Kephart plays out the string

After reading tweets and reactions, and finally listening to Floyd Kephart’s spiel at Lungomare today, I can use one word to describe the whole affair.

Perfunctory

Unlike Kephart’s 50/50-or-less assessment of the project at this late stage, I can say with greater confidence – 80/20 – that this will be the last time you see Floyd Kephart in Oakland. He said that he’ll be there through the early part of October, but that doesn’t mean he has to come back if all signs point to no on the City’s part.

There’s a rendering. It looks modern. Great. The next one’s more interesting.

After reading Kephart’s spoken points and digesting them for a bit, I realized that what Kephart presented today, warts and all, was the most honest proposal anyone’s ever given in the four year saga of Coliseum City. Here’s why:

  1. It acknowledges that the A’s are likely to stay at the Coliseum for a considerable period, so the Coliseum stays intact.
  2. The arena stays as well, because the City wants it even if the Warriors leave.
  3. The project area was downsized to 132 acres, no planned phase west of the Nimitz.
  4. The funding gap, which according to Kephart would be $300 million, would be funded by a City-sponsored conduit bond.

The conduit bond is a tricky thing. This kind of financing has the tax-free, low borrowing cost benefits of regular municipal bonds, but municipalities aren’t on the hook for repayment, as Oakland and Alameda County were with Mt. Davis’s general obligation bonds. Instead, revenues from the development, such as naming rights and certain forms of tax increment on the project area would be used to the tune of $20 million per year. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s similar to the way the 49ers financed their gap through Goldman Sachs. During the pre-Harbaugh era, there was a legitimate question about whether the stadium could be paid for this way. A few playoff runs and highly renewed interest later and the 49ers were able to pull it off. The Raiders, well, they’re not in that position. The makes me wonder how the financing would work if there were revenue shortfalls. Who would be responsible, the Raiders? What if they defaulted? And why would the Raiders or the NFL approve such a plan, given the revenue uncertainty?

Kephart said a few other things I found noteworthy.

“Purchase of the (Coliseum) land is key to us staying. In the event that the Council says no…we’re not going to do the development.”

The land purchase is contingent on the City and County coming to an agreement on Oakland buying out Alameda County’s half.

“I’m on my 4th city administrator and 2nd mayor in 10 months. I’m under the 2nd ENA and I haven’t negotiated one significant thing except the ENA.”

That would’ve been a drop-the-mic moment if he was so frustrated that he wanted to quit. He wasn’t. But that’s a stunning admission of how little has actually been done. Kephart has been quick to blame the City, County, and team for his failure. Ultimately, it is his failure since he was brought aboard to bring everyone to the table and work out the deal, so this grousing seems like sour grapes. He made one more observation:

“I’m not the problem, and I’m not the solution.”

Kephart also claimed that it was the City’s responsibility, not his, to get the Raiders, A’s, or Warriors on board. That’s a complete backpedal on his part. Per the ENA, as part of the initial submittal due June 21:

(b) Proposed terms and conditions required to obtain a commitment from one or more of the Oakland Raiders, the Oakland Athletics, and/or the Golden State Warriors to the Project with an update on status of negotiations between New City and each team regarding its commitment to participate in the Project;

I don’t know when this all changed, but I got a hint of it a few weeks ago when NFL point man Eric Grubman was talking about Oakland on Fred Roggin’s LA radio show. Grubman mentioned that the City hadn’t presented anything to the Raiders, which sounded strange since I too thought that New City was responsible for signing the Raiders. Now it makes sense in terms of process, though no light was shed on why it evolved this way. Exactly how was the City selling this to the Raiders? And wouldn’t those efforts run in conflict with the City’s desire to “open” the process for alternatives?

Near the end, Kephart had a sort of kiss-off moment.

“While everybody might think that Oakland is the garden spot of the world, we have projects in three different continents and around the country. And I have lots to do.”

It’s true. The ponies aren’t going to wait for Floyd to come back to Del Mar, you know.

The Oakland Dilemma

Frankly, I’m tired of writing about Coliseum City, what’s (not) happening. Instead of devoting 500 words to running out the clock or whatever metaphor you feel is most appropriate, I’ll simply leave this here:

chicken-and-egg

Oakland, the non-entity

They didn’t come, they didn’t see, and they didn’t conquer.

