LA smoke = NFL’s fire

So far this year I’ve mostly held off from commenting the routine every-six-weeks rumors about a NFL team or two moving to LA. Buttressed by nothing but anonymous sources and a whisper campaign, I chose to sit back and wait for real news to come forth. Unfortunately for the three cities in line to have potential relocation candidates – San Diego, St. Louis, and Oakland – there’s now too much going on to dismiss it all as mere rumors. Something else is happening, and chances are the NFL is directing the whole affair.

Could Dodger Stadium be a temporary NFL home? The NFL isn't dismissing the idea.

Could Dodger Stadium be a temporary NFL home? The NFL isn’t dismissing the idea.

It always starts out with the NFL leaking info to two national reporters, NBC Sports/Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio and CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. “Fresh” rumors will cycle about the aforementioned teams, or even the Bills, Jaguars, and Vikings prior to their respective ownership or stadium changes. The nature and frequency of such leaks – with little subsequent activity to make them pay off – made them easy to dismiss. Now, I’m not so sure. Last week AEG asked the City of Los Angeles for a six-month extension to bring in a team. The current agreement is set to expire next week, on October 17. An additional six months would allow AEG to cover the postseason window during which teams are allowed to declare their intent to relocate, usually in February. That could easily happen with the Rams and/or Raiders, who are unencumbered by leases past this season.

Then yesterday, LA Times football reporter (and former Merc scribe) Sam Farmer revealed that the NFL may consider Dodger Stadium as a temporary stadium. That would put three venues in play in LA: the Rose Bowl, LA Memorial Coliseum, and Dodger Stadium. Each comes with a sticking point, even for temporary use. The Rose Bowl has a restriction on the number of large events that can be held there, yet the City of Pasadena wants to encourage additional events that could help it pay for $168 million in recent renovations. The LA Coliseum is controlled by USC under a new lease agreement. An NFL team having to play tenant to a college is not something the league prefers, and the size and condition of the venue are not ideal either. Dodger Stadium, not previously considered as a temporary venue, has a hard cap on the number of seats inside the venue at 56,000. That’s small for NFL’s taste, and it’s obviously not a football stadium. However, Dodger Stadium has plenty of suites and luxury amenities that any team could use to make up for the lack of capacity by jacking up prices. Previously Dodger Stadium had been considered as a potential football venue, with new construction either adjacent to or replacing the current venue with the baseball team moving downtown. That’s an extremely far-fetched idea that has far too many moving parts (AEG, Guggenheim, City) to take seriously at the moment.

One idea that seems possible is the NFL making agreements with two or perhaps all three venues to host some numbers of games. This is especially important if two teams come to LA. The NFL would be able to play matchmaker, juggling three teams and three venues. Eventually one team and one venue will lose out, creating a competitive environment largely controlled by the league. They already wield control in the form of the G-4 stadium financing program and the associated hookups with banks and large financiers such as Goldman Sachs. Those hookups are just as important as G-4 because they mean that the bulk of the stadium construction cost wouldn’t have to be bonded through an open market (read: more expensive) process. Stan Kroenke is certainly rich enough to build a stadium at Hollywood Park himself, but he’s not going to turn down savings of several million per year in order to do it.

Moreover, the NFL has assigned an executive to oversee the LA market. From the LA Times:

Eric Grubman, an NFL executive vice president, said the league was guardedly optimistic about its discussions with AEG and supported the company’s request for an extension of its agreement with the city.

“The discussions are very preliminary, but we are encouraged enough by recent progress that we share AEG’s view that continued conversations would be worthwhile,” he said in a statement. “An extension could well provide the time necessary for us and AEG to determine whether the downtown site can be considered by our membership during our next off-season period.”

AEG’s seemingly dead Farmers Field project has suddenly gotten a boost and some level of validation from the league. The NFL probably still doesn’t like the terms (AEG gets piece of relocating team in exchange for building stadium), but such an exchange may be unavoidable in the future. It certainly doesn’t hurt or cost the NFL to keep Farmers Field in play for now. Ed Roski’s City of Industry plan, a frontrunner several years ago, appears beyond dead though the land remains available if the NFL is willing. There’s even the crazy concept of the NFL building a stadium on its own and housing two teams within. It would be the ultimate in control, though the league would have to go through the lengthy, arduous CEQA process to get it done.

