Category Archives: Oakland
Last year’s FanFest expanded to include the Plaza of Champions in between the Coliseum and the Arena. This allowed for extra space to accommodate autograph lines and other potentially concourse-clogging queues. The arena itself was still a little cramped, but at least the crowd was broken up a bit.
This time, the A’s announced that the Coliseum will also be in use for this year’s edition on February 8. The team introductions piece, which has players on a stage on the arena floor, will kick off the proceedings at 10 AM (Doors will open at 9). The Coliseum will open at 10:15. Like last year, fans will be able to access the A’s clubhouse for tours. Tickets will be $10, $5 for season ticket holders, free for children 6 and under.
BlogFest will also be held, which will allow us digital media types to interview Bob Melvin, David Forst, and an assortment of players (TBD). I intend to be there to ask a question or two and take some pictures.
Earlier this month I found out that longtime concessionaire Aramark had been replaced by Ovations. I’m curious to see if we’ll get to see or sample some of Ovations’ offerings at FanFest.
Having the general player interview piece in the arena continues to make the most sense, since there isn’t a nice, large video screen at the Coliseum for fans to watch. (It’d be nice if they did.)
I’m looking forward to FanFest/BlogFest this year, as it will provide a brief tease before spring training. I’m really looking forward to Arizona – more on that later.
We may finally have some deadlines. We may have a framework from which important questions can be answered. We may finally find out if Howard Terminal makes sense once and for all.
A group calling itself Oakland Waterfront Ballpark L.L.C. sent a letter to the Port of Oakland last week, asking for an exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) for Howard Terminal. The ENA would run up to 12 months, allowing OWB to negotiate a long-term ground lease for Howard Terminal. A second period would be used to obtain permits from the City, Bay Conservation Development Commission (BCDC), and State Lands Commission (SLC) as needed. That time would also be used for the environmental studies (EIR, others) that would be required to secure such permits. After that’s done, the actual ground lease would be exercised, potentially leading to the construction of a ballpark on the site – pending club and league approvals and buy-in.
OWB is made up of mostly familiar faces: Clorox CEO Don Knauss, former Dreyer’s CEO T. Gary Rogers, Signature Properties principal Mike Ghielmetti, Baseball Oakland leader Doug Boxer, and a new entrant, developer Seth Hamalian. Hamalian’s planning a high-rise residential building in Uptown.
Howard Terminal’s still in a state of evaluation by the Port, as the Port is considering three other bidders for short-term use as longtime operator SSA departs for Middle Harbor. A group assembled by the Port to study future uses will not complete its work until the end of this quarter at the very least, and the Port is bound by the SLC to ensure that the land is used for maritime purposes as long as possible. A ruling in favor of OWB would help pave the way for a non-maritime use such as a ballpark. It’s possible that maritime uses could be arranged as a temporary use while the details of the ballpark plan are worked out.
A key item in the letter is the notion that OWB could come in at any time do testing of soil or groundwater at the site. While that’s good, that’s really only a continuation of monitoring that’s already in place by law. The big issue is what happens to the site as it’s modified to accommodate a ballpark (and ancillary development). That includes potential cleanup or contamination that may occur with a breach of the asphalt cap at Howard Terminal.
OWB would be obligated to deposit $50,000 with the Port for the original six-month ENA, with another $50,000 due if a six-month extension is required. If they two sides can’t come to an agreement on the ground lease, the deposit is refundable. OWB would have the right to assign the ENA to current or future A’s ownership if they came around to liking the site.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, for her part, keeps pushing an idea that zoning should be easy at Howard Terminal because the site was considered for a convention center long ago. It’s a strange claim, we’ll see how well it holds up. At least OWB acknowledges the roles of the BCDC and SLC. Those two bodies are going to impact the scope and final approval on the project, there’s no way getting around it. Among the matters to resolve: Where is the shoreline technically and how close to the shoreline can they build?
One thing missing from the KTVU and EBX links above is the ever-persistent question of cost. Cost sank Victory Court before ($240 million), and it threatens to sink Howard Terminal. 2001′s HOK study had Howard Terminal’s site cost at $177 million, and that was without any new transit infrastructure such as a nearby infill BART station or a streetcar to bring fans from existing BART stations downtown. A 2004 Caltrans feasibility study commissioned to investigate such options estimated that a new BART station along the West Oakland alignment between Market and Filbert Streets would cost $250-300 million, and that other options at Brush/Castro or Washington Streets were not doable due to the incline of the track, more than the 1% grade required for BART platforms.
