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.

The “new” architect and a great old Coliseum idea

Out of the formality that was the Coliseum extension news on Tuesday was a related item that got Oakland fans all excited and hopeful. Lew Wolff, in full photo op mode with the various assembled pols, mentioned that he was working with an architect on a ballpark design at the Coliseum. Wolff gave few specifics, other than saying that “several design ideas” were being considered. Wolff declined to say much else, or even identify the architecture firm he’s working with.

The general sense of astonishment I saw in articles and social media feedback, and in Damon Bruce’s lighthearted take on it on his radio show yesterday, confirmed yet again the fact that the average fan is not going to be bothered to keep up with much of the news. Not that they should be expected to, this is a fairly boring subject at the planning and political stage, and has niche value once shovels hit dirt. Still, fans called in and mused with great hope about one feature or another being integrated into a new ballpark at the Coliseum. But it seemed as if they weren’t going to believe in Wolff’s overtures until he uttered those magic words, I’m working with an architect. My goodness, an architect! Fiddle-dee-dee!

Of course, those who have been following this stadium saga for some time probably already know that Wolff has been working with a prominent architecture firm for nearly a decade. That firm is 360 Architecture, a company that had roots in HOK and created an offshoot, Heinlein Schrock Stearns, before merging with another to become 360 in 2004. They opened an office in San Francisco in the fall of 2005, as the Coliseum North plan transformed into Fremont’s Pacific Commons. Later they worked up plans for the Diridon site and the soccer stadium near San Jose Airport. And if you read SVBJ scribe Nate Donato-Weinstein’s interview with 360 principal Brad Schrock from Tuesday, you might’ve picked up a hint of what was happening next.

Donato-Weinstein: What’s your dream project?

Schrock: We’ve been working with the A’s for such a long time. I’d love to do a ballpark for the A’s. I’d love to do one in San Jose or Oakland. The A’s are just such an interesting franchise. Trying to craft a facility that meets their mojo is a lot of fun. The other one I would die to be involved in is if the city of LA ever gets an NFL team. That would be phenomenal to work on.

While there are no major league ballparks under Schrock’s new shingle, his firm is responsible for the lovely Huntington Park, which I visited a few weeks ago. During his Heinlein Schrock Stearns days he was responsible for Safeco Field, which to me is #1 or #2 in the bigs. 360 is more well known for arenas than stadia, having designed Sprint Center in KC, but with most arenas being early in their lifespans, the firm has done outdoor venues. They cut their NFL teeth on MetLife Stadium, whose soullessness is not 360’s fault but rather the design-by-committee, tug-of-war conducted by the Giants and Jets. Now they’re working an an incredibly ambitious project, the new Atlanta Falcons Stadium. They also have the upcoming Rogers Place in Edmonton under construction, and the Earthquakes Stadium, which is set to open next year.

Some of the plans under consideration in Fremont included a truly retro design featuring columns, similar to legacy ballparks Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. Partly motivated by cost savings and a desire for better sightlines, the concept didn’t appear to go far thanks to the stigma held by obstructed view seats. Assuming that column-free, minimal-cantilever is the chosen path, I think there are some very important positive lessons than can be taken from being stuck at the Coliseum – not just the Coliseum of yesteryear, but the current tarped-off, Mt. Davis-eyesore version.

One of those lessons has to do with the noise level. Sure, the expansive foul territory makes the seats down the lines terribly far away from the action. The activity of the crowd, which is good even on 15k nights, makes up for the lack of line-hugging seats. Yet there’s one other thing that contributes to the noise factor, and it only really started when the tarps were installed in 2006.

Simply put, about 90% of the Coliseum’s seats (in current baseball configuration) are lower than 60 feet above the field. That’s about 32,000 seats. That vertical conservation concentrates crowd noise to a degree not known since old Comiskey and Tiger Stadium were still around. That’s why today’s MLB players are so taken aback when they come into the Coliseum, because despite the old girl’s decrepitude, it’s uncommonly loud.