Finally, there’s the very basic notion of teams and the NFL using LA as a stalking horse, which it has done successfully for nearly two decades. While that card will always be in play, inaction on the local level by San Diego, Oakland, and St. Louis make the tactic less effective than it has been previously. If the NFL can use scare tactics to cajole one of these cities to pony up for a stadium, I imagine that they’ll consider it a success. The other two can relocate under the NFL’s guidance and supervision. Relocation fees would probably be baked into the stadium deals and a sale of an ownership stake, with the payoff coming in the form of a 2X franchise valuation.

Now that the FCC has struck down local market NFL blackouts, the ratings-related advantages for keeping teams out of LA will disappear after the current broadcast agreements expire in 2022. It’s a good time for the NFL to act.

Tweets and commentary from 10/1 Oakland Planning Commission meeting

The public came out of the Planning Commission meeting with more questions than answers, and that’s a good thing. When the EIR comment period ends, it’s up to City staff and consultants to provide answers to the many question posed by the public.

A presentation was given to start. Early discussion focused on affordable housing as part of the plan. The plan calls for 5,750 housing units to be built. 25% of those are supposed to be affordable, whether via rental or purchase. The Bay Area’s ever-skyrocketing housing market makes that 25% a growing subsidy (public and/or private) with each passing month. According to trulia, the median price for a home in Oakland is $475,000, up 8% from September 2013. Oakland uses a HUD formula to calculate affordable housing on a regional basis. In essence, 25% of housing would have to be affordable for households making $72,000 or less per year. However, the median income in Oakland is less than $52,000/year. To make it work, the City and developers would have to crunch some serious numbers to determine the proper mix of pricing and subsidies, not to mention addressing low income residents and senior citizens – both groups represented by commenters at the meeting. Chances are that most of it would come out of developers’ pockets, though Governor (and former Oakland mayor) Jerry Brown has been working to get rid of affordable housing set-asides. This puzzle has to be solved by all residential developers in California, so it would affect Coliseum City’s principals or Lew Wolff and partners if they were given the opportunity. One East Oakland resident got straight to the point.

As the Commissioners took their turns picking apart the plan, one asked about the status of discussions with other parties that need to be involved. The responses?

That third tweet is interesting. We haven’t covered the bay inlet much. That’s a reference to the new part of the bay that would approach the new arena (assuming the Warriors stay at Coliseum City).

Inlet at top

Inlet at top

You might think that the inlet was designed for a ferry terminal or for boats with a dock. You would be incorrect. It’s merely a shallow extension of the estuary, a tidal mudflat not meant for recreation. It’s meant to provide an additional habitat to go with all of the new construction, but it seems like a wasted opportunity. Of course, providing a ferry terminal would bring about an even greater environmental review since some dredging would be required. A couple commissioners seized on the fact that of the various development options the no-build alternative was barely touched except to say that the various venues would be demolished and other development would fill in at some point. Since this is a Specific Plan and not just a small project-level EIR, it’s within the Planning Commission’s right to ask about what happens if the teams leave, since it’s a distinct possibility. The scenario should be addressed in more detail in the final EIR.

A few Raiders fans showed up to provide their support, including Dr. Death and Godfather Grizz. They were largely outnumbered by local residents who expressed concerns about the aforementioned housing problem, gentrification, the need for improved police and fire services in the area, and questions about the effects Coliseum City could have on the rest of Oakland. One thing I’m surprised to not hear was a question about what impact a second downtown (which is what CC represents) would have on the current downtown/uptown area. While that’s a question that goes broader than the existing project, it’s well within the Planning Commission’s purview to take on that kind of dilemma – if it’s a dilemma at all.

Coliseum employees who want to see their jobs protected were well represented. One resident noticed the streetcar that runs through the complex and wanted to see it expand all the way out through East Oakland and up International Blvd. If a streetcar is going to be put in at all, that’s the way to do it. A commissioner noted that while BART and the new AirBART are getting a lot of attention, very little is being paid to how AC Transit and Amtrak will be integrated. AC Transit is as important as anything, because while buses aren’t sexy, they will be responsible for providing transit for many of the low-wage workers that will be working at the hotels in the plan, especially at odd hours.