That was Oakland’s vibe at the NFL owners meetings. St. Louis made its stadium presentation previously, while San Diego did theirs yesterday and Carson made their preso today. It’s even possible that, unless Oakland pulls a rabbit out of its hat, it may not be invited to make a presentation in October either.

One of the many versions of Coliseum City that didn't solidify into a proposal

One of the many versions of Coliseum City that didn’t solidify into a proposal

Look, the bad news was known weeks before this week’s meetings. Oakland was not invited to make a presentation in front of the owners in suburban Chicago this week, because, to put it mildly, the NFL didn’t believe Oakland had a presentation to make. Here’s how you know how bad it is – in April Mayor Libby Schaaf hired one-time planning director Claudia Cappio to be the new assistant city administrator in charge of development. Among other responsibilities, Cappio became the de facto spokesperson for the project. That’s never a good sign, because when the City puts out a staffer and not a single Oakland politician wants to lay claim to the project, you know it’s in bad shape. What happened to Fred Blackwell? Remember him? Is he no longer consulting for the project? Oh that’s right, he left for a private sector gig. Blackwell clearly saw the writing on the wall.

The most damning statement came from NFL point man-cum-hatchet man Eric Grubman, who said this about Oakland’s situation:

‘The Oakland Raiders have great fans in Oakland city and the county of Oakland and a lot broader territory, but the facts on the ground are that there’s been no viable proposal that’s been made to the Raiders,’ Grubman said. ‘We’ve said one thing consistently to any of the markets that have been engaged in trying to put forth a proposal and it really rests on a couple of pillars. One of them is that a proposal has to be specific. The second is that it has to be attractive to a team and the third is it has to be actionable.

‘What actionable means is it can’t just be an idea to the extent that there is enabling legislation or enabling financing activities or there are litigation threats or anything of that nature, anything that needs to be assembled in a time frame where a club can act on it. Thus far, those sorts of tests have not been made in Oakland so as of yet, there is no proposal for the Raiders to consider.’

The irony of this is if the words above were uttered by Lew Wolff he would be ripped in column after column by the usual lazy critics. Wolff’s statements about Oakland in the past have largely had a similar tone and verbiage. But since Grubman doesn’t represent a specific team, and is in fact an arbiter of sorts for the NFL, these words will be met with little debate by potential critics, and mostly resigned disappointment by others. Yet look at that second paragraph. It is on par with Wolff saying that people can’t just point to a site and hope it into becoming viable. It needs to pencil out. And for three years and counting, Oakland has not made Coliseum City pencil out, not to any appreciable degree.

Thing is, I agree to some extent with what Oakland’s doing. It tried, it found out that the NFL wasn’t interested in a complex developer-finance scheme, it looked for alternatives and found nothing but resistance. All that’s left is to give up or wait for the NFL to kill Oakland. The former provides some (though not much) political cover for pols regarding constituents who want to see the City move on from Coliseum City. The latter provides cover when facing Raiders fans. In the meantime Oakland can finish the process, since it won’t hurt to do so with 10 or 40 days left in the ENA. Two months until the next meetings is not enough to rally the resources to make Coliseum City or an alternative happen, especially if Mark Davis isn’t committed to the effort.

There also has to be some detached bemusement coming from Rob Manfred and the Lodge. Unless Manfred worked out some sort of wink-nudge deal with Oakland, Manfred has to be wondering what kind of effort and political will he can expect out of Oakland for a ballpark. Observers have been poking holes in Coliseum City for years, and Oakland has done little to prove them wrong. Consider that the main accomplishment at Coliseum City was the passage of a planning-oriented EIR. That’s a procedural step, not a truly major milestone. Manfred will certainly play nice with Oakland once a ballpark process begins, but if he doesn’t like what he hears, don’t be surprised if he turns the heat up on the City and even Wolff. Manfred’s previous job was to get the best deals out of everyone MLB worked with, from cities to media outlets.

For now, desperate Raiders fans are left to criticize other cities’ stadium proposals in hopes that their success or failure will “trap” the Raiders in Oakland. It’s hard to come up with a concept more absurd than that. The NFL wants results, and if Oakland can’t provide them, the league is not going to sympathize. It will move on.

