Coliseum City Draft EIR Review: Owning vs. Leasing

I’ve done my initial run through of the EIR (except for the traffic data) and have taken lots of notes along the way. Over the next few weeks, I’ll write up specific subjects, the first being the most germane to what we normally talk about, the ballpark at Coliseum City. Before I dive into that, I wanted to touch on something in the language of the EIR that had me curious, and frankly a little baffled.

From Project Description, page 3-34:

NFL Stadium and Multi‐purpose Event Center
…The Oakland‐Alameda County Coliseum Authority would control the use of the Stadium through a management agreement with a professional management association (currently AEG). The Stadium would be leased to the Oakland Raiders, a National Football League (NFL) franchise, for playing home games during the NFL pre‐season, regular season, and post‐season and for other NFL related events.

Page 3-38:
The Ballpark is expected to be developed by the Oakland A’s professional sports franchise on land owned by the City of Oakland and Alameda County. Like the Stadium, the Oakland‐Alameda County Coliseum Authority would control the use of the Ballpark through a management agreement with a professional management association.

The Ballpark would be leased to the Oakland A’s for playing its 81 home games during the MLB regular season6 and potential post‐season games,7 and for other MLB events.

Page 3-39:
The new Arena would be leased to the Golden State Warriors, a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise, for playing home games during the NBA pre‐season, regular season, and post‐season.

Notice the common theme? All three venues would be owned by the City/County/JPA and leased to the teams. Since this is merely the Project Description of an EIR and not a DDA (Disposition and Development Agreement), it’s not exactly iron-clad. It’s a little strange that the City would continue to want to own and operate these venues, when it has shown frequently over the last 20 years that it’s not all that good at managing venues.

Currently, the structure is set up so that the JPA owns the venues and the land. They collect rents and other revenues and pay for expenses (except for the A’s gameday ops). The JPA is not a “professional management” group, so they hire another company to do that such as AEG or SMG previously. The various agreements with the teams have caused City and County to hemorrhage red ink, whether we’re talking about the ongoing subsidy for the Raiders, the Coliseum’s debt service, or the cloudy nature of the Arena’s debt once the Warriors leave for SF. It’s this difficulty and mismanagement that has caused Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors to be a lot less sanguine about Coliseum City’s prospects than Oakland. Supervisor Keith Carson has been upfront about wanting to get out of the stadium management game.

Now we’re looking at the JPA (or a successor public agency) absorbing billions of additional debt liabilities. Start with at least a half-billion that would cover the infrastructure costs at Coliseum City, plus the $120 million of remaining debt at the existing Coliseum. Add to that $1 billion for the football stadium, $600 million for the ballpark, and probably $700 million for the arena. That amounts to around $3 billion in debt load. Naturally, when dealing with such enormous figures, some questions will arise such as:

  1. How would that debt be structured?
  2. How would City and County taxpayers be protected from shortfalls or defaults, they way they weren’t with Mt. Davis and the redone Arena?
  3. How would the JPA balance out the lease agreements so that no one team benefited more than the others? (This plagued the JPA in the past)

If the City is willing to cover infrastructure costs and pay off the remaining stadium debt, should it also have to go the extra mile to finance these venues? That’s S.O.P. for the NFL (see Santa Clara), but it doesn’t have to be that way. The City & County could say, Look, we’re giving you enough help to get this started, you take it the rest of the way. And the biggest reason to have the JPA do the financing is to provide availability to tax-free bonds. The franchises don’t need that kind of help.

That’s not to say that all publicly-financed stadium deals are terrible. Some of them work out well, like SAP Center and Chase Field. However, the risk the City & County would have to take on is more than a bit much. There are actually multiple privately-financed venues completed over the last 15-20 years: AT&T Park, Gillette Stadium, Staples Center, American Airlines Center. They are also among the most successful venues in their respective sports.

At some point some within Oakland is gonna have to playing hardball and stop giving everything away. If not, maybe they should find new negotiators.

P.S. – Notice how, because all the talks with the Raiders are behind closed doors, there’s little hubbub about them? Contrast that with the very public lease extension talks with the A’s, which only grew more rancorous as they became more public – even though they were over a deal that cost less than $30 million total. No, it makes much more sense to keep quiet on a deal that is worth 100 times as much, right?

The bone-in, skinless stadium

It starts with this.