Overall, there was a large undercurrent of sentiment that Coliseum City is being conceived as an island, not well integrated with East Oakland. That itself is a dilemma, because developers don’t want their shiny condos associated with East Oakland’s rep while community groups and residents are desperately hungry for the opportunities the project represents. As part of Mayor Jean Quan’s 10K-2 plan, Coliseum City represents a big piece of a goal she’s trying to reach.

The Coliseum area had lost a few hundred jobs over the decade from 2000-10. Now it’s being counted on to retain three sports franchises – two of whom have no interest in the plan, along with around 4,000 new jobs throughout the 800-acre development. Developers tend to make big promises about such economic growth which get lost in market realities. Perhaps it’s time for more scrutiny of these estimates.

Oakland Planning Commission meeting (October 1st, 6 PM)

Tonight’s monthly meeting of the Oakland Planning Commission may be of interest to you, since the third item on the agenda is Coliseum City. Some relevant links:

This session comes on the heels of Coliseum City presentations made for the JPA Board and Port of Oakland’s Board last week. I’ll live tweet when the item comes up for discussion and do the wrap-up in this post after they’re done. Apparently there will be numerous Raiders fans there in support of the project. If you’re interested in the subject, I suggest watching.

Former Assemblyman & Dublin Mayor Guy Houston in running for JPA Exec Director position

Rumors bubbled up last week on the inter webs about the Coliseum JPA potentially filling its vacant Executive Director position. BANG has reported further on it, lending the story credence. The leading (only?) candidate is Guy Houston, a Republican lobbyist who spent 6 years in the Assembly. Prior to that he was the mayor of Dublin.

Guy Houston

Deena McClain has been the Authority’s Interim Executive Director for some time, also serving as legal counsel. During the lease discussions over the summer, you may remember that she was the point person for any and all questions about the current lease terms, outstanding debt, and operations of the Coliseum complex. McClain, in concert with outside counsel, negotiated the A’s lease on the JPA’s side. That would be Houston’s role should he take the job.

Should the Raiders elect to stay in Oakland for however many additional years, Houston’s first task would be to negotiate that lease extension. Beyond that, he’d have to lead talks for the future of the complex, whether it’s Coliseum City or a successor plan. The position has been vacant for so long that it’s easy to forget its importance. Take a look this excerpt from the still-relevant-albeit-outdated job description:

The ideal candidate will:

  • Be a strong and visible leader;
  • Have very strong analytical and problem solving skills;
  • Be able to evaluate, analyze and interpret complex financial statements and reports;
  • Be able to develop, present and defend financial reports/profit loss statements;
  • Have excellent communication abilities both orally and in written form;
  • Be able to draft, interpret, negotiate and apply complex contract language;
  • Have strong facilitation and mediation skills;
  • Be a consensus builder;
  • Understand the political process and public meeting dynamics and requirements;
  • Identify and present the best business decisions and practices in a political environment;
  • Understand sports franchise businesses and the dynamics of their operation;
  • Understand comparable stadium/arena/entertainment facility operations;
  • Will know or be able to learn the market and the best practices;
  • Be able to build and maintain a good organizational public image;
  • Develop and maintain positive media relations.

Before any of you start emailing your resumes, there are also some specific requirements for the job:

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS

  • A degree in business administration, public administration, economics, or another closely related field. An advanced degree is desirable.
  • Experience managing a similar revenue generating enterprise owned by a public entity or managing a facility comparable to the Coliseum Complex.
  • Experience demonstrating successful application of the abilities and traits of “The Ideal Candidate”.

If you’re still in college, or you work some midlevel position in the private sector, you need not apply.

Having served in the public sphere for well over a decade, Houston’s certainly qualified. The real questions are about his station within the JPA and his designs on the job. Houston was termed out of his Assembly District 15 job in 2008. He then ran for Contra Costa County Supervisor and lost, then went for the GOP chair job and lost. Since then he’s been a lobbyist, continuing to work out of Dublin. If he wanted to get back into elected office at some point, successfully negotiating new deals as the JPA’s Executive Director would be an excellent feather in his cap, though it’s unclear what elected offices he could capably shoot for as a Republican in Alameda County.

