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.

The 49ers’ grass problem could be solved with restraint

A year ago, the 49ers got the cherry on top of their football stadium sundae, a highly sought-after LEED Gold certification. LEED Gold had never been designated upon a sports venue previously, so with that Levi’s Stadium was considered the environmental belle of the ball, as far as venues go.

Since then, much attention has been paid to the wonderful green roof, the plethora of solar panels, the wise use of gray water – all the buzz words you frequently read about when a building is touted for its environmental bonafides. Yet all of that has been overshadowed by the one thing that everyone sees on TV, the damaged and dangerous grass surface.

After a couple of sod changes, including a change in the type of Bermuda strain, blame was placed squarely on the gravel-sand subsurface used to get the grass to take root. Anyone who has laid out sod in the yard with their dad knows the typical issues: make sure the dirt isn’t rocky or full of clay. Water regularly and at the right times. Grass is not easy to grow, and even harder to maintain. You’d think the grass – just for the sake of the 49ers’ health – would be of paramount importance. But in ownership’s never-ending search for high profile non-football events, the grass has practically become a barrier to revenue generation.

The easy move, of course, would be to switch to artificial turf. It’s plastic and rubber, is a ton easier to maintain than grass, and is easily removed for concerts and other events. The 49ers already installed turf on the fringes of the field, where carts and other equipment are likely to travel. The field remains grass for now, and the fight to keep the grass in place will be fierce, as this is California, where fake turf is anathema (Cal’s Memorial Stadium being a notable exception).

Replenishing and regenerating grass is not exactly the most green of procedures. Besides the grass that is trucked in every spring for initial installation, a completely separate field is maintained at a Central Valley facility, for use when the stadium field is inevitably damaged. Roll upon roll of the replacement stuff is used to repair parts of the stadium field before giving way to a wholesale replacement. The damaged grass is trucked back to Livingston, where it is rehabilitated. And so there’s this constant cycling of grass throughout the football season. The Coliseum goes through its own version of this, with grass planted before the baseball season, the baseball outfield replaced shortly after the second Raiders’ preseason game, and the entire football field usually once more in November. That’s a reasonable schedule, especially compared to the frequent shuttling the 49ers have to do.

At some point the process will become untenable, maybe not for economic reasons, but for environmental reasons. The drought is the biggest player here. More than a dozen fires rage around the state, so it seems incredibly insensitive to use so much water and gas on a single two-acre grass field that is properly utilized fewer than 20 times per year. The Ravens and Patriots both had trouble maintaining grass, switching to turf early on in their respective stadia’s tenures. Unfortunately, turf is plenty of its own issues. It’s not an ideal surface for soccer. There are still concerns about injuries, though bad grass is arguably much worse. Now there are issues with athletes accidentally inhaling the crumb rubber “dirt” under the plastic turf blades, as those tiny pieces tend to go airborne on hard cuts on the surface. A class action lawsuit was filed this year, alleging that the rubber has carcinogens. Considering that much of that rubber comes from old tires, there may be an argument there. Maybe not. Either way it merits study. Plus artificial turf fields tend to run hotter than grass fields during the summer thanks to the rubber’s tendency to insulate.

What do you do, then, when trying to choose between thirsty but preferable grass and lower-maintenance but less desirable turf? Easy. Hold fewer events. It’s okay, 49ers. You won’t go broke. The grass will be allowed to flourish. If you’re going to run a dome-like schedule, give up on the grass. It’s not fair to the players or the grass to do otherwise.

Grubman: In Three Years Oakland Has Gone Backwards

Stan Kroenke's planned indoor stadium in Inglewood

Stan Kroenke’s planned indoor stadium in Inglewood

The NFL’s man in charge of potential relocations, Eric Grubman, called into to LA sportscaster Fred Roggin’s radio show today. Grubman fielded a lot of questions, including Roggin’s asking him to assess Oakland’s chances of getting a stadium deal done:

I’ve had multiple visits to Oakland. And in those visits – each of those for the past three years – I visited with with public officials, and I feel like we’ve gone backwards. So I feel like we’ve lost years and gone backwards. And that usually doesn’t bode well.

Grubman’s talking about the same Oakland that passed zoning changes and an EIR for Coliseum City, so from the process standpoint Oakland hasn’t gone backwards in the slightest. The financing piece is what remains a mystery, and I think I know why.

