No dome? Smaller stadium? That’s a start.

BANG’s Matthew Artz continues the Raiders stadium debate with the new old revelation that the Raiders want a smaller stadium, one that would seat around 55,000.

Yes, it’s a familiar story. We’ve heard it before. Fewer seats, fewer suites, slightly less swanky club areas, all of it should contribute to a lower cost solution for the Raiders and the NFL. And finally, the City of Oakland appears to be coming around, instead of clinging to pie-in-the-sky aspects in the Coliseum City plan. At the very least, the idea of a retractable dome is fading away.

The dome made it into several city planning documents, but Mayor Libby Schaaf said last week that it was no longer under consideration, noting that it didn’t make sense to build an enclosed stadium in a city with such a good climate.

That alone should save some $200 million. Dropping 10,000 seats should also save around $200 million. A rough projection today would be $800 million. Or $978 million. Either way it’s way too expensive. If the goal is a less fancy, simpler structure, there’s little reason for the budget to approach $1 billion, even with the higher construction costs in the hot Bay Area market. I showcased two renovation projects in Florida: the recently completed $200 million Citrus Bowl project and the underway $400 Sun Life Stadium plan.

Another good example from the college ranks is the new McLane Stadium at Baylor University. A 45,000-seat venue, McLane Stadium is a pretty, three-decked, partly roofed horseshoe on the banks of the Brazos River in Waco, TX. The stadium was completed for only $266 million.

McLane Stadium facing Brazos River (image from Wikipedia)

McLane Stadium facing Brazos River (image from Wikipedia)

It’s not the cost effective record of $100 million set at Stanford for a new stadium, but it’s impressive in its own right. There are some obvious visual differences between pro and college football venues, such as the expansive use of bleacher seating in college stadia. These stadia also have smaller scoreboards, club lounges, and locker rooms than their NFL peers. McLane Stadium has a total of 860,000 square feet, less than half the space of a new NFL stadium like Levi’s, whose square footage totaled 1.8 million.

Pro football stadia have achieved such girth over the last 30-40 years through the proliferation of suites and clubs, plus greater buildouts at the field level, a place once reserved for locker rooms and plain old storage. The previous generation of stadia may have had 4-5 levels. A modern stadium may have 9 levels thanks to stacks of suites and clubs. Since all these stadia are getting taller, there needs to be more structural concrete and steel, which contributes further to exploding the cost. The end result is a more complicated structure that takes much longer to build than before.

Living in Silicon Valley, since the recession ended I’ve seen so many cranes and buildings under construction it’s dizzying. Unlike the original Valley land rush, developers and companies aren’t building simple one-story tilt-up offices. These are 6-10 story campus affairs as standard, or crazy concepts like Apple’s spaceship campus or the newly reimagined, glass-canopied Googleplex. Apple and Google are perhaps two unique examples of companies building visions that would make the NFL palaces look modest by comparison. Mall giant Westfield is undertaking a $600 million expansion of Valley Fair. Local cheap hotels and motels are frequently at capacity during the weekdays, filled up by general contractors coming from the Central Valley and Southern California. While it’s a great situation for the Bay Area economically, it also means greater competition for labor than ever before.

If Oakland and the Raiders are truly going to come up with a cheaper solution, they’ll need to follow some of the lessons realized in the college process. That means building simpler, and just as important, building faster. Instead of taking 3 years to complete a stadium, it would behoove both parties to figure out ways to cut down the construction time to 2 years or else in order to save on labor, especially union labor here in California. Employing a design-build process to streamline construction and permitting would also help immensely.

Doing all of this would require a level of coordination and competence heretofore not seen in the East Bay. While the county continues to consider the ENA, the ground beneath Coliseum City shifts. Chances are good that whatever gets built there will look nothing like the renderings provided by JRDV and sponsored by the City. That’s standard practice in urban planning, so no one should be surprised. With the clock ticking on LA, it’s probably a good idea to get moving on something everyone can agree on.

John Fisher and the Art of Equivocation

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

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

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

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

Now take a look at these quotes.

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

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

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

Did that come from Mark Davis? Or Lew Wolff?

And this one:

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

Davis? Or Wolff?

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

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

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

A’s and 95.7 The Game extend through 2018

It started with a four-year run, and will now go another four.

