Category Archives: Football

Bruce spends 3+ hours talking Oakland, A’s stadium issues (Update: Quan backtracks)

Update 5:00 PM – Mayor Quan backtracks on the Crown Prince of Dubai claim. Oops.

Say what you will about Damon Bruce’s radio persona or his supposed allegiances. When he wants to drill down on a topic, he drills down. Other than the scheduled weekly segment with Warriors power forward David Lee, Bruce spent the entire time yesterday from 3:30 to 7 talking about the stadium situation in Oakland, specifically related to the A’s. Bruce said that he wanted to get past the blame game and cut through all of blah blah blah, as he described it. That he most certainly did, though the reveal mostly left more questions in its wake.

At 3:30 Bruce interviewed Andy Dolich, who maintained that the Coliseum is still the best place to build new venues for both the Raiders and A’s. Dolich spent the bulk of his extended segment throwing cold water on everything else: San Jose, Howard Terminal, A’s ownership. Dolich even took some credit for the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, which is bizarre considering that he was against the move at many points and not involved in its planning.

Dolich ended up being the warmup act for what followed. At 5, Bruce interviewed Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who was clearly not prepared for the grilling that Bruce gave her. He asked about the lack of progress on the two stadium plans and asked the mayor to make a choice between the two. Throughout it all Quan dodged and hemmed, and finally got rather defensive about her record on the subject. Then, when discussing Coliseum City, name dropped the crown prince of Dubai as an investor in the plan, which for Bruce was as exciting as a little girl hearing the word “pony” or a dog seeing a squirrel. There’s plenty of money represented here, from Colony Capital and its inherent ties to Qatar to Rashid Al Malik and his Dubai ties. That’s a distraction though, since Qatar and Dubai would provide the silent money. The true face of the money is Colony’s Tom Barrack, who really wants a piece of a team, and a controlling piece if possible. Barrack drove the attempt to buy AEG last year, before Phil Anschutz decided that the various competing bids weren’t high enough and took the company off the market. Colony is also involved in the Chargers’ stadium plans, which are quite similar in scope to what the JPA is trying to do with Coliseum City. In all three cases, Barrack wanted controlling interest in a team (40%) in exchange for the stadium being built. That has me thinking, What if Barrack gets a stadium deal done in San Diego? Does that mean his goal of getting a team and stadium built is completed, making Coliseum City and the Raiders unnecessary? The reverse could easily be asked as well. Fortunately for Raiders fans, San Diego is the one major city in California with an even more dysfunctional government and leadership than Oakland, so no immediate worries there. Still, it’s worth wondering if these opportunities are finite, at least from Colony’s perspective.

After Quan’s interview, Oakland Council Member Larry Reid called into the show to clarify some things the mayor said about Coliseum City. Reid, who also acts as the Vice Chair of the Coliseum Authority (JPA), suggested to Bruce that he speak to JPA Chair (and Alameda County Supervisor) Nate Miley for the real scoop on the project. Reid also dropped a bit of a bombshell:

REID: (The JPA’s) conversation (with MLB) has been much different from what the mayor has said on the radio. Look, the mayor knows that MLB has clearly said that they do not like the Howard Street Terminal (sic). Lew Wolff has said he does not like the Howard Street Terminal. His preference…it would be in the Coliseum. Our focus with the A’s is trying to figure out a way, how to do that deal.

BRUCE: Why do you think the mayor came on as an advocate for the Howard Street Terminal if she already knows that it’s dead in the water?

REID: Well, that’s a question that you have to raise with her. She knows what MLB has said to us, has said to me, and has said to Supervisor Miley in a meeting we had most recently less than two weeks ago. MLB’s preference as well as Mr. Wolff’s preference is the Coliseum area.

Clearly, additional context is needed here. First of all, has MLB’s preference been the Coliseum only recently, or has it been this way for some time? For nearly a year proponents of Howard Terminal have claimed that MLB prefers their waterfront locale. Reid represents the JPA, so he has a vested interest in the choice the same way Oakland Waterfront Ballpark and Doug Boxer would. So who’s right? What was the process in getting to this point?