Coliseum City in dreamier times

Coliseum City in dreamier times

Three years ago, the big money tied to Coliseum City was Forest City, a proven mega-developer. They determined early in the vetting period that they weren’t going to make money, so they cut their losses. Colony Capital and HayaH Holdings took Forest City’s place. Rumors of other kinds of exotic financing surfaced (EB-5 visas, Crown Prince of Dubai). In the end, Colony Capital give up too, leaving Oakland scrambling to find someone to pick up the pieces.

Eventually that savior came in the form of Floyd Kephart. Kephart’s an adviser to the money, not the actual money guy, an added factor in an already complicated deal (his company gets a small cut). Over the past several months Grubman has dropped hints that the NFL prefers to have a simpler deal in Oakland, one without a middle man and preferably one not so contingent upon pie-in-the-sky development plans to help pay for a stadium. The league and the Raiders went into Coliseum City wanting a simpler, smaller outdoor stadium, a concept that didn’t take hold with Oakland until last fall. Even now there’s a lack of consensus about what the actual plan is, which probably frustrates the NFL to no end. If you don’t have a set concept for a stadium, you can’t have a cost estimate, and you can’t nail down the financing. Meanwhile, Stan Kroenke has financing down in Inglewood, the NFL is giving credit to St. Louis on its efforts to get public financing, and newcomer Carson, which has numerous details not in place, at least has Goldman Sachs working with the Chargers and the Raiders on 49ers-style financing for the shared stadium.

Over time the big question overshadowing Coliseum City has only gotten bigger. Everyone involved with Coliseum City knows this, you and I know this, and most importantly the NFL knows this. I’ve heard so many Oakland fans talking about how the NFL will provide $200 million or Davis can put together $400 million or even more. But anyone who has observed the NFL stadium loan process knows that the money is anything but a given. It’s directly tied to achievable stadium revenues, and is not the foundation upon which a stadium financing plan is built. Other financing has to be the foundation. The NFL awards a G-4 loan only after everything else is secured. Maybe Kephart has an ace up his sleeve that will help him deliver the project. Right now it’s easy to peg Oakland as the most behind the eight-ball in terms of actually building a stadium. Despite that gloomy outlook, things may play out in a way that keeps the team in Oakland – even without a new stadium on the horizon. Grubman advised against anyone putting forth definitive statements about any team’s future, and I agree completely. There are too many variables, too many possibilities to say anything with real confidence.

The other thing I’ve noticed over the past few weeks is how the media has covered the teams’ stadium prospects in the different markets. LA media is fired up about at least one team coming as they haven’t been in 20 years, with the Daily News and the Times providing unrelenting coverage and talking heads like Roggin regularly talking about it on the radio. San Diego sports radio has tried to prop up site alternatives in the city while the Union Tribune has constantly beat the stadium drum, led by columnist Nick Canepa. The Post Dispatch has worked the St. Louis and State of Missouri efforts, with Bernie Miklasz writing quite a bit about the Rams’ travails – at least until spring training started.

In the Bay Area? You have news coverage from the Chronicle and BANG, plus in-depth stuff from Bizjournals. Columns and radio air time have been remarkably light on the Raiders’ stadium issue, especially when compared to the 49ers’ move to Santa Clara and the A’s efforts to leave Oakland. I can’t figure out exactly why. Sure, the nomadic history of the Raiders has to be a factor, as is the Davis name. There has to be more to it, though. Are people tired of the stadium saga? Are they coming to grips with the idea that at least one team will leave the Coliseum complex? There are supporting fan/civic groups in the East Bay, but they don’t have big voices. In the past Dave Newhouse would’ve been the guy screaming bloody murder about it all, these days it’s Matier & Ross sprinkling in a scare once in a while. The loudest voice is a college-aged superfan from the Sacramento area who knows little about politics, especially Bay Area politics. If a decision is made to move the Raiders in the next year or so, many will be left wondering how it all happened, and they can start with the media. The flip side of this light coverage is that there are no frequent calls to provide public financing, a refreshing change of pace.

Hell, I’m only interested in the Raiders insofar as it affects the A’s. If the Raiders leave in 2016, that’s fine with me since I can focus on what it’ll take to build a new ballpark for the A’s at the Coliseum. I’d love to be more empathetic, but frankly I’ve been waiting 20 years for a proper ballpark for the A’s, half of those years writing this blog. The quicker the A’s can determine their own future the better. And if that means the Raiders are gone, so be it.