Kansas_City_Arrowhead_Stadium

Arrowhead Stadium prior to 2007 renovations

And ends (for now) with this.

levis-naked_remote

Levi’s Stadium prior to August 2014 opening

These two stadia opened 42 years apart, yet bear a couple of important similarities. One that is fairly obvious when you compare the two pictures is that neither has an exterior façade. The other is that they were both designed by the engineering and architectural firm HNTB. Well, sort of. As I mentioned on Monday, Arrowhead Stadium’s original architects were Kivett and Myers. That firm was acquired by HNTB to form its sports practice in the late 70’s.

HNTB went on to do several football stadia in the 70’s and 80’s, including Giants Stadium and the Hoosier (RCA) Dome. Neither was known for being a great work of architecture, and both are now history. Until HNTB designed the Broncos’ new stadium, Sports Authority Field, it’s hard to point to any really striking sports architecture from the firm. More eye-catching examples have come in the form of minor league ballparks such as Raley Field and the twin Fifth Third Fields in Toledo and Dayton. Minor league ballparks don’t have nearly the scale and sense of mass as a pro football stadium, so it’s probably unwise to even compare.

Sports Authority Field (formerly Invesco) at Mile High, photo by Matthew Trump

Sports Authority Field (formerly Invesco) at Mile High, photo by Matthew Trump

While Arrowhead and neighbor Kauffman Stadium were highly acclaimed, notable pieces of sports architecture, they weren’t flawless. That lack of exterior façade made for cold and wet occupants, which was more of a problem at the ballpark during the spring months than at Arrowhead during the football season, when it’s customary to bundle up. The 2010 renovation of Kauffman included a large structure behind the seating bowl that provided a great deal of weather protection for fans.

At snowy Denver, there’s plenty of cover thanks to glass curtainwall. The undulating, horseshoe-shaped upper deck both saluted and riffed off the old Mile High Stadium. Even so, the most interesting thing about the new stadium is its all-steel structure, which wasn’t limited to columns and trusses. Risers that would normally be built of precast concrete were also made of steel, which allowed the Broncos to make an extra noisy, feet-stomping seating bowl much like Mile High.

New NFL stadia over the last 20 years seemed to be constant acts of one-upmanship. Paul Brown Stadium was thought to be overly garish for conservative Cincinnati. HKS-designed Lucas Oil Stadium looks like an Indiana field house enlarged by nuclear radiation, the same way a puffer fish might have become twice the size at the Bikini Atoll. Another HKS product, AT&T (Cowboys) Stadium, is practically out of a sci-fi film and as I noted while I was at Rangers Ballpark to the east, appears ready to destroy its neighbor with lasers. The next HKS design for the Vikings looks like a crystal football cathedral.

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As domed multipurpose stadia, the three HKS designs had to have some sort of skin. The fact that they are a bit over-the-top (360 Architecture is guilty of this too) is part of the celebration of football, the fans, and the home city. The other recently built West Coast NFL stadium, CenturyLink Field in Seattle, was built to protect fans from harsh, wet winters. But in California, is any façade necessary? Or is it just ornamentation?

At Levi’s Stadium, most of the suites are set in a single 8-story tower along the west sideline. It’s efficient packaging for sure, though it looks a lot like of the office buildings in Silicon Valley, which are similar in scale. The other three-quarters of the stadium is practically naked. HNTB and the 49ers chose to show off the structural steel that lifts up and rings the bowl. Whether that’s “enough” architecturally to work as aesthetic is largely subject to individual taste. So far most of the comments I’ve seen are to the effect of, It’s nice on the inside. Levi’s Stadium is a technological tour-de-force, and like many good technologies that come out of the Valley, is built with headroom and expansion in mind. What it lacks at the moment is a single element that makes it beautiful, unless you consider the suite tower that element. Arrowhead has the lovely, swooping upper deck at the end zones. It adds elegance to what otherwise would be character-less and overly brawny. Perhaps the signature element, a translucent image-projecting, shape-shifting material that clads the exterior, simply hasn’t been invented. Or maybe Levi’s Stadium is destined to be like many of HNTB’s post-Arrowhead work: serviceable at best, forgettable at worst.

