The bone-in, skinless stadium

It starts with this.

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Arrowhead Stadium prior to 2007 renovations

And ends (for now) with this.

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Levi’s Stadium prior to August 2014 opening

These two stadia opened 42 years apart, yet bear a couple of important similarities. One that is fairly obvious when you compare the two pictures is that neither has an exterior façade. The other is that they were both designed by the engineering and architectural firm HNTB. Well, sort of. As I mentioned on Monday, Arrowhead Stadium’s original architects were Kivett and Myers. That firm was acquired by HNTB to form its sports practice in the late 70’s.

HNTB went on to do several football stadia in the 70’s and 80’s, including Giants Stadium and the Hoosier (RCA) Dome. Neither was known for being a great work of architecture, and both are now history. Until HNTB designed the Broncos’ new stadium, Sports Authority Field, it’s hard to point to any really striking sports architecture from the firm. More eye-catching examples have come in the form of minor league ballparks such as Raley Field and the twin Fifth Third Fields in Toledo and Dayton. Minor league ballparks don’t have nearly the scale and sense of mass as a pro football stadium, so it’s probably unwise to even compare.

Sports Authority Field (formerly Invesco) at Mile High, photo by Matthew Trump

Sports Authority Field (formerly Invesco) at Mile High, photo by Matthew Trump

While Arrowhead and neighbor Kauffman Stadium were highly acclaimed, notable pieces of sports architecture, they weren’t flawless. That lack of exterior façade made for cold and wet occupants, which was more of a problem at the ballpark during the spring months than at Arrowhead during the football season, when it’s customary to bundle up. The 2010 renovation of Kauffman included a large structure behind the seating bowl that provided a great deal of weather protection for fans.

At snowy Denver, there’s plenty of cover thanks to glass curtainwall. The undulating, horseshoe-shaped upper deck both saluted and riffed off the old Mile High Stadium. Even so, the most interesting thing about the new stadium is its all-steel structure, which wasn’t limited to columns and trusses. Risers that would normally be built of precast concrete were also made of steel, which allowed the Broncos to make an extra noisy, feet-stomping seating bowl much like Mile High.

New NFL stadia over the last 20 years seemed to be constant acts of one-upmanship. Paul Brown Stadium was thought to be overly garish for conservative Cincinnati. HKS-designed Lucas Oil Stadium looks like an Indiana field house enlarged by nuclear radiation, the same way a puffer fish might have become twice the size at the Bikini Atoll. Another HKS product, AT&T (Cowboys) Stadium, is practically out of a sci-fi film and as I noted while I was at Rangers Ballpark to the east, appears ready to destroy its neighbor with lasers. The next HKS design for the Vikings looks like a crystal football cathedral.

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As domed multipurpose stadia, the three HKS designs had to have some sort of skin. The fact that they are a bit over-the-top (360 Architecture is guilty of this too) is part of the celebration of football, the fans, and the home city. The other recently built West Coast NFL stadium, CenturyLink Field in Seattle, was built to protect fans from harsh, wet winters. But in California, is any façade necessary? Or is it just ornamentation?

At Levi’s Stadium, most of the suites are set in a single 8-story tower along the west sideline. It’s efficient packaging for sure, though it looks a lot like of the office buildings in Silicon Valley, which are similar in scale. The other three-quarters of the stadium is practically naked. HNTB and the 49ers chose to show off the structural steel that lifts up and rings the bowl. Whether that’s “enough” architecturally to work as aesthetic is largely subject to individual taste. So far most of the comments I’ve seen are to the effect of, It’s nice on the inside. Levi’s Stadium is a technological tour-de-force, and like many good technologies that come out of the Valley, is built with headroom and expansion in mind. What it lacks at the moment is a single element that makes it beautiful, unless you consider the suite tower that element. Arrowhead has the lovely, swooping upper deck at the end zones. It adds elegance to what otherwise would be character-less and overly brawny. Perhaps the signature element, a translucent image-projecting, shape-shifting material that clads the exterior, simply hasn’t been invented. Or maybe Levi’s Stadium is destined to be like many of HNTB’s post-Arrowhead work: serviceable at best, forgettable at worst.