We’re All Screwed

Great sentiment to take into a new season, isn’t it? Things may not seem that dire, but consider that I’ve been writing this blog for ten years and we’re no closer to a stadium than we were in 2005. As Howard Bryant explains in his latest ESPN The Magazine article, we may actually be further from a solution than before. There remains a single site in the Bay Area that baseball is willing to consider, and it is encumbered by a competing development process (Coliseum City). Everyone involved has acted and looked bad and has generally failed abysmally:

  • A’s don’t want Oakland, still covet San Jose
  • Giants remain greedy and recalcitrant
  • MLB provides no leadership
  • Oakland interests trashed A’s ownership, tried to force sale of A’s to no avail
  • San Jose sued MLB, making them a non-entity in terms of negotiation while lawsuit was ongoing

Bryant goes on to explain that MLB is banking on the Coliseum City falling through and the Raiders leaving, which would leave the A’s at the Coliseum to work out a deal, a solution presenting itself with no intervention required on Commissioner Rob Manfred’s part. Convenient, right?

Of course, progress made recently on the EIR process won’t necessarily translate into actual deal success. City archives all over the state are full of dead EIRs from projects that were never built.

An under construction Coliseum in more hopeful times

An under construction Coliseum in more hopeful times

Nevertheless, that’s the outcome MLB sees. It’s one that A’s management is willing to play along with, for now at least. It doesn’t mandate getting a ballpark built right away or even soon, thanks to a lease that can take the A’s through the 2024 season.

Like Lew Wolff assuming that The Lodge would work out a deal for San Jose, MLB assumes that the Raiders are in LA after 2015. But even that’s difficult to forecast at this point. Stan Kroenke’s Inglewood stadium plan has the most momentum at this point, and the Carson concept is being spearheaded by the Chargers. Both teams have plans to accommodate a second team, though they have both declared that a second team is not a necessity. The NFL wants no more than two teams in Southern California (including the San Diego market). Those two teams could be the ones spearheading separate stadium projects. Or they could partner together on a single stadium. The Raiders, not having their own stadium plan to push, have to hope that Kroenke’s plan falls through and Carson succeeds, allowing the Raiders and Chargers to be the LA teams. If Kroenke gets his stadium, it doesn’t matter whether the Chargers stay in San Diego, move to Carson in their own stadium, or partner at Inglewood, the Raiders are the odd man out. There’s the odd chance that either the Chargers or Raiders could move to St. Louis, but few outside of St. Louis are considering the idea seriously.

Therefore, MLB’s hopes rest with a very silent man who has little interest (and zero actual financial interest) in baseball. Kroenke owns or has owned franchises in every other major sport, including top tier English soccer (Arsenal).

Whither the A’s in all of this? As usual, that depends. If the Raiders are shut out of LA because of the Rams’ and Chargers’ activity, the Raiders would effectively be forced to work on a stadium in Oakland, ostensibly at the Coliseum. Naturally, that would conflict with the A’s and MLB’s plans. Don’t believe for a moment that either team or league is going to actively work with the other on a joint development plan. With no public subsidy in sight, the Raiders and A’s will look to horde whatever revenue-generating opportunities they can, whether we’re talking entitlements or parking. Either way, that will run into conflict with Oakland’s designs on the Coliseum land, which are to create a new neighborhood with up to 10,000 new residents. Strangely enough, a “same as existing” use plan for the Coliseum lands would work best for entrenched interests in the area, including East Oakland residents concerned about gentrification and businesses west of 880 fighting against losing industrial land.

Should the Raiders look elsewhere in the East Bay, the A’s would be in the driver’s seat for the Coliseum. Yet as previously investigated sites are eliminated – Camp Parks and Concord NWS have their own plans underway – the Raiders will be even more boxed in at the Coliseum. Worst case they stumble to Santa Clara, where they would play tenant to the 49ers instead of the JPA. Chances are that they’d partner with a developer (SunCal?) for the Coliseum. Finally, that choice that I’ve been talking about for years, the one nobody in the East Bay has wanted to talk about publicly, would have to be made.

