Rethinking Coliseum City with the A’s in mind

As summer drags on, the deadlines for Coliseum City continue to slip. Whether it’s the EIR or commitments from teams, the multi-billion dollar project moves further into the pipe-dream category than anything resembling real progress. Talks between Oakland, BayIG, and the Raiders (ostensibly) continue at least through October, with BayIG expected to produce real working agreements at that point.

A’s owner Lew Wolff has made himself into something of a foil of Coliseum City. He has never bought into the plans because of the enormous complexity and cost, not to mention the placement of the A’s as a Phase III addition off to the side, scheduled for 2022 or thereabouts. Now Wolff has been in talks with the JPA about an alternative to Coliseum City, which would pay off the Coliseum and Arena debt, which currently total $191 million. Presumably that would be in exchange for rights to free or discounted 120 acres of Coliseum complex land. Should Coliseum City meets in demise and Wolff be given the opportunity to develop at the Coliseum, there are numerous things that can be done to improve upon the ideas first explored with CC. The goal would be to make a more truly attractive, cohesive neighborhood, as opposed to a mega-development with every kind of building crammed into every conceivable open space.

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Concourse Park as the “spine” of Coliseum City, football stadium to the left

When I first saw renderings for Coliseum City, I liked the idea of a spine running through the complex that connected the BART station to the venues and surrounding development. However, when I looked through the master plan released earlier in the spring, I noticed that the spine, or concourse, also acts as the only park in the entire complex. In the 120 acres, what you see above is the only open space. For some that’s fine given the urban context, but it’s also an odd choice given that the anchors are sports facilities. Shouldn’t there be a ballfield, basketball/tennis courts, or something else where residents (yes, there will be residents) can play? Or will everyone in Coliseum City have gym memberships? Not to mention the fact that the concourse will be 30 feet or so above the parking lot or street level. That makes accessibility tough for everyone except for people coming off BART.

Then there’s the placement of the ballpark. Off in the furthest corner of the A lot, fans would take a redone BART bridge from the station, then descend from the concourse and walk 2-3 blocks to the yard. That would miss a major opportunity to integrate the ballpark in a way that not only features the venue, but also invites people to visit.

Speaking of that redone BART bridge, that’s part of the opportunity. For decades now A’s, Raiders, and Warriors fans have gotten desensitized to the concrete-and-chainlink cage that takes them from the BART station to the venues. The biggest compliment anyone can make about the BART bridge is that it’s serviceable. Otherwise it’s generally a negative. It looks foreboding, especially the part over the railroad tracks where the chainlink completely covers you. At 20 feet wide, it’s subject to frequent foot traffic jams, usually caused by vendors taking up a third of the walkway on either side. And it ends with Joe Fan face-to-face with Mt. Davis’s hulking backside. It’s not particularly pleasant. The experience is conducive to simply walking as fast as possible. Rare is the leisurely stroll across.

The BART bridge, where the motto is "Just Keep Swimming"

The BART bridge, where the motto is “Just Keep Swimming”

Coliseum City’s infrastructure plan calls for up to $22 million to be spent on a redone BART bridge. The bridge is 800 feet long. At that length, $22 million can go a long way (hopefully not the way the Bay Bridge East Span went). The bridge will eventually be widened to prevent those large crowd traffic jams. There’s also an opportunity to make the plaza much friendlier, with places to stop along the way, see the ancillary development under construction, and appreciate the view. What view, you ask?

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

Imagine this: You’re coming to your first game at a new A’s ballpark on BART. You see the familiar lights off to the side as the train stops. The lights are a little different, somehow less distant. You take new stairs that bring you directly to the bridge, instead of having to go down then back up. The stadium lights continue to guide your way. As you get closer bits of the ballpark are revealed. First it’s the RF grandstand in the distance, then the scoreboard. Then you get little peeks inside the ballpark. You arrive at a huge, 20,000 square-foot public plaza with monuments to Dennis Eckersley, Joe Rudi, and Chief Bender. The center field gate, to your right, beckons.

But you know better. You know the history of the Coliseum. You know to keep walking along the plaza to the smaller right field gate. Immediately outside that right field gate is a huge bronze statue of Rickey. You know the pose. 939. The statue is placed exactly where third base was in the old Coliseum, only 60 feet higher, maybe because it seemed like Rickey lifted that base 60 feet in the air. That’s the gate you use. That’s the gate you teach your children to use.

When you’re inside, one old friend has returned: the Oakland Hills in left. No longer blocked by a concrete wall of suites and football seats, Leona Quarry, now partly developed, comes back into view. There’s something in front of it, though.

Mary Avenue Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge in Cupertino. Photo by R.S. Shaw

$14 million Mary Avenue Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge in Cupertino. Photo by R.S. Shaw

Somehow you missed some pretty great architecture that you were walking on. You must’ve been really excited to the see the ballpark, eh? Well, you can take in the new view of the bridge and the hills from your seat. Life’s pretty good.

P.S. – I almost forgot – there’s a football stadium too. Like the Coliseum City plan, there’s space set aside for it just as there was for a ballpark. The stadium flanks the plaza the same way the ballpark does. Some fans in either stadium will have views into the opposite venue. I can’t say how it would be financed or what size it will be, whether it will have a retractable roof, or any other details. The point is, the space is there. It’s up to Mark Davis, the NFL, and other investors to figure the rest out.