Neither OWB nor Oakland has to start a feasibility study or an EIR until the ground lease with the Port is worked out, which is a shame because we’ve been wanting to know the cost for many years. There’s absolutely no reason why such work couldn’t start today, as long as one party budgeted money for it. It’s a chance to delay the reveal until circumstances force a decision, which is the way the mayor’s painting the situation. Quan mentioned on KTVU that the Raiders’ stadium deal at the Coliseum could be done by the summer. That assumes that everything goes well, including the all important determination of how to bridge Coliseum City’s funding gap. The adult conversation comes with many steps. This is a big step.
The costs of operating a minor league team in San Francisco have caught up to the San Francisco Bulls, according to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser (yes, our Susan Slusser). The Sharks ECHL affiliate Bulls, who have called the Cow Palace home for the last 1 1/2 seasons, may have a deal to sell the team to a new ownership group by next week. In turn, the team would move its home games to either Oracle Arena or Save Mart Center in Fresno.
The Bulls were always going to be an interesting test of viability in arguably the most expensive place to live and work in the nation. Sure, the Cow Palace is much closer to Visitacion Valley than Pacific Heights, but given the very low salaries for players and the high cost of living around SF, making the team work was going to be a struggle. Coach/GM/Owner Pat Curcio also cited the out-of-pocket improvements the team made at the arena, the big ticket item being a very nice center-hung scoreboard.
The view above comes from a free seat offer I received at an A’s game in 2012. Back then the Bulls were just launching, offering a cheaper hockey alternative to the Sharks. The seating bowl was practically the same as when the Sharks played their first two seasons in the NHL, or the short-lived SF Spiders. Ever the utilitarian venue, the Cow Palace was compact for hockey and prone to get fairly loud. Oddly enough, it’s perhaps too large for minor league hockey, which realistically is best served by a 5,000-7,000 seat venue in the Bay Area. The Bulls even removed at least a third of the Cow Palace’s seats by taking the “floor” seats shown above and converting them to a beer garden, right behind the two team benches. The beer garden had previously been located at one end of the rink.
Should the franchise move to Oakland or Fresno, they would be moving into even larger arenas. Save Mart Center seats 14,000 for hockey or ice shows, though it’s likely that the upper deck would be curtained off for hockey games. The same could be said for Oracle Arena, which due to its basketball-centric seating bowl layout, has thousands of obstructed view seats for hockey.
Last year’s A’s FanFest had the arena laid out in the way you’d expect a hockey game to be staged. At one end, retractable seats would be folded back to accommodate the rink’s 200′ x 85′ dimensions. Seats above the retracted sections would have obstructed views. This is a similar arrangement to what the NY Islanders will have when they move into Barclays Center. If the Bulls move to Oakland, it’ll be interesting to see what pricing the team will offer and the turnout in response. The last minor league team to call the arena home was the Oakland Skates, a roller hockey team that ceased operations when the arena renovation project started in 1996.
The Warriors would have to sign off on the Bulls’ move, and the Bulls would have to reschedule some home dates to defer to the Warriors. There’s also the matter of laying the basketball court on top of an ice sheet, which would have to be done on occasion. Typically, the Warriors’ schedule has avoided any conflicts. For instance, this year a six-game road trip coincides with a Disney ice show in late February. Condensation on hardwood basketball floors can be an issue even in the newest arenas, and Oracle doesn’t have a ton of experience doing these types of switchovers.
Fresno could end up being the best place in the long run, because of the lower cost of living for players and Save Mart Center’s hockey-friendly layout. In Fresno, the team would have instant Central Valley rivalries with the Stockton Thunder and Bakersfield Condors, both teams that play in smaller, newer arenas. Friend of the blog @wacchampions also noted that the team could play at Selland Arena, which underwent an AEG-funded renovation to better support ice shows and ice hockey.
If this is the end for the Bulls, it’ll be another brief stay for minor league team at the Cow Palace. The venue is run not by a city or county, but rather the State Department of Food and Agriculture, which also operates Cal Expo. There’s little local sentimentality to how they run the Cow Palace, making the arena fully a bottom-line-first affair. For the sake of NorCal hockey fans, I hope the team doesn’t shut down, and that it will resurface either in Oakland or Fresno, providing them an opportunity to thrive.
Colony Capital, the Santa Monica-based hedge fund, is in a rather enviable position. It is poised to save two NFL teams from leaving their hometowns: the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers. In 2013, Colony inserted itself into both teams’ respective stadium quests, directly working with the Chargers early last year on their downtown stadium proposal and then becoming part of the BayIG consortium for the Coliseum City project.