There hasn’t been any drama leading up to this renewal, with The Game on hand at both FanFest and this week at Hohokam Stadium. While the A’s are no ratings bonanza, the team is by far the biggest constant in The Game’s programming. Now that the station will be going through its own form of regime change, perhaps Entercom will see fit to grow the station’s brand and the A’s brand together, instead of being at odds as they were at times. No matter, at least it’s stability, the most fans have seen since the KSFO days.

My only suggestion at this point is to work on boosting the signal. East and North Bay fans have been clamoring for this since Day one.

Wolff wants surface parking over garages and development at Coliseum

Here we go again with that nasty word: infrastructure.

Lew Wolff told Matthew Artz today that not only was he not interested in Coliseum City, he felt there isn’t enough space at the 120-acre Coliseum for development the City desires and the surface parking the team needs. That’s a major revelation because Wolff’s vision not only precludes other development in what’s considered a potentially high-density transit hub area, it goes against the City’s goals for the Coliseum.

There’s a lot that’s being unsaid by Wolff, who demurred on questions about financing and multiple venues. Let’s focus on what he said.

The only way it could work, Wolff said, would be to build multilevel parking garages, but that would leave fans waiting in long lines to exit the garages and begin their drives home.

‘Parking is a key issue for us,’ Wolff said. ‘We want surface parking surrounding the ballpark wherever we build it unless we’re in the heart of a downtown.’
‘We said it before he even came on the scene that we are going to 100 percent control our own destiny, period,’ Wolff said. ‘We don’t need a third party involved.’

First off, let’s be clear about how much land is available: 141 publicly owned acres in the area bounded by 66th Ave, Hegenberger Rd, 880, and Damon Slough. Take away 18 for the existing Coliseum or its replacement, and 8 for the arena if it stays. There’s other stuff like the sewer interceptor and power lines, but we’ll leave that out for now. The remaining land totals 115 acres.

As Andy Dolich notes in the same article, garages are ill-suited because they’re expensive and don’t get utilized well. Parking garages cost around $20,000 per space to build. ROI can be difficult to achieve unless those garages can be filled nearly everyday. But the City is supposed to fund infrastructure like garages at Coliseum City, so why is this such a big deal? The surface parking requirement, which Raiders owner Mark Davis has also communicated at times, stands in the way of the City’s plans for Coliseum City, whether you’re talking 120, 200, or 800 acres. The Coliseum City plan has 13,000 event parking spaces in it, only 4,200 of which are surface spaces mostly in the south lots out to Hegenberger.

Blue and dark gray are garages, medium gray is surface parking

From the Coliseum City Specific Plan: Blue and dark gray are garages, medium gray is surface parking

Shouldn’t 4,200 (or maybe 5-6,000) spaces be enough for most A’s games when taken with a few thousand new garage spots?  Especially if the TPMP (Transportation & Parking Management Plan) were conceived in a way to manage traffic from these various lots and garages? Especially if it’s only a single venue such as a ballpark? Let’s say that the A’s average 30,000 in attendance at a new ballpark. According to BART, 15-20% of fans take the service. Let’s make it 20%. That means 24,000 will come in cars. At 3 per car, the A’s would need 8,000 spaces. So they’d need some 2-3,000 additional spaces, maybe half of those in garages, the rest in a remote lot on the other side of the complex where people would have to walk through the retail/commercial area to get to the game. That way you have everyone covered:

  1. Fans who want direct access to the ballpark and the quickest in-out (4,200 surface spaces adjacent to ballpark, south)
  2. Fans who want to have dinner/drinks at a restaurant nearby (3,000 garage spaces, perhaps with validation, center)
  3. Fans who want cheap parking and don’t mind walking through the business district (3,000 remote surface spaces, north)

If you look at the parking depiction above, it’s not hard to see how that would come together. Put the ballpark where the football stadium is and the remote parking where the ballpark is and you have the basic concept. The idea presupposes that the arena is no longer there either.

The problem, as ever, is that no one wants to pay for any infrastructure like parking. A 2,000-space garage is bad enough, and it’s merely a piece of the $300 million of infrastructure. Wolff has suggested that he’d take care of the Mt. Davis debt, but if he has to pay for infrastructure too it starts to become too much. The City has suggested a slew of taxes that would pay for it through huge Mello-Roos and infrastructure financing districts, but that isn’t certain. Some of those taxes would eat into A’s revenues, so again it becomes a question of cost-benefit for the A’s.