Houston’s reputation is very pro-business, developer-friendly. In the mid-2000’s he was caught up in a scandal involving his father, Fred Houston, who was accused defrauding senior citizens to the tune of $340,000. Fred Houston was also the longtime head coach of San Ramon Valley High’s football program. Zennie Abraham noted Guy Houston’s close ties to Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who is also known as very pro-business.

The Executive Director serves at the behest of the JPA Board of Commissioners, so it’s not as if he/she can create an agenda and start dictating terms. However, the ED could certainly steer negotiations one way or another, based on ongoing evaluations of potential deals. As divided as the JPA has shown itself to be over the future of the Coliseum, it’ll be more important than anything for the ED to build consensus. Should Houston get the job, it’ll be no small feat if he gets everyone rowing in one direction.

Welcome to the Toto Neorest Center

The Warriors and Snøhetta continue to provide sketches and renderings of the planned Mission Bay arena. Socketsite showed them first. The overwhelming impression most everyone gets from these renderings is that it looks like a toilet. A fancy toilet, to be sure, but a toilet nonetheless. The “back” with its two wide supports definitely doesn’t help.

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For reference, here is the product I referenced in the post title.

neorest_600

Toto Neorest

It used to be that most arenas were simple ovals or circles with some sort of façade. No more! In order to accommodate the growing need for auxiliary spaces inside each arena (offices, practice facilities, special hospitality areas, restaurants), just about every new arena has had a side section or wing grown onto it. The “appendage” trend started with Staples Center.

Staples Center with administrative building “appendage”

Architects have to solve the problem of integrating such structures into the arena footprint. Inevitably it all looks like some variant of an oval with something on the back. From the top Staples Center kind of looks like a record player. The new arena in Edmonton (architected by 360 Architecture) looks like a skillet. And then there’s the Warriors’ arena, whose resemblance to a toilet is rather uncanny.

new-edmonton-arena

Rogers Place in Edmonton is warming up for an order of sunny side-up eggs.

A big reason why a fairly up-to-date arena like Oracle is being dumped for a new home is this. And there’s a consistent effort to make such buildings less monolithic, a hallmark of many 60’s-80’s arenas. Different materials, surfaces, glass, and angles are designed to soften the appearance while making it an object of demand (if not desire). Most arenas are utilitarian in nature and don’t bring up the kinds of feelings of nostalgia or place as ballparks do so successfully. Really beautiful, transcendent works are few and far between. Even though Staples is only 15 years old, every time I pass by it I feel that it has aged 25 years.

Perhaps the role of an arena is to be of an era, to represent a time. I only hope that Snøhetta somehow gets rid of the unintentional comedy element in this design. There’s still time to do so.

Lew Wolff and Mark Davis meet with Coliseum JPA

The second item in the most recent Matier and Ross column is short albeit promising one.

It was a rare sight indeed — A’s co-ownerLew Wolff, Raiders owner Mark Davis and their advisers in the same room with members of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority, talking about building separate stadiums on the Coliseum site.

Not much was said beyond that, especially from anyone on the JPA. Still, it’s an encouraging sign that the JPA and the two teams are on the road to a viable Coliseum City alternative. Even with this rather small step, it’s better partnership than Coliseum City, which has at been given a lukewarm response from Davis and a decided nay from Wolff.

I don’t expect any plans soon, but the winter would be a good time for an unveiling. Oakland would be past the election craziness and its holiday recess. Barring a lengthy last-minute ENA extension, it’s also likely that we’ll know the fate of Coliseum City.

If you want to dream about an Oakland ballpark in earnest, now’s a good time to start.

AAA Affiliate shuffle: Love the one you’re (not) with

A flurry of PDC agreements came throughout the day. It seemed that the A’s kicked things off before 10 AM with their 4-year PDC with the Nashville Sounds. However, the Giants and Sacramento River Cats scheduled their own press conference, also at 10, to talk about their 2-year PDC. Then all the other affiliates and PDCs got in line, finishing with a hastily agreed upon agreement between the Brewers and Colorado Springs.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin even sounded like a spurned lover:

“Very disappointing. We gave them 10 years there. A number of times we had a chance to move and we were patient with (the Sounds). I’m just disappointed they wouldn’t have given us two [more] years for what we put up with there.”

