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 Take a look this excerpt from the still-relevant-albeit-outdated job description: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.

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.

Reusing an abandoned arena

This post is not strictly related to the Coliseum City EIR, though the ideas within are somewhat germane.

It’s been a few months since the Warriors gave up their effort to build at Piers 30-32 in San Francisco, electing instead to buy land at Mission Rock to the south. So far, the team has received practically zero resistance from the parties that either opposed the waterfront arena or who would typically oppose such projects. From a regulatory standpoint, the arena should go as easily than Pac Bell Park went, perhaps easier since it’s technically not on the waterfront. While it’s too early to call the arena a slam dunk, it’s a good idea for Oakland and Alameda County to start thinking about what will happen to Oracle Arena after the W’s leave.

First, the JPA and the W’s will surely go to court over the $61 million in debt owed on the arena after 2017. Once that’s settled, a series of choices will need to be made. One possibility is to demolish the arena and reclaim the land, about 8 acres worth. Should the arena stay put, more choices will have to be made about what its purpose is and how to best utilize it.

Alternative 2A: Two new stadia + existing arena

Alternative 2A: Two new stadia + existing arena

The market for a third 17,000+ capacity arena lacking an anchor tenant in the Bay Area is not good. The SF arena will be the new must-see, must-book venue in the Bay Area, with arenas in both Oakland and San Jose suffering to some degree. If the arena debt falls back on Oakland/Alameda County, operating costs can run as much as $17 million a year through 2027. With the arena in a prime site within the Coliseum City development, the temptation will be huge for O/AC to cut their losses and recoup whatever they can through redevelopment. Countering that will be pressure from the community and preservationists to keep the arena intact, as it retains significant historical value.

Functionally, the arena is still an excellent venue. Steady improvements have been made since the 1997 renovation, including new club areas and seating options, new scoreboards, and revamped technology inside the building. The biggest problem remains poor circulation, as the main concourse is narrow and cramped. While well appointed, the sideline club areas also have a tendency to feel congested. It also has way too many seats for anything other than a NBA or NHL franchise and should be downsized.

My first suggestion then, is to remove the upper seating bowl. The lower bowl has 10,000 seats on its own, plus another 1,000-2,000 available on the floor depending on configuration. That’s the perfect size for the sort of second-tier arena that every major market should have. For decades, that venue has been the Cow Palace, but the old joint is so antiquated and generally undesirable as an arena that acts avoid it like the plague. Besides the Grand National Rodeo and the usual touring circus, very little happens at the Cow Palace. Therefore it would appear that there is an opening in the market for a 10k arena. It’s the right size for the WNBA and minor league hockey. Most touring concert acts aren’t looking for 15k seats or more, 7-12k may be plenty sufficient. That venue doesn’t really exist in the Bay Area. SAP Center and the forthcoming SF arena will be able to reach that with curtaining or other tricks. The reconfigured Oakland arena should be able to hit that without any visual tricks.

Oakland Coliseum Arena shortly after construction was completed

Oakland Coliseum Arena shortly after construction was completed

You’re probably saying at this point, Okay but what about the upper deck? Glad you asked. The picture above illustrates how beautiful the arena used to be, with its sense of symmetry and different types of geometry. It also shows the amount of available vertical space. That largely went away with the renovation, but would be available again after the upper deck is lopped off. I’ll put out a couple different ways to utilize the space.

Arena lower bowl plus suite levels

Arena lower bowl plus suite levels (Image from Ballena Technologies)

One way is to put a new ceiling on the arena at the rim of the upper suite level. That would require putting in an extensive truss system to support the ceiling/roof and whatever is on top. Once that’s done, the upper level can be finished, leaving a 10,000-seat arena below and an exhibit space above. That exhibit hall could have a much as 100,000 square feet of clear span, column free space. That’s nearly twice as much as the downtown Oakland Convention Center, and more than Moscone West’s main hall. The drooping ceiling would create a weird visual effect for many (most similar buildings have an arched or flat ceiling). Beyond that, the new exhibit hall would fill a need not met by anything currently in the East Bay. The best part is that the arena could be run completely separately below or in conjunction with the exhibit hall, providing additional hospitality and exhibit space, the arena itself largely unchanged. Some new infrastructure would have to be built, such as a large freight elevator and ramps to the revamped upper level.