If you want to get an idea for what Colony and partner HayaH Holdings (Rashid Al Malik) intend to do in Oakland, there’s no need to look further than San Diego. Colony has been working slightly longer on the Chargers’ plans than they have the Coliseum’s. The timing has been seemingly fortuitous. As the dissolution of redevelopment has left cities scrambling for ever dwindling public funds, Colony has emerged as a potential source of funds to bridge major funding gaps for both stadium projects. Because of this, pro-stadium groups in both cities have pinned their hopes on Colony to make these stadium concepts work.
Last fall, the Chargers and Colony took an unusual approach in advocating for a downtown stadium. Together they came out against an expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. Instead they proposed a facility within their planned stadium that could also hold smaller conventions up to 250,000 square feet. In the end the body that runs the Convention Center wrote off any plan that didn’t have an expansion adjacent to the current facility, so the downtown plan died in the process.
It made sense for the Chargers and Colony to look for public money for the stadium, in the form of a convention center expansion effort. It’s a good way to subsidize part of the stadium cost. Now that the option has evaporated, they’ll go back to their original plan of developing various publicly owned parcels to help pay for a new stadium. San Diego actually has two such properties in play, the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium land and the 38 (up to 95) acres at the old Sports Arena in the Midway neighborhood. Both bring in minimal revenues to San Diego: the arena brings in less than $500k per year, and the stadium is subsidized to the tune of $17 million per year – reminiscent of the Coliseum.
It’s difficult to blame the Chargers/Colony from looking for ways to potentially reduce their contributions. Any stadium in San Diego or Oakland will cost around $1 billion to construct, and the combined Chargers/NFL contribution is expected to be in the $300-400 million range. That leaves a major funding gap of $400-500 million for both stadia, which somehow Colony and its partners will have to cover. Effectively that’s $1 billion in private money for 2 new stadia.
Not including the acreage set aside for the stadia (or parking), the combined acreage in Oakland and San Diego is 300 acres. Let’s say that the land is given to the real estate firms for the purpose of building residential complexes near the stadia, in exchange for Colony covering the entire funding gap for both. A typical medium-density residential development has 20 units per acre, whereas a high-density development can have 100 units per acre. Medium density won’t cut it, because 300 acres X 20 units/acre = 6,000 units, translating into a $166,666 subsidy per unit, prohibitively high if a developer is trying to turn a profit. High density makes more sense as that translates to only $33,333 in per-unit subsidy by the developer. There are obvious issues with making high density work in those areas, mostly having to do with building the necessary infrastructure (access ramps, garages) to support those high rises, on top of replacement stadium parking that would be required.
Coliseum City’s development plans are a little more complex, as they include a mix of residential, office, and retail. That can help defray some of the costs, but in the end it’s still $1 billion that has to be covered by someone other than the team or the NFL. And that doesn’t include a funding gap for a new A’s ballpark or a replacement arena in San Diego. I’m not employed by a big real estate hedge fund, so I’m not smart enough to figure out how it’s all going to work. Thankfully, we should have some vision into this over the next six months, at least as far as the Raiders are concerned. At the moment, East Bay media is taking a wait-and-see stance peppered with a little hope, while the San Diego Union Tribune is in full cheerleader mode. I look forward to seeing what deals are made, and to serious public participation in the process.
As we bring on a new year and a new baseball season, let’s reflect on the rather tumultuous year that was 2013.
- January - FanFest was a great event again, though the cramped concourses at Oracle Arena had many fans wishing for the event to be held at the Coliseum instead.
- The Coliseum Authority raided scoreboard funds to pay for the ongoing Coliseum Study.
- February – Oakland officials were forced to apologize to A’s owner Lew Wolff for misplacing a letter requesting further lease extension talks.
- March – The City of Mesa, AZ, approved a renovation plan and 20-year lease for Hohokam Stadium that will bring the A’s over from their longtime spring home, Phoenix Municipal Stadium. 2014 will be the last year at Muni for the A’s, after which the stadium will be home to the ASU Sun Devils. The Cubs, who vacated Hohokam after 2013, are moving to their own mega-complex on the west side of Mesa.
- San Jose was dealt the first of a series of setbacks when the state rolled back the City’s transfer of the Diridon ballpark site to the Diridon Development Authority. Eventually the City and Santa Clara County worked out the details of a deal, though it remains up in the air for now. In addition, a request to disqualify the Stand for San Jose lawsuit failed.
- April/May – Kevin Johnson rallied Sacramento and Bay Area interests to put together an ownership group that eventually bought the NBA Kings from the Maloof family.
- SAP takes over for HP as naming rights sponsor of San Jose’s Arena. Most fans continue to call the building The Shark Tank.
- The Giants refinance the remaining debt at AT&T Park (originally due to be paid off in 2017) in order to provide funds for their own project in the parking lot across McCovey Cove from the ballpark.