In the end, if the A’s and the City/County are going to make this work they’ll have to come to a compromise. Whether the A’s claim a large piece of the land for ballpark and parking and leave the rest for the development, or the A’s control development rights to the whole thing, they’ll have to come half way. That also means the City will have to dial down its pie-in-the-sky dreams of a bustling second downtown anchored by multiple sports venues for something a little less ambitious. There probably is a way to accommodate both Wolff’s and Oakland’s goals. It’ll take a lengthy negotiation, which I should remind you, hasn’t happened yet. In fact, we’re not even close to negotiating yet.

P.S. – Would you believe that until last year, there were no major pro sports venues in the Bay Area with adjacent or nearby garages? It’s true. The Coliseum, which houses three teams, obviously has no garages. Neither does AT&T Park, which has surface parking across Mission Creek from the ballpark. SAP Center has multiple surface lots, including an elevated lot next to the arena that some might mistake for a garage. Candlestick Park had a small peninsula of parking next to it.

That changed when Levi’s Stadium opened last year. As part of the deal, an 1800-space garage was built directly opposite the stadium on Tasman Drive in Santa Clara. That garage has been notorious for excruciatingly long waits to leave, thanks to its single point of entry/exit. Wolff knows this because his Earthquakes opened Levi’s last summer, Quakes fans as guinea pigs. As we saw with the Sharks-Kings Stadium Series game over the weekend, parking and transportation is still a puzzle that hasn’t been figured out by the 49ers, Santa Clara, and VTA.

Other ballparks in suburban locales (Dodger Stadium, Angels Stadium) also don’t have garages. PETCO Park, Chase Field are downtown ballparks with attached garages that work well in concert with other nearby parking options. Coors Field has practically all surface lots available as parking. Downtown ballparks not only have garages or plenty of nearby parking infrastructure, they have the proper street grids and built-in traffic management needed to support large events. The Coliseum City plan is not set up like a new downtown with many ways in and out. It’s essentially the same plan as before, which has led to poor level of traffic service (LOS) grades in the Coliseum City EIR. It’s natural for Wolff to want to avoid the Levi’s situation.

Dolphins show off $400 million renovation project

Not long after the Orange Bowl was played on New Year’s Eve, the Dolphins embarked on an ambitious, $400 million plan to rip apart about one-third of Sun Life Stadium. Dolphins President Tom Garfinkel has been regularly posting photos of the progress.

The plan is being carried out in two phases. The first takes off the upper corner sections permanently, leaving the structural raker beams behind. The lower sideline sections are also being removed, to be replaced with new sections that will eventually bring the first row 24 feet closer to the field than before. All of the seats will be replaced with bigger, all-turquoise versions. The lower deck renovation will allow the Dolphins to offer new luxury seating types between the usual club seat and suite choices. Some will be mini suites at midfield, others will be behind the end zone. Concourses are also being redone.

First phase renovations to be ready in time for 2015 NFL season

First phase renovations to be ready in time for 2015 NFL season

Second phase improvements include new scoreboards in the upper corners where the seating sections used to be, and the big reason for the project: a huge open air canopy that will cover virtually the entire seating bowl and outdoor concourses. Given the often rainy and hot weather in the first half of the NFL season, this was considered a necessary addition. The canopy is also a must for the NFL if future Super Bowls are to be held there (the last was held in 2010).

sunlife-2016-outside

Final renovations including seating canopy

Final capacity is projected slightly above 65,000, a cut of 10,000 seats. Despite the reduced seat count, the venue is better positioned to bid for the Super Bowl and the College Football Championship game, which is up for bid separately from the normal bowl rotation (the stadium already hosts the Orange Bowl).

Most importantly, this project is being financed privately, mostly through luxury seat/suite sales, not through bonds, PSLs, or other unsavory means. Stephen Ross campaigned for public funding for the better part of 2 years, threatening that the Super Bowl wouldn’t come back without yet another South Florida giveaway. He eventually gave up his quest, seeing that it would be better to get started on the project and get the Super Bowl. Finally, Miami-Dade County held firm and wasn’t ripped off the way they were by the Marlins and Heat.

In May I covered the much more modest, $200 million renovation at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. While that project lacked much of the luxury amenities being added to Sun Life, the actual teardown and rebuild was more extensive, gutting and replacing the entire lower bowl. I wondered why the Raiders weren’t pursuing this path at the Coliseum. I can say the same now that the Dolphins are going down a similar, albeit more NFL-appropriate path. A Raiders renovation would be a sort of hybrid of the two, not as swanky as Miami nor as basic as Orlando. Over time I ballparked the cost at $500-600 million, basically the same amount as the funding gap the team and Oakland/Alameda County face at Coliseum City.

