders in Oakland. It’s hard to come up with a concept more absurd than that. The NFL wants results, and if Oakland can’t provide them, the league is not going to sympathize. It will move on.

Wolff looks elsewhere at Coliseum, Alameda County looks to leave JPA

NFL franchise relocation point man Eric Grubman made a visit to Oakland to talk Raiders stadium. Not much emerged from the talks other than Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley once again expressing a desire for the County to sell its half of the JPA (land and debt) to Oakland. That’s both good and bad – good in that having Oakland as the sole public entity involved would simplify the deal greatly, bad in that Oakland would have to find the cash to buy the County’s half and figure out how to fund infrastructure for Coliseum City. It’s possible that proceeds from the land sale would take care of the debt, but what about everything else? Oakland would effectively be trading one set of hassles for another.

The big scene-stealing news came from Lew Wolff, who walked back the MLB subsidy idea while providing slightly more detail on his plans. Interestingly, Wolff is considering a site he looked at way back when he was not yet an owner, instead working as an executive for Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann. No, it’s not the flea market all over again, nor does it appear to be the existing complex, either directly north or south of the Coliseum. Instead the site of choice may be what I like to call Coliseum South, better known as the Malibu/HomeBase parcels to the south adjacent to the Coliseum complex.

malibu-homebase

21 acres, though option leaves only 12 acres buildable

The City of Oakland bought the HomeBase site in 2010. That and the triangular Malibu lot total 21 acres, City owned, not JPA owned. Other lots in the vicinity (Denny’s and the EDD building) are privately owned and would have to be purchased separately for additional ancillary development. I suggested the possibility of building there in 2005, shortly after I started this blog. Back then the HomeBase site still had an empty shell of a warehouse, which frequently housed the homeless while the parking lot hosted sideshows.

coliseum_south

My 2005 concept which would’ve included a small retail-entertainment district beyond the outfield

21 acres of City-owned land that’s only used as parking? Break ground tomorrow, right? Not so fast. The City had worked hard to bring the County in only recently because of the pre-existing partnership. Should the County exit stage left and the City work out the financials, that would be a major step forward. However, there is a major encumbrance on the Malibu lot that makes it extremely difficult to build there – utilities.

Current assessor's map

Current assessor’s map

The dotted lines running northwest-to-southeast through the Malibu lot represent EBMUD’s sewer interceptor easement, which cannot have anything built on it. Power transmission lines run north-south along the east parcel line, up against the edge of the HomeBase lot. Unless someone is willing to pay the freight for relocating those utilities, chances are that the Malibu lot will remain a parking lot. That leaves 12 acres for a ballpark. The HomeBase parcel is less than 600 feet wide, making for a tight fit for a ballpark. AT&T Park is about 600 feet wide if you extend the first base line out to the promenade and back to King Street. Those constraints obviously go away if the utilities on the Malibu lot can be relocated. Keep in mind that means working with the Public Utilities Commission, EBMUD and PG&E, and chances are that it would mean more than moving them around to simply avoid the Malibu lot. If both utilities are going to be involved, they’ll want projects that are much more long-term, which means much more comprehensive projects. Who knows, it may ultimate prove worth the investment.

Wolff suggests MLB will help subsidize Oakland ballpark

Tyler Clippard did better as A’s closer than I expected, possibly faint praise in light of the pitiful nature of the rest of the bullpen. After Clippard was traded to the Mets for potential back-of-the-rotation starter Casey Meisner, Billy Beane was asked about the team’s strategy and philosophy. Inevitably the discussion turned to his thoughts on a future ballpark (h/t BANG’s John Hickey), whenever the hell that’s gonna happen.

“It seems the environment maybe is right. It’s not my department… I don’t want to be Pollyannaish. I’m hopeful that something or some progress will be made. It will make it easier to plan from a baseball operations standpoint. If you had a ballpark (in the works), this would probably be the proper approach.”

Beane has echoed similar thoughts before, as the A’s were pushing for ballparks in both Fremont and San Jose. It would be completely acceptable for Billy to be gun-shy considering the failures of the past. Yet Beane seemed practically optimistic, despite there being no specific date to break ground, let alone open a new park.

Backing that optimism was Wolff, who took the notion of an Oakland ballpark further, admitting that he’s – get this – talking it over with Rob Manfred.

Wolff did say that new commissioner Rob Manfred was fully behind the A’s getting a new venue as soon as possible. And the A’s owner said Major League Baseball would likely kick in some money to help the A’s get a stadium done at the Oakland site, public money not being available.

That’s about as big of news as we’ve heard all year on the ballpark front. A private subsidy – that’s what we’re talking about here – is exactly what the A’s will need to make a ballpark in Oakland… wait for it… feasible. Oakland has a hearty albeit small fanbase, and it lacks San Francisco’s or San Jose’s corporate wealth. Money from MLB, which would really be paid by the richer clubs, is the stable revenue stream that the A’s need to stay in Oakland. And since it doesn’t come from Oakland or Alameda taxpayers, it’s politically above board.

The easiest path to that money is MLB to continue to keep the A’s on revenue sharing, which I suggested a week ago. While it doesn’t fulfill the goal of getting the A’s off the dole, it solves the Lodge’s problem of figuring out what to do with the A’s without fighting over territorial rights. Enshrined in the current CBA is language specific to the A’s:

Beginning with (but not before) their first full season of operation in a new stadium, the Oakland Athletics shall be subject to the same-percentage revenue sharing disqualification that applies to other market-disqualified Clubs in the given Revenue Sharing Year.

Those “market-disqualified Clubs” are the top 15 markets (teams) in MLB. The bottom 15 are fully eligible for revenue sharing. As long as the A’s stay in the Coliseum, they straddle that line between the two. The owners and Bud Selig probably thought that the A’s stadium mess would’ve been resolved by the end of the CBA, that’s why the language is in there. Instead, Selig’s successor, Manfred, and those same owners now have the choice of resolving the A’s problem by allowing the A’s to stay on revenue sharing. It’s a compromise plan to be sure, one the owners always had in their back pocket.

Revenue sharing is designed to help the have-nots with player development, not for stadium development. That’s an issue that would have to be worked out internally. I would expect that, as with the current CBA, the A’s place within the revenue sharing recipients pool will have another sunset clause, one that’s perhaps 10 years down the road.

There is an alternative to revenue sharing in the form of MLB’s credit facility, which allows up to $100 million per team for reasons outside of normal baseball operations. Eventually that may be the better way to handle the situation. Use of the credit facility would be more like the NFL’s G-3/G-4 program, in that a loan would be taken out against future TV revenues. It’s a smaller subsidy, but if the ballpark costs a reasonable amount ($600 million), it could be enough to cover those years when stadium revenues are running a little dry.

If you were looking for a sign that Wolff and John Fisher are serious about building in Oakland, this is it, short of a plan unveiling. It shows that ownership is serious, MLB is serious, and Oakland is the main focus. At the same time, there is still the saga of Coliseum City to deal with. Nate Miley suggested today that nothing was happening as far as alternative proposals until Coliseum City ends, so we can look forward to that at some point, maybe in the coming weeks. Until then, this is progress.