Old sketch of arena elevations, note drop ceiling

Old sketch of arena elevations, note drop ceiling

Another option is more conventional. In this case the seating bowl would be torn down but the upper concourse would be expanded to the perimeter of the building. There would be no second ceiling above the arena bowl. Available square footage would be cut down to 60,000 or less. Uses would be fairly limited, such as commercial (office) or even retail. If there ever was a natural spot for a movie theater multiplex, this is it. 15-20 screens could easily fit in the space, even an IMAX theater. Again, there’s a need that’s unfulfilled in Oakland right now, and Coliseum City would be well positioned to capture that market with its expected higher-income residents, office workers, and visitors. Cost would be fairly minimal for the JPA, as the theater operator would presumably bear the cost of constructing the auditoriums.

The name “Oracle Arena” is expected to expire after 2016, when the naming rights deal ends and the Warriors have construction underway. When that happens the name will probably change back to the Oakland Coliseum Arena, the venue’s original name. That’s fitting, whether the arena continues as is or is transformed in some manner. The building may not have seen much winning in its 40+ years, but it’s full of great memories and events. If there’s a way to keep it operating that works for the public, it should be explored to its fullest.

Coliseum City Draft EIR Review: Ballpark Setting

The renderings in the Coliseum City Specific Plan (co-mingled with the EIR) date back to July 2013. So far, no announcements have been made about architecture firms winning the business for any of the Coliseum City venues. With that in mind, when looking at the renderings don’t worry too much about how they look. They’re effectively placeholders, there to show the mass and complete the layout of the buildings within the plan. If you’re asking about a dome on the stadium or how many seating decks are in the ballpark – don’t bother. It’s highly subject to change.

That said, we can look at a few aspects, such as how the ballpark is placed and oriented within the ballpark. That is the subject of this post.

First, let’s look a bird’s-eye view from the south, with the entire project built out.

birdseye-view_north

Coliseum City with new arena on the other side of the Nimitz

The BART bridge is to be replaced by a much wider pedestrian concourse, connecting a better-connected transit hub, residential development at the BART station parking lot, hotels lining the concourse, and the broader development with the venues. The concourse will be built at what is currently 73rd Avenue, the street connecting San Leandro Street to the Amtrak Station. Doing this moves the dividing line of the complex further south/east, with the bulk of the developable land on the north/west side of the concourse. Several high rise condominium buildings flank the concourse where the existing Coliseum currently sits.

birdseye-view_east

View east across Nimitz down pedestrian concourse

The concourse is widest outside the football stadium and at 880, where there are two (!) bridges spanning the Nimitz.

birdseye_closeup-view_north_ballpark

Above concourse, looking towards ballpark

The Plan describes two levels of circulation: the elevated concourse and street level, where most of the buildings and the ballpark will be situated. Fans would descend stairs to the plaza that leads to the ballpark. There could also be a trolley or streetcar station at this intersection. The plaza and the four blocks surrounding it are the focus of what is called the “Next Generation Sports and Retail District.” This area would be closed to cars on event days, allowing for a big party zone between the two venues.

cutaway-entry

Side view showing concourse and street level elevations, plus cutaways of venues

Should Coliseum City come to fruition, there won’t be anything like it in the country, with two or three venues anchoring a big district. It would also be huge for the City if the large swath of commercially-zoned property slated to be office/R&D could be put together as a potential campus for a large tech company. Right now all of that activity is focused on the Peninsula and the South Bay, with Google, Apple, and Facebook devouring huge tracts of land for future expansion. At the moment Oakland is a few degrees removed from such activity, but that’s where they should be thinking.

district-med

The Plaza between the ballpark and stadium

I’m still not a big fan of orienting the ballpark to the northeast. While that’s proper in terms of MLB guidelines, the orientation turns its back on the plaza and feels like a missed opportunity. It would be nice to have people walking along the plaza be able to see into the stadium, the way you can from much of the Gaslamp District in San Diego. The idea is to fully integrate all elements of the plan, and this is a miss.