Notice in the overlay I put together that the combination of the two stadia, even with the plaza in between, is only slightly larger than the old Coliseum, which covers 20 acres (Levi’s Stadium has a 17-acre footprint) . Despite placing two stadia there, only 1100-1200 parking spaces are lost. Those could be recaptured by reclaiming space after the arena is demolished, though I would prefer to keep the arena there if there’s a way to operate it without running deeply in the red after the Warriors leave.

P.P.S. – Now I’m sure you have a lot of questions. That’s good, because I left out a lot of details. Fire away.

The “new” architect and a great old Coliseum idea

Out of the formality that was the Coliseum extension news on Tuesday was a related item that got Oakland fans all excited and hopeful. Lew Wolff, in full photo op mode with the various assembled pols, mentioned that he was working with an architect on a ballpark design at the Coliseum. Wolff gave few specifics, other than saying that “several design ideas” were being considered. Wolff declined to say much else, or even identify the architecture firm he’s working with.

The general sense of astonishment I saw in articles and social media feedback, and in Damon Bruce’s lighthearted take on it on his radio show yesterday, confirmed yet again the fact that the average fan is not going to be bothered to keep up with much of the news. Not that they should be expected to, this is a fairly boring subject at the planning and political stage, and has niche value once shovels hit dirt. Still, fans called in and mused with great hope about one feature or another being integrated into a new ballpark at the Coliseum. But it seemed as if they weren’t going to believe in Wolff’s overtures until he uttered those magic words, I’m working with an architect. My goodness, an architect! Fiddle-dee-dee!

Of course, those who have been following this stadium saga for some time probably already know that Wolff has been working with a prominent architecture firm for nearly a decade. That firm is 360 Architecture, a company that had roots in HOK and created an offshoot, Heinlein Schrock Stearns, before merging with another to become 360 in 2004. They opened an office in San Francisco in the fall of 2005, as the Coliseum North plan transformed into Fremont’s Pacific Commons. Later they worked up plans for the Diridon site and the soccer stadium near San Jose Airport. And if you read SVBJ scribe Nate Donato-Weinstein’s interview with 360 principal Brad Schrock from Tuesday, you might’ve picked up a hint of what was happening next.

Donato-Weinstein: What’s your dream project?

Schrock: We’ve been working with the A’s for such a long time. I’d love to do a ballpark for the A’s. I’d love to do one in San Jose or Oakland. The A’s are just such an interesting franchise. Trying to craft a facility that meets their mojo is a lot of fun. The other one I would die to be involved in is if the city of LA ever gets an NFL team. That would be phenomenal to work on.

While there are no major league ballparks under Schrock’s new shingle, his firm is responsible for the lovely Huntington Park, which I visited a few weeks ago. During his Heinlein Schrock Stearns days he was responsible for Safeco Field, which to me is #1 or #2 in the bigs. 360 is more well known for arenas than stadia, having designed Sprint Center in KC, but with most arenas being early in their lifespans, the firm has done outdoor venues. They cut their NFL teeth on MetLife Stadium, whose soullessness is not 360’s fault but rather the design-by-committee, tug-of-war conducted by the Giants and Jets. Now they’re working an an incredibly ambitious project, the new Atlanta Falcons Stadium. They also have the upcoming Rogers Place in Edmonton under construction, and the Earthquakes Stadium, which is set to open next year.

Some of the plans under consideration in Fremont included a truly retro design featuring columns, similar to legacy ballparks Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. Partly motivated by cost savings and a desire for better sightlines, the concept didn’t appear to go far thanks to the stigma held by obstructed view seats. Assuming that column-free, minimal-cantilever is the chosen path, I think there are some very important positive lessons than can be taken from being stuck at the Coliseum – not just the Coliseum of yesteryear, but the current tarped-off, Mt. Davis-eyesore version.

One of those lessons has to do with the noise level. Sure, the expansive foul territory makes the seats down the lines terribly far away from the action. The activity of the crowd, which is good even on 15k nights, makes up for the lack of line-hugging seats. Yet there’s one other thing that contributes to the noise factor, and it only really started when the tarps were installed in 2006.

Simply put, about 90% of the Coliseum’s seats (in current baseball configuration) are lower than 60 feet above the field. That’s about 32,000 seats. That vertical conservation concentrates crowd noise to a degree not known since old Comiskey and Tiger Stadium were still around. That’s why today’s MLB players are so taken aback when they come into the Coliseum, because despite the old girl’s decrepitude, it’s uncommonly loud.

Why? Just look at how ballparks are constructed these days. It’s easy to point to levels of suites, and yes they are largely responsible, but there are also regulatory standards that come into play. On the lower concourse, wheelchair rows need to be 30-36 inches above the row in front of them for proper compliance. That height grows the higher you go. Plus architects have their own guidelines to prevent people in the back rows from having their views clipped by an overhang, which happens in the back rows of both the Field and Plaza levels at the Coli.

In new ballparks, especially those that follow the familiar HOK blueprint, you have a lower deck of about 30-40 rows, then the elevated wheelchair row merged with the concourse, then decent height so standees can properly see the action. Then there are club and suite levels in different configurations. Finally there’s the upper deck, which these days is split into two decks. When you look at a cross section of a ballpark, it’s easy to identify 4 or 5 separate seating levels, all the better for the teams to separate those levels by price.