That doesn’t mean any choice would be made immediately, let alone a stadium built. Look at what happened for the San Jose Earthquakes. The team was reborn in 2008, had a stadium promised in 2010, didn’t start construction until 2012, and didn’t open until 2015. Seven years, and for a city that Lew Wolff actually loves. It’s easier to start construction when you’re absolutely sure the checks will come in.

Having to privately finance an entire stadium is hard enough, now the A’s would have to do so in small market Oakland. It’s not even so much about whether Wolff and John Fisher want to do it, does MLB want to subsidize it for 30-40 years via revenue sharing? If the A’s are going to carry a big mortgage in Oakland with iffy corporate support, revenue sharing seems an absolute necessity to keep the A’s in good financial health. That’s the alternative to negotiating with the Giants.

And if the Raiders build at the Coliseum instead? Well, the A’s would be able to leave the Coliseum, but for where? San Jose is not a player in this scheme, but you’d be surprised at what avenues can open up once MLB runs out of options and leverage. That might mean Diridon, it might mean Howard Terminal. It would be fitting for MLB to actually do something after years of actively sitting on its hands. As long as the A’s remain in the Bay Area, even severely delayed progress would be well worth it.

Coliseum City: The campus that wants to be a downtown

Quick – can you guess how many downtown ballparks are in Major League Baseball? Downtown ballparks?

Would you guess there are 18?

Well, you’d be wrong. There are 15 downtown ballparks, half of baseball. They are:

  1. AT&T Park, San Francisco
  2. Busch Stadium, St. Louis
  3. Chase Field, Phoenix
  4. Comerica Park, Detroit
  5. Coors Field, Denver
  6. Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati
  7. Minute Maid Park, Houston
  8. Nationals Park, Washington
  9. Camden Yards, Baltimore
  10. Petco Park, San Diego
  11. PNC Park, Pittsburgh
  12. Progressive Field, Cleveland
  13. Rogers Centre, Toronto
  14. Safeco Field, Seattle
  15. Target Field, Minneapolis

All of these parks have one thing in common besides being located in a city’s central business district: they opened in the last ~25 years. Some are considered part of the portfolio of new classics, such as AT&T, Petco, PNC, Camden Yards, and Safeco. The rest, while perfectly good venues, are outclassed in one way or another. Many were anchors of large-scale redevelopment projects. Some were wildly successful (AT&T) while others couldn’t quite deliver on their promise (Comerica, Busch). Some are on the fringes of downtown. Others were placed on land that had a hard time being developed into more common uses (residential, office).

Missing from the above list are the most iconic older ballparks and their replacements. Fenway Park is in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood, 1.5 miles west of Boston’s compact downtown or central business district. Wrigley Field is 4 miles from Chicago’s Loop. Yankee Stadium is 8 miles from the southern tip of Manhattan, progenitor of the term downtown. Instead, these parks are in established neighborhoods.

5.2 miles from the Coliseum to downtown Oakland

5.2 miles from the Coliseum to downtown Oakland

Having legacy parks built away from the urban core was largely an economically driven decision, since it was often easier for team owners to assemble land away from downtowns. A century ago up through the end of WWII, parking was not a major issue, so the complications of having huge parking lots or garages didn’t come up. It was the pre-NIMBY area, with no environmental impact reports or CEQA. To say it was a simpler time would be an understatement. The ballparks thrived, gave the neighborhoods character, and became the landmarks we know today. Some of them at least. More likely, peers like Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field or Crosley Field in Cincinnati were phased out because they were too small, lacked parking for postwar suburban fans, or other reasons. In those situations, owners often turned to big, modern multipurpose stadia, usually in downtowns. As those modern replacements turned into ugly relics, they were themselves replaced by “retro” ballparks that harkened back to that simpler era. But they were situated in downtowns, not neighborhoods, so they didn’t quite have that magical character Wrigley and Fenway have. To date there hasn’t been a neighborhood park concept developed anywhere in MLB during the modern era.