So why is no one talking about a Coliseum renovation? Maybe the image of the Coliseum is beyond repair even with a renovation. Maybe the fact that the field is 20 feet below sea level makes it a bad choice for forward-thinking CEQA guidelines about sea-level rise or storm-related flooding. Neither of those is a good excuse. If everyone involved in wanting to keep the Raiders (team, government, fans, investors) isn’t merely about playing games, there’s no reason why this kind of option wouldn’t be investigated thoroughly. It’s cost-effective, proven, and preserves the very site that so many Raiders fans hold dear.

P.S. – While we’re at it, why didn’t the 49ers incorporate some of these amenities into Levi’s Stadium? We’ve already seen these put into arenas and some stadia over the past few years.

P.P.S. – The Dolphins are applying for $50 million in sales tax revenues. A decision to provide that funding along with funding for other sports venues has been delayed by the Florida legislature. Even if that’s approved, Ross is funding $350 million of the project, a better ratio than most American stadia. At least Ross dropped the charade and got started on the project.

M&R: 30 days or bust for Raiders in Oakland

It’s a short article and a rather incendiary headline from Matier & Ross, but it’s not like we haven’t seen this coming.

‘If we don’t have significant progress within the next 30 days, I’d say one party or the other will call an end to it.’ That’s how one source close to the Raiders stadium negotiations in Oakland characterizes the on-again, off-again talks.

Okay, I guess. This doesn’t mean that Coliseum City is dead. There’s a lot of context we don’t have here. Is the anonymous source only talking about the new stadium, or does the lease extension also have something to do with it? Remember that as of now, the Raiders have nowhere to play for the 2015 season. If the only issue is the stadium discussion, that’s an awful way for the Raiders to go about things. Besides not having a place to play and no approval from the NFL to make a move, there’s little concrete evidence that the framework of a deal can be reached in 300 days, let alone 30. Maybe, as Larry Reid said, the work is 90% done. So what’s keeping the rest of the 10% from being done? The Raiders? Maybe. New City? Floyd Kephart said that the ENA runs through April. The ever-balking Alameda County? Who knows?

To me it sounds like yet another bluff. Last week’s reveal that the Raiders and Chargers are working on their own plan was characterized as a bluff by many. Scratch the surface and you’ll see that the Carson site is nearly ready to go after a great deal of cleanup, according to the State. Again, there are so many moving parts here with all the different players and deliverables that it’s hard to know what progress really is. Frankly, if this is coming from the Raiders, I’d like to see what happens if they leave the table. It’s always been up to the Raiders to make the first move. Mark Davis may actually have the courage to push that first domino. And if that happens, expect everyone else – the public sector, the A’s, the NFL and MLB – to start moving in kind. Eventually.

A Day at the Diamond, Hohokam Stadium Preview

The parking lots filled up fast, so that by the time I arrived at Hohokam Stadium around 11 I was directed to park in the grass soccer fields south of the ballpark. With the construction debris gone and systems in working order, it was time to show off the renovated ballpark to the community.

Fans walking in front of the clubhouse mural

Fans walking in front of the clubhouse mural down the 1B line

There were no surprises for me. I’ve checked out the place throughout various stages of construction over the last two years. What I wasn’t quite ready for was how it looked with a bunch of people in it, sitting in seats, traversing concourses, hoping for home run balls. For me that’s when it became more than a bunch of features and improvements upon Phoenix Muni or even the Coliseum. That’s when it became real.

Back row behind the plate

Back row behind the plate

From the top of the stadium you’re afforded views of the McDowell Mountains to left, Four Peaks and Red Mountain to right. Down low it’s all baseball. While the A’s have sold ads in the outfield, don’t expect the same kind of ad explosion you typically see in minor league parks and other spring training parks. The big scoreboard in left will probably be used for getting those messages across.