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Let’s not forget that HNTB also designed Mount Davis. We know that aesthetic quite well, as our Oakland home is akin to a Supermax prison. HNTB is probably known more for their engineering work than their designs. They were hired by the City of Cupertino to do the lovely cable-stayed pedestrian bridge I mentioned in my “Rethinking Coliseum City…” post. They also designed the beautiful Zakim Bridge in Boston, along with a number of interchanges and airports. None of that sounds sexy, but they are important pieces of infrastructure that have to balance aesthetics and utility, not an easy task.

I suspect that Levi’s Stadium will undergo several minor and major revisions over the next 20 years as they iron out the rough spots and seek to enhance the experience even further. Levi’s Stadium is more than a place to watch football. It’s also a platform and brand. If there are bugs in 1.0, just wait for 1.1 or 2.0. It doesn’t get more Valley than that.

P.S. – This is not intended as a review. I’ll have one of those up in a month or so.

Wake up, Oakland

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius

There are any number of ways to rephrase the idiom above. Some might use “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” though the meaning is not the same. Voltaire coined the phrase a little more directly.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

As I listened to Don Knauss make yet another sales pitch about the virtues of Howard Terminal (and Damon Bruce’s softball handling of it), I started to write a point-by-point rebuttal of everything he said. Then, thanks to BANG’s Matthew Artz, I read a 6-page letter from Lew Wolff to Oakland Interim City Administrator Henry Gardner. The letter outlined Wolff’s desire for a lease extension at the Coliseum before leading into the questions surrounding the future of the Coliseum.

Two pages of the letter are devoted to a section called “The Raiders”. Instead of pointing fingers at the Raiders or Mark Davis, Wolff mostly pans BayIG, the Coliseum City plan, and all of the work that has gone into it so far.

I contrasted words from both Knauss and Wolff. The Clorox CEO talked about a transformative project that could hugely benefit downtown Oakland, which it could. A similar description has been made about Coliseum City by its proponents, comparing it to LA Live among other developments. Then there was Wolff, going detail by detail about the process, the difficulty, tedium, and the obstacles. He even lashed back at “Negative Forces” agitating at every possible turn, which could be construed as a critique of Don Knauss or others allied with Knauss.

The argument, which has stretched as long as Wolff and John Fisher have owned the A’s, comes down to Voltaire’s quote. Wolff’s #1 job this entire time has been to get a ballpark. Let’s understand some of those efforts.

  • 2003 – Wolff was hired by Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann to be the VP of Venue Development. During that brief tenure, Wolff proposed building in the Coliseum’s A Lot and at the Malibu/HomeBase lots. The A Lot option went nowhere because Schott was only willing to put up $100 million for the ballpark. The Malibu option was not available because it was not JPA-owned land. Eventually the JPA bought the land in order to assemble a larger complex for what would be become Coliseum City.
  • 2005 – Wolff exercises an option to buy the team, phasing Schott & Hofmann out and bringing Fisher and numerous associates of Wolff in. Wolff soon proposes the Coliseum North (66th/High) plan, which would redevelop a large swath of industrial land north of the Coliseum complex into a ballpark and mixed-use (residential, retail, commercial) plan. The plan received great fanfare at first, but quickly died as numerous existing landowners showed no interest in selling.
  • 2006 – The Fremont Baseball Village plan is proposed in south Fremont near the Santa Clara County line. A compromise plan of sorts, the idea was to court Silicon Valley corporate interests without crossing into the Giants-held territory of Santa Clara County. Again, there is great immediate enthusiasm, this time from Fremont city leaders. This time, a combination of the Great Recession and big box stores vetoing any developments they didn’t approve of killed the plan. Another attempt in 2010 was made to put the ballpark near the NUMMI (now Tesla) factory across the Nimitz. That was met with hostility from well-heeled residents on the other side of I-680 and fell apart quickly.
  • 2009 – San Jose becomes the next plan, with a partially-acquired site downtown, major corporate and civic support, and a certified environmental impact report ready to go. Again the plan stalled as the Giants remained intransigent about their held territory. A lawsuit filed by people associated with the San Jose Giants (eventually a SF Giants-owned property) threatened the project and is still ongoing. The City of San Jose became frustrated and launched its own lawsuit in 2012 against MLB. That too is ongoing.
  • 2009 – Let’s Go Oakland launches with support of three sites in downtown Oakland: Victory Court, JLS West, and Howard Terminal. Victory Court becomes the preferred site in 2010. LGO promoted Victory Court as much as possible, backed by local developers. No significant activity occurs in 2011, and by the beginning of 2012 the site is dead due to the death of redevelopment and spiraling site acquisition costs.
  • 2012 – Not long after Victory Court goes away, murmurs about Howard Terminal becoming the new preferred (not by A’s ownership) Oakland site begin. In 2013, the Port of Oakland negotiates a settlement with SSA Terminals to vacate the site in order to consolidate facilities and kill a lawsuit against the Port. That allows the Port to look into non-maritime uses such as a ballpark, which it does in spring 2014. A new investor/support group, OWB (Oakland Waterfront Ballpark), emerges, led by Knauss and former Dreyer’s CEO T. Gary Rogers.
    While Wolff has been trying to deal with the on-the-ground demands of planning and building a ballpark, many in Oakland have been fixated on grand concepts like Coliseum City and the far-off promises of Howard Terminal and Victory Court. Even yesterday, Knauss couldn’t help but bring San Francisco into the discussion, talking up how a HT ballpark would have better weather and views than AT&T Park. Coliseum City would be a transformative project that could attract Super Bowls and give Oakland new cachet.