There happens to be Greer Stadium, the aging, 36-year old ballpark south of downtown Nashville which is being replaced by shiny First Tennessee Park. The agreement’s only for 2 years, which may allow the Brewers to try another city, since Colorado Springs is only slightly above the seventh circle of hell when it comes to desirable affiliate cities because of park factors. That doesn’t explain why the Rockies were so eager to bolt for Albuquerque, a city that is more than a mile above sea level. The game of musical chairs, which was truly kicked off by the Dodgers when co-owner Peter Guber bought a 50% interest in the Oklahoma City Red Hawks last week. OKC will be the new AAA affiliate of the Dodgers, which left the Astros to hook up with the Fresno Grizzlies.

All of this was done in the last 24-48 hours

All of this was done in the last 24-48 hours

Sooooo…. Nashville? It’s nearly 2000 miles from Oakland with nary a direct flight link them together since neither city has a major hub airport. Nevertheless, the River Cats-turned-Sounds will be playing in a fabulous, Populous-architected ballpark next year. First Tennessee Park will be at Sulphur Dell, the site of an old ballpark (also named Sulphur Dell) that dates back to 1870. Like Sacramento pre-River Cats, Nashville had a lengthy gap in 60’s with no pro baseball in town after Sulphur Dell closed in the 60’s. Herschel Greer Stadium opened in 1978. The Brewers came calling in 2005 and have been there ever since. The Brewers, Sounds management, and civic leaders have been trying to get a new ballpark in Nashville since 2007 (sounds familiar), finally putting together a deal that raised $65 million in public bonds while tying Sounds ownership to some $37 million in private development surrounding the ballpark. It’s a deal similar in structure to Petco Park, though there is some fuzziness on whether that private investment truly has to come in and when. Construction only started in earnest in March, making the development time very short, much like El Paso, Reno, and Sacramento.

Certainly the A’s front office was attracted by a brand new ballpark, as it would make for an easy transition for players who don’t make the big club. Sounds owner Frank Ward was probably salivating at the prospect of a winning, contending team playing in his new digs, as the Brewers-affiliated Sounds haven’t gone to the postseason in eight years, a cumulative .504 winning percentage since becoming a AAA city in 1985. Coincidentally, the Sounds finished with a 77-67 record this season, good for second in the American Southern division, but the team has generally been inconsistent.

FTP is bounded by 5th Avenue N, 3rd Avenue N, Jackson and Harrison Streets. While a 1,000-space parking garage will be built next to the ballpark, the site is only three-quarters of a mile from Printer’s Alley, Nashville’s well known downtown nightlife area. Numerous hotels are located downtown, with several more located along Music Row to the southwest. Catch some live music, maybe a Predators game at Bridgestone Arena, or take a tour of legendary Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry.

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After going over several different design options, it was decided that the ballpark would be oriented south-southeast. The northern edge would have an entry gate behind home plate, but otherwise there wouldn’t be the usual contour following the seating bowl that you usually see at most minor league parks. The idea is that ancillary development would occur to the east and south, between the park and downtown. If done correctly, a “ballpark village” of sorts may emerge, capturing visitors and locals who may park downtown and walk to the park. Again, there are shades of Petco Park in the site plan, although at a much smaller scale.

The full Sounds 2015 schedule is not yet available on the team’s website. When it is I’ll put together some sample ballpark trips you may consider. Next summer I’d like to do a AAA trip consisting of Nashville, Memphis, Indianapolis, Louisville, and perhaps Columbus again. The closest cities (within a 4 hour drive) are Atlanta, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, so putting together trips that involve MLB teams, especially the A’s, will be tough. If you’re planning a trip, you may find yourself flying through ATL, so that may work to your advantage.

As for the River Cats? I wish them luck. Their PDC with the Giants is only 2 years, a somewhat surprisingly short term considering the fan cultivation effort that is obviously the goal of the affiliation switch. They should do fine in 2015 thanks to a honeymoon period of sorts. The River Cats have a good promotional machine that should crank up into high gear with the Giants involved. If they can regain some of the attendance losses they’ve suffered the last few years, the change will have been worth it.