Category Archives: San Jose

Five alarm fire destroys building on San Jose ballpark site

The old KNTV studios on Park Avenue in San Jose were destroyed Sunday afternoon during a five-alarm blaze. The property, which had been vacant for nearly a decade since KNTV moved to a larger facility on North First Street, was completely destroyed.

The KNTV studios occupied Parcel #12 at 645 Park Avenue

At the scene, fire investigators found generators, barbecue grills, and other items that could have caused a fire. Since the vacancy, the building had become a home for squatters. As many as 30 homeless called the building home. No people were killed, but two dogs didn’t make it out. All survivors now have to go to homeless shelters or find a spot elsewhere in downtown, probably outdoors. Firefighters already had familiarity with the building, as they used it several years ago for drills. The building, which was bought by the City of San Jose in 2004, was also convenient across the street from a fire department training station.

The building would’ve been razed at some point in the development of an A’s ballpark at the site. Because of the unusual shape of the total ballpark land, the ballpark’s footprint would not have gone to the south end, where the KNTV building was located. Instead the ballpark would’ve been pushed slightly north, where there’s greater width to accommodate the footprint. The building’s broadcasting history meant that it was eligible for City landmark status had there been an effort to preserve the property. That didn’t happen, and the building itself had little architectural value. The building immediately to the north, occupied by AT&T, has architectural value in its facade, though it too would face the wrecking ball prior to the construction of a new ballpark.

The fire reminds me of a similar incident at the old HomeBase warehouse near the Coliseum along Hegenberger. In 2005, a seven alarm fire gutted the building completely. After the fire, the Coliseum JPA bought the land in preparation for a stadium deal with the Raiders. Amazing how so many things have changed in the last 10 years, yet the most fundamental things remain the same – at least for the A’s.

MLB files reply brief in antitrust case, ties in Stand for San Jose lawsuit

MLB filed its initial response in the Ninth Circuit’s antitrust case. The general thrust of MLB’s argument hasn’t changed. They still argue that San Jose doesn’t have standing against baseball because of the flimsiness of the option agreement between San Jose and the A’s and because the sport’s antitrust exemption allows baseball to act however it likes regarding franchise relocation.

A wrinkle was added, in that MLB filed a Motion to take Judicial Notice of the ongoing Stand for San Jose-vs.-City of San Jose case (in Santa Clara County Superior Court). In this motion, MLB points out that the next court date for that case is on August 8, with the deadline for the opening brief set for May 14. Baseball argues that if the option agreement is considered invalid by the lower court, San Jose will lack standing in the bigger case.

If you’re following all of the legal meanderings, you may have noticed that the federal and appeals court proceedings have gone much faster than the county court’s. Much of that is procedural, as the S4SJ group has launched two lawsuits only to have them combined, while San Jose has tried to smoke out the SF Giants as the real instigators of the lawsuit. The important thing is that 8/8 will be the date that the court decides the validity of the option agreement, which could make or break a large part of San Jose’s case.

For its part, San Jose has maintained that the option agreement is completely valid, arguing that baseball’s refusal to allow the move has caused economic damage to the City. Joe Cotchett has repeatedly said that he’d love to take MLB all the way to the Supreme Court regardless of what happens in the lower courts. In an interview with KCBS Radio, he cited the Ninth Circuit’s approval of an expedited appeal as a positive for San Jose. MLB had previously filed a motion against an expedited appeal.

The circular arguments we see related to the case are enough to make one’s head spin. For instance, this from MLB’s reply brief:

In sum, San José uses speculative 30-year and 50-year models of the local economy to seek billions of dollars of damages, all before trebling. This sort of “Economic Impact Analysis” may be appropriate for municipal planning and decisionmaking, but it is far too speculative and judicially unmanageable to create standing for a multi-billion dollar antitrust claim.

Strange that such claims are perfectly fine for baseball when they’re selling a ballpark to a City, but not good enough when being threatened by a lawsuit.

I’d love to able to tell you that all of these legal hijinks will wrap up in a neat, tidy way. But we all know that the loser(s) will inevitably appeal, adding more months and years onto this saga.