An early rendering of Coliseum City

An early rendering of Coliseum City

Which brings me to Coliseum City. Throughout this entire Coliseum City process, backers have been selling the idea of this new, exciting, urban landscape, marked by glittering venues and tall high-rises. It looks like a second downtown for Oakland, doesn’t it? That’s a sentiment I had been hearing a lot since renderings by JRDV were released. Today this was confirmed by Andy Dolich, who wrote in an excellent piece at CSN Bay Area that the A’s have a good bargaining position for a future Oakland ballpark. The thing that bothered me was this:

Oakland is a gritty yet highly competitive city with suburbs, exurbs, and even far away counties with fans, businesses and broadcast entities that will support a coherent stay-at-home strategy for the Raiders and A’s. The desolation of China Basin turned into the Miracle of Mission Bay with AT&T Park as its nucleus. That same dream can turn into reality in and around the Oakland Coliseum site.

Let’s be clear about something. Coliseum City is not China Basin. Any attempt to draw similarities between the two is fanciful. China Basin is less than a mile from downtown and only 1/4 mile from South Park, long the ground zero for startups in SF. Combine that proximity with the touristy allure of the Embarcadero and you create that “miracle.” Oakland has a lot of land available at the Coliseum, but it doesn’t have any of those factors. The Coliseum complex is more than 5 miles from downtown Oakland. That’s nearly the length of Alameda, or longer than the Bay Bridge.

Coliseum City was conceived as a grab bag of everything a city politician might want to see developed on his/her watch: high quality office space, high-rise hotels, a fancy transit hub, housing, and yeah, those sparkling new sports venues that will keep the teams from escaping to other markets. Other than the presence of the existing BART station, there’s little to truly propel development. The complex is not a downtown, it’s an industrial area, so convincing developers and financiers to take a chance on the project has proven exceedingly difficult.

Take a look at the road plan below. The complex is somewhat screwed, because it’s hemmed in by a creek, railroad tracks, and the Nimitz Freeway on three sides. The lack of streets feeding into it creates a handful of major chokepoints. Tying them all together is a new loop road that traverses the complex. Downtowns don’t have loop roads. They have main streets. A loop road is something you’d find at a campus development. The infrastructure in place in and around the Coliseum is more suited to a theme park than a downtown.

Road plan for Coliseum City

Road plan for Coliseum City

A true downtown has a spine, a major arterial road through which transit and cars run. That’s not part of the Coliseum City, nor can it be. The major streets are a freeway plus San Leandro Street and Hegenberger Road, all of which form the perimeter of the core (downtown) area. BART also doesn’t run through, and it only provides one stop that can only access the “downtown” via a new pedestrian bridge. Downtown Oakland is served by two BART stations, both of which can be accessed from various streets and directions. Downtown SF has four stations.


An elevated concourse serves as the spine of the plan and provides open space

See what I’m getting at here? The lack of multiple ingress/egress points makes this a complete nightmare in terms of access. Imagine a dual-event scenario at the Coliseum in which both the stadium and arena are in use (you could also use a 36,000-strong sellout baseball crowd as a benchmark). Both have events that start at 7 PM on a weeknight. Now imagine two-way traffic added to the mix: a few thousand office workers leaving while another few thousand residents arrive. That’s bustling, right? There’s another term for it: gridlock. Established downtowns have a street grid that by its very design can help mitigate that gridlock. Coliseum City doesn’t, and it shows in the EIR’s traffic study. Only small mitigation measures are identified, and some intersections have no mitigation at all. As a result, the main intersections or gateways all end up with Level of Service (LOS) F grades, the worst you can get. Traffic is a dual-edged sword. When in a neighborhood it’s a sign of vitality. It’s also a major annoyance. Expanding BART at the transit hub would help encourage patrons to use transit, but that’s not going to be for everyone.

The spine is an elevated grand concourse that connects the BART station/transit hub to the football stadium and extends to the rest of the development via stairways. It could even run across 880 to near the Estuary. While it will deliver people from the hub to the rest of the complex, it will also serve as a huge wall separating the complex in two. I’m sure the idea is to evoke the wildly successful High Line in New York, a former elevated train line that was converted into a greenbelt on the West Side. The concourse is going to be much wider and serve more uses than the High Line, which at most points is rather narrow. The High Line snakes through Chelsea, a little piece of heaven in a part of Manhattan that lacks parks. The thing about the High Line is that people generally don’t use it as a main way to move between places. It’s a diversion. CC’s concourse is meant to be a main drag, so much that it has a streetcar embedded within. I’m going to guess that if the development doesn’t expand much beyond the Coliseum complex, that streetcar is a nonstarter.