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Let’s not forget that HNTB also designed Mount Davis. We know that aesthetic quite well, as our Oakland home is akin to a Supermax prison. HNTB is probably known more for their engineering work than their designs. They were hired by the City of Cupertino to do the lovely cable-stayed pedestrian bridge I mentioned in my “Rethinking Coliseum City…” post. They also designed the beautiful Zakim Bridge in Boston, along with a number of interchanges and airports. None of that sounds sexy, but they are important pieces of infrastructure that have to balance aesthetics and utility, not an easy task.

I suspect that Levi’s Stadium will undergo several minor and major revisions over the next 20 years as they iron out the rough spots and seek to enhance the experience even further. Levi’s Stadium is more than a place to watch football. It’s also a platform and brand. If there are bugs in 1.0, just wait for 1.1 or 2.0. It doesn’t get more Valley than that.

P.S. – This is not intended as a review. I’ll have one of those up in a month or so.

Rob Manfred elected next MLB commissioner by owners

After a full day of deliberation and several trays of cookies, MLB’s owners finally approved MLB executive Rob Manfred as baseball’s next commissioner (NY Times/USA Today/LA Times/MLB/ESPN Sweetspot. Throughout the day, there were frequent reports that the vote was deadlocked at 22-8 or 21-9, 1 or 2 votes shy of the three-quarters of owners needed to approve Manfred. A late afternoon break preceded the final vote, which in true Bud Selig fashion, was tabulated at 30-0. Perhaps the so-called Reinsdorf block saw the writing on the wall and gave in knowing Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner didn’t have a chance, or they knew that Manfred, who has worked in the league offices for 15 years, was the more qualified candidate. Either way, in February Manfred stands to inherit a full plate of for now unresolved issues from Selig, who is now officially a lame duck.

Who was the swing vote that got Selig’s man, Manfred, over the top? It appears to have been Brewers owner Mark Attanasio,

Among the issues that need resolution sometime in the future:

  • Nats-O’s (MASN) television rights negotiations/lawsuit
  • The future of the Tampa Bay Rays
  • Negotiating terms of an Oakland ballpark, if it can come to fruition
  • The next collective bargaining agreement (current one expires after 2016 season)
  • Blackout rules for local broadcasts

Jerry Reinsdorf wanted to go hardline against the players’ union, despite MLB having one of the most favorable, cost-controlled deals in sports. He considered Selig to be too conciliatory in his dealings with the union. It’s hard to say how much more Reinsdorf would’ve gained in the next labor talks, though the obvious goal would’ve been a salary cap of some sort. Reinsdorf was considered the power behind Selig’s throne, the senior whip who got the votes Selig needed. Here’s to hoping that sanity, not greed, wins out in the next labor talks.

During Selig’s tenure, he sought to consolidate power, getting rid of the league president roles and the deputy commissioner, opting instead for a more vertical org chart with subordinates’ autonomy reduced. One of the rumored challenges for the owners in the upcoming CBA/Constitution talks is how to curtail the powers of the commissioner’s office, which now includes disbursements of a discretionary fund that runs into eight figures (see Nats-O’s).

Going in, it was thought that the Larry Baer and the Giants supported Manfred, while Lew Wolff and the A’s supported Werner. Early voting seemed to bear this out. They even had some discussions early in the day.

The official approval of Manfred would appear to confirm the status quo going forward: Giants not budging on T-rights, A’s forced to make a deal in Oakland. The recently approved Coliseum lease extension further keeps the A’s in Oakland at least for the next several years. After that, well, who knows? MLB has seen enough of the stadium saga to know that neither city is a slam dunk, so contingency plans are needed. And it was Manfred who affirmed the threat to move “out of Oakland” last month, supposedly going so far as to mention San Jose in the same breath. So if anyone’s thinking that any city has an ally in the MLB commissioner moving forward, they shouldn’t. Manfred’s on baseball’s side, not yours.