The mayor’s hands-off approach has created the appearance of two competing factions. On one hand there’s the JPA and the now-departed Fred Blackwell running Coliseum City. On the other hand there’s OWB, Let’s Go Oakland, and the Port having their own discussions. Usually the city manager/administrator would moderate both discussions by being involved, but Blackwell’s focus was much greater on Coliseum City than Howard Terminal. And with both “tenured” city managers gone in Blackwell and Deanna Santana, that would leave the Mayor to make decisions. Except that she hasn’t made decisions. It’s not her vision, and she’s been to content to get to this point with the understanding that MLB would make the decisions for her or force the A’s to make a decision between the two sites.

Well, now the A’s are making a choice, though it’s not exactly how Oakland and the JPA wants it. Wolff and Fisher seem to want the Coliseum without the City, so that they can mold the project in their own way. It’s only possible if Oakland lets go of the Raiders, or if the Raiders give up on Oakland. Oakland’s trying to keep both teams in place, so they’re offering these solutions that neither league nor franchise fully endorses. Truth be told, neither team wants to share a complex – let alone a stadium – as long as precious land is in play to help fund new stadia. The NFL is waiting for the A’s to leave the Coliseum, and MLB is waiting for the Raiders to do the same.

While the A’s and Raiders come into this with somewhat similar goals, their prospects away without the existing Coliseum are much different. The Raiders a have much better short-term future because of Santa Clara. However, their long-term prospects are shaky because the financing aspect of a new Raiders stadium is so difficult and daunting. The A’s have poor short-term prospects because they have no temporary home other than the Giants’ offer of AT&T Park for a short time. Long-term is much better, mostly because the cost of a ballpark is more manageable and they could have other sites in Howard Terminal and San Jose. Alternate sites for the Raiders, such as Concord or Dublin, are so far off that they’re not worth considering.

I’ve been saying for sometime that anyone who claims to know how this is going to play out is clearly trying to sell something. Better to let the process continue, and let the chips fall where they may.

The growing black hole (Update: Blackwell quits)

Update 4:15 PMThe Chronicle reports that Oakland City Administrator Fred Blackwell has left his job to become CEO of the San Francisco Foundation. Who exactly is going to do all the dealmaking that Blackwell was doing before?

Just so we get this straight…

Last summer, the Raiders stadium at Coliseum City was projected to cost $700 million, with a $300-400 million funding gap.

In November, the cost estimate was raised to $900 million, with a $400-500 million funding gap.

Yesterday, new Oakland City Administrator Fred Blackwell was interviewed by the Trib’s Matthew Artz. In passing, he mentioned that the funding gap has ballooned to a whopping $500-600 million.

He did note that one of his top projects, getting a new football stadium built for the Oakland Raiders, remained a struggle. Blackwell said the stadium project faces a $500 million to $600 million shortfall that would have to be subsidized by additional development within the Coliseum complex. While he praised the city’s business partners working on the deal, he said “there are a lot of things that can go wrong in a negotiation of that complexity.”

The biggest thing than can go wrong in any stadium project is not knowing how it gets paid for. Coliseum City is clearly at that moment. $600 million just off the development proceeds and fees? Sure, if they have 500 acres to develop at the Coliseum. In this case it’s only 100 acres, and much of that land is already taken up by the pre-existing venues.

How does this gap keep growing? Are the sides still having trouble determining what the proper stadium vision is? For some time the Raiders and the NFL have wanted a smaller, open-air stadium. The City wants a bigger, retractable dome venue that could also be used as a convention center and to attract future Super Bowls. If there’s still no consensus on the scope of the project a year in, it’s not confidence inspiring. And Mark Davis claims he’s being left in the dark.

Already the backers of Coliseum City are looking into alternatives. Perhaps that will involve the existing Coliseum, or further scaling back or cost-engineering the new stadium. The Raiders may even be considered too expensive to retain. Either way, this stadium project has turned into a money pit. Or a black hole, and not the kind cheers emanate from.

Baer says he’s willing to let the A’s share AT&T with the Giants – with a catch

Giants President/CEO Larry Baer slipped a rather shocking note into the festivities surrounding the spring training opener, when he said that he’d be willing to allow the A’s to play temporarily at AT&T Park.