Concourse at Coliseum City

Concourse at Coliseum City

The High Line in Manhattan

The High Line in Manhattan at dusk

There’s a philosophical question to ask about Coliseum City. If so many people are talking about it in terms of a second downtown, what does that mean for the current downtown? Oakland’s downtown/uptown areas have survived the recession, riots and protests, and have gotten funkier and cooler in the process. It becomes a matter of how Oakland balances out the needs of a downtown that grew up on its own versus a planned campus development designed to resemble a downtown.

When you look at old parcel maps of the complex, you can see dotted lines where streets were supposed to be laid out. Originally the area was supposed to become a subdivision, carrying over the street numbering convention found on the other side of the tracks. I can’t help but think that the project would be more feasible and ultimately successful if its proponents tried to make it a real neighborhood instead of a planned campus. That would be the truly retro move: a neighborhood that works in scale with a ballpark, that doesn’t have pie-in-the-sky planning goals, that echoes the growth of other neighborhoods in Oakland. Yes, there would be parking as that’s a necessary evil piece of infrastructure. The plan would be complementary to downtown instead of competing directly against downtown. Chances are it would be more egalitarian than Coliseum City. If Oakland really wants to stand out, to make something special, it should stop looking jealously across the Bay for something to copy like a waterfront ballpark. A neighborhood ballpark, done the right way, would be that unique plan. Oakland could do that if it wasn’t so starry-eyed. Honestly Oakland, what would you rather have: a second competing downtown, or Wrigleyville/Fenway?

P.S. – When we saw the plans, Jeffrey (Editor at large) and I talked over some of the possibilities. One thing that we agreed on was that Oakland might have the best chance of developing the whole thing if Coliseum City attracted one or two major employers to take much of the office/R&D space. Say that a growing tech company in San Francisco wanted to escape the ultra-high rents there, but wanted space to expand on their own terms instead of leasing multiple floors in different buildings. Coliseum City presents one of the few opportunities to build a campus close to SF. It’s a potentially great deal for Oakland: high-profile company relocates to Coliseum City, leases a large amount of space, has its own BART station. In a way that feeds into the idea that Coliseum City is really a campus, because instead of 12 or 20 different companies taking up different amounts of space, you have one. The company has its own big commuter shuttle buses and a fleet of private Ubers coming in and out, just like Silicon Valley.

John Fisher and the Art of Equivocation

A’s and Quakes co-owner John Fisher was on hand at the Avaya Stadium ribbon-cutting ceremony in San Jose today. He was obviously there to celebrate end of the Quakes’ long journey to their own home. Fisher is known as the “soccer guy” in the ownership group, and Elliott Almond’s article sheds some light on that soccer background.

However, the Merc’s headline writer saw fit to make this about baseball with the title, “A’s owner John Fisher: Baseball team’s turn for new stadium.” Fisher was indeed asked about a ballpark for the A’s, and as you’d expect, he provided no new information. Instead he said this:

The Bay Area deserves great facilities. We live in the greatest area in the world and we have incredible teams that have performed tremendously well.

Whether you think Fisher was being intentionally vague or simply choosing to focus on the accomplishment at hand, it was Fisher’s first real statement about anything as part of the ownership group. That in itself is pretty big. I don’t necessarily expect more from him or a more visible role, though his presence at an earlier meeting with Libby Schaaf is perhaps promising. Keith Wolff was also at the Avaya Stadium ceremony, while Lew Wolff has been in Mesa for spring training activities.

Now take a look at these quotes.

This has been my biggest thing, ingress and egress for the (venue) and the parking are the two most important things to me.

In these focus groups we’ve had in there in the last week or two, the first question seven out of eight groups asked is, ‘Where is the parking?’

They’re showing all this grand building, a baseball stadium, there’s a football stadium there’s the arena, there’s all these residential things. And there’s no parking.

Did that come from Mark Davis? Or Lew Wolff?

And this one:

Parking is a key issue for us. We want surface parking surrounding the (venue) wherever we build it unless we’re in the heart of a downtown.

Davis? Or Wolff?

Now consider the the reaction to these quotes. The first set received little blowback at the time. The second had a lot of negative reaction. The content and sentiment were essentially the same. They have problems with how Coliseum City is conceived because it could cause problems with the way they operate their respective franchises. Then why such dramatically different reactions?

