Grubman: In Three Years Oakland Has Gone Backwards

Stan Kroenke's planned indoor stadium in Inglewood

Stan Kroenke’s planned indoor stadium in Inglewood

The NFL’s man in charge of potential relocations, Eric Grubman, called into to LA sportscaster Fred Roggin’s radio show today. Grubman fielded a lot of questions, including Roggin’s asking him to assess Oakland’s chances of getting a stadium deal done:

I’ve had multiple visits to Oakland. And in those visits – each of those for the past three years – I visited with with public officials, and I feel like we’ve gone backwards. So I feel like we’ve lost years and gone backwards. And that usually doesn’t bode well.

Grubman’s talking about the same Oakland that passed zoning changes and an EIR for Coliseum City, so from the process standpoint Oakland hasn’t gone backwards in the slightest. The financing piece is what remains a mystery, and I think I know why.

Coliseum City in dreamier times

Coliseum City in dreamier times

Three years ago, the big money tied to Coliseum City was Forest City, a proven mega-developer. They determined early in the vetting period that they weren’t going to make money, so they cut their losses. Colony Capital and HayaH Holdings took Forest City’s place. Rumors of other kinds of exotic financing surfaced (EB-5 visas, Crown Prince of Dubai). In the end, Colony Capital give up too, leaving Oakland scrambling to find someone to pick up the pieces.

Eventually that savior came in the form of Floyd Kephart. Kephart’s an adviser to the money, not the actual money guy, an added factor in an already complicated deal (his company gets a small cut). Over the past several months Grubman has dropped hints that the NFL prefers to have a simpler deal in Oakland, one without a middle man and preferably one not so contingent upon pie-in-the-sky development plans to help pay for a stadium. The league and the Raiders went into Coliseum City wanting a simpler, smaller outdoor stadium, a concept that didn’t take hold with Oakland until last fall. Even now there’s a lack of consensus about what the actual plan is, which probably frustrates the NFL to no end. If you don’t have a set concept for a stadium, you can’t have a cost estimate, and you can’t nail down the financing. Meanwhile, Stan Kroenke has financing down in Inglewood, the NFL is giving credit to St. Louis on its efforts to get public financing, and newcomer Carson, which has numerous details not in place, at least has Goldman Sachs working with the Chargers and the Raiders on 49ers-style financing for the shared stadium.

Over time the big question overshadowing Coliseum City has only gotten bigger. Everyone involved with Coliseum City knows this, you and I know this, and most importantly the NFL knows this. I’ve heard so many Oakland fans talking about how the NFL will provide $200 million or Davis can put together $400 million or even more. But anyone who has observed the NFL stadium loan process knows that the money is anything but a given. It’s directly tied to achievable stadium revenues, and is not the foundation upon which a stadium financing plan is built. Other financing has to be the foundation. The NFL awards a G-4 loan only after everything else is secured. Maybe Kephart has an ace up his sleeve that will help him deliver the project. Right now it’s easy to peg Oakland as the most behind the eight-ball in terms of actually building a stadium. Despite that gloomy outlook, things may play out in a way that keeps the team in Oakland – even without a new stadium on the horizon. Grubman advised against anyone putting forth definitive statements about any team’s future, and I agree completely. There are too many variables, too many possibilities to say anything with real confidence.

The other thing I’ve noticed over the past few weeks is how the media has covered the teams’ stadium prospects in the different markets. LA media is fired up about at least one team coming as they haven’t been in 20 years, with the Daily News and the Times providing unrelenting coverage and talking heads like Roggin regularly talking about it on the radio. San Diego sports radio has tried to prop up site alternatives in the city while the Union Tribune has constantly beat the stadium drum, led by columnist Nick Canepa. The Post Dispatch has worked the St. Louis and State of Missouri efforts, with Bernie Miklasz writing quite a bit about the Rams’ travails – at least until spring training started.

In the Bay Area? You have news coverage from the Chronicle and BANG, plus in-depth stuff from Bizjournals. Columns and radio air time have been remarkably light on the Raiders’ stadium issue, especially when compared to the 49ers’ move to Santa Clara and the A’s efforts to leave Oakland. I can’t figure out exactly why. Sure, the nomadic history of the Raiders has to be a factor, as is the Davis name. There has to be more to it, though. Are people tired of the stadium saga? Are they coming to grips with the idea that at least one team will leave the Coliseum complex? There are supporting fan/civic groups in the East Bay, but they don’t have big voices. In the past Dave Newhouse would’ve been the guy screaming bloody murder about it all, these days it’s Matier & Ross sprinkling in a scare once in a while. The loudest voice is a college-aged superfan from the Sacramento area who knows little about politics, especially Bay Area politics. If a decision is made to move the Raiders in the next year or so, many will be left wondering how it all happened, and they can start with the media. The flip side of this light coverage is that there are no frequent calls to provide public financing, a refreshing change of pace.