Kawakami: San Jose is dead for now

If you haven’t already read Tim Kawakami’s latest blog piece, I must insist that you do so. Then come back here.

Kawakami’s premise is that after checking with various league sources, San Jose is not happening soon, and doesn’t have the votes thanks to the Lodge’s reaction to last summer’s lawsuit filed against MLB.

I’ve heard differently, that for some months now everything is simply a big negotiation and the ongoing items in progress (lawsuits by/against San Jose, Oakland’s own activities) are there to make points towards the final figure. As we’ve seen time and time again, MLB is thoroughly inscrutable. They can choose to punish A’s ownership for nodding with San Jose’s antitrust lawsuit while turning a blind eye to the Giants’ interference with San Jose. It’s their Lodge, they make the rules. People have jokingly noted that the fifth anniversary of the “Blue Ribbon Commission” just happened. Well, so has the ninth anniversary of this blog! And we’re still not closer to a new ballpark!

Regardless of MLB’s (in)actions, the fact is that Kawakami’s right that the A’s aren’t going anywhere soon. Maybe that changes if Joe Cotchett can get the heat turned up via the Ninth Circuit. Even then it seems likely that in a loss MLB would appeal to the Supreme Court, which is really what Cotchett wants. If MLB can be made to heel, then it would force a solution the same way Tampa Bay got an expansion franchise. That is at best a long shot and shouldn’t be expected.

And maybe that’s Selig’s point. Selig and the rest of the owners prefer to work everything out within the confines of the Lodge. They could be holding the decision over Lew Wolff’s and John Fisher’s heads as long as the lawsuit moves forward. If the lawsuit were suddenly dropped, the process could be back on, but not while the lawsuit continues. The response brief from MLB is due this week.

While Kawakami’s basic point about inertia stands, it doesn’t speak to a real endgame. There remains the game of musical chairs at the Coliseum, as well as the pace of progress and the numerous unknowns of the Howard Terminal project. If both of those options fall apart it works in Wolff’s favor. If at least one works out it helps MLB and the Giants since they wouldn’t have to touch territorial rights. The endgame scenarios are unpredictable, involving plenty of independent moving parts. The situation within the Lodge could take years to settle, or could be done before Selig leaves office next year (if that happens).

The parting shot that Kawakami takes in which Wolff & Fisher haven’t endeared themselves to the other owners because they “make profits” from revenue sharing – that sounds like a talking point. That’s the system, set up and approved unanimously by the owners per the CBA. If the owners hate the A’s getting revenue sharing so much, adjust the formula to limit their take. Or how about this – allow them to have a solution to get them off revenue sharing. The 2012 CBA specified that the A’s would be off the dole once they moved into a new ballpark within the Bay Area market, perhaps as late as the end of the CBA in 2016. We now know that the next CBA will come with no new (permanent) venue for the A’s at that time. If the owners are that upset, get punitive. That said, I think that criticism is a load of B.S.

Even the outcome that has the A’s staying in Oakland in a new park is problematic. If the A’s (Wolff/Fisher or a new ownership group) privately finance a $500 million stadium, they’ll be on the hook for $30 million in debt service every year for 30 years, with no revenue sharing to backfill any revenue shortfalls (if the A’s have down years or the honeymoon period ends). Plus they won’t have nearly the kind of corporate revenue to cover a large percentage of the loans the same way a ballpark in San Jose or San Francisco would. Is the Lodge ready to approve such a deal? Or would they rather extend revenue sharing to provide a cushion for the A’s? If they do, the M.O. would belie those previous criticisms. Yet it would be the easy way out. Just treat the A’s like a small market team forever, and let the sleeping dog entrenched interests lie. Yep, that sounds a lot like MLB, especially under Bud Selig.