Of course, there are conditions. From Merc scribe Alex Pavlovic’s article:

“They’ve got to come up with a long-term plan. Once that’s arrived at, then maybe you’ll take a step back and say, ‘Is there something we can do to be helpful?’ As a neighborly thing.

“Obviously, they’ve got to come up with what their plan is and we’ll go from there.”

The A’s have a long-term plan, but that’s in San Jose, the city that Baer is loathe to give up. That means that Baer is perfectly willing to be neighborly, as long as the A’s stay in Oakland.

If you want to read between the lines, you can consider this a memo to Oakland ballpark backers to get off their asses and get something done. He’s willing to be neighborly, up to a point. He’s willing to appear magnanimous in his willingness to share the jewel at China Basin, up to a point. As long as there’s some motion towards a ballpark in Oakland, it helps Baer’s cause.

Strategically, it’s easy to see why Baer is going this route. Now that the Giants have practically paid off their ballpark, they need another rationale for preserving the split territorial rights regime currently in place. They can talk about protecting their fan base in the South Bay, but frankly, the issue is Oakland. Simply put, can a ballpark be built in Oakland? If it can – and it pencils out for the A’s financially – then the current T-rights scheme can remain in place, whether Lew Wolff and John Fisher are the owners or someone else takes their place. If Oakland can’t be done, which Wolff has been arguing, the East Bay itself is done, and MLB will be forced to consider an alternative method of drawing up territories. Immediately that means the South Bay is the only other place in the Bay Area, with Wolff preferring that as opposed to leaving altogether, which Baer has hinted in the past he’d be okay with.

Baer’s little nudge should provide motivation for Oakland boosters, though Baer can’t make it easier to build in Oakland. Nor is it likely that the Giants will help Oakland out monetarily. News coming out of Raiders camp can’t be encouraging, as Raiders owner Mark Davis indicates that nothing is happening with Coliseum City, at least as he sees it. Davis characterized Coliseum City as perhaps Oakland’s last chance to keep the Raiders. By NFL rules, Davis has to make a good faith effort to keep the team in its current market, and Davis has certainly done that so far. If Coliseum City breaks down, the Raiders could leave for LA as early as a year from now, and Roger Goodell can’t say much about it. Sure, the NFL holds the purse strings, but by that point they’ll know full well the challenges of building a stadium in Oakland as much as LA. Like the A’s situation, if it doesn’t pencil out in Oakland, there may not be an East Bay alternative. Already he’s backing away from the Concord Naval Weapons Station and Dublin’s Camp Parks, which makes me wonder if he’s only feigning interest in those sites in order to appear thorough.

Davis also referred to the impact of the Oakland mayoral race, indicating that developers wouldn’t get off the fence until after the election. That runs counter to the idea that the various mayoral candidates could make Coliseum City progress by stumping for it along the way. The project has its own schedule and milestones, with the next big one, the Market Data Analysis, due in March. By spring we’re supposed to find out how feasible Coliseum City is, and by summer teams are supposed to be signed on to be partners – at least according to Mayor Jean Quan. Movement will come from making the numbers work, not magic. Davis is not the only person to wonder what exactly is happening with Coliseum City. We’re going through these phases with CC, where some small amount of progress happens, followed by a huge informational vacuum, then a sobering dose of reality, and then another small step forward. Eventually that cycle will be replaced by real discussions, actual reports, and true political and financial support (or a lack of it).

Going back to the Giants and Baer, I suppose that since he’s offering his place as a 1-2 year airbnb stint for the A’s, we can start talking about what that would look like. That’s for another day. For now, it makes the most sense to focus on Oakland. In the near term, that’s where the only future for the Raiders and A’s lies.

Getting there: Levi’s Stadium early thoughts

Let’s be clear about one thing can be agreed on when it comes to Levi’s Stadium: it will be much easier to get in and out of there than the painfully difficult Candlestick Park.

Beyond the obvious technological improvements and swankier facilities, Levi’s Stadium has much better built-in infrastructure than the ‘Stick. There is light rail service directly in front of the stadium, with links to Caltrain in Mountain View and San Jose. There’s also a Capitol Corridor and ACE stop even closer, which will bring in fans from the East Bay and Central Valley. Highways 237 and 101, which define the Golden Triangle region of Silicon Valley, feed the area surrounding the stadium, which is where the majority of the parking spaces will be found.

