A’s lease extension comes up again

Update: Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has a response.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Matier and Ross are reporting that Lew Wolff has requested a lease extension at the Coliseum of up to 10 years.

That would be news, except that we heard it last week. And last month. And back in December.

There is literally nothing new to report here. More importantly, what’s not being reported is that this follows a pattern. The previous lease ended after the 2013 season, but Wolff asked for an extension as early as 2011, knowing that a new ballpark was not forthcoming. The JPA was in the tough spot of negotiating new leases for both the Raiders and A’s because both leases ended in 2013. The stalemate between the A’s and the JPA forced MLB to broker a new, two year deal that solved little. It merely kicked the can down the road. Meanwhile, the Raiders secured an even shorter one-year lease, with the idea that the Coliseum City project would at least be accelerated. While that process moves on its own, Wolff continues to call for the lease.

The difference between Wolff’s requests now and from 2011-12 are that they are being reported. Headlines show as A’s willing to stay in Oakland for 10 years look good at a glance, but as long as the JPA is reluctant to work out any deal that would jeopardize its future with the Raiders, that lease will go nowhere. Yet you should expect reports like this to surface on occasion throughout this year and next, since it looks good for the A’s from a PR standpoint.

Another thing that’s being ignored is the fact that Wolff has included an escape clause if the Raiders build a stadium at the Coliseum. I haven’t seen the language, so I can’t say if the clause would be triggered by the Raiders coming to a deal with the JPA or if groundbreaking would trigger it. Either way, Wolff has been consistent in that he’s only looking out for the franchise – he wants a place for the A’s to play locally, even if that means a temporary facility. While updated plans for Coliseum City show separate stadia for the A’s and Raiders being ready by 2018, we’re not nearly at the point of determining how that would happen. Numerous questions would have to be answered, such as:

  • As the two new stadium sites are prepped and stadia constructed, how does the JPA replace all of the lost parking?
  • Will the Warriors object to the lost parking?
  • What if the numbers pencil out only for the Raiders? Or only for the A’s? Or not at all?
  • What if neither team is interested in Coliseum City as it’s being presented?

Wolff and Mark Davis are going at this stadium business in different ways. Wolff wants a lease extension, while taking that time to figure out the future either in San Jose or in Oakland. Davis is taking an opposite tack, declaring last year that it was time to stop delaying and get the stadium deal in place before any new lease. That puts the JPA in a very delicate spot. They’re already working with the Davis, though he hasn’t been satisfied with the pace or the information he’s getting. Both owners, whether in league or not, are forcing Oakland to make a difficult decision between the two franchises. Both know that it’s incredibly hard to build one stadium, let alone two right next to each other. Public resources are increasingly scarce. Fred Blackwell’s leaving before he can get any blame for this. Smart move on his part.

On a related note, two public workshops will be held next week for Oakland citizens to discuss Coliseum City. Here’s part of the flyer:

Schedule for upcoming Coliseum City workshops

Schedule for upcoming Coliseum City workshops

At some point in the next 2-3 months, the Coliseum City Specific Plan (which will cover the Coliseum complex area or Area 1) and the draft environmental impact report will be released. Review and comments for both will dovetail nicely with the ongoing lease discussions and could shape the future of the Coliseum, and pro sports in Oakland.

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.

Coliseum City infrastructure cost estimated at $344-425 million

One of the Coliseum City deliverables due in February was a public infrastructure costs report. That report is now available (report/cost tables) thanks to BANG’s Matthew Artz. Sometime ago I half-joked that the amount of infrastructure needed to build out Coliseum City is so much that it would be like adding a fourth venue in terms of cost. It’s no joke anymore, as the numbers are in. Infrastructure cost, which for some reason doesn’t even include the cost to demolish the old Coliseum, ranges from $344 million to $425 million.

Unlike the previous phasing report, which had the Raiders stadium being built for 2018 and the Athletics by 2022 or later, this report has both venues being constructed and opening in time for their 2018 seasons. Much of that total includes relocation of utilities that run through the complex, including nearly $16 million to move overhead power lines and $1.4 million to move the sewer interceptor.