Hell, I’m only interested in the Raiders insofar as it affects the A’s. If the Raiders leave in 2016, that’s fine with me since I can focus on what it’ll take to build a new ballpark for the A’s at the Coliseum. I’d love to be more empathetic, but frankly I’ve been waiting 20 years for a proper ballpark for the A’s, half of those years writing this blog. The quicker the A’s can determine their own future the better. And if that means the Raiders are gone, so be it.

The Five Story Makeover

Progressive Field reopened for business this week after a $25 million renovation, most of the focus on the outfield. I agree with this comparison:

It has everything to do with those terraces on the upper deck. Designed for groups of standing fans, the effect was supposed to be a series of patios leisurely overlooking the field. Instead there are these blocky mini-façades that are both overly busy and distracting. While some unifying paint work will soften the look, I can’t help but think that these terraces are little more than glorified seat coverings – not as bad as tarps, but not much better.

Unlike Coors Field, where much of the RF upper deck was ripped out to accommodate a lengthy outdoor bar, at Progressive Field the Indians choose not to remove the upper deck risers, which would’ve freed up space and eliminated the need to build around them. So while the capacity has dropped to around 37,000, it could go back up if team saw the need to “expand.”

Photo from “Did The Tribe Win Last Night?” blog

 

Much better conceived is the two-story “Corner Bar” along the main concourse. Several rows of seats in the RF corner were replaced with standing areas, the bar itself having its own patios. And the RF gate has been rearranged, allowing for direct views from the expanded entry plaza instead of the very broken up look it used to have.

As part of the redone outfield, the visiting bullpen has been moved to CF in a stacked configuration. The old bullpen bench and access to it remain, allowing fans to wander in and sit there for a spell. It’s a neat “new” feature to give to fans.

Coors Field in 2014, Rooftop Bar in RF upper deck

Coors Field in 2014, Rooftop Bar in RF upper deck

The Jake and Coors were well known in the 90’s for great attendance records, both teams surpassing 3.5 million in season attendance on multiple occasions. As the novelty wore off, both venues started to look cavernous. It took the better part of a decade for ownership to figure out how to adapt the parks to an evolving fanbase. The Coors project perhaps looks more appealing, but the work at Progressive is more comprehensive. Either way, it’s nice to see both parks keeping up with the times.

Opening Day success, Wolff says San Jose “Not worth nasty battle”

Well, that was nice. The A’s finally won on Opening Day for the first time in forever, Sonny Gray nearly pitched a no-no, the scoreboards were a huge success (with a few hiccups), and many new A’s made solid debuts.

Off the field, Lew Wolff broke his own news, courtesy of Phil Matier:

Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff said a possible move to San Jose is ‘not worth a nasty battle’ over territorial rights with the San Francisco Giants, and is hopeful the city’s new mayor can helpthem get a new stadium built in Oakland.

Wolff also fought back against the constant critics, while reserving praise for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. I’m not sure what’s going to convince the critics that Wolff is serious besides an actual groundbreaking ceremony. I’m glad that at the very least Schaaf doesn’t have the same combative tone as her predecessor.

Whether Wolff was told outright by The Lodge or not, San Jose is not in the plans anytime soon. And if Wolff actually wants to get this done while’s he still breathing (something he’s alluded to in jest more than once), Oakland’s the only path. The only way San Jose opens up is if a Raiders’ plan is approved, kicking the A’s out. Then you have to deal with the payout, the CBA, all these things that The Lodge has avoided like the plague over the last two CBA ratifications and would prefer to avoid again. Of course, many of the A’s brass are totally on board with building in Oakland. Broadcasting veep Ken Pries, from last July:

From our position, we just don’t think that (Raiders project) is going to happen – we are betting it doesn’t.

This isn’t hard to figure out. A’s ownership knows that the money is in San Jose. Anyone with a brain can figure that out. Wolff and Fisher also know that they are boxed in, try as they did to escape that box. With the Raiders’ future up in the air, the A’s should take advantage of a potential Raiders departure. As I mentioned Saturday, there are still issues to work out in terms of revenue sharing, but they’re minor compared to a T-rights fight, whatever that may entail.

Unlike Coliseum City, there’s no real timeline or framework for the A’s to do anything. So far their strategy is to wait the Coliseum City process out. If they, like MLB, are gambling on Coliseum City failing, the Coliseum should be delivered on a silver platter. Then again, Wolff did hedge a bit by re-signing that land option in San Jose.