Oakland’s desires to become something bigger and better are completely understandable. But they’ve been so pie-in-the-sky, so big, that there’s always been huge doubts about what, if anything, the City could pull off. I’ve mentioned before that Oakland has never built anything by itself, and that it needed the County and the business community to come together to make the Coliseum work nearly 50 years ago. That need hasn’t changed, but the sense of teamwork has. In Oakland’s attempt to keep all three teams in place, it has gotten away from what got them the teams in the first place: strong partnerships and sensitivity to the teams’ needs. Nowhere is that more evident than in Coliseum City, where the County is playing the realist role in questioning the project and in looking to the A’s, while the City brings in big names with no commitments, entirely footing the bill along the way.

Oakland keeps searching for the perfect project, the ultimate solution, the one that will finally vault them past the City beyond its rival across the Bay. Some politician(s) would take credit when it gets done, a legacy-defining moment. So they keep dreaming, keep hoping, clearly not worried about the little details that need to be addressed or the problems that arise when undertaking big projects. At some point, someone in Oakland will recognize that the dreams need to be tempered with what can realistically be done, and understand the work that will be required to get it done – establishing partnerships with the teams and stakeholders for starters. If not, the teams will get frustrated and give up. Those dreams will die. The biggest pro sports Oakland will be able to get will be minor league (which for some is okay). And the Coliseum, home of six world championships, will end up unused, even more unloved, and ultimately, something generic like a shopping center. That’s what happens when the well-intended keep pursuing the ever-elusive perfect instead of understanding that good is actually pretty great.

Lew Wolff is getting ready to offer what could be a pretty good deal. If Oakland wakes up, they may be able to react in time to take it.

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P.S. – I’m removing comments from the site for the time being. It’s not because of the commenters or specific comments – although they can be especially inane at times – it’s because those comments and the constantly attacking spambots (which you don’t see) are causing heavy server load, for which I’ve been warned by my provider. I hope that by having no comments there will be less server load. Thanks for your patience.

Selig pulls out move threat card, Oakland folds like cheap tent, JPA approves lease

Today had me driving from Toledo to Pittsburgh, so much of the time I was out of pocket or unable to catch up on news. Fortunately, I arrived at my planned midpoint as the JPA was convening for a vote. This is the place I visited:

The Ohio State Reformatory

The Ohio State Reformatory

Look familiar? It’s not a college campus or an old hospital. It’s the old Ohio State Reformatory, located in Mansfield, Ohio. It’s better known as the site for the filming of The Shawshank Redemption, the great Stephen King-Frank Darabont picture that no one saw in the theaters but everyone saw on cable. I toured the prison, which would’ve been demolished if not for the film’s production and belated popularity. Like the Coliseum, much of OSR is in a steady state of decay. And like the film’s climactic scene, our own green-and-gold clad heroes at times have forded a river of sewage to escape the facility. I recognize that forcing a team of millionaires owned by billionaires to stay in mediocre conditions is nothing like actual prison. The point is that writing this blog at times is my own personal prison, one that I seemingly can never escape (especially the comments section or fools on Twitter). However, I made a promise to see this through, so it’s being done. Every so often I allow myself to feel a little hope, the dangerous concept that Red cautions Andy to squelch. Even after 9 years and with no end in sight, I still hope. I can’t allow myself to be completely consumed by cynicism. There’s already one Miserablist in the Bay Area, no need for two.