Coors Field, which is similar to AT&T Park. Top row is 105 feet above field.

Coors Field, which is similar to AT&T Park. Top row is 105 feet above field.

Take Coors Field, which is pretty much the standard bearer among the modern, HOK/Populous breed. Lower deck, Club level, Suite level, Upper deck. It’s a big building that was downsized before the start of the season. That’s good, but it won’t fix the sightline problem. The top row is 105 feet above the field, which makes the action truly look like it’s a Mile High. Add to that the limited cantilevering and it’s pretty far from the action, nearly 235 feet from home plate to that back row in the upper deck. Could be worse, though. Mt. Davis’s top row at the 50-yard line is 335 feet from the near sideline. That’s longer than a home run in the LF/RF corners.

pitch-low_two-med

A two-deck ballpark design with no suites in between

Now look at this cross-section, which somewhat mimics the first two decks at the Coliseum. It has 32-36 rows down low, 24 rows up above, then skyboxes over it. The last row is only 56 feet above the field. There is only one regular concourse, but it’s 65-83 feet wide. There are club seats and a separate club concourse up top, probably with no fancy lounge or restaurant. Above the suites is a rooftop deck, which can be used the same way the 49ers use theirs at Levi’s Stadium. Or it could simply provide expanded seating in the future. The roof is only 88 feet above the field, or almost 2 stories lower than the top row at Coors.

Overlay of Coors and two-deck concept

Overlay of Coors and two-deck concept

There are compromises. The suites and club seats are about 20-25 feet further away from their counterparts at Coors (AT&T). Does that matter? I doubt it.

To be clear, I have no idea if 360 and Wolff are pursuing anything like this. It would be a great way to go. It brings over that vertical conservation that no other ballpark in the majors save for PNC Park attempts to accomplish. If the goal is the best baseball viewing experience, I hope that this is something that the A’s-360 team is exploring. We’ll all be better off in the end if they did.

Alameda County approves A’s lease unanimously 5-0

After a relatively brief, much less heated discussion over the A’s lease extension than was had by the City two weeks ago, Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the extension. The deal keeps the A’s in the Coliseum until at least 2018, and up to 2024 if the team chooses to stay there. Though the deal is characterized as a 10-year lease, the 2014 season runs concurrent with the new deal.

Supervisor Keith Carson asked the most pointed questions of JPA negotiator Jon Streeter, mostly about the debt and the characterization of the new lease as a better deal for the County (and City) than previous leases. Streeter noted that the more money comes in upfront, plus the A’s have to pay off the lease even if they leave the Coliseum early. Miley noted that the original A’s escape provision calls for no payoff if the team pursued a new ballpark elsewhere in Alameda County. The language was changed to Oakland only, meaning the A’s would pay full termination even if they made a stadium deal in Fremont or even San Leandro. Streeter also repeated the notion that the upcoming scoreboard project, which the A’s are paying for, means that the JPA no longer has a potentially big liability item to worry about, since the JPA has been to date responsible for the outdated, frequently failing scoreboard.

To recap the major deal points:

  • A’s stay until at least 2018, up to 2024. A’s must give at least 2 calendar years’ notice if they plan to leave early.
  • The JPA must also give the A’s 2 years’ notice if a Raiders stadium deal comes to fruition and forces the A’s to vacate.
  • Lease payments are $1.75 for this year, $1.5 MM in 2015, $1.5 MM in 2016-19, and $1.25 from 2020-24.
  • A’s will spend at least $10 million on new scoreboard system. A’s retain all revenue from A’s games, Raiders/JPA can split non-A’s game revenue as they see fit.
  • JPA sets aside $1 million per year (increasing 5% annually) to establish a stadium maintenance fund (presumably for fixing plumbing, leaks, etc.)
  • JPA will pay $200,000/year for the O.co signage caps above the scoreboards. A’s may end up replacing those caps as part of the scoreboard project.
  • A’s and JPA will continue stadium discussions on land at or adjacent to the Coliseum (nowhere else like Howard Terminal).
  • The parking arbitration matter is resolved, all claims dismissed.

The JPA and County clarified that there is $191.4 million in outstanding debt at the Coliseum complex: $106.5 million for the stadium, $84.9 for the Arena. Bonds will be retired in 2025 and 2026, respectively.

Next up is MLB’s expected approval of the lease, and the City of Oakland’s next steps in negotiating with the Raiders and BayIG over Coliseum City.

A’s approve City-revised lease, await County vote

No drama this week. The A’s approved the last-minute changes the City of Oakland made to the lease agreement. When Alameda County approves next week, everyone should be square. The A’s put out a press release, in short:

The Oakland A’s have come to an agreement with the JPA on all outstanding points regarding a new 10-year lease at the Coliseum. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors, are scheduled to vote on the lease July 29.

We appreciate the cooperation and efforts of Oakland city officials in this process and are optimistic that our negotiations have led to a fair and mutually-beneficial relationship. Most of all, we are happy for our great fans who, pending the county’s vote, will know that the Oakland Athletics will continue to play its games at O.co Coliseum.

More coverage is available from SFGate and BANG.