Dickey and Wolff duke it out in the media

A week ago Glenn Dickey wrote this in the Examiner, among several assertions:

In late 1992, just before he stepped down as head of the group trying to buy the Giants from Lurie, Walter Shorenstein told me there would be two conditions in the new contract: 1) The Giants would have to get a new park within 10 years; 2) The Giants would then have territorial rights to all the counties down the Peninsula and into San Jose. They were looking at Silicon Valley, of course, and money from that area helped build the park.

Well, I guess we can rest assured that the late Walter Shorenstein took that to his grave. If that’s true, why did Shorenstein split from the Giants ownership because he didn’t feel that a privately financed ballpark concept would work out? Did Shorenstein get cold feet?

In any case, A’s ownership would’ve been best served not responding to Dickey, since who reads Dickey or the Examiner anyway? Yet they did. Maybe Lew Wolff felt the need to respond. Maybe PR man Bob Rose was spoiling for a fight. Here’s today’s full press release refuting Dickey:

Setting the record straight: our position

OAKLAND, CA-On March 11, San Francisco Examiner sports columnist Glenn Dickey wrote an article about Oakland A’s Owner and Managing Partner Lew Wolff entitled “A’s Owner Wolff standing in the Way of a New Stadium.” The column featured numerous and un-resourced inaccuracies that need to be clarified.For the record:

  • The Oakland A’s have paid rent to play their games at O.co Coliseum and will continue to pay rent under the current new two-year agreement with the Joint Powers Authority. The A’s are also the only team playing at the O.co Coliseum that directly pays for day of game police protection.
  • The team continues to negotiate with the JPA about a 10-year extension to continue to play at the Coliseum.   Under such an arrangement, the A’s would continue to pay rent and has offered to pay for over $10 million in major improvements to the venue including two HD video scoreboards and LED ribbon boards.
  • It is not “urban legend” that Walter Haas granted territorial rights to Giants owner Bob Lurie so he could explore possibilities in the South Bay.   It is fact and Major League Baseball or the A’s would have confirmed that if either would have been asked.
  • Mr. Wolff did not create “artificial attendance reduction” by tarping off seats in the upper deck of the Coliseum. As a point of reference, the average attendance at the Coliseum in the 10 seasons before the tarps were installed was 21,872-capacity with the tarps installed is 35,067. Attendance in 2013 averaged 22,337. On several occasions, Mr. Wolff has said the team will remove the tarps if there is consistent ticket demand that justifies it. In fact, the team did remove the tarps during the 2013 postseason once ticket sales indicated the need for a larger capacity. However, the smaller capacity with tarps has clearly created a more intimate and exciting atmosphere at the Coliseum, as noted by many of our players, media and fans.

Not sure why Dickey calls the T-rights deal an urban legend. Selig acknowledged it. As I wrote two years ago, when everyone got confused over the history of the Bay Area’s T-rights:

If Bob Lurie had not gone after the South Bay, he wouldn’t have been granted the rights by Wally Haas. After Lurie struck out in SF for the last time and threatened to move to Tampa Bay, Magowan/Shorenstein swooped in to save the Giants. Would Magowan have asked for rights to the South Bay in 1993-96 in order to finance AT&T Park, knowing that he wasn’t actually going to build there but rather in downtown SF?

Remember that in the mid-90′s, the Internet as we know it today did not exist.

As for the stadium negotiations, Wolff is willing to sign a pretty long deal, as long as the A’s aren’t locked in if the Raiders take over the Coliseum complex. That’s only fair, since Wolff needs to have some control over where the team plays. Besides, history shows that Oakland/Alameda County/JPA have bent over for the Raiders, screwing the A’s in the process. The JPA is in the position to do it to the A’s all over again.

Interestingly, there are rumors emanating from the Coliseum that Coliseum City may be too expensive to pull off for the Raiders alone, forget the multi-team/multi-venue dream project. Hmmm

Still, best to avoid Dickey and his rants.

San Jose Muni as a temporary ballpark? Come on, now

The Merc and NBC Bay Area are reporting that San Jose Municipal Stadium is being considered as a temporary ballpark site should the A’s not get a lease extension past 2015.

The idea makes zero sense.