My own vacation activities aside, there is reason for hope to come out of today. First, let’s recap.

  • Yesterday, the prevailing sentiment was that the City representation on the JPA board would form a bloc and oppose proposed lease agreement, killing the deal and allowing the City to provide a counteroffer.
  • That tactic was quickly trumped by last night’s letter from Lew Wolff to the JPA, which was reported during the JPA session. Wolff indicated that if the JPA did not approve the lease, Bud Selig would grant Wolff immediate permission to move the team out of Oakland.
  • In fear of Selig’s threatened reprisal, the JPA board met in closed session to discuss the lease. Eventually the lease was approved 6-2, Rebecca Kaplan (who helped construct the lease terms) and Aaron Goodwin (who dissented on the current lease).

Now for the deal terms. The redone lease includes concessions made by both sides. Note: the deal must be ratified by the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors before August 1.

  1. The A’s will be in the Coliseum through at least the 2017 season, with opt-outs available to both the team and the JPA until the 2024 season.
  2. $5 million in back parking fees that were up for arbitration in the fall are now wiped away.
  3. The A’s will pay $1.25-1.75 million in annual rent. They will be obligated to pay this through the end of the lease, unless they are able to work a deal to build another stadium in Oakland.
  4. The A’s will pay at least $10 million for a new scoreboard/ribbon board package. They will keep all revenue from the boards during A’s games. The JPA/Raiders will get revenue for football games. If the new system costs less than $10 million, the remainder will be paid to the JPA.
  5. The JPA will put together a $1 million/year maintenance fund, for use when things break. The JPA is not obligated to spend $1 million every year if maintenance spending is not required.
  6. A’s will have good faith discussions about building a future ballpark at or near the Coliseum, depending largely on what the Raiders do.
  7. The Coliseum area is the only site under consideration for a ballpark, with Howard Terminal dropped.

However you feel about the parking matter, this is a large number of concessions from the A’s. As Interim City Administrator Henry Gardner pointed out, this won’t stop the big subsidy that the City and County have to pay to keep the Raiders and A’s at the Coliseum. Then again, the counteroffer wasn’t providing any relief for that subsidy either.

The A’s have also asked for any developer interested in the Coliseum to put up $20 million towards a redevelopment project. You can call this “earnest money.” It may sound like a lot, but it’s an important form of skin in the game for the developer, something that Colony Capital isn’t providing right now. Wolff certainly isn’t afraid of dropping that kind of coin, since he bought some Fremont land in advance and paid for the CEQA study work in advance. $10 million is a good amount to keep pretenders from engaging in talks.

This type of deal was available in November, before the last time the A’s and the JPA hit a stalemate. Selig and Rob Manfred then stepped in and negotiated the to-be-superseded short-term deal. For whatever reason, the City of Oakland hasn’t recognized that until now, Selig has treated the City with kid gloves. That explains their shock and outrage to Selig’s power play. Sorry Oakland, this is how Selig normally operates. It’s part of the standard commissioner’s playbook. At some point the hardass version of Selig was going to show up and back his owner. To expect different wouldn’t just be unrealistic, it would be downright delusional.

Things are not going to get better for Oakland. The other shoe to drop will be the reactions of Mark Davis and the NFL. Since the Raiders and A’s are effectively competing for the Coliseum, both leagues are likely to play tug-of-war with the City in order to get them to commit to either entity. That should provide Oakland with some amount of usable leverage, but that’s negated by the City’s lack of non-land resources and their concerns about the feelings of the other team/league. What you’re seeing right now is Oakland in paralysis. The NFL and MLB are only happy to shake Oakland out of it. Both leagues are gearing up their preferred and contingency plans. If Davis decides this is it and gives up on Coliseum City, the complex is all Wolff’s to negotiate. If Davis truly wants Coliseum City and sees a way to make it work, Oakland will have a tough decision to make. Which team, league and developer should they partner with? It’s a decision that no politician wants to make, especially during an election year. Yet that’s Oakland destiny. Get busy living? Andy Dufresne had to decide that he had enough of Warden Norton’s hijinks in order to plan his escape. Oakland has two Warden Nortons, and it will have to screw one of them. Otherwise Oakland could find its teams, like Norton’s money, all gone.