- Oakland Fan Pledge kicks off a campaign to build a list of fans willing to buy season tickets (and in some cases PSLs) at a new A’s ballpark in Oakland. Currently there are just over 5,000 pledges.
- Levi’s Stadium and the 49ers are awarded Super Bowl L in 2016. While the game will take place in the new stadium in Santa Clara, most of the other festivities will take place in San Francisco at venues like Moscone Center.
- June – San Jose files an antitrust lawsuit against MLB, alleging that the league’s stalling is costing the City tax revenues.
- A settlement between Howard Terminal operator SSA and the Port of Oakland could help clear the way for a ballpark on the waterfront site. Site proponents call this move “site control.” The Port was also motivated to get rid of an expensive, ongoing lawsuit by SSA over more favorable lease terms given to a nearby rival operator.
- A sewer main at the Coliseum is clogged, causing sewage to overflow the clubhouse level and requiring the teams to use the Raiders’ facilities (up one level). Eventually a towel or piece of clothing is found to be the culprit.
- July – A feasibility study for Coliseum City outlines the funding gap (now $400-500 million) that needs to be bridged for a new stadium, along with an explanation of the economic weaknesses of the East Bay market.
- The Earthquakes’ stadium is further delayed (until 2015) when numerous underground bunkers are found and need to be demolished before building anew. Erection of the stadium bowl would begin in late December.
- August – Raiders owner Mark Davis starts crowing for a long lease extension at the Coliseum, with the condition that the extension comes with a replacement to the Coliseum, preferably on the same site as the current stadium.
- MLB and the San Jose make filings in anticipation of an October hearing in their antitrust lawsuit.
- September – Lew Wolff clarifies that he seeks a five-year lease after the current lease ends after the 2013 season, with flexibility to leave early if impacted by a Raiders stadium.
- October – A federal judge throws out San Jose’s antitrust complaint against MLB, but allows the City an immediate appeal (Ninth Circuit) and for the state tort claims to continue. The state claims were also thrown out at the end of the year.
- A private investor group headed by LA mega-hedge fund Colony Capital and Dubai’s HayaH Holdings signs on to be the financial muscle behind the Coliseum City development. The group, teamed up with architecture firm JRDV, is tasked with providing a series of deliverables that will determine the feasibility of the project.
- Bloomberg estimates that the A’s are worth $590 million, a huge jump over Forbes’ preseason estimate of $468 million.
- November – With talks between the A’s and the JPA at an impasse, MLB steps in and negotiates a two-year extension for the A’s, resolving an outstanding issue regarding parking taxes. The Raiders receive a one-year extension with a one-year team option, which they would presumably exercise if they saw sufficient progress on the stadium front.
- December – The Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors hold their first joint session to discuss the pros and cons of Coliseum City. The Supes claim that the City has dragged the County along, and the County has not been sufficiently involved in the process.
- A court filing in the antitrust case states that MLB denied the A’s proposal to move to San Jose in June, just before the lawsuit was filed. MLB is unwilling to disclose the contents of the rejection letter. Sources inside baseball indicate that the A’s proposal, not the City of San Jose, was denied, opening the door to another proposal that MLB could conceivably accept.
- Renderings of the Howard Terminal ballpark are released. It appears that the vision would try to avoid the BCDC’s jurisdiction by placing the footprint sufficiently inland. It is unclear if such a move will work. Normal CEQA issues remain, and proper environmental review has not started yet. Meanwhile, the Port solicits bids for use at the vacated terminal per state law.
What can we expect in 2014? A lot of follow-up to many of the issues above. Lawsuits will continue, and short-term leases only kick the can down the road. With the leases temporarily out of the way, 2014 is the year of the election. Both Oakland and San Jose have mayoral races this year. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan finds herself at the top of a list of five declared candidates. The race to replace San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed will also be hot and heavy, with several current council members facing off against a former councilman and current county supervisor. We should expect to see some serious progress on Coliseum City’s feasibility, as several project deliverables are due in the first half of the year. Oakland partisans will continue to flog Wolff, while San Jose partisans flog Mayor Quan. 2014 is also Commissioner Bud Selig’s last full year in his job. The search for his replacement could be interesting, though the favorite is currently COO and longtime MLB exec Rob Manfred. Movement on the antitrust lawsuit is not expected until the spring, and the “forgotten” Stand for San Jose lawsuit continues its machinations. All in all it looks to be a very newsworthy year. Will attendance continue to grow? Will it be an eventful 2014? That depends on whether anything gets resolved. This site has been running for nearly nine years. The stadium situation has never looked more muddled, with no end in sight. Something’s gotta give, right? Right?