Wolff looks elsewhere at Coliseum, Alameda County looks to leave JPA

NFL franchise relocation point man Eric Grubman made a visit to Oakland to talk Raiders stadium. Not much emerged from the talks other than Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley once again expressing a desire for the County to sell its half of the JPA (land and debt) to Oakland. That’s both good and bad – good in that having Oakland as the sole public entity involved would simplify the deal greatly, bad in that Oakland would have to find the cash to buy the County’s half and figure out how to fund infrastructure for Coliseum City. It’s possible that proceeds from the land sale would take care of the debt, but what about everything else? Oakland would effectively be trading one set of hassles for another.

The big scene-stealing news came from Lew Wolff, who walked back the MLB subsidy idea while providing slightly more detail on his plans. Interestingly, Wolff is considering a site he looked at way back when he was not yet an owner, instead working as an executive for Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann. No, it’s not the flea market all over again, nor does it appear to be the existing complex, either directly north or south of the Coliseum. Instead the site of choice may be what I like to call Coliseum South, better known as the Malibu/HomeBase parcels to the south adjacent to the Coliseum complex.

malibu-homebase

21 acres, though option leaves only 12 acres buildable

The City of Oakland bought the HomeBase site in 2010. That and the triangular Malibu lot total 21 acres, City owned, not JPA owned. Other lots in the vicinity (Denny’s and the EDD building) are privately owned and would have to be purchased separately for additional ancillary development. I suggested the possibility of building there in 2005, shortly after I started this blog. Back then the HomeBase site still had an empty shell of a warehouse, which frequently housed the homeless while the parking lot hosted sideshows.

coliseum_south

My 2005 concept which would’ve included a small retail-entertainment district beyond the outfield

21 acres of City-owned land that’s only used as parking? Break ground tomorrow, right? Not so fast. The City had worked hard to bring the County in only recently because of the pre-existing partnership. Should the County exit stage left and the City work out the financials, that would be a major step forward. However, there is a major encumbrance on the Malibu lot that makes it extremely difficult to build there – utilities.

Current assessor's map

Current assessor’s map

The dotted lines running northwest-to-southeast through the Malibu lot represent EBMUD’s sewer interceptor easement, which cannot have anything built on it. Power transmission lines run north-south along the east parcel line, up against the edge of the HomeBase lot. Unless someone is willing to pay the freight for relocating those utilities, chances are that the Malibu lot will remain a parking lot. That leaves 12 acres for a ballpark. The HomeBase parcel is less than 600 feet wide, making for a tight fit for a ballpark. AT&T Park is about 600 feet wide if you extend the first base line out to the promenade and back to King Street. Those constraints obviously go away if the utilities on the Malibu lot can be relocated. Keep in mind that means working with the Public Utilities Commission, EBMUD and PG&E, and chances are that it would mean more than moving them around to simply avoid the Malibu lot. If both utilities are going to be involved, they’ll want projects that are much more long-term, which means much more comprehensive projects. Who knows, it may ultimate prove worth the investment.

Wolff suggests MLB will help subsidize Oakland ballpark

Tyler Clippard did better as A’s closer than I expected, possibly faint praise in light of the pitiful nature of the rest of the bullpen. After Clippard was traded to the Mets for potential back-of-the-rotation starter Casey Meisner, Billy Beane was asked about the team’s strategy and philosophy. Inevitably the discussion turned to his thoughts on a future ballpark (h/t BANG’s John Hickey), whenever the hell that’s gonna happen.

“It seems the environment maybe is right. It’s not my department… I don’t want to be Pollyannaish. I’m hopeful that something or some progress will be made. It will make it easier to plan from a baseball operations standpoint. If you had a ballpark (in the works), this would probably be the proper approach.”

Beane has echoed similar thoughts before, as the A’s were pushing for ballparks in both Fremont and San Jose. It would be completely acceptable for Billy to be gun-shy considering the failures of the past. Yet Beane seemed practically optimistic, despite there being no specific date to break ground, let alone open a new park.

Backing that optimism was Wolff, who took the notion of an Oakland ballpark further, admitting that he’s – get this – talking it over with Rob Manfred.

Wolff did say that new commissioner Rob Manfred was fully behind the A’s getting a new venue as soon as possible. And the A’s owner said Major League Baseball would likely kick in some money to help the A’s get a stadium done at the Oakland site, public money not being available.

