Could cities use eminent domain to acquire teams? Don’t hold your breath

Field of Schemes‘ Neil deMause has an intriguing article at VICE Sports today positing the idea of teams buying teams via eminent domain. It’s not an entirely original idea. You see it on a message board every so often, and the City of Oakland famously tried to use ED to keep the Raiders from moving to LA (it failed). deMause doesn’t consider any eminent domain proceedings to be a slam dunk, as their efficacy could vary wildly based on jurisdiction. Instead, deMause looks at the ED threat as a cudgel to use against another threat, the move threat teams often wield over cities. Whether or not teams actually talk about moving to other markets, the possibility of being tied up in court, having to open the books, etc., might make team owners think twice about it.

As for eminent domain actually having teeth, it’s difficult to argue for it. California already has two cases on the books that support teams and leagues over cities, and of the teams that have recently built or are looking to build new venues, none are using that extortion weapon – except perhaps for Arte Moreno against Anaheim.

The Green Bay Packers are often touted as the model for publicly-owned sports franchises. The franchise was stabilized nearly 90 years ago when they became run as a public corporation, with real stock sales. Once issued, shares cannot be resold except back to the franchise, and the stock doesn’t offer any sort of dividend or significant voting rights, so they’re mostly for stadium improvements or for financially supporting the team, which struggled through the Great Depression.

Let’s say Raiders fans wanted to try such a model in Oakland. They’d have to raise $1 billion, or 10 million shares at $100 each. A new stadium would also cost around $1 billion, so make that 20 million shares. If the NFL was amenable to the idea (they have disallowed publicly owned franchises except for allowing the Packers to be grandfathered in), it might work. 20 million shares at $100 with no tangible returns is pretty hard sell, though cheaper than Coliseum City when you think about total costs. deMause floated the idea of cities using eminent domain, then raising bonds for the team purchase. Cities don’t have the cash to competitively outbid private parties in today’s escalating franchise sales wars. If eminent domain were considered legal for this purpose, it’d probably be the only way a city could buy a franchise.

You may consider the concept of cities attempting to own sports franchises a serious overreach of government power and responsibility. On the other hand, you might see it as a reasonable alternative to the increasingly money-driven, greedy ownership model we currently see. A third way might be the public stock offering, which worked in Green Bay and is also in use to a much greater degree in European soccer. Whatever your take, the very rich men who plowed nine or ten figures into their sports franchise investments have zero desire to change the current ownership model. If that is legitimately threatened, you can be sure that they’ll fight to the bitter end to protect those investments. While I wouldn’t expect it to happen, challenging the status quo can often be a good thing. I’d like to see what happens. It’s not my retainer, after all.

With LA off the table for 2015, what will Oakland and the Raiders do?

The Chargers chose to stay in San Diego last week. Over the weekend, word surfaced that the NFL would not approve any LA relocations for 2015. So for now, St. Louis, Oakland, and San Diego have year’s reprieve. So despite the fact that Coliseum City doesn’t have a deal in place, Oakland’s self-imposed deadlines will come and go with nary a penalty.

Yet it’s little more than cold comfort, as the delay was either caused by the NFL’s and AEG’s need for more time, or perhaps just as likely, certain teams’ need for more time. Either way, the process is not driven by anything happening within the current home cities. All three cities are looking at huge nine-figure subsidies, with little actual desire to deal with the reality of it. Even if the cities give away land, it’s still a tangible asset that’s being given away.

Incoming Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf will have a number of options available to her and the City Council. If the City likes Floyd Kephart’s work in salvaging the project, they can extend the deal for another 6-12 months, which may be enough to get the Raiders and investors on board. Coliseum City’s EIR work can continue unabated, and there’s no longer any immediate pressure to make a deal. As mentioned previously, shrinking the project from 800 acres to 200 is nothing but good for its feasibility. No need for new bridges across the Nimitz, a new arena, or a trolley. Conversely, it also means that “giveaway” resource of land is more scarce. At the very least it allows for better focus on what can and should be done.