When the latest Matier and Ross column featuring Coliseum City and the A’s dropped over the weekend, I wasn’t sure if I should follow-up right away or wait for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Drop it did, with a press release coming from the A’s early today. Frankly, I don’t know what to make of any of it. BayIG (the combined investor/developer group) was supposed to contact the A’s starting in mid-November. Now it’s all a bunch of he-said/she-said. It’s all meaningless in the grand scheme of things, so I won’t bother wasting anymore words on it.
Instead I’ll reference a nightmare scenario that happened almost 40 years ago. It involves a Charlie Finley anecdote that I hadn’t fully heard until I read his 2010 biography some time ago. In the late 70′s, Finley was fighting a personal two-front war, an acrimonious divorce on one side and skyrocketing salaries that threatened his ability to operate the A’s on the other. (He also had other feuds with MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the Coliseum Commission and numerous players and agents, but I digress.) Knowing his time in baseball was running out, Finley chose to put the team up for sale as soon as 1977. Numerous suitors surfaced, some offering to keep the team in Oakland and other looking to move the franchise out at the end of the 1977 season. The most famous buyer was oil billionaire Marvin Davis, whose family was said to be the model for the soap opera Dynasty. Davis also owned the 20th Century Fox studio for some time before selling it to some Australian named Rupert Murdoch.
The difficult part of the move was the generally ironclad lease the Coliseum had with the A’s. It was a 20-year term, with an expensive buyout if the A’s left. As the Coliseum filed a $35 million lawsuit against Finley, Finley worked with Kuhn and Giants owner Bob Lurie to figure out a solution. Wait, what did Bob Lurie have to do with this?
Kuhn had been convinced that, with both teams showing poor attendance, the Bay Area was only a one-team market. He spoke to pols in both San Francisco and Oakland to work on a compromise, but in the end the Bay Area would be left with only one team. Previously, Lurie had bought the team from Horace Stoneham, saving SF from the prospect of moving the Giants to Toronto. Lurie was brought into the talks to figure out what role the Giants would have in a one-team Bay Area.
The solution, as architected by Kuhn and others before the 1978 season, would’ve been to have the A’s sold to Marvin Davis, which would’ve gotten rid of Kuhn’s nemesis Finley. Then in order to compromise on the Coliseum lease, the Giants would’ve played some number of games at the Coliseum, 25-40 depending on how the final deal was drawn up. In San Francisco the team would’ve been called the San Francisco Giants, while in Oakland the team would’ve been called simply the Giants. Kuhn recalled:
For the next three weeks, the politicians, the baseball administration and the lawyers struggled to find solutions. At last, amazingly, parity was agreed to. The team name would be the San Francisco Giants except in Oakland, where it would be the Giants. Financial payments to the Oakland Coliseum were set at $3.25 million. The internal fight within baseball was difficult when Finley would put up no more than $1 million as his share of the Coliseum payment. Even that we were able to persuade the clubs to accept. But, when we asked him [Finley] to waive claims of any kind against baseball, he balked.
Even though Finley was leaving baseball – forever – he still wanted to keep his right to sue just in case he felt he got ripped off. Finley was no stranger to courtrooms, so this could be expected. Still, you’d think that after all that work (and his building desperation) he would’ve waived that one right in order to finish the deal. The sale fell apart and Finley went into full fire sale mode, finally selling the team to the Haas family in 1980.
Consider the ramifications:
- The Giants would’ve become the San Francisco Giants/Giants, probably playing most of the Oakland games before football season.
- The buyout would’ve funded improvements to the Coliseum that Al Davis was seeking, improvements that probably would’ve kept the Raiders in Oakland.
- From that point forward, the Bay Area would’ve been a one-team town, with a young, growing city like San Jose pursuing an expansion franchise.
- Eventually, the team-sharing situation would’ve created a race between SF and Oakland to build a permanent home when leases at both Candlestick Park and the Coliseum expired in the late 80′s. Territorial rights would’ve included the “BART counties” plus Marin County.
- Rickey Henderson, who was drafted in 1976, would’ve spent much of his career in Denver. The same could be said of Tony Armas and Dwayne Murphy, among others. Marvin Davis had the money to bolster the team’s payroll, so the chances of keeping a talented young team intact were very good.
So this Christmas, thank the ghost of Charlie Finley for being so selfish that he had to be able to sue – just in case. Without that, the Oakland Athletics would’ve been a 10 year experiment, a blip on the radar, an historical anomaly.
(h/t Rob Neyer, who referenced the near-sale when the A’s-to-China Basin reports surfaced. I didn’t see his post until after I finished this one.)