With the lease issue very close to resolution, the NFL is once again talking about a football team in LA – at perhaps a league-owned stadium, no less. Curious timing to say the least.

Still, there will be those who keep saying to never trust Lew Wolff, don’t give in, etc. I’ll just leave this snippet from another East Bay legend here:

If I speak at one constant volume
At one constant pitch
At one constant rhythm
Right into your ear
You still won’t hear

Oakland City Council approves amended lease 5-2, now goes back to JPA/County/A’s for approval

A lease agreement was passed tonight. Not the lease agreement the JPA sent to Oakland’s City Council. Instead the Council voted 5-2 (with 1 abstention) to approve an amended lease that included fairly minor changes. Among those changes:

  • A clarification on how the A’s use their termination clause. Example: If the A’s provide notice on January 1, 2016, the lease ends on December 31, 2018. If they provide notice after 1/1/16, termination doesn’t occur until 2019. This was not actually a point of dispute, it’s just that the language was somewhat confusing so an example was provided.
  • A typo in the the agenda document indicated that the the developer fee/deposit for continuing redevelopment at the Coliseum (Coliseum City) was both $10 million and $20 million. This was clarified as $10 million, and was agreed upon in the lease approved by the JPA on July 3.
  • A new section 42.7 that codified lease practices defined in the 2013 (current) lease.
  • A section on Licensor (JPA) default was removed for some reason. It has been added back to the agreement.
  • If the A’s are sold, there is a clause (16.1) that explains how the team transfers the lease to the new owner without requiring JPA approval. The requested change is to include the fact that new owner must be MLB-approved.
  • Removal of language that makes the JPA liable for Raiders’ acts/omissions that are approved by the JPA. The language now solely deals with the A’s revenues and benefits going strictly to the A’s, not to any third party.
  • There’s also a need to clean up language, which is customary in contract negotiations. It’s unclear what those cleanups are.

All in all, there’s little reason for the A’s to decline the lease. On the other hand, these changes are so minor it’s a wonder why they had to be debated in public, with the exception of the typo in the second bullet point.

Council President Pat Kernighan put forth a motion early on to consider the lease with these amendments. That caused CM Larry Reid, who is also a JPA board member, to put forth his own substitute motion that would have the Council vote on the lease as is. At the end of the session, Reid’s substitute motion lost 4-3. Kernighan’s won 5-2. After the votes the Council tried to clear up whether or not the JPA or the Alameda County Board of Supervisors would have to vote on the revised agreement. Naturally, the answer is YES. The BoS will meet on July 29 to go over this new lease and perhaps the old lease two, so they may end up voting on both. The JPA will have to take another special session vote shortly thereafter, and A’s ownership will also have to sign off.

A’s President Mike Crowley was on hand to witness the festivities. After JPA counsel Jon Streeter presented the lease in great detail and asked questions, Crowley was asked to provide a comment on the amended lease. Kernighan was concerned about putting Crowley on the spot, while Reid encouraged Crowley’s opinion. Crowley said that he preferred the original lease as is, though he allowed for the typo correction. After the vote he said he was “disappointed” by the Council’s action. Whether he’s disappointed in the terms or in the fact that everyone’s in for 2 more weeks of gestation over a lease wasn’t clear. Crowley reserved further comment until he had a chance to review the terms.  Kernighan mentioned that she talked with Lew Wolff earlier in the morning, and with a caveat that she wasn’t representing him, revealed that the changes didn’t seem like showstoppers.

There was plenty of time for grandstanding, so several Council members took turns doing it. CM Desley Brooks considers the lease a regression from terms outlined last November. Streeter rebutted that, explaining the back-and-forth of the lease talks that dated back to a year ago. Streeter’s main points were that the A’s are paying double the annual rent of the pre-2013 deal, were guaranteeing $20 million even if they stayed less than the full 10 years, and provides flexibility for all interests (A’s, Raiders, BayIG, JPA, City/County). CM Dan Kalb was unusually high-strung,

Kalb went on to chastise the A’s in advance, in case the A’s don’t approve the deal with the changes. Reid and Noel Gallo were the dissenters, instead voting for the original agreement. They both sowed FUD in their comments, Gallo was more restrained while Reid pulled the full “do what you want, it’s not my fault” card.

Libby Schaaf’s comments were noticeably brief, calling an approved lease (without saying which one) a crucial step towards keeping the A’s in Oakland. Both Schaaf and Rebecca Kaplan opened with some campaign speak, which I necessarily tuned out. Schaaf, Kaplan, Kalb, Kernighan, and Lynette Gibson McElhany provided the Yes votes.

A bizarre moment came late when Alameda County Supervisor and JPA President Nate Miley took time to explain to Gallo how the City of Oakland’s Coliseum City discussions with BayIG worked. At least an hour was spent explaining details that the Council not only should’ve known weeks ago. Current former JPA members such as Reid, Kaplan, and Brooks talked up their knowledge of the issues, yet the rest of the Council seemed inexplicably in the dark. Before Kernighan made her motion, Brooks asked for a full presentation, this after Streeter answered numerous questions about the lease and negotiation.  Communication between the JPA, City, and County is so broken that it’s hard not to be skeptical about the group’s ability to work out a deal as large and complex as Coliseum City. The lack of preparation on the Council’s part was on full display and it wasn’t pretty.