Why? Just look at how ballparks are constructed these days. It’s easy to point to levels of suites, and yes they are largely responsible, but there are also regulatory standards that come into play. On the lower concourse, wheelchair rows need to be 30-36 inches above the row in front of them for proper compliance. That height grows the higher you go. Plus architects have their own guidelines to prevent people in the back rows from having their views clipped by an overhang, which happens in the back rows of both the Field and Plaza levels at the Coli.

In new ballparks, especially those that follow the familiar HOK blueprint, you have a lower deck of about 30-40 rows, then the elevated wheelchair row merged with the concourse, then decent height so standees can properly see the action. Then there are club and suite levels in different configurations. Finally there’s the upper deck, which these days is split into two decks. When you look at a cross section of a ballpark, it’s easy to identify 4 or 5 separate seating levels, all the better for the teams to separate those levels by price.

Coors Field, which is similar to AT&T Park. Top row is 105 feet above field.

Coors Field, which is similar to AT&T Park. Top row is 105 feet above field.

Take Coors Field, which is pretty much the standard bearer among the modern, HOK/Populous breed. Lower deck, Club level, Suite level, Upper deck. It’s a big building that was downsized before the start of the season. That’s good, but it won’t fix the sightline problem. The top row is 105 feet above the field, which makes the action truly look like it’s a Mile High. Add to that the limited cantilevering and it’s pretty far from the action, nearly 235 feet from home plate to that back row in the upper deck. Could be worse, though. Mt. Davis’s top row at the 50-yard line is 335 feet from the near sideline. That’s longer than a home run in the LF/RF corners.

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A two-deck ballpark design with no suites in between

Now look at this cross-section, which somewhat mimics the first two decks at the Coliseum. It has 32-36 rows down low, 24 rows up above, then skyboxes over it. The last row is only 56 feet above the field. There is only one regular concourse, but it’s 65-83 feet wide. There are club seats and a separate club concourse up top, probably with no fancy lounge or restaurant. Above the suites is a rooftop deck, which can be used the same way the 49ers use theirs at Levi’s Stadium. Or it could simply provide expanded seating in the future. The roof is only 88 feet above the field, or almost 2 stories lower than the top row at Coors.

Overlay of Coors and two-deck concept

Overlay of Coors and two-deck concept

There are compromises. The suites and club seats are about 20-25 feet further away from their counterparts at Coors (AT&T). Does that matter? I doubt it.

To be clear, I have no idea if 360 and Wolff are pursuing anything like this. It would be a great way to go. It brings over that vertical conservation that no other ballpark in the majors save for PNC Park attempts to accomplish. If the goal is the best baseball viewing experience, I hope that this is something that the A’s-360 team is exploring. We’ll all be better off in the end if they did.

Cleveland Indians announce changes for Progressive Field in 2015

The Jake is 20 this year, and Indians ownership has decided it’s in need of a refresh. While the ballpark was certainly a premier venue during its first decade of operation, the times have changed and the novelty has worn off. Repeating the team’s 455-game sellout streak is unlikely as the Jake is too large for today’s MLB. And there are aspects of the look and feel of the place that are very 90’s. The Indians felt it was time for a wardrobe change, if you will.

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Reimagined center field gate

Much of the effort will be focused on the outfield, where seating and circulation will be reconfigured. Gate C in center field will be opened up. Currently the gate is a fairly nondescript plaza with some young trees and little signage. Views into and out of the ballpark were obstructed. To remedy this a food court and bar in center will be removed. This is a well conceived transformation, as it’s this gate that many fans parking downtown will use (those arriving via the light rail system use Gate A in left field).

The other major change, which can be seen at the top of the sketch above, is the modified upper deck in right field. The Rockies removed seats in their similar RF sections and transformed them into huge rooftop decks at Coors Field. However, unlike in Cleveland where the seating bowl will apparently remain intact, in Denver actual concrete risers were removed. The result at the Jake will be patios that will only face the field. Perhaps the Indians are doing this to preserve seating capacity for the future. Whatever the reason, it’s not as interesting as the 360-degree treatment at Coors.