When the JPA is as effective as Congress

This shouldn’t be this hard.

Both Lew Wolff and JPA characterize the lease extension talks as close. Wolff or Bud Selig may have jumped the gun yesterday. Then again, maybe Wolff made so few changes with his counteroffer that he felt he could consider the deal done. Some staunchly opposed claim that elements of the lease such as the way the parking tax matter is being addressed are showstoppers. Maybe those items really are showstoppers. If they are showstoppers, it should be easy to kill the deal. Conversely, if the sides really are close as they purportedly have been for the last few weeks, it should be fairly easy to close the gap.

These two ways of characterizing the talks shouldn’t both be true. Last week I said that if the JPA, City, and County are truly concerned about the parking taxes (or the opt-outs, or other language), put the whole thing off until after the fall arbitration hearing. That’s effectively the same thing as saying NO to the lease. There are really three options for the JPA here:

  1. Vote Yes and deal with the fallout (coming from the Raiders/NFL)
  2. Vote No and deal with the fallout (coming from the A’s/MLB)
  3. Postpone the vote and hope to delay the fallout indefinitely from either side.

We have no visibility into the talks or the offers and counteroffers, yet I get the feeling that there is very little movement that should properly bridge the gap. There are numerous ways of dealing with the $5 million:

  • Leave the $5 million out of the deal
  • Raise rent to compensate for including the $5 million (from $1.75 million to $2.5 million/year)
  • Have the A’s surrender control of some revenue streams such as concessions or advertising

Now maybe the JPA has provided such options, and Wolff has called those showstoppers, I don’t know. Whatever the case, there seems to be very little creativity that would bring about a solution. Strangely, they’ve been fine with allowing the Raiders to pay very little rent while getting the Harbor Bay headquarters for free (as long as they’re engaged in Coliseum City talks).

Worse, I’ve been hearing a lot of outrage from some about how the A’s are ripping the City and County off for the $5 million. Yet I’m not hearing anything about properly addressing the ongoing $20 million subsidy (debt and operating expenses) that the City and County have to pay for. Are we so numb to that debacle that we can’t consider ways to deal with it? Sure, grandstanding on a one-time $5 million payment is easy if you’re an Oakland or Alameda County pol. Better that than to remind everyone about the even worse deal that they themselves negotiated nearly 20 years ago. If you’re going to really get outraged, get mad about that and ask the pols to make a better deal. Last time I checked, one-time $5 million payments aren’t worth much compared to $20 million annual payments.

I figure the outrage or faux rage is borne more from two separate motivations: the fear of Mark Davis, and the desire to never compromise with Lew Wolff. I imagine that there are some on the JPA who are more realpolitik and don’t want to favor one owner over the other or understand that the best way to go may be with one team instead of two, but there will always be some who can’t give in, can’t make it look like Lew Wolff won. For them, I think the answer is quite simple and can be ratified by a simple No vote. Bud Selig’s comments may have complicated things a bit, but if these stridently principled Nays are that opposed, this should be a no-brainer.

Really, a vote either way would be the best thing for all parties. It would allow both teams to know where they stand and would allow them to plan next steps. If they can’t decide on this on account of $5 million, it makes me wonder how they’re going to make a decision on a project that could cost 500 times as much. If they can’t decide and keep trying to entertain lease discussions they’ll continue to be caught up in the media battle, which they are not winning. It won’t win over the Bud Selig or Roger Goodell. Fans will continue to be frustrated and the whole affair will continue to be a distraction. I doubt that’s what anyone wants.

So please, JPA, if it’s close to a reasonable deal, make the necessary changes and vote YES. If the deal sucks, vote NO. Then we can move on and focus not on short-term fixes, but rather a long-term home. And you’ll look decisive for once, instead of looking like Congress.

Oakland’s reckoning: Raiders or A’s?