Schaaf beat Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan with her cheery pragmatism. That will be put to the test once talks start up anew. It would be safe to assume that with the A’s not in jeopardy, any alternative plans Lew Wolff has for the Coliseum area can be safely placed on the back burner by letting Coliseum City play out. The JPA still needs to hire a GM/Exec Director to lead negotiations whether they’re facing Floyd Kephart or Lew Wolff, so that’s the JPA’s biggest priority. Schaaf has maintained in interviews that she sees the impact of 82 baseball games as much greater than 10 football games. That said, perhaps she could be swayed towards some flexible aspects of the Coliseum City proposal, especially if there’s a retractable dome involved.

That brings me to the fundamental problem facing Oakland: How much stadium do they want to build? If they want to build a flexible venue that will bring in a Super Bowl and a Final Four and other indoor events, the potential price tag will easily surpass $1 billion, perhaps reaching $1.5 billion by the time it’s completed. And with every $100 million over the current $900 million cost estimate, that’s another $100 million added to the still-unresolved funding gap. It adds up in a very painful way.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the team, Raider fans feel they have one over on 49er fans thanks to Levi’s Stadium’s inauspicious debut. The Raiders getting over on the 49ers two weeks ago is practically Super Bowl-worthy in the Raider Nation, and the 49ers’ turmoil, highlighted by Jim Harbaugh’s impending departure, only serves as a second helping of schadenfreude. Of course, if the Raiders and Oakland get the Coliseum City stadium deal done, they’ll face the same problems the 49ers faced. Longtime season ticket holders will be displaced and relocated to less desirable seat locations as preferred spots go to corporate interests. The crowd will change in noticeable ways, just as it did for the Giants, Jets, 49ers, and Cowboys. The Raiders don’t have to worry about burning through a season ticket waiting list, making tickets less of a seller’s market.

If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that right-sizing the stadium has huge benefits. As the second team to official tarp off Mt. Davis, the Raiders didn’t suffer through the constant PR war the A’s have. Regardless, it’s hard to argue with the results. The Raiders have a nice consecutive games sellout streak, few embarrassing empty crowd shots (unlike Santa Clara), and a compact stadium feel that’s difficult to duplicate anywhere outside of Green Bay. A place that’s downright cavernous feeling for baseball is intimate for football. Think about that.

It’s no secret that I’ve advocated for different types of Coliseum renovations for the Raiders instead of a new stadium, simply because they’re cheaper and more feasible. It also needs to be said that if a renovation is done properly it can conserve that atmosphere, instead of letting it weaken by attrition. The Bears’ controversial rebuild of Soldier Field may have killed the stadium’s landmark status, but it preserved the atmosphere and improved the facility immensely, which was a win-win for the Bears and Bears fans.

Citrus Bowl as of mid-December

Citrus Bowl as of mid-December

In May I pointed to the renovation of the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, a $200 million project that gutted 90% of the stadium and modernized it in every conceivable way. The stadium reopened last month with a college football game. Next week it will host two bowl games on the 29th and New Year’s Day. The Citrus Bowl won’t run into any grass problems because it has artificial turf. The turf is unfortunate but understandable, given the cost of maintaining a grass field all year round when its big events occur in December and January. Other than that, the stadium looks practically like a NFL venue, with 60,000 seats, large club areas, party decks, and a completely new bowl with new seats installed throughout. All for $204 million. How was it only $204 million? While it’s hard to isolate specific reasons, a nine-month construction timeline certainly helps. As for the Citrus Bowl venue, it sure looks like an NFL stadium.

 

 

JPA board looks for new exec director candidates as Houston is voted down

A vote on former Assemblyman and Dublin mayor Guy Houston’s candidacy for the vacant JPA executive director position was postponed last month. The vote was finally taken yesterday and, as expected, Houston was rejected. Reasoning mostly centered on Houston’s anti-labor stances, with many eyebrows raised at fraud charges levied at Houston a few years back. Robert Bobb’s consultancy is on board with the JPA, leaving a rather gaping hole in the org chart below.