VTA, Santa Clara County’s transit authority, announced a plan to bring fans to Levi’s Stadium from various parts of the Bay Area. Existing partnerships with other transit agencies will have to be leveraged, whether it means transfers to light rail from Caltrain or to express buses from Fremont (by 2017, BART-to-light rail in Milpitas). Still more options will be available from some of those other agencies running their own buses straight to the stadium, along with private bus operators providing a more upscale trip from San Francisco and the North Bay.

The transit debacle at the Super Bowl highlighted the difficulty associated with trying to forecast transit ridership for special events. The New York/New Jersey and San Francisco/Santa Clara dynamics are similar. For the Super Bowl, most of the hotel rooms and peripheral events will be in San Francisco. That makes it doubly important that the link between SF and SC are solid. New Jersey transit severely underestimated the number of fans that would take the commuter train option from Penn Station to the Meadowlands through Secaucus, which led to hours-long delays for many frustrated fans. Since the NFL and local officials were encouraging transit use instead of driving or busing, designated public parking lots near MetLife Stadium were relatively empty, including certain bus lots. Meanwhile, buses that were scheduled to pick up fans from various hotels in Manhattan were underutilized.

When I took NJ Transit to a mere Jets preseason game at MetLife Stadium in August, the trains were quite packed and total ride took 45 minutes despite going less than 9 miles, was an ordeal. The biggest problem was the required transfer at Secaucus Junction. Because the train to the Meadowlands complex is a separate rail spur, all NJ trains forced the Secaucus transfer. Then fans had to go inside the station, change levels, and move to different platform where the Meadowlands train could be boarded. Secaucus Junction works fine for daily commute levels of ridership, but it is terrible for a big event such as the Super Bowl. If there is a next time, NJ Transit has to figure out a way to allow trains to go directly from Manhattan to the Meadowlands. While Secaucus can’t handle the crush, Penn Station can (though not without discomfort).

Like the NY-NJ transfer issue at Secaucus, there is a huge potential bottleneck at the Mountain View Caltrain station, where most fans coming from SF and the Peninsula will transfer. Trains from the Peninsula will stop along the station’s southern platform, which will mean that fans will have to cross at least 3 sets of tracks (2 Caltrain, 1 VTA) in order to make the switch. While the southbound platform has a decent-sized queuing area, the northbound platform, where fans would wait for train going home, is notoriously small and narrow. Each Caltrain train set (5 cars + engine) is designed to hold up to 1,000 riders. Compare that to a 3-car light rail train, which holds about 500 riders including standees. That means that two light rail trains would have to pick up a single full Caltrain’s worth of riders.

There’s also a bottleneck just east of the station, where trains run on a single track to cross Central Expressway. VTA plans to construct a second track and pocket track for train storage, which should get rid of the bottleneck. That project is expected to be completed in two phases, the whole thing done by 2016.

Even with those changes, it’s hard to say just how many people will take Caltrain to Mountain View and then transfer to light rail. 6-8 Caltrain trains worth? That’s about 10% of the total crowd. There could also be single trains from Capitol Corridor and ACE covering another 2-3000 fans.

Since the single-tracking bottleneck will take a couple years to resolve, there’s a good chance that fans going to Levi’s Stadium will instead use one of many express buses parked at the Mountain View station to get to the game. The route would be more direct, and much of it would be on a freeway or expressway.

I suspect that buses may be an even more popular mode of transport than they were at the ‘Stick. Rides from the North Bay will be especially long, requiring serious lead time. It’s not hard to see a fairly new institution already in place being used extensively for 49er games: the private Silicon Valley tech bus. Sure, there are already private coaches that take fans to games, especially groups that can charter. In this case I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same buses that shuttle workers to Google and Apple used on Sundays to take fans directly to Santa Clara from North Beach or Marin. Tickets are already much more expensive and cater to a move affluent crowd than before, why not provide luxury transit? The controversial private busing highlights a problem that has been generally ignored by the national media who have attempted to cover the issue: the disjointed Bay Area transit system. Caltrain runs through the downtowns of numerous cities on the Peninsula, which is mostly good and convenient. But if Caltrain or BART ran down 101 to near Google or 280 to Apple, there would be less of a need for such solutions. Levi’s Stadium, which is across the river from Cisco and a mile away from Intel’s headquarters, is in a similar situation: one or more transfers, inelegant design, faster alternatives. For the Super Bowl, these buses will be in even greater demand, especially as certain operators are contracted directly by the NFL for official use (teams, personnel, media).