More info about the pending lease extension came out via Lowell Cohn over the weekend and from Mark Purdy today. If you’ve been following the story since November, you’ll know that there aren’t many new items here. Yes, the A’s will pay slightly more in rent than they are now or were in the last lease. Yes, they want to put in new scoreboards. And yes, the lease term will be 10 years, with an escape clause if the Raiders build a new stadium that forces the A’s to be displaced. There is one new wrinkle, in that the “eviction” process for the A’s will include a 2 year advance notice by the JPA. That should allow the A’s enough time to properly scope out temporary venues, whether they are existing ballparks in the region or something else like a temporary new stadium. It should also put MLB at ease since they won’t have to go into scramble mode trying to make accommodations for the A’s or visiting clubs.

Cohn’s long blog post is probably the most evenhanded take he’s ever had on Lew Wolff. That alone is notable. More importantly, the post gets comments from both Wolff and Raiders owner Mark Davis on their desires for the Coliseum. Davis confirmed that he would prefer the Raiders to have Coliseum City to themselves. In Purdy’s piece, Wolff confirmed that he has no interest in Coliseum City as currently (or formerly) conceived, citing the complexity of acquiring land for the whole project, three-quarters of which (600 acres) is privately held. Wolff has experience with this, having explored and failed with that option, the Coliseum North/66th-High plan.

Wolff is a developer, and unlike the Coliseum City-Raiders concept, doesn’t need to bridge a $500-600 million funding gap. There could still be a gap, but that could be filled in by the usual private commitments (premium seat lock-in, charter seats, season ticket subscriptions). In turn, Wolff could develop the Coliseum in a more phased manner, with fewer pie-in-the-sky projections. Like Davis, Wolff wants control of a single venue and all of the revenue streams that come with it.

“But under no condition will we become a tenant of anyone in a new facility,” Wolff said. “We have to control our own destiny . . . We would be interested in the land that’s under city control. Once we’ve extended our lease, we can examine that.”

Moreover, Wolff continued to dismiss Howard Terminal, even go so far as to make the elimination of that site as a condition of negotiating on a new Coliseum ballpark, should that opportunity arise.

Naturally, there will be grousing by many in the stAy crowd about Wolff’s supposed fear of Howard Terminal. That’s ridiculous. It really comes down to two things: focus and resources. Right now Oakland is focusing most of its pro sports effort on Coliseum City through the JPA. It has spent money on an EIR, a draft of which is due in weeks. Howard Terminal, on the other hand, has no EIR even started yet. OWB, the group supporting the site, is providing $50-100k on limited work. The rest of the EIR will take at least 18 months from the start and would probably cost $2-3 million to complete. Wolff, having seen prior reports on Howard Terminal, sees this as a waste of money, time, and effort. Why spend $2-3 million to prove a negative? If OWB wants to spend that money, let them. They have the most to gain from an HT park. Something tells me that they won’t.

Then I started to think about the stadium boom of the last 25 years. I tried to figure out if there were any cities or municipalities that worked on two completely new stadium projects within the same city or market simultaneously. There aren’t many examples.

  • New York City – Citi Field & Yankee Stadium built at the same time, opened in 2009 thanks to Rudy Giuliani muscling it through.
  • Philadelphia – With Veterans Stadium and The Spectrum getting old, three venues replaced those two: Wells Fargo Center (1996), the Linc (2003), and CBP (2004).
  • Cleveland – The Jake (Progressive Field) and Gund Arena (The Q) both opened in 1994 thanks to the implementation of a city-wide sin tax.
  • Glendale, AZ – Jobing.com Arena and University of Phoenix overlapped by mere months, and have nearly bankrupted Glendale in the process.
  • Pittsburgh – Heinz Field and PNC Park opened flanking the now-departed Three Rivers Stadium.
  • Houston – Toyota Center and Reliant Stadium (NRG) also overlapped by a year and are in different parts of the city.
  • Seattle – Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field were timed to replace the Kingdome in short order.

Five of those cities had two venues built next to each other. The dual ballparks in NYC, an outlier due to circumstances, happened thanks to shady politics and shadier financing arrangements. The rest were your typical boom-era projects with huge amount of public funding. Most other venues are single-issue, pushed by the teams, and have their own unique financing structure. Oakland and Alameda County aren’t in the position those other cities are, not if various elected officials want to keep their jobs. The Raiders stadium will cost around $1 billion, while the A’s ballpark could cost $500-700 million depending on site. Oakland’s not going to be able to foot even 25% of each venue, so why would Davis and Wolff entertain the JPA’s grand schedule if they’re the ones footing the bill. The last thing Wolff and Davis want is Oakland to have divided focus on two projects that could ultimately compete against each other for scarce resources, whether money or personnel. They’re looking out for their franchises first and foremost. If Oakland gets a civic boost, great, but that’s not paramount for the owners.