Org chart supplied by The Robert Bobb Group

Org chart supplied by The Robert Bobb Group

The job may go to former Rose Bowl head Scott McKibben, or someone else willing to slum for the measly quarter of a million the JPA will pay to whoever accepts the position. Regardless of candidate, the job should be filled in the next few months if the JPA is going to start negotiating with New City, Lew Wolff, or others looking to develop the Coliseum. It’s no small task.

Kephart provides update on Coliseum City, AEG rumors fly

Two articles – one a blog post by Mark Purdy, the other a SFBT piece by Cory Weinberg – provide a tiny amount of news on Coliseum City. Citing confidentiality agreements, New City and Renaissance head Floyd Kephart provided few new details. He did take time to trumpet that the project’s progress, which is better than no progress, I guess. The other “big” takeaways:

  • Kephart threw Colony Capital and HayaH under the bus for getting its documentation wrong.
  • He’s optimistic, saying that New City is “probably between 60 and 70 percent there.” That last 30-40% is a major sticking point, since it involves convincing at least the Raiders to sign on and a master developer as well.
  • Wolff had a discussion with Kephart. Kephart didn’t offer details to Wolff. Wolff reiterated his “wait-and-see” stance.
  • According to Purdy, both Wolff and Mark Davis would prefer to keep surface parking instead of building garages for various reasons.
  • The financing model – and whether includes paying off the Coliseum’s existing debt – remains unknown, at least publicly.

Next week the 90-day “project” will hit its midway point. Kephart is to be commended for getting the meetings, talking to potential principals, and for ably playing catchup, cleaning up the mess left for him by Colony. That still doesn’t mean there’s a deal in place, and Kephart may have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to convince Davis to commit. Private interests would be fools to give Davis any kind of revenue guarantee – that’s how Oakland get into this mess to begin with – since it could add considerable risk for them.

Meanwhile, the LA options for Davis may be dwindling. LA sportscaster Jeanne Zelasko said yesterday that the Rose Bowl and LA Coliseum want nothing to do with the Raiders, leaving Davis with possibly Dodger Stadium in the short term and perhaps Farmers Field in the long term. AEG, which bought a piece of the Lakers when Staples Center was built, is offering a similar “Lakers deal” to a prospective NFL team. AEG was even reportedly hiring a PR person for the NFL stadium effort, which the company is denying. Of course, it was AEG that asked for and received a six month extension to attract a team to Farmers Field.

Anyone following this story knows that Davis will have to give up some percentage of the team in exchange for tenancy in a new stadium anywhere, whether it’s Oakland, LA, or even San Antonio if a new stadium is built there. Here’s how I assess the Oakland vs. LA:

  • Oakland: Steadier fanbase, limited market potential, difficult financing plan, greater civic/government support
  • Los Angeles: Less stable fanbase, greater market potential, known financing plan, less civic/government support

I honestly don’t know how to handicap that. There are no deal terms available.

As for the parking issue, if you really want to read into this it’s quite possible that the Coliseum City alternative that Wolff is putting together is a low-density development like the original Fremont Pacific Commons plan. No high-rises, few parking garages. If true, that’s a huge departure from Coliseum City, though the infrastructure buildout would project to be much less intense, and therefore less expensive for Oakland/Alameda County since the public sector is expected to fund that part. Assuming that Wolff gets a chance to pitch his plan, it’ll be up to City/County to determine whether that’s good enough.

Timeline from KC years through today now available

Many of you have asked for it, I never got around to it. Until this week.

A timeline. That’s right, a timeline. Point your browser to http://newballpark.org/timeline and off you go.

It covers the years from when the Mack family sold the team to Arnold Johnson until now. It covers 60+ years and is 4,500+ words long, requiring a lot of curating and editing to get it down to that length. For the most part, I’ve included important events in the stadium saga. I’ve excluded much of the posturing and back-and-forth that, while entertaining, is ultimately unproductive.