There is a publicly-accessible area of the ballpark beyond centerfield, where a Park-at-the-Park like grassy knoll provides views. But getting there requires walking along the edge of the complex, along a perimeter road, past a hulking parking garage. It’s not the friendliest or most accessible approach. A nice side effect of this approach is the fans traveling south on BART will get a good look at the ballpark as they arrive at the Coliseum (City?) station.

View into ballpark with loop road and publicly accessible "knoll" in foreground

View into ballpark with loop road and publicly accessible “knoll” in foreground

Another thing that bothers me, though it’s entirely understandable, is this from the Project Description (page 3-39):

Operation and scheduling use of the Ballpark would be restricted from having major events (including baseball games) on the same day as football games at the adjacent Stadium. Since no large events could occur simultaneously, parking for the Ballpark would be accommodated within the same on‐site parking facilities as used by the Stadium including the 3,240 surface lot spaces and 7,500 dedicated event parking garage spaces.

The Plan calls for more than 18,000 parking spaces, an 8,000-space improvement over the current complex. 13,000 of those spaces would be in garages, and of those spaces 5,000 would be off limits because they would be slated for hotel and residential use. The net gain for event use, if some of the office parking is used, is an extra 3,000 spaces or 13,000 total. Despite the great reduction in available tailgating space (only possible 3 surface lots totaling 4,200 spaces), a parking restriction like the one described above would remain in effect. That would limit the ability of schedule makers to freely assign weekend home series for the A’s in August, September, and October. It also shuts out any possibility of going to both Raiders and A’s games in the same day within Coliseum City: an A’s game at 1 and a Sunday night Raiders game at 5, or vice-versa. It’s better than sharing a field, I suppose.

Coliseum City Draft EIR Review: Owning vs. Leasing

I’ve done my initial run through of the EIR (except for the traffic data) and have taken lots of notes along the way. Over the next few weeks, I’ll write up specific subjects, the first being the most germane to what we normally talk about, the ballpark at Coliseum City. Before I dive into that, I wanted to touch on something in the language of the EIR that had me curious, and frankly a little baffled.

From Project Description, page 3-34:

NFL Stadium and Multi‐purpose Event Center
…The Oakland‐Alameda County Coliseum Authority would control the use of the Stadium through a management agreement with a professional management association (currently AEG). The Stadium would be leased to the Oakland Raiders, a National Football League (NFL) franchise, for playing home games during the NFL pre‐season, regular season, and post‐season and for other NFL related events.

Page 3-38:
The Ballpark is expected to be developed by the Oakland A’s professional sports franchise on land owned by the City of Oakland and Alameda County. Like the Stadium, the Oakland‐Alameda County Coliseum Authority would control the use of the Ballpark through a management agreement with a professional management association.

The Ballpark would be leased to the Oakland A’s for playing its 81 home games during the MLB regular season6 and potential post‐season games,7 and for other MLB events.

Page 3-39:
The new Arena would be leased to the Golden State Warriors, a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise, for playing home games during the NBA pre‐season, regular season, and post‐season.

Notice the common theme? All three venues would be owned by the City/County/JPA and leased to the teams. Since this is merely the Project Description of an EIR and not a DDA (Disposition and Development Agreement), it’s not exactly iron-clad. It’s a little strange that the City would continue to want to own and operate these venues, when it has shown frequently over the last 20 years that it’s not all that good at managing venues.

Currently, the structure is set up so that the JPA owns the venues and the land. They collect rents and other revenues and pay for expenses (except for the A’s gameday ops). The JPA is not a “professional management” group, so they hire another company to do that such as AEG or SMG previously. The various agreements with the teams have caused City and County to hemorrhage red ink, whether we’re talking about the ongoing subsidy for the Raiders, the Coliseum’s debt service, or the cloudy nature of the Arena’s debt once the Warriors leave for SF. It’s this difficulty and mismanagement that has caused Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors to be a lot less sanguine about Coliseum City’s prospects than Oakland. Supervisor Keith Carson has been upfront about wanting to get out of the stadium management game.