Hey, Lew’s gotta have a Plan A and Plan B, right?

A’s show off scoreboards before season begins

The A’s invited media to the Coliseum on Friday, in order to showcase the fancy new scoreboards, ribbon boards, and a slew of additional improvements at the Coliseum. Fought over by the team and the City for more than two years, the change marks the first significant improvement at the old venue since Mt. Davis was erected 20 years ago. Karl Buscheck of Bleacher Report got a few pictures.

Apparently when the media was brought in, they saw what appeared to be the old scoreboard. It was actually a reproduction of the layout and ads on the original scoreboard, auxiliary fascia board, and DiamondVision, right down to “broken” lamps in some places. That was transformed into the modern design, which can accommodate significantly more information and even dual HD video feeds side-by-side.

The equipment took several weeks to install and test, not to mention the construction of a two-story control room inside the press box. On game days the video control room will have up to 18 people in it, managing everything from replay feeds to ads to in-game score and that new between-innings clock.

As we discussed a couple months ago, each screen on its own would place in the middle of the pack as far as displays in MLB ballparks go. The difference between the boards at the Coliseum and those at other ballparks is that the Coli’s displays are much further above and behind the seats than comparable displays elsewhere. Knowing this, graphic designers for the new system worked on font sizing to ensure that everything was crisp and legible even from far away. Some elements are similar to those at Hohokam Stadium, such as the 90-degree tilt for stat types. Tweaking is likely as more games bring in more fans to provide feedback.

Other improvements to the Coliseum were announced:

  • A 30-person President’s Suite on the Club level, created out of two suites
  • Interactive team shop on lower concourse behind Section 105, including jersey press and bat engraving stand
  • Weight room for visiting club
  • New press conference room for media availability (the old one was the size of a master bedroom)
  • Renovated press lounge

I won’t be there in person for the first homestand, but I’ll be there soon enough. In the meantime, send in feedback when you get your first look.

Oakland approves Coliseum EIR & Specific Plan, Raiders lease, Arena refinancing

Thank Jeebus for meeting minutes. I was only able to catch part of the Coliseum City agenda item during the March 31 City Council meeting. Oakland voted 7-0 with one abstention to certify the EIR and Specific Plan, figuratively paving the way for financiers and developers (and, Oakland hopes, at least one team) to make CC happen. The good news is that a major bureaucratic hurdle has been overcome. The bad news is that several key issues related to the project haven’t been resolved.

As has become commonplace over the past few months, a litany of residents and business in the Plan area and surrounding neighborhoods made their way to the mic to address specific concerns. The business owners got their biggest concern dealt with, housing in the Airport Gateway area west of 880. Zoning has been changed to eliminate housing in that area, referred as C/D/E in the Plan. They also got housing eliminated from Area B, along Edgewater facing the Estuary.

D-CO-4 (along Estuary) has become part of D-CO-3

D-CO-4 (along Estuary) has become part of D-CO-3

The change is nothing to sneeze at since it removes 1,750 units out of 5,750 total. All 4,000 units will be located in either around the BART station (2,300) or as part of the “Ballpark Village” at the Coliseum (1,700). That puts even more pressure on money men and developers to figure out creative ways to bridge the football stadium funding gap. It’s also a blessing in disguise because putting housing right on the water was expected to be highly contentious, any development requiring numerous approvals from outside agencies (ALUC, BCDC, EBMUD, EBRPD to name a few).

Residents of East Oakland found less to agree with, thanks to a lack of consensus on just how much affordable and low income housing would be built there. In the post-redevelopment era, Oakland has set targets of 15% of units as affordable or below market rate. Unfortunately, funds used to help subsidize affordable housing have dwindled to practically nothing. The normal instrument for replenishing such funds, housing impact fees, continue to be merely a study topic for Oakland with no release of the study – let alone decision on how to enact such fees – until next year. Larry Reid, in whose district lies the Coliseum and East Oakland, continued his protest against having affordable housing at Coliseum City, running directly in opposition to many of his own residents who maintain concern over gentrification and rising rents in the neighborhoods surrounding the Plan areas.

A community benefits agreement negotiated weeks ago is meant to provide jobs, but that’s the low hanging fruit of the project that is entirely dependent on what gets built. Those jobs won’t materialize on their own. They need a catalyst and willing developers to bring those jobs to fruition.

All of that is not to diminish the accomplishment of getting the EIR work done. It’s done, and while it’s not perfect, it’s an important benchmark to getting something built. The actual deal – that’s the hard stuff. As of today Floyd Kephart has about 11 weeks to start making good on his deliverables.

Not reported elsewhere were two other important items that were also on the agenda. The Raiders lease, which was approved at the JPA level a month ago, was approved 7-0 by the City Council last night. One year, no drama. At least until the fall.