Nearly 30 public comments were given. They included Raiders fans like Dr. Death and Bauce, who raged against the Council. Lil Bartholo spoke first about the team’s and MLB’s blackmail and extortion techniques. The anti-lease, generally anti-Wolff crowd was well represented. However, interspersed among them were several A’s employees who mostly spoke about simply keeping the A’s in Oakland. Out of the five employees I observed, only one overtly called for the lease to be approved. They talked about how they were both fans and employees, about how some of them had union jobs, about how they were trying to collectively bargain for benefits, but the lease fiasco puts such negotiations on hold. An SEIU rep even called for the lease to be tied to a 10-year labor agreement, which is probably an overreach. Regardless, the image of employees coming forth to stand for their jobs was powerful.

Also present was a rep from the scoreboard installation company that could be contracted to work on the Coliseum. The man (whose name I didn’t get) emphasized that the lease had to be approved soon to allow for the equipment to be ordered and installed in time for the next baseball season. Emperor Nobody got some good anger at the system in, though he ran out of time (he’s on the KTVU clip so that’s good, right?).

Attorney Streeter acquitted himself well, handling all of the questions that came his way. He had to explain the rent provisions at least twice, and covered all of the major lease aspects well. It took 2 hours and 10 minutes, but the $200 million debt elephant finally came up. There’s no obvious answer as to how it the debt gets retired. Miley mentioned that the A’s are looking to buy the Coliseum land. Those who distrust Wolff don’t believe that. Streeter then boiled down the whole point of the lease. 

Streeter addressed the A’s-Oakland parking fee dispute. Arbitration is pending. Oakland is asking for $5.4 million. If the City wins they could also be reimbursed $600,000 in legal fees. The amount that the A’s are willing to pay was not disclosed. Streeter factored a discounted amount of a potential arbitration award into the lease. Why? There’s the inherent risk that the City could lose the arbitration. That makes the lease a sort of hedge.

Finally, as further questions were asked about the leases of both the A’s and Raiders, especially the ongoing operating subsidy. While I’ve always known about the subsidy, I’ve never heard it explained in such simple terms. Basically it goes like this:

  • The A’s pay for all gameday operations: power, water, groundskeeping, security. This is for a 180-day season.
  • The A’s pay $1.5 million in rent per season.
  • The A’s receive revenue from pouring rights, stadium advertising, and a chunk of concessions.
  • The A’s keep parking revenue with the exception of the tax that has to be paid to the City & County.

Contrast this with the Raiders

  • The Raiders pay $400,000 per year in rent.
  • The Raiders split parking revenues with the JPA, their share being roughly $1.75 million for the 2013 season.
  • The Raiders pay for zero stadium operating costs, and are subsidized to the tune of $7 million per year, including the costs to convert the stadium between baseball and football (and vice-versa).

Late tonight, word came that the Raiders may want a year extension, though it wasn’t clear if that’s on top of the 2015 option year or something else. I hope the Raiders’ lease gets the same kind of scrutiny the A’s lease gets. It’s the painful yet needed part of the ongoing adult conversation.

P.S. – Wolff met with San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed yesterday at the SJ Fairmont. The meeting was described as a “check-in.”

Oakland City Council Meeting 7/16 Open Thread

If, like me, you can’t make it to the meeting tonight, you can watch the stream here. You’ll need Silverlight or Real Player to watch. If anyone knows how I can embed one of these old Granicus streams, I’ll post it here.

The comments are open if you want to have a civil, on-topic discussion. I’ll also be live tweeting and mirroring here.

Reference documents (PDF):
Agenda
Coliseum Lease

Selig’s Tortures of Hell and Splitting the Baby

Update 8:50 PMJean Quan is trying to delay the vote, supposedly to get further concessions from Lew Wolff. Wolff’s comments today don’t sound like he’s giving any additional concessions. 

During today’s customary pre-All Star Game media session, Bud Selig addressed the A’s stadium situation for the umpteenth time. Not surprisingly, Selig’s answers yielded little for fans to be optimistic about. Selig answers that were actual answers were mainly confined to the ongoing lease negotiations at the Coliseum, with no hint as to what would occur in the future whether the lease was approved or not.

Somehow I doubt these were Selig’s personal tortures of hell. After all, he knowingly has created these conditions. It’s been much worse for A’s fans and even local media for being forced to report on this never-ending charade, not to mention little old bloggers who try to make sense of it all. Coupled with Selig’s imploring the Oakland City Council to get the deal done was the presence of Lew Wolff beside him at the Home Run Derby last night, as well as today during the session. It was a not-so-subtle reminder of who the commissioner will side with if Oakland can’t come to an agreement on Wednesday, when the City Council will hold a special session at 5:30 to consider the lease. Meanwhile, there continues to be an epic amount of finger pointing within the Council, as the mayoral candidates take stances for or against the lease and then pull 180’s days later. Those who aren’t running for mayor are sick of the politics. While MLB’s threats seemed to have cowed the Council enough to approve the deal, there’s no telling with could happen in the next 24 hours or so. Selig also acknowledged the success of the exhibition games held in Montreal in the spring, while shooting down Montreal as a potential A’s relocation target.