Now we’re looking at the JPA (or a successor public agency) absorbing billions of additional debt liabilities. Start with at least a half-billion that would cover the infrastructure costs at Coliseum City, plus the $120 million of remaining debt at the existing Coliseum. Add to that $1 billion for the football stadium, $600 million for the ballpark, and probably $700 million for the arena. That amounts to around $3 billion in debt load. Naturally, when dealing with such enormous figures, some questions will arise such as:

  1. How would that debt be structured?
  2. How would City and County taxpayers be protected from shortfalls or defaults, they way they weren’t with Mt. Davis and the redone Arena?
  3. How would the JPA balance out the lease agreements so that no one team benefited more than the others? (This plagued the JPA in the past)

If the City is willing to cover infrastructure costs and pay off the remaining stadium debt, should it also have to go the extra mile to finance these venues? That’s S.O.P. for the NFL (see Santa Clara), but it doesn’t have to be that way. The City & County could say, Look, we’re giving you enough help to get this started, you take it the rest of the way. And the biggest reason to have the JPA do the financing is to provide availability to tax-free bonds. The franchises don’t need that kind of help.

That’s not to say that all publicly-financed stadium deals are terrible. Some of them work out well, like SAP Center and Chase Field. However, the risk the City & County would have to take on is more than a bit much. There are actually multiple privately-financed venues completed over the last 15-20 years: AT&T Park, Gillette Stadium, Staples Center, American Airlines Center. They are also among the most successful venues in their respective sports.

At some point some within Oakland is gonna have to playing hardball and stop giving everything away. If not, maybe they should find new negotiators.

P.S. – Notice how, because all the talks with the Raiders are behind closed doors, there’s little hubbub about them? Contrast that with the very public lease extension talks with the A’s, which only grew more rancorous as they became more public – even though they were over a deal that cost less than $30 million total. No, it makes much more sense to keep quiet on a deal that is worth 100 times as much, right?

Quan, BayIG strike back with “basics” of Raiders deal

Matier and Ross reported today that the City of Oakland and BayIG, the group behind the Coliseum City project, have put together the “basics” of a deal that would include a ~$1 Billion stadium for the Raiders and development of up to 800 acres surrounding the stadium.

Now, Zach Wasserman, an attorney representing backers of a hoped-for sports, housing and retail complex called Coliseum City, says the “basic terms” of a financial deal have been worked out among his group, the city’s negotiators and the Raiders.

The big takeaway is that the City and County, which would be giving up land and paying for infrastructure costs as part of any deal, would also have to pay off the remaining $120 million in Coliseum debt. That is an enormous giveaway on Oakland’s part no matter how you slice it. Both City and County officials have insisted in the past that any large plan like Coliseum required the debt to be taken care of – preferably by the developers. If you can remember back to the “adult conversation” in December, County Supervisor Keith Carson practically hijacked the proceedings by having the first 10-15 minutes of the meeting spent on recounting the debt liability faced by the JPA.

Carson emphasized that there will be no future project if debt isn’t addressed first.

So, let’s tally up what we know are the costs of Coliseum City so far:

  • $344-425 million in infrastructure cost
  • $120 million in Coliseum debt

That’s up to $565 million in project costs, all without building a single stadium, hotel, or office building. And there’s more. Not included is the $80 million in arena debt, the responsibility for which is up in the air. In the EIR (you guys have been reading that, right?), the City states that of the 800 acres covering the entirety of the project, 535 are publicly owned. That includes the City, County, JPA, and EBMUD. The remaining 265 acres are privately owned, making those properties subject to negotiation. Most of that land is on the west side of 880, but some important pieces are right next to the Coliseum or in between the Coliseum and the BART station. Now let’s take a low market rate offer of $2 million per acre. That’s another $530 million that would be borne probably by developers, but could also be paid to some degree by the City since Oakland has eminent domain capability. No matter who pays for it, the total cost of land, infrastructure, and dealing with outstanding debt is $1.1 Billion. That’s the cost of the Raiders stadium right there, or two A’s ballparks.

The counter is that the Raiders, NFL, and BayIG are paying for the football stadium, which may or may not have a retractable roof, may have 56,000 or 68,000 seats, etc. The potential upside is 10,000 new residents, 21,000 jobs, and retaining all of the teams – though it still hasn’t been articulated how any sort of carveout for the A’s would work.