That’s about as big of news as we’ve heard all year on the ballpark front. A private subsidy – that’s what we’re talking about here – is exactly what the A’s will need to make a ballpark in Oakland… wait for it… feasible. Oakland has a hearty albeit small fanbase, and it lacks San Francisco’s or San Jose’s corporate wealth. Money from MLB, which would really be paid by the richer clubs, is the stable revenue stream that the A’s need to stay in Oakland. And since it doesn’t come from Oakland or Alameda taxpayers, it’s politically above board.

The easiest path to that money is MLB to continue to keep the A’s on revenue sharing, which I suggested a week ago. While it doesn’t fulfill the goal of getting the A’s off the dole, it solves the Lodge’s problem of figuring out what to do with the A’s without fighting over territorial rights. Enshrined in the current CBA is language specific to the A’s:

Beginning with (but not before) their first full season of operation in a new stadium, the Oakland Athletics shall be subject to the same-percentage revenue sharing disqualification that applies to other market-disqualified Clubs in the given Revenue Sharing Year.

Those “market-disqualified Clubs” are the top 15 markets (teams) in MLB. The bottom 15 are fully eligible for revenue sharing. As long as the A’s stay in the Coliseum, they straddle that line between the two. The owners and Bud Selig probably thought that the A’s stadium mess would’ve been resolved by the end of the CBA, that’s why the language is in there. Instead, Selig’s successor, Manfred, and those same owners now have the choice of resolving the A’s problem by allowing the A’s to stay on revenue sharing. It’s a compromise plan to be sure, one the owners always had in their back pocket.

Revenue sharing is designed to help the have-nots with player development, not for stadium development. That’s an issue that would have to be worked out internally. I would expect that, as with the current CBA, the A’s place within the revenue sharing recipients pool will have another sunset clause, one that’s perhaps 10 years down the road.

There is an alternative to revenue sharing in the form of MLB’s credit facility, which allows up to $100 million per team for reasons outside of normal baseball operations. Eventually that may be the better way to handle the situation. Use of the credit facility would be more like the NFL’s G-3/G-4 program, in that a loan would be taken out against future TV revenues. It’s a smaller subsidy, but if the ballpark costs a reasonable amount ($600 million), it could be enough to cover those years when stadium revenues are running a little dry.

If you were looking for a sign that Wolff and John Fisher are serious about building in Oakland, this is it, short of a plan unveiling. It shows that ownership is serious, MLB is serious, and Oakland is the main focus. At the same time, there is still the saga of Coliseum City to deal with. Nate Miley suggested today that nothing was happening as far as alternative proposals until Coliseum City ends, so we can look forward to that at some point, maybe in the coming weeks. Until then, this is progress.

Manfred status quo on A’s in Oakland, considers expansion

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred held the first All Star Game press conference of his tenure Tuesday, and he seemed prepared for most every question asked of him. On the recent push for baseball to extend netting near the plate to protect fans, Manfred said that MLB was still studying the issue and can’t formally make any changes until 2016, although individual teams can choose to extend the nets if they wanted.

Manfred referred to a forthcoming domestic violence policy, the difficulty of shortening the schedule to 154 games, even machine-judged balls and strikes. The discussion eventually moved to the subject of franchises and cities. Montreal remains impressive, though trying to project fan support based on a couple exhibition games each year is taking things a bit far. There was a question about the A’s, too.

No change there.

Things got interesting when Manfred was asked about the possibility of expansion. His response?

“Maybe one of the reasons I got this job is, I’m bullish on this game. I think we are a growth business, broadly defined. And over an extended period of time, growth businesses look to get bigger. So yeah, I’m open to the idea that there will be a point in time where expansion may be possible.”

Manfred was careful not to provide a timetable for expansion or put it at a high priority, similar to stadium efforts in St. Petersburg and Oakland. Regardless, this is a major revelation and a complete turnabout from predecessor Bud Selig’s consistent no-expansion stance since the tense 2002 CBA talks.