If anyone feels like they’re in hell, it has to be the members of the JPA board, the Oakland City Council, and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. The mistrust and lack of communication all point to the JPA’s eventual demise, as the two City and County partners have differing visions for how to move forward. The City has been working with BayIG and Colony Capital, and for months has not expeditiously informed the JPA on the process. The JPA decided in recent weeks to figure out a potential deal with the A’s, which could threaten the Raiders’ future at the Coliseum as much as the Coliseum City deal threatens the A’s.

Last week I wondered if the idea of one party buying out the other would come up again from Nate Miley, and sure enough it has. About the only thing that the City and County can agree on is that there are too many cooks in the Coliseum’s kitchen. Miley even brought up a split-the-baby proposal.

“I would say if we could have one party responsible out at the Coliseum and the (Oracle) Arena, that would be the preference,” Miley said.

If there could be an easy way to break up the JPA, that’s it. The arena and stadium have separate financing and debt repayment structures. They’re even separate when it comes to the assessor’s rolls.

 

Most of area is the Coliseum complex, jointly owned by the City and County. Inset within is the arena land to the left. Not shown: additional land acquisitions to the east and north.

Most of area is the Coliseum complex, jointly owned by the City and County. Inset within is the arena land to the left. Not shown: additional land acquisitions to the east and north.

The County would probably be willing to take on the arena and let the City handle the rest of the complex and the development within. If Coliseum City or Wolff’s plan required the arena land, it would be a simple deal to pay off the estimated $70 million owed on the arena after the Warriors leave, assuming that the W’s aren’t liable for the remaining debt. All the County would require is a minimum amount of parking spaces (5,000 or so) to be available and continued access to the BART station via the bridge. That’s a much more manageable situation than the stadium’s $100 million owed after 2017 ($138 million after this year) and $100-400 million in infrastructure costs required to build out a complete development.

The downside of splitting the baby in this manner is that Oakland will find itself in a much riskier position. It alone will have to figure out what to do with the remaining Coliseum debt. It would also have to finance all the new infrastructure without the County’s help. Some state or federal grants could prove helpful, but are increasingly scarce. There’s very little hope of refinancing either the arena or stadium debt in the future if neither is going to have a tenant, so it’ll be up to the developer to pay it off, else the City & County eat it.

Let’s say that the County, as Miley suggests, wants out of this project altogether. Without knowing what the A’s are planning, it’s likely that their Coliseum redevelopment will be similar or smaller in scope than Coliseum City. The problem there is the mutual distrust between Wolff and the City. The City has only been working with the Raiders/BayIG, and would presumably have them as their preferred partner. But if the A’s lease extension is approved, it could jeopardize the existing Coliseum City relationship. Mayor Jean Quan and CM Kaplan can characterize this is not having to choose all they want. MLB and NFL (through proxies) are forcing that decision. Can’t dance with two partners the whole night, Oakland. Sooner or later, one of them’s gonna up and leave, or at least find a new partner.

Another sign controversy

It all started a few weeks ago, when the Oakland Fan Pledge guys reported that they had to take down their sign at a game. Was this a technicality at work, or the A’s putting the hammer on signs they don’t agree with? Since then, it appears that the takedowns have been more frequent. Sign makers are crying First Amendment violations, while defenders of the takedowns say that A’s games are private functions. Of course, they’re held in a publicly-funded venue, so there’s a gray area here*. This fans-with-signs vs. management battle has gone on for decades, and it has never failed to make management look bad. Let’s look at the A’s sign policy.

Banners and Signs:

Management reserves the right to remove any signs or banners at any time. Each sign and banner must comply with the guest code of conduct. Signs and banners may be displayed at games as long as:

• They do not obstruct the sight line of another guest

• They are not larger than 3′ tall x 6′ wide

• They are not in the field of play.

• They do not cover up any existing signage.

• They are not commercial in nature.

• They do not contain obscene or inflammatory language

• They are not paraded around the stadium.

Nothing in there explicitly discusses critiques of management, or even players. If the A’s are going to have a sign policy, they better stick to it and not go beyond their stated rules. Otherwise they’re asking for legal trouble. The backed down in 2010 after John Russo threatened to sue the A’s. Now that Russo has left the government he described as “morally corrupt” (on the way out, of course), is Barbara Parker or someone else going to step in? The only remotely sports-related opinion Parker has rendered so far has been about the City Council’s voting procedure with regards to JPA matters.

At the very least, OPD shouldn’t be helping with the takedowns. Leave Coliseum private security to do it. If someone in the legal field wants to take up the sign makers’ cause, let the chips fall where they may.

* Reason why I say the publicly-owned stadium principle is a gray area is because private isn’t always completely private, nor is public always completely public. AT&T Park is a privately owned and built stadium, yet it’s on public land. Does that make AT&T Park more or less suitable for similar protests?

BayIG backs down on lease term, Quan endorses deal, Wolff denies move out of Bay Area

Ray Ratto has been giving the stadium situation a constant read this week. Wednesday’s piece may have been the best of all, though it can mostly be summed up by this:

halfass

Can we even give the City of Oakland credit for half-assing? May be generous.

