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.

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.