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’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.

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.

Why would Mark Davis want to build at the current Coliseum site?

Infrastructure costs, plain and simple.

Ever since people have talked about building another venue on the Coliseum site, that talk has gotten shut down by the costs associated with relocating utilities, most famously the power lines that run through the complex. While such costs are a low percentage of the overall project cost, the fact is that they would have to be dealt with upfront. And since upfront costs often have to be borne by the team while the public financing piece gets squared away, it’s a budget item that no team owner wants to deal with if he can avoid it.

CC-easements

Utilities running through the Coliseum area. Orange are power lines, green are sewer

According to the infrastructure study released in the spring, the estimated cost to relocate the power transmission lines is $15.8 million. Another $1.4 million would be allocated towards relocating a sewer line (green dotted line). Both of those changes would be necessary to accommodate a football stadium on the D lot south of the existing Coliseum. The good thing is that the relocations would help a ballpark in the A lot as well, so it’s a one-time project cost.

A stadium built within the existing Coliseum footprint would require none of this infrastructure work. Should Coliseum City be developed down the road it would have to be addressed, but that would be the within the purview of the developer, not Mark Davis. There would still be the cost of demolishing the Coliseum, which is unknown at this point (could run into the $10 million range), which would be done whether the stadium was built on the site of the existing Coliseum or adjacent to it.

The cheapest alternative would be to re-do the Coliseum. Even then there would be an unknown cost of partial demolition of the Coliseum, so there’s a cost there. Ever wonder if Davis would be okay if the Coliseum simply didn’t have a baseball infield on it?

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.

Blackwell could become Coliseum City consultant, JPA to vote on lease extension 6/20

Fred Blackwell may end up having his cake and eating it too. Weeks after shocking the City of Oakland with his announcement that he would take the CEO position at the San Francisco Foundation, the Trib reports that Blackwell may end up taking a consulting position to oversee the Coliseum City project. It’s not clear if Blackwell negotiated his availability with SFF or if the JPA will even approve the side gig. Regardless, Blackwell would be valuable to have with the project, even if he isn’t necessarily a decision maker. Then again, considering he’s pulling down $344k per year with SFF and was paid pretty well as Oakland City Administrator, perhaps he should take the gig on a volunteer basis. What better way to show your commitment, eh Fred?

In the same article, JPA board member and Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid continued his Debbie Downer attitude about Coliseum City, especially the developer/investor group BayIG.

As far as the project is concerned, Reid said progress is hard to find. The city still hasn’t been able to sign an exclusive negotiating agreement with their new development team because of a payment dispute with a former development partner.

It’ll take $100k to jettison Forest City. This should not be that difficult. The lack of progress comes in the form of the lack of commitment (the notorious “letter of interest” from the Raiders) and some deliverables, which have slipped on occasion. Still, they’ll continue to plow ahead. What choice do they have?

Then there’s this:

The first question that most will ask after this is, Is there an escape clause? Chances are that there is, beyond the fifth year. That’s what Lew Wolff wants. Mayor Quan and others on the City Council have preferred no out clause, and could vote down the extension after the JPA approves, but can you imagine how bad that would look? Especially with the mayoral race now in gear? Better to compromise and kick the can down the road than to cause yet another scene. And if there is no escape clause, I imagine that MLB wouldn’t approve it (they have to review and approve all team stadium leases). Given the state of the Coliseum, the league would want to retain flexibility for the A’s. That wouldn’t come with a 10-year, no-escape lease.

Lew Wolff has been steadfast in his stance that no future stadium talks can occur with a lease first. That’s the opposite of what Mark Davis is seeking, a stadium deal before the next lease for the Raiders. Davis said in April that a 10-year lease would make it tough for the Raiders to build at the Coliseum. Things might be a little easier if there’s an out clause, since the A’s could simply vacate when it comes time to start construction on a Coliseum replacement, whether it’s on the current Coliseum footprint or elsewhere in the complex. The current plan calls for the Coliseum to remain in use while two stadia go up alongside it. Beyond the obvious questions about parking availability, there’s still a major concern about making the financials work out. There are whispers that BayIG may not foot the bill, not so much because they can’t afford it but because the funding gap is so huge that it cuts heavily into their profit projections. And that may be the case with just one stadium, never mind the replacement ballpark. I expect the one year deadline to get pushed out by six months because of all the details and complexity. Will Davis hang in there? He already considers this stage the 11th hour.

Oral arguments in SJ-MLB case on 8/12; Kaplan & Miley work on Coli lease extension

Split the difference.

The City of San Jose surprisingly won an expedited hearing in their Ninth Circuit appeal against Major League Baseball in the spring. What remained was the announced date of the first oral argument. MLB wanted it in the fall, San Jose wanted the early summer. Today the court announced that the oral argument hearing will be held on August 12, effectively splitting the difference between the two. The hearing will be held at 9:30 AM at Courtroom 1 of the James R. Browning Courthouse (97 7th St @ Mission), 1 block away from the Civic Center BART station and across the street from the new Federal building on 7th. The wheels of justice go round and round.

Meanwhile, the second item in today’s Matier & Ross column has Oakland City Council member (and oft-rumored, undeclared mayoral candidate) Rebecca Kaplan potentially negotiating the 10-year lease extension that Lew Wolff has asked for at the Coliseum. During the hubbub in March & April, Nate Miley (who is also cited) and Larry Reid were quite vocal, making it easy to forget that Kaplan is, like Miley & Reid, a Coliseum JPA board member. If everyone’s calmed down, the two sides might be able to get something done, but first Oakland & Alameda County will have to consider the consequences of siding with the A’s. Raiders owner Mark Davis has already said that the long lease Wolff is seeking would hamper efforts for a replacement football stadium, which he still prefers on the current Coliseum site.

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The Earthquakes and 49ers announced a deal in which they’d work together to make the South Bay host “top-tier soccer events” over the next five years. The Quakes are already playing the first event at Levi’s Stadium, so this seems like no more than a formality. But it also should ensure that the two venues aren’t competing against each other for events. While Levi’s Stadium’s capacity is 68,500, it can be closed off to support 50,000 or even 35,000-person crowds. Even that lower limit is nearly double the size of the 18,000-seat Earthquakes Stadium. In theory there should be no overlap. Still, it’s possible that some matches could have ticket sales expectations that fall in between. The deal could extend to both men’s and women’s international events, friendlies, and perhaps the NCAA tournaments.

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Added 6/3 12:30 AMAll indications are that the Sharks will, in fact, host one of the NHL’s outdoor games in the 2014-15 season. The game could be held at either AT&T Park or Levi’s Stadium, AT&T being the odds-on favorite.