I hope that this timeline helps you in terms of understanding the full scope of the struggle the A’s have always had in trying to finding a permanent home. Links are provided to my articles or outside articles. For now I’ve kept it to a simple bulleted list format. That may change to a linked list or an interactive format. For now I’m forcing you to scroll all the way down if you want to reach 2014. It’s worth reading the whole thing if you can. Appreciate the struggle.

If you have suggestions or you feel I’ve missed anything, comment away or send me a tweet.

As it looks now, SF’s Olympic bid is already doomed

San Francisco has a new Summer Olympics bid in the works. This time they’re targeting the 2024 Games as one of four cities competing for the US bid. The others are Boston, DC, and LA. The bid is Larry Baer’s quixotic dream, and if the region wins the Games he will rightly lauded for his efforts.

Already, the bid the appears to be off on the wrong foot. A $350 million pop-up stadium is to be the centerpiece, though it won’t be in land-starved SF. Instead the stadium and the Olympic village would be housed at the windy, cold Brisbane Baylands just south of the City. The former railyards there are a massive toxic site, needing years of cleanup before they’re ready to build. An EIR is in progress.

The Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius suggested Oakland as the better site, though it makes too much sense to actually happen. As Mark Purdy notes, the Bay Area’s unique brand of provincialism will probably ruin what should be a fully regional effort.

The problems in the Bay Area are simple:

  • Land is far too scarce and expensive to properly rein in the budget
  • The City of San Francisco lacks the outdoor venues to be a proper anchor
  • The previous bids were plagued by having multiple venues 2-3 hours away from SF

All of the places being discussed for a future stadium and village are brownfields like Baylands or former military sites like Hunters Point, Moffett Field, or Alameda NAS. Even Treasure Island has been discussed, and it too has the same infrastructural problems the others face. Tokyo, which won the 2020 Games, is seeing its budget blown to bits while trying to keep the bid compact – most planned venues are within only a few miles of the village).

The Bay Area, which has a gigantic body of water acting as both a physical and psychological barrier to residents and visitors, can’t dream of having a truly compact bid. Instead it needs to capitalize on the resource it has – a great number of existing venues that can host the Games with little need for new construction.

Bid specifics haven’t been released, but what I have seen so far concerns me. Besides the problematic Brisbane site, Coliseum City is mentioned as an adjunct. Meanwhile, $350 million would be spent on a disposable stadium. That’s utter nonsense. Phase the main stadium at Coliseum City correctly and you can save at least $1 billion while providing the Raiders the new home they want. Here’s how.

Phase I: Two main stands

Phase I: Two main stands

It starts with a technique used historically to build English soccer venues: build stands. One on each side of the field. The illustration above shows the track. Modern track meets and the Olympics require more buffer space around the track, which can be accommodated because the stands don’t have concrete poured all the way down to the field. The first 20-26 rows will be portable, similar to the east football seats for Mount Davis. The twin stands would cost $500-600 million to construct and hold 35-40,000 seats.

olympic-fb2a

Phase II: Fill in the ends temporarily

 

Next, put seats in the end zones and corners. Assuming that this stadium is ready for the Raiders by 2019, these seats don’t have to be on concrete risers. The space between the back of the football end zone and the track oval seats (brown) would be filled by additional rows that go all the way down to the field. There’s your Black Hole. New capacity: 62,000. That would work until…

olympic-fb2b

Phase III: Olympic configuration

After the final game of the Raiders 2023 season, remove the Black Hole seats and start adding temporary sections (green-brown) behind the oval seats. Capacity becomes 80,000 for the Games. After the games end in August, the temporary sections can be removed for football season. If the Raiders want to finish off the stadium in a revenue-maximizing manner, they can undertake a project after the 2024 season ends to remake the end zones.

Phase IV: New end zone sections (temporary sections outlined)

Phase IV: New end zone sections (temporary sections outlined)

The team could add field suites or a huge end zone lounge like what the Patriots are planning at Gillette Stadium. Final capacity: 63,000. This approach would avoid the pitfalls London faced when figuring out what to do with their Olympic Stadium. They did bidding on the post-Games venue after the Games ended, inevitably creating a much more time-consuming, expensive process of stadium redevelopment. If the Raiders are involved from the get-go, they get the venue they want with minimal disruption and cost to themselves. The total cost of this is probably $1 billion. Why? Because all of the important stadium amenities are packaged within the original stands, limiting the amount of square footage built. The two stands can also be built quickly, which should also limit cost.