At 4,200 seats, Muni is far too small to work as a temp park. There’s not enough space behind the old grandstand to build the extra seats and a new press box that MLB would require. Even the area beyond the outfield is limited, so little seating could be built there. Muni is set up so that the clubhouses are on the same level as the single concourse, requiring the park to be quickly emptied of fans after every game. The lack of parking and public transit at the site would make it a logistical nightmare for daily 20,000-person crowds.

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About the only thing Muni has going for it is that it’s a baseball field with some seats around it. That’s not the expensive part. It’s everything else (additional seats, suites, infrastructure) that’s expensive.

Using Muni makes even less sense when you consider that the City of San Jose inked its own five-year extension with the San Jose Giants only two months ago. While the lease is quite cheap at $25,000 per year, naming rights to Muni are involved and the fact is that the City would have to break the lease to accommodate the A’s.

I understand that Lew Wolff will look at a number of sites and facilities to get a feel for what’s possible. A temporary ballpark at San Jose Muni is more than a little far-fetched.

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P.S. – Candlestick Park was also reported to be in the discussion, but demolition is expected later this year.

Why a temporary ballpark is a distinct possibility

Lew Wolff brought up the the idea of a temporary stadium to the SV/SJ Business Journal’s Greg Baumann this week. Wolff looks at the concept as potentially necessary if another extension at the Coliseum can’t work out. He had already expressed concern when MLB pushed the Coliseum Authority (JPA) into a two-year extension through 2015. The thinking in November was that no new permanent home could be built in that two-year span, and if Coliseum City’s phasing and the Raider owner Mark Davis’s preference of building on top of the current Coliseum footprint take hold, the A’s would no longer have a place to play. Combine that with Larry Baer’s comments about allowing the A’s to play at AT&T Park while an Oakland solution was being hammered out, and you can see all of the moving pieces and the complexity therein. Because of that complexity, let’s break the situation down into its basic components.

To start off, there’s the Raiders. The Raiders are the first domino here, because they are the team in some sort of negotiation with Oakland and the JPA. Even though Davis has labeled the talks as discouraging recently, reports coming out of the Coliseum City partnership should bring everyone back to the table in the next month or so. Then Davis can decide how to move forward: either partner in Coliseum City, or decide that CC doesn’t pencil out and look elsewhere. So far Davis has stuck with the idea that the Coliseum is the #1 site. That could change quickly as the numbers are released and parties have to make fiduciary commitments.

The A’s can’t do anything without the Raiders’ move. As much as Oakland waterfront ballpark proponents would love for Howard Terminal to become the apple of Wolff’s eye, the many questions and doubts that hang over the site continue to make HT a nonstarter for Wolff. Coliseum City had the A’s in a new ballpark no earlier than 2022, unacceptable terms for Wolff and MLB. However, if CC falls apart for the Raiders and Colony Capital, the Raiders could leave for Santa Clara, LA, or elsewhere. Wolff could easily call for CC to dissolve and put together a development plan of his own at the Coliseum, one that he would control. It could make room for the Raiders as well, but the football team would end up on the back burner, not the A’s. If Davis were to stay for several years at Levi’s Stadium while gathering up the resources to build anew in Oakland, such phasing could work out. Then again, the Jets spent nearly two decades “temporarily” at the Meadowlands while not working out any new stadium deal in the five boroughs of New York City.

Next, this idea isn’t new. Wolff floated the temporary venue concept in 2012, when he initially tried to get a lease extension. Wolff has reason not to go down such a path due to the expense and amount of upheaval. Should lease talks once again turn difficult, a temporary move becomes more a value proposition than a logistical problem.