Fortunately, the vast majority of games will be at 1 PM on a Sunday afternoon, not during commute hours. For the first season there will be no Thursday or Monday night games, with a Cal Friday home game snuck in as an exception. The 49ers’ 2014 promises to be a year of settling in, on the field for the team and in the stands by the fans. Getting there will literally be a process of trial and error for all involved.

Rams owner Kroenke buys SoCal land, sparking relocation talk

Sam Farmer of the LA Times reported late today that Rams owner Stan Kroenke has purchased a 60-acre parking lot situated between The Forum and Hollywood Park in Inglewood.

Farmer lays out the myriad complications that could arise if Kroenke tried to move the Rams back to Los Angeles. While 60 acres in hand is always good to have, there’s still the question of who would pick up the tab for the $1 billion or more in construction cost. The NFL has had a tepid response to two other NFL stadium initiatives by AEG (Farmers Field) and Majestic Realty (City of Industry), mainly because both developers have wanted stakes in prospective relocating franchises. In the Rams’ case, Kroenke could build it himself with the NFL’s help, though public funding in Inglewood is a nonstarter. It would take an enormous amount of corporate and upfront support to make it work, a recipe that yielded great results for the 49ers. That shouldn’t be an issue in a market the size of LA, but the market is a notoriously fickle place when it comes to pro football. Kroenke could even run into interference from the likes of USC and UCLA, who have the local football landscape to themselves with no pro team as competition.

Speculation about Kroenke’s intentions with the Inglewood land could amount to nothing, as he has substantial holdings throughout SoCal and these 60 acres could by ripe for a shopping center, housing, or other non-sports uses. More plausible is the idea that Kroenke could use the land as leverage to extract the maximum amount of concessions from the State of Missouri and the City of St. Louis, the latter party having already lost an arbitration case over planned improvements to Edward Jones Dome.

The Raiders and Chargers will look at Kroenke’s moves with some interest, as LA remains a potential relocation target for them. Both teams’ owners have prioritized staying in Oakland and San Diego, respectively, but interest from LA remains a phone call or meeting away. It might make the most sense for two relocated teams to share one stadium from a financial standpoint. Such a plan is problematic in execution, as exhibited in the sterile environment at MetLife Stadium. If Kroenke were to declare a move and get sign off from the NFL’s owners, he’d have to play at the LA Coliseum or Rose Bowl for at least a few years while the EIR process and construction were completed.

Land acquisition should put more pressure on Missouri/St. Louis to act. The benchmark there is $375 million provided by Jackson County for improvements to Arrowhead Stadium. That’s well short of the $700 million in improvements the Rams are entitled to as part of their arbitration win. Any team that wishes to relocate has a league-imposed deadline of mid-February each year to declare their intentions. Last year, all three relocation candidates chose to stay. With land in hand, the Rams are for now the best positioned to move.

Why would Lew Wolff ask for a 5-10 year extension at the Coliseum?

Lew Wolff visited the JPA on Wednesday. Staying consistent in his stance from last month, Wolff was seeking a lease extension, up to 10 years in length. Matt Artz’s Tribune article references the lease but not Coliseum City.

If Wolff is willing to hear out CC plans, chances are that he won’t make any kind of commitment unless a lease is in place first. Last month, the A’s put out a press release in response to a Matier & Ross column claiming Wolff’s interest in CC.

We are only prepared to meet with our landlord, the JPA, or elected and designated officials of Alameda County and the City of Oakland, to discuss any aspect of our venue or lease.

Remember that before lease extension talks broke down between Wolff and the JPA last summer, Wolff was seeking a 5-7 year extension with an out clause should the Raiders’ new stadium plans interfere with the A’s being able to play at the Coliseum. Two years at the Coliseum is only somewhat helpful, since there’s no way a ballpark will be ready at the end of the lease. Wolff will continue to ask for a lease extension as long as this uncertainty post-2015 remains.