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Oakland is also wrestling with what to do with the Arena. The Warriors may be hell bent on leaving, but that isn’t stopping the City from incorporating the Dubs into Coliseum City, hope against hope. In the near term there’s also the problem of the ongoing debt at the Arena, whether or not the Dubs are there past 2017-18. Despite the ongoing uncertainty, the City and County have until June 21 of this year to refinance that debt. Without refinancing in place they could be liable for $19 million per year thanks to the expiration of a letter of credit. Refinancing at current historically low rates could save $10 million per year regardless of the Warriors’ plans. Refinancing would also require meeting of some sort of “seismic criteria,” which could involve a retrofit or other additional work to keep the venue in good shape.

Refinancing was approved 7-0. The Warriors may not be much longer for Oakland, but the City and County appear to be getting ready to move on after the Warriors leave.

WrestleMania 31 in Suplex City

For the second time in five weeks, Levi’s Stadium hosted a major sporting event that would push the venue to its limits. And like the Stadium Series in February, it was a sellout. 76,976 came through the gates to watch WrestleMania 31. I polled Twitter followers after the event. While some continued to have issues coming out of the main parking lot (Green #1), fans in lots farther away appeared to have a much easier time. VTA did well too, with numerous express buses ready to go along with light rail trains going east and west. There’s now over a dozen large events’ worth of traffic data that VTA, Santa Clara, and traffic consultants can use to help formulate solutions to ease the post-burden gridlock, but there’s only so much they can do given how the street grid is laid out.

There were also private buses, like these outside the Fairmont San Jose:

Apparently there was also a ticket snafu, which delayed longtime friend-of-the-blog and fellow A’s fan @LnStrngr:

Inside the stadium the event was a rousing success. I watched parts of it, and though I’m no wrestling fan, the spectacle was impressive and the vast majority of fans loved it, including my two wrestling-fan brothers. For me there was the immediate disconnect of having wrestling matches outdoors during the day, which was necessary to keep East Coast viewers to a somewhat reasonable bedtime.

Over the weekend I saw so many Twitter and Facebook posts from friends who attended the main event tonight, the NXT showcase, AXXESS and WrestleCon, and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Some are also going to RAW on Monday night. Most of these events were held in and around downtown San Jose, which undoubtedly was grateful for huge influx of tourists. Though the actual attendance was higher than the Super Bowl, WrestleMania isn’t quite at the scale of SB in terms of hosting, so WM31 made for a solid rehearsal for next February.

After tonight, I guess SC no longer stands for Santa Clara. It stands for Suplex City. Bitch.

Prominent developer SunCal brought in for Coliseum City study

SunCal, a large developer based out of Irvine, was brought into the Coliseum City project this week. Their role isn’t as the project’s master developer, it’s to determine whether the stadium, parking, and ancillary development can all properly fit on the 120-140 acre Coliseum site. Intriguingly, SunCal was brought in by the Raiders and Mark Davis, who have lingering concerns about having enough parking for football games.

SunCal has plenty of experience in the East Bay, having worked previously on Alameda Point before the project drowned in a sea of hubris and red tape. They also resurrected the long dormant Oak Knoll redevelopment plan, which had previously suffered from the depths of the recession.

New City’s Floyd Kephart wanted to make clear that SunCal’s role here is as a consultant:

Presumably, SunCal’s study, which was not a specific requirement for the ENA, will help guide Davis’s decision making process later this year. Just as important, it will probably guide the NFL’s. The league really likes plans with tons of parking, as seen in both the Inglewood and Carson plans. The hypothetical, then, is what if SunCal comes back with a larger parking requirement than is prescribed in Coliseum City? Of the 13,000 spaces programmed into the project, only 4,200 are surface parking (good for tailgating and buses). Everything else is in a garage, which when Lew Wolff mentioned the difficulty with garages, he got hammered. I wonder what will happen when the Raiders want more surface parking for their stadium.

Sure, there is BART, which according to the Raiders currently serves 30% of fans. You still need, well, 13-15,000 spaces for everyone else. And we have no idea whether SunCal’s study will include a baseball stadium.

SunCal could also find the project attractive enough to become the master developer, which would be a huge positive. Unlike Alameda, where SunCal is persona non grata, they don’t have a poisoned relationship with Oakland. They could be exactly what Coliseum City needs, though it’s clear they are acting in a thoroughly noncommittal role at the moment.

When I first heard the news I was surprised that it hadn’t gotten out at the beginning of the week, as the NFL owners meetings started. Then I saw SunCal’s limited role and it made more sense. If they express more interest in May, then it’s something for Kephart and Oakland to hang their hats on.