If the JPA couldn’t come to an agreement on a new ballpark with Wolff – say, for instance, the JPA chose not to eat the $100 million left in Mt. Davis debt – Wolff would likely go back to MLB and again ask for a decision on San Jose. San Jose brings about one of two temporary ballpark scenarios. The first comes if the A’s are left homeless after 2015 and MLB somehow allows the move south. That’s a long shot at best, but can’t be completed discounted. In this case a temporary ballpark would have to be built somewhere in San Jose for 2-3 years minimum while Cisco Field was being built at Diridon. Besides the process of getting league approval, a temporary site would have to be found. In the Bizjournals article, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed claimed that multiple temporary sites were available. In all practicality, there are probably only two sites. Many of the previously studied permeant ballpark site candidates are either in the process of being redeveloped (Berryessa, North San Pedro) or face logistical hurdles that make it difficult to ensure that 20-30,000 people could make it in and out easily (SJ Fairgrounds, Reed & Graham cement plant).

Instead, there will probably two or three sites in play: the old San Jose Water Company site near SAP Center (site owned by Adobe), the spare parking lot south of SJ Police headquarters between Mission and Taylor Streets (a.k.a. the Cirque du Soleil lot), or the land adjacent to the under construction Earthquakes Stadium (under control by another developer). The SJWC/Adobe site would be the easiest to convert for a ballpark, is the right size, and has an existing building that could be leveraged for ballpark use. It’s also directly underneath a San Jose Airport landing approach, which could cause red flags by the FAA. The Cirque lot is smallish, though large enough for a small ballpark. There’s lots of parking nearby, and potential makeshift parking on the other side of the Guadalupe River. Light rail is only 2 blocks away. As for the Earthquakes Stadium-adjacent site, there were enough problems getting it prepped for that project that it should give pause to anyone considering even a temporary ballpark there.

That’s not to say that San Jose is the only place for a temporary ballpark. Wolff was quoted as looking at the entire Bay Area:

“I am hopeful of expanding our lease at the Oakland Coliseum for an extended term. If we cannot accomplish a lease extension, I hope to have an interim place to play in the Bay Area or in the area that reaches our television and radio fans — either in an existing venue or in the erection of a temporary venue that we have asked our soccer stadium architect (360 Architecture) to explore. Looking outside the Bay Area and our media market is an undesirable option to our ownership at this time.”

The East Bay is in play for both temporary (if needed) and permanent venues. MLB won’t hand over the South Bay to Wolff, yet MLB has also allowed Wolff to enter agreements with San Jose, so it’s clear that MLB is hedging big time. A temporary ballpark could be built on the old Malibu/HomeBase lots near the Coliseum, in Fremont, or even Dublin or Concord. Fremont’s Warm Springs location could enter the discussion again because the Warm Springs extension is scheduled to open in 2015.

It’s also possible to read into Wolff’s statement the possibility of the A’s playing at Raley Field on a temporary basis, since his description of “area that reaches our television and radio fans” covers CSN California and the A’s Radio Network.

Warm Springs could be in play because CEQA laws that govern environmental review largely don’t affect temporary facilities. Generally, seasonal installations such as carnivals or circuses that don’t create any permanent environmental impact are exempt from CEQA. The challenge, then, is to create a temporary ballpark that can also fit this model. That would be tough because of the large-scale consumption of water, food, and energy during a single game. Still, the A’s are already familiar with major recycling efforts, and if trash can be properly contained there should be little permanent impact. Just as important, Warm Springs remains within the established territory, so MLB wouldn’t have to negotiate anything with the Giants. Finally, if the experience is positive it could provide enough political goodwill to convince Fremont to again consider being a permanent home.

Strategically, the Baer vs. Wolff war of words (what happened to the gag order?) has only gotten more interesting. Baer’s statement is cajoling Oakland, not Wolff, to get its act together. Wolff’s response is to say that the A’s don’t need the Giants’ help, especially if he can get San Jose. Keep in mind that if Oakland fails, the East Bay as a territory loses value, hurting Baer’s argument and supporting Wolff’s. What’s left is for both rich guys to let the processes in Oakland and in the courts play out, and prepare for next steps. At some point, the leagues are going to ask Oakland to either step up or step out ($$$). While some local media types continue to believe that the teams can carry on indefinitely at the Coliseum, at some point the conflicts become too great to bear. For those of us who have been following this saga for so long, it’s good to know that actions are being taken to make new homes for the teams. Even if one of those homes is temporary.