Shortly after the press release I wrote a lengthy post about Wolff’s motivations, should they extend beyond merely getting an extension. Area A of Coliseum City (east of 880) is divided into three phases, starting with the new Raiders stadium, then the ancillary development designed to support the stadium, and finally the remaining surrounding development and a ballpark in the A Lot.

Three phases of Coliseum City have ballpark built out at the end of the project

Three phases of Coliseum City have ballpark built out at the end of the project

As part of Phase III, the A’s ballpark couldn’t come earlier than the end of the decade unless there was a major reshuffling of priorities. That’s where a 10-year extension could come into play. If Wolff wants to partner up on Coliseum City and the schedule can’t be significantly altered, the A’s would have to play at the Coliseum for the full length of that extension until the new ballpark was in place. MLB may have wielded the AT&T Park threat against Oakland successfully when it inserted itself into last fall’s lease talks, but sharing AT&T Park for any length more than a season or two will create enormous logistical problems for MLB, the Giants, and San Francisco.

Impacts from construction have to be minimized, which is a big reason for the phased approach. Not only does Coliseum City include new venues, it has tons of new infrastructure, including a new BART pedestrian overpass, new bridges over 880, and the “spine” that links all of it together. To understand those impacts, let’s compare the Coliseum complex now and what’s envisioned.

overhead-coliseum

The current Coliseum complex

Coliseum City with all Area A phases completed

Coliseum City with all Area A phases completed

The above image has the new stadium slightly overlapping the current Coliseum footprint. Previous images had the stadium turned slightly and oriented further away from the spine, which could allow the current Coliseum to remain in place – or at partly demolished as was the case with Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. To accommodate the football stadium where Mark Davis wants it (and where it’s shown in the image), the Coliseum would have to be demolished. That’s unavoidable, even though the new stadium’s footprint isn’t exactly on top of the old Coliseum. That’s also not a huge problem for the Raiders, since they could room with the 49ers for a couple years in the interim. It’s a huge problem for the A’s, who would be displaced. That’s why Wolff wants to get the lease in place. The A’s face eviction in this plan, even though there’s little chance for a new ballpark at CC or at Howard Terminal after the A’s are evicted. The lease would at least force BayIG and the Raiders to work around the A’s and the Warriors, who would be tenants for some time to come.

Another piece of infrastructure could be a huge factor: the power transmission lines running through the south parking lots. A big reason for building where the current Coliseum exists is that the power lines can be avoided. The cost of moving overhead transmission lines could be several million dollars, and easily double that cost if the lines were rerouted underground. In the end it may be best to move the lines underground, as it would free up land for other uses. Whether the lines remain overhead and are relocated down the road or moved underground, it’s a big infrastructure cost that has to be accounted for. Earlier renderings had the stadium displacing the power lines, so if there’s a consensus to avoid the lines, you’ll know it was a big factor. Besides the cost, PG&E and the Public Utilities Commission would have to be involved in the process, which could create delays.

Going back to the A’s and Wolff, as long as Wolff keeps some sort of dialogue going, he can have skin in the game. That disappears this summer, when BayIG is expected to have its anchor tenants signed on to the project, the Raiders being the first (I expect the deadline to slip). If Wolff can get an extension first, he’ll continue to have a say in how Coliseum City is developed. If not, and BayIG and the JPA can’t figure out a way to keep both the Raiders and A’s happy, Wolff can turn to MLB and force them to come up with a solution. That solution can’t be Howard Terminal in the short-term, since we don’t know what can be built at the Port site right now or in the future. Then there’s the possibility I wrote about in December:

If the Raiders stadium proves too costly, the A’s could easily slot right in with a much less expensive stadium option that has a much smaller funding gap, say $200-300 million. Plus with only one stadium there instead of two, there would be additional land to develop or reassign as needed. Wolff’s in a good position to wait and see how the market analyses work out for them and the Raiders.

Wolff can play this multiple ways, but the #1 issue is ensuring the A’s a home for the next several years. The rest is all process that should work itself out over the next 6-9 months. Lew may claim constantly that there’s no Plan B. I’ve never believed that. He’s not going to explain his contingency plans until he absolutely has to. That’s business.