Surprisingly there is no estimate for the cost of demolishing the old Coliseum. The report states that demolition of the Coliseum “will only marginally affect the costs of the new facility.” For large concrete structures like the stadium, that could easily run into the low eight figures, especially because of how massive Mount Davis is. If that’s considered marginal, it’s only because it’s about 3-5% of the total project cost.

CC-easements

Utilities running through the Coliseum City project area

The price escalates quickly when accounting for all the stuff that would make the City part of Coliseum City work. About $24 million would go into BART station improvements. The big addition is a side platform that would allow fans to more directly access the BART bridge without having to go down into the station, only to go up again. That would be a welcome improvement regardless of how much of Coliseum City gets built, since the station can be a huge bottleneck during high-attendance games. There are also initial plans for a streetcar, which at $25 million seems awfully low considering that it would eventually go across the Nimitz and out to Edgewater. $175 million covers all transit, traffic, and infrastructure changes, with another $45 million going towards optional enhancements. $21 million of that total would go towards a new loop road (boulevard) that would serve Coliseum City.

New side platform and access to BART pedestrian bridge

New BART side platform

Another $20 million is estimated for a parking garage for the NFL stadium. Such a garage seems antithetical to Mark Davis’s fan experience with tailgating as a major feature, so I’m curious to see if he would balk at that piece. At the very end of the reports table is an estimate for NFL stadium only infrastructure, nearly $55 million. Naturally, Davis and the NFL might look at that figure with more interest than the total for the whole development. It’s also worth pointing out that a stadium built on top of the current Coliseum footprint would be even cheaper from an infrastructure standpoint, since it would probably require no utility relocation.

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The estimates provided aren’t indicators that the project will proceed. The project could be transformed again or scaled down depending on team or developer interest. The City and Alameda County will seek out TOD grants for much of the transit hub improvements package. It’s also likely that the JPA will look to create an infrastructure financing district (IFD) to fund the rest of infrastructure. If they can pool together enough funding through grants and future assessments to make it all pencil out, Coliseum City has a chance. Nevertheless, these costs have added some $400 million to the various venue construction costs. All told we’re talking about $2.5 billion and counting.

Towards the end of the report was Phase I of the Market Data Analysis, which was also expected in February. The findings go against previous studies that showed weak demand for premium seating. There seems to be an effort to show that a larger stadium with the capacity of the 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium or the Vikings’ new dome in Minneapolis will be worth the escalated cost. The study also indicates that the ticket-buying fan base is far more geographically widespread than merely the East Bay, with many coming from the Central Valley, Reno, Las Vegas, and even Phoenix.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Raiders and Davis concur with these survey findings. Davis has been leading the charge for a smaller stadium with 56,000 seats instead of 68,000 that BayIG is pursuing. Obviously, BayIG wants the bigger stadium for a future Super Bowl, an event that wouldn’t be possible in a smaller stadium. BayIG is emboldened enough to want to pursue the development further. Does Davis like what he sees? Only three weeks ago Davis expressed frustration about not getting information from BayIG or the JPA. Did he receive this report after the comments he made during the NFL owners meetings, or before? If BayIG and Davis can’t get on the same page, there is no Coliseum City.

Bruce spends 3+ hours talking Oakland, A’s stadium issues (Update: Quan backtracks)

Update 5:00 PM – Mayor Quan backtracks on the Crown Prince of Dubai claim. Oops.

Say what you will about Damon Bruce’s radio persona or his supposed allegiances. When he wants to drill down on a topic, he drills down. Other than the scheduled weekly segment with Warriors power forward David Lee, Bruce spent the entire time yesterday from 3:30 to 7 talking about the stadium situation in Oakland, specifically related to the A’s. Bruce said that he wanted to get past the blame game and cut through all of blah blah blah, as he described it. That he most certainly did, though the reveal mostly left more questions in its wake.

At 3:30 Bruce interviewed Andy Dolich, who maintained that the Coliseum is still the best place to build new venues for both the Raiders and A’s. Dolich spent the bulk of his extended segment throwing cold water on everything else: San Jose, Howard Terminal, A’s ownership. Dolich even took some credit for the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, which is bizarre considering that he was against the move at many points and not involved in its planning.