San Jose’s uphill battle against MLB continues in 9th Circuit court

This is how oral arguments started today.

For San Jose, it pretty much went downhill from there. City of San Jose Attorney Philip Gregory was up first, and he had a very tough time against the three man panel of judges: Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, Judge Barry Silverman, and Judge Richard Clifton. Gregory asserted that the Portland Baseball case limits the antitrust exemption to the reserve clause. Kosinski and Clifton took issue with that. Gregory argued that the prior cases often cited (Portland, Curt Flood) are more about minor league-major league system interactions/transactions than major league franchise movement. The judges didn’t appear to be swayed. Gregory was left to argue that the case shouldn’t be dismissed at this early stage, and should go to discovery.

MLB lawyer John Keker was next, and he had a much easier time. He was able to go at least 2 minutes without being interrupted, which indicates that the judges had little to question.

The most resistance Keker got into was a hypothetical that Kozinski put forward. The judge first asked Keker if baseball has an antitrust exemption, doesn’t that mean that this case automatically doesn’t have standing? Keker agreed. This was also a key tenet of MLB’s filings going into today’s hearing. There was even a playful back-and-forth between Kozinski and Keker, in which Kozinski prodded, “Just between you and me…” That was followed by a chuckle from the much larger-than-normal gallery. Keker kept to his argument.

That left the rebuttal to Joe Cotchett, who brought props. That led to this exchange:

Cotchett tried his best to take down MLB, calling the territorial distribution as outlined in the Major League Constitution one that builds an “economic wall” around San Jose (Santa Clara County) because no team is allowed to move in there. He also brought up the recent decision in a US District Court to allow an antitrust case to move forward against MLB and broadcasters over TV blackouts and exclusive territories. Judge Clifton didn’t appear to be swayed by this either.

Despite the poor outlook for San Jose, Cotchett got to hold another presser outside the courtroom after adjournment, which for him is just as important as the actual proceedings inside. Even if he loses this case in the Ninth Circuit, he aims to bring it all the way to the Supreme Court. The way things look now, getting there would be the equivalent of a six-run home run.

Courthouse coverage comes from the Merc’s Howard Mintz and Fangraphs’ Wendy Thurm.

What happened to the Stand for San Jose case?

I really should check into these court cases more than once every couple weeks.

While many eyes will be focused on the City of San Jose’s Ninth Circuit appeal against Major League Baseball this Tuesday, another case appears to have been resolved. That would be “citizen group” Stand for San Jose’s lawsuit against the City in Santa Clara County Superior Court. A hearing was scheduled for the end of this week, August 15. However, that was wiped away as the court vacated the hearing. In fact, the court now has the case status as disposed as of July 24. In other words, the case is resolved, over, done. Big hat-tip to Wendy Thurm, who alerted me to this on Friday.

The only recent action leading up to that point was notice that the Oversight Board of SARA (Successor Agency of the Redevelopment Agency) would file its own motion to dismiss by July 25. The idea was that since the Oversight Board was given the power to dispose of the Diridon ballpark parcels however it saw fit as long as it took care of financial obligations to the state. That was to lead for a motion for pleadings on August 15. Then suddenly, the dismissal on July 24. It’s important to note that it’s a dismissal without prejudice, so it could come back at some point. Regardless, it’s a surprising move for all concerned. I’ve asked around to understand what happened, and haven’t gotten any answers yet.

Besides the legal maneuvering, one other thing has happened this summer that might have brought all parties to the table. That would be the A’s and the Coliseum JPA approving an extension at the Coliseum through at least 2018 (up to 2024). Obviously that’s speculation, and the filings may reveal something else, which is why I’m heading to Superior Court tomorrow afternoon. Be forewarned: I don’t expect to get much out of my inquiry. When cases are resolved in a non-public manner as this was, the parties can sometimes choose to reveal little about the motivations to do so.