Transformed upper deck

Transformed upper deck in RF

Bullpens will be reconfigured from their “slit” design to terraced next to the batter’s eye. The concourses will undergo their own freshening, with bright colors everywhere in the form of paint and vinyl. A kids play area will be expanded. Current capacity is 43,000. As a result of the RF changes, capacity will drop to 37-38,000. The changes should at least attract fans who haven’t been to the yard in a while, though in Cleveland, only winning will keep bringing them back. I’m glad I got a chance to visit before the Jake undergoes this facelift.

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JPA approves revised Coliseum lease

MLB will formally review and approve the lease terms. Although owners meetings are scheduled for next week (during which they may vote on a new commissioner), approving a lease extension is really a matter for MLB’s legal and operations teams to review. No owner votes needed for that.

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?

River Cats announce new indoor club at Raley Field

The River Cats organization spent much of last week hyping up a big announcement scheduled for Saturday, August 2.

Given the mysterious nature of the team’s affiliation with the A’s after 2014, some thought the announcement would have to do with changing affiliations, say to the Giants for instance. Rules set in place by MLB and MiLB prohibit such announcements during the season. Teams aren’t even allowed to formally seek out new PDC’s (player development contracts) until mid-September, after the minor league season ends. Naturally, River Cats management refused to answer questions about the situation, so nothing new on that front.

What did they announce, then? A new 5,000 square foot, air conditioned club, named the Western Health Advantage Legacy Club. Open to all season ticket holders, the WHALC will also be available for special events. The air conditioning is a key point, since that sets it apart from other spaces within the park. The club will be an extension of the suite level down the left field line, above the beer garden.

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The River Cats are finding themselves competing with the resurgent (at least off the court) Kings, whose downtown arena is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2016 season (2017 as a fallback). A ceremonial demolition ceremony at the mall where the arena will sit was held over the weekend. It’s better for the River Cats to make such amenities available before the new arena opens, the better to lock in sponsor and entice business-type season ticket holders whose eyes may already be wandering downtown.

As for that affiliation announcement? We’ll have to wait until September.

Soft open becomes hard lesson for many fans at 1st Levi’s Stadium event

I didn’t attend tonight’s Sounders-Earthquakes game at Levi’s Stadium, so I can’t comment on any aspects of the experience there. I won’t get into the architecture either, even though I have seen the stadium in every stage of construction multiple times per week over the last two years. I’ll reserve those thoughts for after August 29, the date of the Friday Night Lights high school football event. That event will not only be the cheapest to get into at the stadium ($20 general admission, less than a tour ticket), it will feature a doubleheader, meaning fans can roam around the venue for six hours if they wanted to. That’s exactly what I’m going to do. Anyway, I’ll let this tweet sum up the experience inside for now:

The big mystery leading up to the game was whether or not the venue and the City of Santa Clara could handle the influx of fans. Tonight’s game was positioned as a sort of soft open, with a crowd no larger than 50,000 expected. The upper deck was closed off to cap the capacity. If the open house for season ticket holders was a dry run, Saturday night was to be the first real test. Despite advisories to come more than 2 hours early, many fans faced gridlock on the surface streets leading to the stadium. Fans who arrived in the area 60-90 minutes before the match start were often turned away as their designated parking lots filled up. As part of the TPMP (Transporation and Parking Management Plan), the lots were roughly divided into quadrants based on which direction/highway you were coming from. Arriving from the east on 237/880? The red lots are for you. From the south/southeast on 101/87? Try the green or purple lots. As Tasman Drive and Great America Parkway backed up, those going to the more remote lots eventually had an easier time getting and out. Sure, that meant an extra 15-20 minute walk, but it was probably worth it. It sure beat some fans being stuck for an hour in the parking garage across the street from the stadium. Parking inventory isn’t going to improve over the next couple of weeks, so it will be absolutely paramount for the team/City to more efficiently route fans along those surface streets. Even so, it highlights a problem with the street grid in north Santa Clara – there are no side streets. Everything’s set up in a superblock fashion, and the commercial “neighborhoods” within have no outlets besides the heavily impacted major intersections that service them. I’m sure that the TPMP will be revised to improve this performance, but there’s no fixing the street layout. That said, Great America Parkway has four lanes north and south. It should be capable of getting cars in and out of the stadium vicinity. My advice?