Dolich ended up being the warmup act for what followed. At 5, Bruce interviewed Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who was clearly not prepared for the grilling that Bruce gave her. He asked about the lack of progress on the two stadium plans and asked the mayor to make a choice between the two. Throughout it all Quan dodged and hemmed, and finally got rather defensive about her record on the subject. Then, when discussing Coliseum City, name dropped the crown prince of Dubai as an investor in the plan, which for Bruce was as exciting as a little girl hearing the word “pony” or a dog seeing a squirrel. There’s plenty of money represented here, from Colony Capital and its inherent ties to Qatar to Rashid Al Malik and his Dubai ties. That’s a distraction though, since Qatar and Dubai would provide the silent money. The true face of the money is Colony’s Tom Barrack, who really wants a piece of a team, and a controlling piece if possible. Barrack drove the attempt to buy AEG last year, before Phil Anschutz decided that the various competing bids weren’t high enough and took the company off the market. Colony is also involved in the Chargers’ stadium plans, which are quite similar in scope to what the JPA is trying to do with Coliseum City. In all three cases, Barrack wanted controlling interest in a team (40%) in exchange for the stadium being built. That has me thinking, What if Barrack gets a stadium deal done in San Diego? Does that mean his goal of getting a team and stadium built is completed, making Coliseum City and the Raiders unnecessary? The reverse could easily be asked as well. Fortunately for Raiders fans, San Diego is the one major city in California with an even more dysfunctional government and leadership than Oakland, so no immediate worries there. Still, it’s worth wondering if these opportunities are finite, at least from Colony’s perspective.

After Quan’s interview, Oakland Council Member Larry Reid called into the show to clarify some things the mayor said about Coliseum City. Reid, who also acts as the Vice Chair of the Coliseum Authority (JPA), suggested to Bruce that he speak to JPA Chair (and Alameda County Supervisor) Nate Miley for the real scoop on the project. Reid also dropped a bit of a bombshell:

REID: (The JPA’s) conversation (with MLB) has been much different from what the mayor has said on the radio. Look, the mayor knows that MLB has clearly said that they do not like the Howard Street Terminal (sic). Lew Wolff has said he does not like the Howard Street Terminal. His preference…it would be in the Coliseum. Our focus with the A’s is trying to figure out a way, how to do that deal.

BRUCE: Why do you think the mayor came on as an advocate for the Howard Street Terminal if she already knows that it’s dead in the water?

REID: Well, that’s a question that you have to raise with her. She knows what MLB has said to us, has said to me, and has said to Supervisor Miley in a meeting we had most recently less than two weeks ago. MLB’s preference as well as Mr. Wolff’s preference is the Coliseum area.

Clearly, additional context is needed here. First of all, has MLB’s preference been the Coliseum only recently, or has it been this way for some time? For nearly a year proponents of Howard Terminal have claimed that MLB prefers their waterfront locale. Reid represents the JPA, so he has a vested interest in the choice the same way Oakland Waterfront Ballpark and Doug Boxer would. So who’s right? What was the process in getting to this point?

The mayor’s hands-off approach has created the appearance of two competing factions. On one hand there’s the JPA and the now-departed Fred Blackwell running Coliseum City. On the other hand there’s OWB, Let’s Go Oakland, and the Port having their own discussions. Usually the city manager/administrator would moderate both discussions by being involved, but Blackwell’s focus was much greater on Coliseum City than Howard Terminal. And with both “tenured” city managers gone in Blackwell and Deanna Santana, that would leave the Mayor to make decisions. Except that she hasn’t made decisions. It’s not her vision, and she’s been to content to get to this point with the understanding that MLB would make the decisions for her or force the A’s to make a decision between the two sites.

Well, now the A’s are making a choice, though it’s not exactly how Oakland and the JPA wants it. Wolff and Fisher seem to want the Coliseum without the City, so that they can mold the project in their own way. It’s only possible if Oakland lets go of the Raiders, or if the Raiders give up on Oakland. Oakland’s trying to keep both teams in place, so they’re offering these solutions that neither league nor franchise fully endorses. Truth be told, neither team wants to share a complex – let alone a stadium – as long as precious land is in play to help fund new stadia. The NFL is waiting for the A’s to leave the Coliseum, and MLB is waiting for the Raiders to do the same.