Then again, there’s this update which came in on Friday:

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Some day all this legal stuff will end and there will be a ballpark under construction. Maybe.

Mark it down: NHL Stadium Series coming to Levi’s on February 21

A Ticketmaster snafu last week probably spoiled the surprise, but it wasn’t much of a surprise anyway. The NHL today announced that Levi’s Stadium has been awarded one of the prime Coors Light NHL Stadium Series games on February 21, 2015. The game will feature the home Sharks and the much reviled, defending champion Kings.

When talks initially started about hosting a Bay Area version of the Stadium Series, the question was whether to hold the game at picturesque, touristy AT&T Park or at the newer, much larger Levi’s. In the end, size won out. Hopefully, what will also win out is the desire to curb needless theatrics.

The Valley isn’t San Francisco, and it definitely isn’t Los Angeles, though at its worst it aspires to be the latter at times. Last year’s game at Dodger Stadium had so peripheral things going on during and before the game (roller skating, beach volleyball) that it was perfectly – and perhaps ironically – emblematic of the California fan experience: easily distracted, ready to move on to something else if the weather’s good.

There’s a hockey rink behind there somewhere. Credit: Hans Gutknecht, LA Daily News

As the discussion was being had locally by the host Sharks, an uprising of support came from the South Bay to hold the game at Levi’s instead of AT&T, because the Sharks are a South Bay team, not just a Bay Area/Northern California representative of the NHL. While it’s unclear how many fans expressed this sentiment, since many of them are longtime season ticket holders, Sharks management had to hear them out and give their voices weight. It also doesn’t hurt that Levi’s Stadium is arguably considered the destination outdoor venue on the West Coast.

This time the game will be in a football stadium, which is set up to be congruent with hockey, so there will be less open space to worry about filling as there would be at AT&T. There should be enough casual interest to sell 68,500+ seats, though that will be borne out over time and with published ticket prices. The rich tech population should eat this novelty up just as they have 49ers seat licenses. Another huge sporting event, Wrestlemania 31, is scheduled for March 29.

Seating chart for Stadium Series game

Seating chart for Stadium Series game

With the announcement, all that’s left is to figure out how to theme it. I shudder to think of the marketing concepts. Nevertheless, I expect to be there with a bunch of friends. How about you?

Wake up, Oakland

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius

There are any number of ways to rephrase the idiom above. Some might use “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” though the meaning is not the same. Voltaire coined the phrase a little more directly.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

As I listened to Don Knauss make yet another sales pitch about the virtues of Howard Terminal (and Damon Bruce’s softball handling of it), I started to write a point-by-point rebuttal of everything he said. Then, thanks to BANG’s Matthew Artz, I read a 6-page letter from Lew Wolff to Oakland Interim City Administrator Henry Gardner. The letter outlined Wolff’s desire for a lease extension at the Coliseum before leading into the questions surrounding the future of the Coliseum.

Two pages of the letter are devoted to a section called “The Raiders”. Instead of pointing fingers at the Raiders or Mark Davis, Wolff mostly pans BayIG, the Coliseum City plan, and all of the work that has gone into it so far.

I contrasted words from both Knauss and Wolff. The Clorox CEO talked about a transformative project that could hugely benefit downtown Oakland, which it could. A similar description has been made about Coliseum City by its proponents, comparing it to LA Live among other developments. Then there was Wolff, going detail by detail about the process, the difficulty, tedium, and the obstacles. He even lashed back at “Negative Forces” agitating at every possible turn, which could be construed as a critique of Don Knauss or others allied with Knauss.

The argument, which has stretched as long as Wolff and John Fisher have owned the A’s, comes down to Voltaire’s quote. Wolff’s #1 job this entire time has been to get a ballpark. Let’s understand some of those efforts.