Exterior outside 3B

Exterior outside 3B

If you had visited Hohokam at any time since its 1998 renovation, you know about the edifice’s underwhelming blandness. A 90’s  ode to beige stucco, there were only the most minimal nods to the Southwest. Under the A’s, the Gensler-designed makeover is all green and gold. The exterior walls are the forest green we as A’s fans are very familiar with, perhaps darker than you might expect at first glance. Gold painted aluminum panels line the gates and box office. Originally the gates were to have famous player numbers, like 24 for Rickey Henderson. This was scrapped sometime in the last year, probably because having gates named in a “random” manner would look confusing to non-A’s fans. Not that the gate naming system matters, it’s unlikely anyone will get lost here. One bit of technology not available in the 90’s was large format, photorealistic vinyl, which was put to good use depicting major events in A’s history on the outside of the stadium (above) and throughout the concourse.

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The inner concourse felt somewhat cluttered with numerous memorabilia sales tables on both sides. Only a few concession stands were open, so the space was made available. Most of the concourse is white, with gold accents to highlight fan amenities, from tunnels to the grandstand to restrooms and concession stands.

Ferguson Jenkins was even on hand, as he used to be when Hohokam was the Cubs’ home. Jenkins usually makes the rounds at every Cactus League park, so if you want to meet the Hall-of-Famer you’ll have your chance.

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Unlike Phoenix Muni, at Hohokam fans will now be able to walk completely around the park. As a 90’s-era Cactus League park, there’s no 360-degree concourse like the kind you’d see at the newest parks: Salt River Fields, Camelback Park, Sloan Park. Even so, you can get your full stroll on, and the upper tier is elevated enough above the walkway that you won’t have to worry about obstructing views.

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When Hohokam was redesigned, the Cubs made sure to get a large canopy placed over much of the seating area, as the old Hohokam had no shade whatsoever. That feature was carried over to Cubs/Sloan Park, and while the shade isn’t truly necessary for March in Arizona (75-80 degrees, dry heat) it’s welcome. If you want shade from the start, sit in the upper sections on the 1B side or behind home plate. The A’s also removed large bleacher sections down each line and replaced them with shaded patios, one a family and kids area, the other a beer garden. Along with the downsizing, all of the seats and bleachers. The plastic fixed seats are 19 or 20 inches wide, provided by Hussey Seating. Bleachers are contoured and have backs.

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A's training facility at Fitch Park

A’s training facility at Fitch Park

Hohokam is 0.6 miles north of Fitch Park, home of the Lew Wolff Training Facility. The facility was not named LWTF in the initial drawings presented by Gensler nearly a year ago. Whether Wolff decided to do this at the last minute or was pushed to do so because of the drawn out Coliseum lease negotiations or other factors, the Wolff name is unmistakably on the A’s building in Fitch Park and on way finding signs outside Fitch. Wolff’s name is nowhere to be found at Hohokam, and both Hohokam and Fitch have retained their original names. Wolff turns 80 this year, so I can’t blame the guy for celebrating an achievement, no matter how distasteful it may look to many Oakland fans.

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The outfield berm areas at Hohokam are arguably the largest in the Cactus League. In right, the berm is so large that it’s split into a good-sized lower part and a large upper hill, descending to a second walkway next to the warmup fields. The A’s have plans to rework these areas to include a food truck alley and a grotto in left, but for now they’re being left alone. In any case, you’ll have plenty of area to stretch, and maybe the team will add more kid-friendly attractions with all the space, as is seen at Peoria.

It's huge

It’s huge!

Last but not least, there’s the new scoreboard, which I’ve talked about previously. The A’s are experimenting with different graphics and sound packages, and from what I hear they’re not final, so you if you have suggestions chime in. One dilemma I heard about was whether to bring the “A*Team” theme and graphics over from Oakland or trying something different for Hohokam. I have a bunch of lawn tickets for games in March, and I made sure to plant myself in front of the display to see if I could stand the up-close pixelation. It looked fine to me, so I’ll make LF semi-permanent instead of RF, where I thought I’d be sitting prior to today.

The final price tag on Hohokam Stadium was $27 million, $17 million from the City of Mesa and $10 million from the A’s. The original budget was $20 million. Some of the extra $7 million went towards technological improvements, such as proper wiring for broadcast video throughout the park. While the A’s and Comcast don’t broadcast a ton of games during the spring, it’s good to know that the capability is there. Visiting teams will be able to take advantage as well.

A spring training ballpark is only used for a month every year. Games held there don’t count in the standings. It is more intimate than regular season baseball, more accessible. Every fan should take the opportunity to visit his/her team’s spring training home at least once. It’s warmer in more ways than one.