While the A’s and Raiders come into this with somewhat similar goals, their prospects away without the existing Coliseum are much different. The Raiders a have much better short-term future because of Santa Clara. However, their long-term prospects are shaky because the financing aspect of a new Raiders stadium is so difficult and daunting. The A’s have poor short-term prospects because they have no temporary home other than the Giants’ offer of AT&T Park for a short time. Long-term is much better, mostly because the cost of a ballpark is more manageable and they could have other sites in Howard Terminal and San Jose. Alternate sites for the Raiders, such as Concord or Dublin, are so far off that they’re not worth considering.

I’ve been saying for sometime that anyone who claims to know how this is going to play out is clearly trying to sell something. Better to let the process continue, and let the chips fall where they may.

Bad groundskeeping decision last night forces postponement tonight

For the 2nd time in 4 days, a regular season home game at the Coliseum has been postponed. Unlike Tuesday’s deluge-caused delay, tonight’s game was somehow halted thanks to only 1/3-inch of rain. Why? Because the groundskeeping crew chose to leave the infield tarp off in hopes of drying out the field from the previous week’s rain.

Here’s my understanding of what led up to the postponement:

  • After last night’s extra innings affair, the grounds crew spoke with a weather consultant. They wanted to know if it was safe to leave the infield tarp off, so that the field could dry out a little going into the weekend. The consultant said there was little chance of rain, so they went ahead with this.
  • Late Thursday night (midnight), it started to rain. Again, 1/3-inch fell overnight.
  • When A’s staff arrived this morning, they found the infield waterlogged despite that minimal amount of rain.
  • The grounds crew worked feverishly throughout the day to prep the infield dirt, which was practically mud. Turface (clay) and Diamond Dry (ground corn cobs) absorbent substances were employed to little improvement.
  • Batting practice was cancelled at 4 PM.
  • In anticipation of another brief rainstorm, the tarp was placed on the field. As a result, the field can’t be worked on.
  • When the tarp was removed prior to the game, the field was still in such bad shape that the managers and umpires were concerned about the potential for injury.
  • At 6:30, a 30-minute rain delayed was announced. The original scheduled start time was to be 7:05.
  • The game was called off at 7:20.

Throughout the night, the grounds crew continues to work on the infield to absorb pooled rainwater. There remains a question of whether Saturday’s game can be played on account of the field.

Simply put, the decision to leave the tarp off was utterly boneheaded, especially considering the risk/reward. There was a slight chance of rain, and given the fragile condition of the he field, Clay Wood and his staff shouldn’t have taken such a risk.

Then again, 1/3-inch of rain shouldn’t render an infield unplayable. It’s not much at all. Newer fields with more extensive drainage systems can drain several inches of rain per hour.

However, this is the Coliseum we’re talking about, where the field is 22 feet below sea level and 6 feet below the water table. Gravity doesn’t help. Neither do the tides, which were in between at the time of the postponement. To get rid of the water you have to sop it up or pump it out. An old Chronicle article written during the. Mt. Davis construction explained the difficulty.

It takes at least a day to pump out all the water after a heavy rain.

Another factor may be the freshly laid down sod, only a few weeks old. This year the old standy Bermuda grass has been replaced by Kentucky bluegrass, which may have been chosen for its drought-resistance. If the sod hasn’t fully taken hold, that too would affect field drainage, though obviously not on the dirt portions of the infield.

The game doesn’t yet have a rescheduled date. Players chose not to do another split doubleheader as they did Wednesday, which is their right per the CBA. The game could be made up in May or in the second half of the he season.

This largely preventable incident by an otherwise excellent grounds crew only highlights the deficiencies of the Coliseum, even though this was not a matter of regular stadium maintenance. Regardless, it continues to show the Coliseum in the worst light: unloved, broken, and only used because all the alternatives are too expensive at the moment. I’d like to think that the Coli will catch a break sometime, but that might mean it will actually break.

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.