Meanwhile, on the news front, the City received another letter Wednesday from BayIG’s lawyers, which indicated that the development mean could be onboard with a plan to provide the A’s 2 years’ notice if a replacement Raiders stadium came to fruition. That’s a backpedal from their original stance, which was to tear down the Coliseum immediately after the A’s 2015 season in order to make way for the new football venue. BayIG suffered a little blowback in the media and from fans, which may have led to this softening.

In that same article, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan continues to believe that the city can continue to host both teams, while endorsing the lease extension approved by the JPA last week. Quan doesn’t get to vote on the deal unless the 8-person City Council is deadlocked. Said Quan,

“I absolutely want the City Council to sign this agreement so that we can get on to negotiating a new stadium (with the A’s).”

We’ll see if she’s forced to break a tie. Several of the council members are undecided, perhaps hoping for concessions from the A’s that probably are not coming.

Word came yesterday morning from The Game’s Chris Townsend that the A’s could be willing to buy out the County’s portion of the JPA, which would allow the team to work on a new development plan for the Coliseum complex. I’m looking into the legality of such an arrangement. The bond issues are heavily tied into specific revenue streams and the property is jointly owned, not divided, so it’s unclear how a private developer could legally replace a public entity. It’s also important to note that BayIG has an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with the JPA for any Coliseum development. That agreement doesn’t expire until October, so any developer whether the A’s or a third party can’t formally engage in talks with the JPA until the ENA expires, assuming it’s not extended. Correction 5:37 PM – As was pointed out in the comments, the ENA is only between BayIG and the City of Oakland, not the JPA. Because of this, Miley or other JPA members could engage in discussions with the A’s over the future of the Coliseum complex.

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Once again, Lew Wolff had to speak publicly about someone else’s suggestion that the A’s could leave the Bay Area. CM Larry Reid suggested the team could go to Montreal or San Antonio, places that coincidentally had hosted exhibition games in March. As I’ve said before, MLB may wield the move threat, but it’s largely toothless without a deal for a new ballpark in a target city. No rumored candidate like Portland, Montreal, San Antonio, or Charlotte is close to having such a deal in place. In fact, Charlotte just opened its AAA ballpark, surviving numerous legal challenges by a local attorney who wanted to aim for MLB, not AAA. Sorry, no Timbuktu.

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A couple other blog posts are worth reading and come from completely different angles. The first is a piece by the Motley Fool advocating for a move to San Jose. It’s a skin-deep analysis, but may portend future San Jose articles in the media, especially if Oakland continues to be a circus. The other is from Death of the Press Box writer Andrew Pridgen, who calls Wolff the “last great owner in baseball.” Mind you, he sets the post up by calling Wolff a prick.

BayIG’s attorney argues against A’s lease extension, asks JPA to stay with ENA

BANG’s Matthew Artz has a story late tonight about Bay IG (the group working on Coliseum City) asking the JPA not to approve the lease and to allow the remaining study work to be completed through the end of the ENA period, which is this October. For whatever reason the letter doesn’t come from BayIG or its members, Colony Capital or JRDV, but rather from the law firm of Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean. Strangely, the lone signatory is a lawyer at the firm, R. Zachary Wasserman, not one of the regular BayIG representatives. Regardless, the letter sends a strong message to not cave in to Lew Wolff’s and MLB’s demands, citing the ongoing Coliseum City work and the money already spent on the project, which has been all public money so far. The letter:

Re:A’s Lease Extension Negotiations and Coliseum City ENA

Dear Mayor Quan,  Council Members and Mr. Gardner:

We have had a chance to briefly review the proposed new lease with the A’s released by the JPA this week. The “out clause” as it is written in Section 7.2.2 will make it impossible to complete the obligations of the development under the Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (“ENA”) with the City.  The ENA requires our team to produce a deal with at least one of the teams.  As you know, the only team that has been willing to engage in active negotiations with us is the Raiders.

The City has spent three years and $4 Million to adopt a plan and an EIR that would allow a major new development at the Coliseum site creating a new environment that can keep both the A’s and the Raiders in Oakland.  The City entered into the amended ENA with our client Bay Investment Group and JRDV and HKS.  Our clients relied on the City’s good faith for almost six months in continuing to fulfill their obligations before the ENA was executed.  We do now have a fully executed ENA and the proposed A’s lease will make it impossible to fulfill the ENA development team’s responsibilities under that agreement.

The A’s have until the last few weeks expressed no interest in talking about the Coliseum Project.  The Raiders who have clearly said they want to stay in Oakland in a new facility have been meeting regularly with representatives of the ENA team.  We believe that we will have an agreed upon term sheet with the Raiders making the Raiders the anchor of a new multi-use football stadium on the Coliseum Site by the end of the summer.  This will allow the ENA team to meet its obligations to have an agreement with the City in October.

As you know, it is the Raiders desire and plan to play in a new facility in Oakland for the 2018 football season.  They are making arrangements to play elsewhere for the intervening time. It will be critical to demolish the existing stadium in 2015 not only to construct the new multi-use Raider’s facility but also to simultaneously construct the associated developments including a hotel, retail and office buildings.  These ancillary developments are critical to support both the developer’s ability to fill the gap on the cost of the multi-use Raider’s facility and to create the necessary tax benefits for the City and the County and create a new major economic engine for Oakland.