With Davis, many assume that either he’s more-or-less earnest about most everything: his handling of the stadium issue, his management of the Raiders, right down to the establishments he chooses to patronize. (That shouldn’t be confused with success.) Wolff, on the other hand, is considered forever the schemer looking for any excuse to leave. He’s the absentee owner, even though both guys are based in LA. Wolff has the anti-Oakland track record. His timing is spectacularly bad at times. Davis is Tommy Boy, all about honoring his dad. Whatever indiscretions or failures Davis has can be chalked up to being the family black sheep. He’s not really supposed to be here.

It just goes to show that even when two men have the same message, the prevailing narrative takes over. At some point these men will have to make deals, and those narratives will fade away. Or maybe they’ll be reinforced.

Yesterday’s important takeaway is that City & County are on the same page

Update 1:05 PM – SF Business Times has more on the land deal aspect, including quotes from Floyd Kephart. 

Yes, Raiders and A’s fans alike can start dreaming up their new stadium(s), all shiny and new. A proper team store inside each. There will be chances to compare whatever’s proposed on each proposal’s merits. And there’s a great likelihood that whatever each team proposes pushes the other out of the Coliseum due to scarce land resources and financing difficulties. When those proposals are presented, we’ll have plenty of time to discuss them. It’s entirely speculation at this point, so I don’t want to focus on that yet.

Instead, I want to look at the one less exciting news item that came out of the last couple of days. As Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf reiterated during her interview with Damon Bruce yesterday, the City of Oakland and Alameda County are finally working together on plans for the Coliseum. Prior to this week, the City had been working on Coliseum City independently of the County, leaving the County to consider working on its own alternatives. They even got to the point of hiring a new general manager for the JPA along with a development consulting firm headed by former City Manager Robert Bobb before backing away. Eventually they decided that the best way forward was to work in concert with the City, since both parties will need to sign off on any future plans.

The biggest obstacle for the City and County is that blasted remaining Coliseum complex debt. At $200 million (split almost evenly between the stadium and arena), it is an albatross threatening the feasibility of any project at the Coliseum. Thankfully, that debt is being whittled away over time by annual payments, so in a few years it’ll be about 25% less. That’s still a heavy load on buildings that may well be demolished as part of any plan, so dealing with the debt in a responsible way is arguably the biggest responsibility for Oakland and Alameda County all told.

The Coliseum complex's location adjacent to BART makes it hugely valuable to developers

The Coliseum complex’s location adjacent to BART makes it hugely valuable to developers

The one major asset the City and County have available to them is 120 acres of land, comprised of the Coliseum complex, additionally required property out to Hegenberger, and a smattering of parcels near the BART station. Many are presuming that the land could be swapped for the remaining debt, however much that is when the time comes. That may be a bad presumption, considering the complex’s value as a potential Transit Oriented Development site. Even if you discard 30 acres for new venues, that’s 90 acres to play with, one of the largest TOD sites in the Bay Area (along with Bay Meadows and San Jose Berryessa).

How much is the Coliseum land worth? Located in East Oakland and surrounded by light industrial uses, no one’s going to ask for $7-10 million. What is the the fair market value, though? A listing on Loopnet for nearly 3 acres just north of the complex is asking for $6.75 million, or $2.36 million per acre.


At that rate, the publicly owned 120 acres would be worth $283 million, which would be double the value of the remaining Coliseum debt in a few years. Maybe the JPA uses land sale proceeds for infrastructure, maybe it gets split between the City and County – either way it’s worth more than simply giving away the land to the Raiders or A’s in exchange for paying the debt. One of the owners may even consider those proceeds as a worthy public contribution for a stadium. As the adult conversation continues in earnest, City and County will bring in an appraiser to figure out FMV for that land, find out its revenue generating potential as it gets rezoned, and plan for how to use future revenue streams. It’s a conversation that’s bigger than just keeping teams in town.

If a proposal lowballs land value, as Lew Wolff’s 66th/High (Coliseum North) plan did, selling the land may be considered a nonstarter. If land is the public’s biggest asset and leverage, it hold true to guarding it in the public’s interest. That may lead to discussions in which only parts of the land are sold. In any case, it should be a very lively conversation, one Oakland and Alameda County need to have whether there are two or zero teams in Oakland in a decade.