Now compare that to what Lew Wolff is offering, which is to pay off the debt on both the Coliseum and the Arena. While we haven’t seen plans, the planned development is not expected to be as expansive as Coliseum City, as Wolff has said that acquiring private property for this purpose is a bit sticky for his liking (Coliseum North being Exhibit A). Besides, even 120 or 200 acres is a lot of land.

We haven’t yet heard Alameda County’s side, and Carson is certain to raise questions about the giveaway. The City can come to terms on a deal, but without the County as a partner the deal isn’t sealed. I fully expect a sequel to the adult conversation, when all of the costs and liabilities are laid bare. If the A’s get it together in time, there may even be a sort of competitive situation with two bidders. Let the rich guys duke it out over what is purported to be high quality, valuable land. Chances are that such a discussion won’t happen until after the election. After all, there’s something fishy about the timing of this release, considering that last week Oakland mayoral candidate and CM Rebecca Kaplan took credit for “saving the A’s in Oakland” (h/t Zennie Abraham).

Newly HOK-acquired 360 Architecture to work with A’s on Coliseum ballpark

In the 60’s, a Kansas City architecture firm named Kivett and Myers worked on two venues at what would eventually be named the Truman Sports Complex. Those two stadia, Kauffman (née Royals) Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium, bucked the trend of multipurpose stadia and stood out as great examples of sports architecture. Still considered excellent venues at over 40 years old, Arrowhead and Kauffman burnished the reputation of Kivett and Myers, leading to their acquisition by HNTB in 1978. Architects from HNTB’s new sports practice split off to form Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK), whose sports group dominated the last 25 years of ballpark design. Then in 2009, the sports group (named HOK+SVE) broke off to form Populous, with the mutual non-competition agreements: HOK wouldn’t get into sports for 5 years, Populous wouldn’t go outside sports, conventions, and entertainment.

Now that non-compete has ended, and HOK is eager to get back into the sports game. Instead of starting up anew, they bought fellow Kansas City firm 360 Architecture, itself the product of the merger of two firms, CDFM2 Architecture Inc. and Heinlein Schrock Stearns. That’s enough mergers and buyouts to fill a season of Mad Men.

360 is the shingle responsible for the city’s Sprint Center, MetLife Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes’ new stadium, and two upcoming venues: the New Atlanta Falcons Stadium and the new Red Wings Arena in downtown Detroit. If, as an A’s fan, you’re looking for something different in terms of sports architecture, those last two examples should give you hope.

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The Falcons turned the football world on its ear with their replacement for the not-old-at-all Georgia Dome. The iris-like retractable roof has perspective-based video screens and scoreboards embedded in its rim. The building’s metal panels comes with slits that light up and cathedral-style glass entries. Its part of an effort by Falcons owner Arthur Blank to have an iconic piece of architecture in Atlanta, a city sorely lacking at least in terms of modern work. 360 took that and went back through history, finding the dome at the Pantheon to be their inspiration.

In Detroit the focus is different. There 360 is putting together a “deconstructed” arena, where the ancillary operations of the building (concessions, etc.) are pulled away from the seating bowl. A single glass-ceilinged concourse serves most fans and connects to restaurants and even housing on the perimeter. The idea is to have the venue be part of a new, several-block redevelopment plan in downtown Detroit, just a stone’s throw from Comerica Park and Ford Field.

The full development will cover 45 blocks on either side of I-75, an area slightly smaller than Coliseum City’s core 120 acres. If the images in the above video look familiar, that’s because they’re reminiscent of 360’s work on the Fremont vision for Cisco Field. Again, there was a plan to pull the ancillary development away from the ballpark. The idea was to allow fans to come an hour or two earlier, then either watch batting practice, or shop and hang out at a restaurant or bar on the premises.

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It would be somewhat poetic to see that 2005 Oakland/2006 Pacific Commons concept resurrected in Oakland, with the sales pitch coming from a similarly-sized and scaled Detroit development that will be breaking ground in a few months. It’s that sense of scale that to me makes such plans more achievable than something gargantuan like Coliseum City that is so dependent on externalities. 360 Architecture is on a bit of a roll, and it would be fitting for them to achieve their biggest success on one the very first projects they worked on, in various forms over a decade. That’s some serious sweat equity.