It’s important not to read too much into Manfred’s statement, but it’s likely that his favorable view on expansion is fueled by a handful of factors:

  1. The American economy (at least capital) is surging, with many cities emerging from the recession potentially ready to entertain new stadium deals.
  2. Montreal functions as both a relocation candidate and an expansion candidate, taking the place of DC, which filled the role for more than three decades.
  3. Manfred’s continued hopeful statements about Oakland may be a sign that a resolution for at least one team (probably not the Rays) is coming.
  4. Like Roger Goodell, Manfred probably has revenue growth goals for MLB. With 28 new ballparks built, national TV deals locked in, and most RSN carriage deals maxed out, few other growth avenues exist. MLB AM is its own juggernaut, one that may spin out and go public in time. The obvious way to achieve bigger growth is to enter new markets by expansion.

Of course, the problem for baseball is that unlike the other three major sports, MLB’s every day scheduling requires that expansion comes in pairs of teams, not single teams. I’ve long been an advocate of a 32-team MLB, with 16 teams per league. It would create smaller, more manageable divisions and eliminate the need for interleague play throughout the entire year, though that would remain an option if The Lodge decided it worked for them economically.

Realignment could work with two leagues of four divisions each with heavily unbalanced schedules, or two leagues of two divisions each – the pre-interleague arrangement – with more balanced schedules.

realign-32

As usual, placement of teams is purely for discussion purposes and not based on any league reports or rumors

Amazingly, the landscape has changed for expansion city candidates. Assuming that Montreal is penciled in as the first expansion franchise, there would be a race to fill the other spot. Unlike the Expos’ barnstorming tour of a decade+ ago, there are far fewer candidates and many more questions to be answered by expansion candidate cities. Portland has given itself over to soccer and would have to build a new stadium in conjunction with landing a franchise, the same way the Dbacks and Chase Field were developed together. Las Vegas is no longer a player thanks to ongoing development, a loss of political will (Oscar Goodman), and a new arena being built on the Strip. Puerto Rico has become America’s own Greece. Monterrey, Mexico seems to have the market size and a ideal temporary stadium, but with some misgivings by the players’ union. Charlotte has a brand new AAA stadium and an overstretched market. Sacramento is now in the firm grasp of the Giants, who would fight any expansion franchise over TV rights (not stadium building rights).

Manfred’s statements are sure to get those dormant expand-to-my-home-city machines going again. And that’s just fine with him, since it will keep baseball in the news year-round. I have confidence that MLB will expand to 32 teams sometime in the next 10 years. If it doesn’t happen, it will be a sign that the owners’ collective greed goes completely unchecked despite an ever-expanding pie.

Make. Them. Pay.

When HBO announced its own fake news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver I felt great about Oliver, who did exemplary work at The Daily Show. I also felt rather hesitant at the show’s format: a 30-minute show on Sunday night featuring the previous week’s news. It didn’t take much time for Oliver to prove the format a winner. Instead of the rat-a-tat nature of TDS, The Colbert Report, and other late night shows, Oliver was given the freedom of devoting a lengthy segment every week to a single topic. Those segments, usually ending each episode, have providing cutting and often educational rants on a broad range of topics, from FIFA corruption to race relations to an interview with Edward Snowden. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that this week’s topic was near and dear to my heart: stadium development in America.

nfl_teams_la

Oliver starts and ends the segment with references to soaring locker room speeches. I took the liberty of transcribing his own speech at the end. As you watch the end, read the speech.

For the rest of you I want you to look deep down inside your hearts. I want you dig in there and I want you to find something. And it’s gonna seem tiny but it’s the most powerful thing in the world. And it’s the word “No.” No.

So when a billionaire asks you to buy him a hologram machine that doesn’t exist yet, what are you gonna say?

NO.

That’s right! And when they ask you to build a stadium with public money without opening their books, what are you gonna say to them?

NO!

That’s right! And when they ask you if they can keep all the money for calling their arena “Smoothie King Center” what are you gonna say to them?!?!

NO!!!!!

FUCK NO that’s right ‘cause that’s a stupid name for anything, even a smoothie store!

‘Cause I want you all to get out there. And the next time a team comes around asking for a new stadium I want you to MAKE THEM PAY. What are you gonna do?!?!

MAKE THEM PAY!!

WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO!!!

MAKE THEM PAY!!!!

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO!!!!!

MAKE THEM PAY!!!!!

CLEAR EYES! FULL HEARTS!

CAN’T LOSE!!!

LET’S GO DO THIS!!!!!!

crowd ends in a MAKE THEM PAY! MAKE THEM PAY! chant.

Already my week is made.