BASOC’s 2016 bid famously suffered an embarrassing death at the hands of the 49ers, who showed no interest in a multi-use stadium. They had their own vision for a new stadium, eventually realizing it. The Raiders don’t really have a vision for a stadium, looking more towards fulfilling requirements. BASOC and Baer would be smart to recognize the Raiders’ needs as an opportunity. Then again, if the Raiders aren’t in the Bay Area long term, BASOC would have little reason to engage the Raiders.

It’s a shame. There is no market in the country with as many existing, ready-to-use venues for the Olympics as the Bay Area. By 2024 we could have:

  • An Olympic stadium and Village in Oakland with excellent built-in transit access
  • Levi’s, Stanford, Avaya, and Cal Memorial Stadium set up as soccer venues
  • Three major arenas (Warriors, SAP, Oracle), two college arenas (Haas, Maples), and two convention centers (Moscone, McEnery SJ) to handle indoor events
  • Limited new construction required

It would take SF allowing other communities to grab the spotlight. It would take Larry Baer actually being a champion to the region, which he is most certainly not. I too can’t see it happening. Dare to dream, Larry.

 

Coliseum Authority casting a wider net for open General Manager job

With the Guy Houston hire apparently on the outs for political reasons, the Coliseum JPA still has an opening for a general manager to fill. Matter and Ross report that one candidate is Scott McKibben, a longtime newspaper industry veteran who in 2009 was tapped to run the Rose Bowl and Parade in 2009.

McKibben is also commissioner of A11FL, a startup spring football league with an unusual rule difference: all 11 players on offense are eligible receivers. That league was supposed to launch last spring, was forced to cancel for untold reasons, and may launch again next spring. Not sure how McKibben’s involvement with A11FL and other ventures could impact the Coliseum Authority gig, but I’d prefer to have a local guy who isn’t spinning plates in LA while trying to negotiate gigantic deals in Oakland.

Which brings me to Andy Dolich. He’s local. He’s visible and well-liked. He was mentioned in the M&R column. In 2012 I wrote this about Dolich:

Reading between the lines, it looks like Dolich is appealing to someone in the East Bay to become a frontman for the Coliseum City plan – if not now, when the plan has legs. That would be a great idea assuming that Coliseum City got off the ground. It’s always good to have someone who has credibility in the sports industry, a history of past successes, and local ties. In December 2010, Dolich floated the idea of a new multipurpose stadium in Oakland, one with the technology to be less of a “neither fish nor fowl” problem than the 60′s-era stadia. I deconstructed the concept and explained why it wouldn’t work. Dolich read my post and sent me an email, which led to a very pleasant exchange on stadia and arenas. I think I even promised to meet him for lunch to talk shop, which never happened, unfortunately.

The bottom line is that it’s nice to hear someone advocating for Oakland and the East Bay, even if his office is actually in the South Bay. Those putting together a Coliseum City plan wouldn’t hurt themselves by having Andy Dolich in a prominent position. To be clear, that’s probably at least a year down the road if it happens at all.

Perhaps the plan Dolich works on wouldn’t specifically be Coliseum City. He’d still be tasked with a major deal if an A’s-centric alternative plan were discussed. Dolich has been a staunch advocate of the Coliseum as the best site for the A’s and Raiders, even if his “multipurpose stadium” thinking was stretching advocacy to unreasonable proportions. There isn’t a bigger fan of the Coliseum area than Dolich, and unlike some other rumored candidates, he wouldn’t be taking the job as a stepping stone for other political endeavors. Dolich’s chief disadvantage is that he doesn’t have experience on the public side of the negotiating table, instead frequently representing teams. Then again, considering how Oakland has botched previous negotiations, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.

If Dolich wants the job (he wanted the JPA’s PR consulting gig previously), he should be given every opportunity to get it.