For some people, getting out was worse than getting in. For others it was the exact opposite. The above tweet is half-joking, but parking closer to either 101 or 237 can’t be a bad idea if you want to get in and out quickly.

Transit was another story. Caltrain and VTA have been pitching the idea of transferring people coming from SF/Peninsula at the Mountain View station, then trekking the 25 minutes on light rail to Levi’s Stadium. The circuitous route (with a small section of single track) is far from efficient. VTA wants to boost light rail ridership, so this seems like a good way to do it. It’s not the fastest way to get fans to the stadium. If they want to get fans to the stadium fast, they’d have fans disembark at the Lawrence station 3.5 miles southwest of the stadium. From there express buses would be lined up to take fans 15 minutes the rest of the way. Riders arriving via the main spine of the light rail system (from Downtown, East & South San Jose, plus Campbell/Los Gatos) had to deal with overstuffed trains and mechanical breakdowns. One train shut down at the River Oaks station and its air conditioning system went out, motivating many riders to pop out emergency windows to get fresh air.

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VTA’s route map showing light rail and bus service

VTA is working on an additional track siding to store more trains, which should improve capacity. That’s still not enough. A 3-car trainset holds around 500 people including standees. That should improve service frequency from the every 10 minutes service VTA was advertising but not delivering. However the problem is infrastructure. There needs to be an alternative in place to better facilitate all of the fans overflowing at the Great America Station platform. Some fans told me that they walked to other LRT stations to avoid the crowds. The agency should follow a practice it already follows when there are breakdowns or other high-impact delays: employ bus bridges. By providing an overflow option for light rail riders, VTA can ensure that more fans can make the regular or special northbound Caltrain trains. Set up bus bridges to Mountain View, Great Mall, Alum Rock, Tamien, Winchester, and Ohlone-Chynoweth. That should relieve pressure on the light rail system and allow fans going to Downtown San Jose to utilize freed up trains. Otherwise you get stories like the one from Merc sports editor Bud Geracie, who lined up for light rail once the game ended before 10 and didn’t arrive at the Tamien station until nearly midnight.

My advice to fans? If VTA doesn’t introduce redundancy, take Caltrain to Lawrence (from SF/Peninsula or San Jose) and Uber/Lyft/Sidecar/Taxi the rest of the way. Fair should be around $20 or less each way, quite reasonable if you’re in a group.

Coincidentally, there was one aspect of VTA that was working well: the express buses. The five routes, which served Cupertino, Eastridge, Gilroy, Los Gatos, and the Fremont BART station, got in and out swiftly. Fans on those buses didn’t face the overcrowding experienced on light rail. They got to the BART station as early as 10:30. Another alternative I heard a lot about was bicycle. Whether biking straight to the stadium (if based nearby) or transferring from Caltrain, the trip proved fast and trouble-free. Bike racks at the stadium were packed, indicating that some fans had been planning those routes for weeks if not months.

Capitol Corridor was running on a normal weekend schedule. Fans who rode Capitol Corridor had to leave the game early to catch a 9:30 northbound (eastbound) train, the last one of the night. For 1 PM Sunday 49er games, the schedule has been changed slightly to better accommodate fans leaving Levi’s around 4:30-5. ACE, which doesn’t normally run on weekends, will have a special train running in each direction on Sundays.

The first 49ers preseason game is scheduled two Sundays from now. That game is expected to be a sellout plus standing room. Santa Clara and the Niners have a lot of work to do to reduce the frustration and confusion experienced with this first event. I’m pulling for them, but it’s gonna be tough.

P.S. – Quick restaurant recommendation fairly close to the stadium: Gobi Mongolian BBQ at Lawrence Expwy & Tasman Drive about 1.5 miles west of the stadium. Huge weekday lunchtime crowds, fairly small weekend crowds.