The approval of the new lease as proposed, allowing the A’s to remain on the site would frustrate these negotiations with the Raiders, frustrate the  purpose and language of the ENA and prevent the effective development of the Coliseum City Project.  It is not necessary to choose between the teams.  The goal of the ENA and the goal of our team is to provide the necessary support for both teams – and much more.  The ENA, which is valid through October 2014, provides the City and ENA team a period of time for preliminary study and exclusive negotiations over a proposed project at the Coliseum site (which includes and encompasses the area subject to lease negotiations with the A’s).  Terms requiring a two year “Out” notice in the A’s lease will violate the ENA agreement between our clients and the City of Oakland.  All we are asking is for the time to perform that is provided in the agreement you have approved..

The “out clause” in the proposed A’s lease would be triggered by the presentation of a “Raider’s Construction Plan” – this term is not defined.  If it means a detailed engineering plan, then this would allow the A’s to remain in place for two years beyond when the developer and the Raiders would be ready to start construction – which clearly does not make sense.  In addition, the A’s would not be required to leave until 60 days after the conclusion of the second baseball season following the notice – so if notice were given in September of this year, based on the current design plans, the A’s would not have to vacate until late summer of 2016, which means that the new facility and the ancillary development could not be completed until fall of 2019.  But if there were any serious thought of giving notice this year, the new lease – including the economic terms – makes no sense at all.

The City has spent over $4 million dollars in a far sighted and thoughtful effort to create a new, amazing, and absolutely possible development that will create a major new tax base for the City and County, produce thousands of jobs and make it possible to retain at least two teams in Oakland.Permitting the A’s to remain in the existing facility beyond 2015 under the terms of this proposed lease would make the City’s expenditures and efforts a waste of public funds.  The current proposal also simply allows the A’s to buy more time to find a site outside of Oakland.  frustrate Bay IG’s efforts to develop the site and disrupt the ability to deliver a stadium for the Raiders and the ancillary developments adjacent to that stadium.

We ask you to honor the terms of the ENA and allow the development team the time to meet its obligations in October.  Approving the A’s lease as proposed now will make that impossible.  Any decision on this proposed lease should not take place until the ENA team and the Raiders have been allowed the agreed upon time to perform and to create the opportunity that will benefit the A’s as well as the Raiders, their fans  and the entire City and County.

Along with the City, the ENA team wants the A’s to remain in the City of Oakland and at the Coliseum site.  We welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you and any representatives of the JPA and we are certainly open to discussions with the A’s about how we can work together.

 

Very truly yours,

WENDEL, ROSEN, BLACK & DEAN LLP

R. Zachary Wasserman

The “Raiders Construction Plan” is defined in the lease terms, under section 44.32:

“Raiders Construction Plan” means a bona fide plan for construction of a new football stadium for the Oakland Raiders on current Complex property, adjacent to the current Complex property, or otherwise located sufficiently near to the Stadium such that it will materially impact Licensee’s operations, which bona fide plan must include, as pertains to such stadium project, a fully executed development agreement with a third-party developer and the Licensor for development of a new Raiders stadium, supported by a non-refundable deposit from the developer and received by the Licensor of at least Twenty Million Dollars ($20,000,000.00).

Now, the term “bona fide plan” is subject to some interpretation. Basically it refers to the Disposition and Development Agreement for the land, Master Lease, and any other supporting documents needed to produce the deal. The 49ers and Santa Clara went through the same thing for Levi’s Stadium, so it’s not as if there’s some mystery here. Wasserman is a well-known, respected real estate and land use lawyer. He knows full well what all of this entails.

Matier and Ross have a new item up regarding this letter, including some key quotes. I’ll just present them here.

Nate Miley: “We (the City/County) still owe about $180 million on the stadium. This is either smoke and mirrors, or they are on crack.”

A’s VP Ken Pries: “From our position, we just don’t think that (Raiders project) is going to happen – we are betting it doesn’t.”

After 2014, the amount owed on the Coliseum will be closer to $138 million, much smaller than Miley states but still quite sizable. Miley has been the biggest skeptic on Coliseum City among the JPA board, and has shown no signs of wavering. Larry Reid noted that BayIG has the backing of the City, but not the JPA, so it appears that the two are at loggerheads over more than just a lease agreement. It makes me wonder how the two could come to any kind of consensus. Miley could also step up his rhetoric on having the City buy out the County, though the City doesn’t have the funds (a recent budget surplus isn’t nearly enough).

 

Speaking of funds, the BayIG letter mentions $4 million in public (JPA) funds spent on Coliseum City studies. To date, I am unaware of any money that has been spent by BayIG other the funds that have been released to them. Colony Capital, the financial muscle behind the plan, hasn’t raised a single red cent. Maybe the biggest objection, not mentioned in the letter, is the A’s lease agreement’s demand of a $10 or 20 million, non-refundable deposit from the eventual developer. Such a deposit would show BayIG had real skin in the game.

As for Pries, it’s the first real statement we’ve heard from the A’s that they don’t think much of Coliseum City’s prospects. It’s really nothing more than to confirm why they had no interest in the project as it’s being conceived. The A’s have laid down their cards – they’re calling out BayIG and seeing if they can deliver. It’s yet another way to shake up the tree. BayIG says it will have all of the lingering questions answered by the end of the ENA period. The A’s are betting they don’t. The Raiders? Well, Mark Davis seems content to go with the flow. For now, at least.