  • 2003 – Wolff was hired by Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann to be the VP of Venue Development. During that brief tenure, Wolff proposed building in the Coliseum’s A Lot and at the Malibu/HomeBase lots. The A Lot option went nowhere because Schott was only willing to put up $100 million for the ballpark. The Malibu option was not available because it was not JPA-owned land. Eventually the JPA bought the land in order to assemble a larger complex for what would be become Coliseum City.
  • 2005 – Wolff exercises an option to buy the team, phasing Schott & Hofmann out and bringing Fisher and numerous associates of Wolff in. Wolff soon proposes the Coliseum North (66th/High) plan, which would redevelop a large swath of industrial land north of the Coliseum complex into a ballpark and mixed-use (residential, retail, commercial) plan. The plan received great fanfare at first, but quickly died as numerous existing landowners showed no interest in selling.
  • 2006 – The Fremont Baseball Village plan is proposed in south Fremont near the Santa Clara County line. A compromise plan of sorts, the idea was to court Silicon Valley corporate interests without crossing into the Giants-held territory of Santa Clara County. Again, there is great immediate enthusiasm, this time from Fremont city leaders. This time, a combination of the Great Recession and big box stores vetoing any developments they didn’t approve of killed the plan. Another attempt in 2010 was made to put the ballpark near the NUMMI (now Tesla) factory across the Nimitz. That was met with hostility from well-heeled residents on the other side of I-680 and fell apart quickly.
  • 2009 – San Jose becomes the next plan, with a partially-acquired site downtown, major corporate and civic support, and a certified environmental impact report ready to go. Again the plan stalled as the Giants remained intransigent about their held territory. A lawsuit filed by people associated with the San Jose Giants (eventually a SF Giants-owned property) threatened the project and is still ongoing. The City of San Jose became frustrated and launched its own lawsuit in 2012 against MLB. That too is ongoing.
  • 2009 – Let’s Go Oakland launches with support of three sites in downtown Oakland: Victory Court, JLS West, and Howard Terminal. Victory Court becomes the preferred site in 2010. LGO promoted Victory Court as much as possible, backed by local developers. No significant activity occurs in 2011, and by the beginning of 2012 the site is dead due to the death of redevelopment and spiraling site acquisition costs.
  • 2012 – Not long after Victory Court goes away, murmurs about Howard Terminal becoming the new preferred (not by A’s ownership) Oakland site begin. In 2013, the Port of Oakland negotiates a settlement with SSA Terminals to vacate the site in order to consolidate facilities and kill a lawsuit against the Port. That allows the Port to look into non-maritime uses such as a ballpark, which it does in spring 2014. A new investor/support group, OWB (Oakland Waterfront Ballpark), emerges, led by Knauss and former Dreyer’s CEO T. Gary Rogers.
    While Wolff has been trying to deal with the on-the-ground demands of planning and building a ballpark, many in Oakland have been fixated on grand concepts like Coliseum City and the far-off promises of Howard Terminal and Victory Court. Even yesterday, Knauss couldn’t help but bring San Francisco into the discussion, talking up how a HT ballpark would have better weather and views than AT&T Park. Coliseum City would be a transformative project that could attract Super Bowls and give Oakland new cachet.

Oakland’s desires to become something bigger and better are completely understandable. But they’ve been so pie-in-the-sky, so big, that there’s always been huge doubts about what, if anything, the City could pull off. I’ve mentioned before that Oakland has never built anything by itself, and that it needed the County and the business community to come together to make the Coliseum work nearly 50 years ago. That need hasn’t changed, but the sense of teamwork has. In Oakland’s attempt to keep all three teams in place, it has gotten away from what got them the teams in the first place: strong partnerships and sensitivity to the teams’ needs. Nowhere is that more evident than in Coliseum City, where the County is playing the realist role in questioning the project and in looking to the A’s, while the City brings in big names with no commitments, entirely footing the bill along the way.