And that’s why Oakland will inevitably have to choose between these two teams. Just building a single stadium, getting it approved, getting it vetted by civic groups and voters, will be its own set of difficult tasks. That demands full, undivided attention. If Oakland can’t provide that, it’s worth asking how truly serious Oakland is about all of this. That’s what Wolff and Davis are asking.

Kawakami: San Jose is dead for now

If you haven’t already read Tim Kawakami’s latest blog piece, I must insist that you do so. Then come back here.

Kawakami’s premise is that after checking with various league sources, San Jose is not happening soon, and doesn’t have the votes thanks to the Lodge’s reaction to last summer’s lawsuit filed against MLB.

I’ve heard differently, that for some months now everything is simply a big negotiation and the ongoing items in progress (lawsuits by/against San Jose, Oakland’s own activities) are there to make points towards the final figure. As we’ve seen time and time again, MLB is thoroughly inscrutable. They can choose to punish A’s ownership for nodding with San Jose’s antitrust lawsuit while turning a blind eye to the Giants’ interference with San Jose. It’s their Lodge, they make the rules. People have jokingly noted that the fifth anniversary of the “Blue Ribbon Commission” just happened. Well, so has the ninth anniversary of this blog! And we’re still not closer to a new ballpark!

Regardless of MLB’s (in)actions, the fact is that Kawakami’s right that the A’s aren’t going anywhere soon. Maybe that changes if Joe Cotchett can get the heat turned up via the Ninth Circuit. Even then it seems likely that in a loss MLB would appeal to the Supreme Court, which is really what Cotchett wants. If MLB can be made to heel, then it would force a solution the same way Tampa Bay got an expansion franchise. That is at best a long shot and shouldn’t be expected.

And maybe that’s Selig’s point. Selig and the rest of the owners prefer to work everything out within the confines of the Lodge. They could be holding the decision over Lew Wolff’s and John Fisher’s heads as long as the lawsuit moves forward. If the lawsuit were suddenly dropped, the process could be back on, but not while the lawsuit continues. The response brief from MLB is due this week.

While Kawakami’s basic point about inertia stands, it doesn’t speak to a real endgame. There remains the game of musical chairs at the Coliseum, as well as the pace of progress and the numerous unknowns of the Howard Terminal project. If both of those options fall apart it works in Wolff’s favor. If at least one works out it helps MLB and the Giants since they wouldn’t have to touch territorial rights. The endgame scenarios are unpredictable, involving plenty of independent moving parts. The situation within the Lodge could take years to settle, or could be done before Selig leaves office next year (if that happens).

The parting shot that Kawakami takes in which Wolff & Fisher haven’t endeared themselves to the other owners because they “make profits” from revenue sharing – that sounds like a talking point. That’s the system, set up and approved unanimously by the owners per the CBA. If the owners hate the A’s getting revenue sharing so much, adjust the formula to limit their take. Or how about this – allow them to have a solution to get them off revenue sharing. The 2012 CBA specified that the A’s would be off the dole once they moved into a new ballpark within the Bay Area market, perhaps as late as the end of the CBA in 2016. We now know that the next CBA will come with no new (permanent) venue for the A’s at that time. If the owners are that upset, get punitive. That said, I think that criticism is a load of B.S.

Even the outcome that has the A’s staying in Oakland in a new park is problematic. If the A’s (Wolff/Fisher or a new ownership group) privately finance a $500 million stadium, they’ll be on the hook for $30 million in debt service every year for 30 years, with no revenue sharing to backfill any revenue shortfalls (if the A’s have down years or the honeymoon period ends). Plus they won’t have nearly the kind of corporate revenue to cover a large percentage of the loans the same way a ballpark in San Jose or San Francisco would. Is the Lodge ready to approve such a deal? Or would they rather extend revenue sharing to provide a cushion for the A’s? If they do, the M.O. would belie those previous criticisms. Yet it would be the easy way out. Just treat the A’s like a small market team forever, and let the sleeping dog entrenched interests lie. Yep, that sounds a lot like MLB, especially under Bud Selig.