Oakland keeps searching for the perfect project, the ultimate solution, the one that will finally vault them past the City beyond its rival across the Bay. Some politician(s) would take credit when it gets done, a legacy-defining moment. So they keep dreaming, keep hoping, clearly not worried about the little details that need to be addressed or the problems that arise when undertaking big projects. At some point, someone in Oakland will recognize that the dreams need to be tempered with what can realistically be done, and understand the work that will be required to get it done – establishing partnerships with the teams and stakeholders for starters. If not, the teams will get frustrated and give up. Those dreams will die. The biggest pro sports Oakland will be able to get will be minor league (which for some is okay). And the Coliseum, home of six world championships, will end up unused, even more unloved, and ultimately, something generic like a shopping center. That’s what happens when the well-intended keep pursuing the ever-elusive perfect instead of understanding that good is actually pretty great.

Lew Wolff is getting ready to offer what could be a pretty good deal. If Oakland wakes up, they may be able to react in time to take it.

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P.S. – I’m removing comments from the site for the time being. It’s not because of the commenters or specific comments – although they can be especially inane at times – it’s because those comments and the constantly attacking spambots (which you don’t see) are causing heavy server load, for which I’ve been warned by my provider. I hope that by having no comments there will be less server load. Thanks for your patience.

BayIG backs down on lease term, Quan endorses deal, Wolff denies move out of Bay Area

Ray Ratto has been giving the stadium situation a constant read this week. Wednesday’s piece may have been the best of all, though it can mostly be summed up by this:

halfass

Can we even give the City of Oakland credit for half-assing? May be generous.

Meanwhile, on the news front, the City received another letter Wednesday from BayIG’s lawyers, which indicated that the development mean could be onboard with a plan to provide the A’s 2 years’ notice if a replacement Raiders stadium came to fruition. That’s a backpedal from their original stance, which was to tear down the Coliseum immediately after the A’s 2015 season in order to make way for the new football venue. BayIG suffered a little blowback in the media and from fans, which may have led to this softening.

In that same article, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan continues to believe that the city can continue to host both teams, while endorsing the lease extension approved by the JPA last week. Quan doesn’t get to vote on the deal unless the 8-person City Council is deadlocked. Said Quan,

“I absolutely want the City Council to sign this agreement so that we can get on to negotiating a new stadium (with the A’s).”

We’ll see if she’s forced to break a tie. Several of the council members are undecided, perhaps hoping for concessions from the A’s that probably are not coming.

Word came yesterday morning from The Game’s Chris Townsend that the A’s could be willing to buy out the County’s portion of the JPA, which would allow the team to work on a new development plan for the Coliseum complex. I’m looking into the legality of such an arrangement. The bond issues are heavily tied into specific revenue streams and the property is jointly owned, not divided, so it’s unclear how a private developer could legally replace a public entity. It’s also important to note that BayIG has an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with the JPA for any Coliseum development. That agreement doesn’t expire until October, so any developer whether the A’s or a third party can’t formally engage in talks with the JPA until the ENA expires, assuming it’s not extended. Correction 5:37 PM – As was pointed out in the comments, the ENA is only between BayIG and the City of Oakland, not the JPA. Because of this, Miley or other JPA members could engage in discussions with the A’s over the future of the Coliseum complex.

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Once again, Lew Wolff had to speak publicly about someone else’s suggestion that the A’s could leave the Bay Area. CM Larry Reid suggested the team could go to Montreal or San Antonio, places that coincidentally had hosted exhibition games in March. As I’ve said before, MLB may wield the move threat, but it’s largely toothless without a deal for a new ballpark in a target city. No rumored candidate like Portland, Montreal, San Antonio, or Charlotte is close to having such a deal in place. In fact, Charlotte just opened its AAA ballpark, surviving numerous legal challenges by a local attorney who wanted to aim for MLB, not AAA. Sorry, no Timbuktu.

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A couple other blog posts are worth reading and come from completely different angles. The first is a piece by the Motley Fool advocating for a move to San Jose. It’s a skin-deep analysis, but may portend future San Jose articles in the media, especially if Oakland continues to be a circus. The other is from Death of the Press Box writer Andrew Pridgen, who calls Wolff the “last great owner in baseball.” Mind you, he sets the post up by calling Wolff a prick.