SunTrust Park: The name is bland, the money is not

At some point during the 2017 baseball season, someone in the media is going to make a flub, calling the Braves’ new stadium “Sun Life Park.”

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Who could blame the person? “SunLife Stadium” and “SunTrust Park” sound so very generically close to each other. The Braves and Atlanta-based bank SunTrust are moving forward anyway, with a 25-year deal whispered to be worth a whopping $250 million. That’s twice as much as the value of the Cisco naming rights deal struck in 2006 for the Pacific Commons ballpark. It would also place among the top five in the nation on an annual basis.

$10 million a year would go a long way towards financing the new Home of the Braves, where $622 million in development cost translates into $50 million a year for those 25 years. SunTrust will become the sixth bank to have naming rights at a Major League Baseball facility. Banks tend to be more regional than most national consumer brands, so they tend to partner up with teams in their respective backyards.

  • Chase Field, Phoenix – acquired naming rights in merger with BankOne, originally from Cleveland
  • Comerica Park, Detroit – originally from Detroit
  • Citi Field, New York – based in New York
  • Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia – based in Providence, RI, claims Northeast as its region
  • PNC Park, Pittsburgh – based in Pittsburgh

Only one major bank is headquartered in the Bay Area, Wells Fargo. However, Wells Fargo already has naming rights deals with three arenas in Philadelphia, Des Moines, and Tempe (on the Arizona State University campus). There’s also one at a small arena in Dothan, Alabama, but who’s counting that? Wells Fargo could pursue naming rights at a new venue in the Bay Area, but with three already in place they may consider that enough.

As for the renderings? Looks a lot like the Braves’ current home from the outside.

River Cats to end affiliation with A’s

From the Chronicle’s/SFGate’s Susan Slusser:

The River Cats haven’t made any official announcements yet, other than some front office shuffling last week.

When the A’s announce a new PDC with a different AAA club (probably the Nashville Sounds), I’ll give that a little writeup. Otherwise, RIP River Cats we knew as A’s fans.

Reusing an abandoned arena

This post is not strictly related to the Coliseum City EIR, though the ideas within are somewhat germane.

It’s been a few months since the Warriors gave up their effort to build at Piers 30-32 in San Francisco, electing instead to buy land at Mission Rock to the south. So far, the team has received practically zero resistance from the parties that either opposed the waterfront arena or who would typically oppose such projects. From a regulatory standpoint, the arena should go as easily than Pac Bell Park went, perhaps easier since it’s technically not on the waterfront. While it’s too early to call the arena a slam dunk, it’s a good idea for Oakland and Alameda County to start thinking about what will happen to Oracle Arena after the W’s leave.

First, the JPA and the W’s will surely go to court over the $61 million in debt owed on the arena after 2017. Once that’s settled, a series of choices will need to be made. One possibility is to demolish the arena and reclaim the land, about 8 acres worth. Should the arena stay put, more choices will have to be made about what its purpose is and how to best utilize it.

Alternative 2A: Two new stadia + existing arena

Alternative 2A: Two new stadia + existing arena

The market for a third 17,000+ capacity arena lacking an anchor tenant in the Bay Area is not good. The SF arena will be the new must-see, must-book venue in the Bay Area, with arenas in both Oakland and San Jose suffering to some degree. If the arena debt falls back on Oakland/Alameda County, operating costs can run as much as $17 million a year through 2027. With the arena in a prime site within the Coliseum City development, the temptation will be huge for O/AC to cut their losses and recoup whatever they can through redevelopment. Countering that will be pressure from the community and preservationists to keep the arena intact, as it retains significant historical value.

Functionally, the arena is still an excellent venue. Steady improvements have been made since the 1997 renovation, including new club areas and seating options, new scoreboards, and revamped technology inside the building. The biggest problem remains poor circulation, as the main concourse is narrow and cramped. While well appointed, the sideline club areas also have a tendency to feel congested. It also has way too many seats for anything other than a NBA or NHL franchise and should be downsized.

My first suggestion then, is to remove the upper seating bowl. The lower bowl has 10,000 seats on its own, plus another 1,000-2,000 available on the floor depending on configuration. That’s the perfect size for the sort of second-tier arena that every major market should have. For decades, that venue has been the Cow Palace, but the old joint is so antiquated and generally undesirable as an arena that acts avoid it like the plague. Besides the Grand National Rodeo and the usual touring circus, very little happens at the Cow Palace. Therefore it would appear that there is an opening in the market for a 10k arena. It’s the right size for the WNBA and minor league hockey. Most touring concert acts aren’t looking for 15k seats or more, 7-12k may be plenty sufficient. That venue doesn’t really exist in the Bay Area. SAP Center and the forthcoming SF arena will be able to reach that with curtaining or other tricks. The reconfigured Oakland arena should be able to hit that without any visual tricks.

Oakland Coliseum Arena shortly after construction was completed

Oakland Coliseum Arena shortly after construction was completed

You’re probably saying at this point, Okay but what about the upper deck? Glad you asked. The picture above illustrates how beautiful the arena used to be, with its sense of symmetry and different types of geometry. It also shows the amount of available vertical space. That largely went away with the renovation, but would be available again after the upper deck is lopped off. I’ll put out a couple different ways to utilize the space.

Arena lower bowl plus suite levels

Arena lower bowl plus suite levels (Image from Ballena Technologies)

One way is to put a new ceiling on the arena at the rim of the upper suite level. That would require putting in an extensive truss system to support the ceiling/roof and whatever is on top. Once that’s done, the upper level can be finished, leaving a 10,000-seat arena below and an exhibit space above. That exhibit hall could have a much as 100,000 square feet of clear span, column free space. That’s nearly twice as much as the downtown Oakland Convention Center, and more than Moscone West’s main hall. The drooping ceiling would create a weird visual effect for many (most similar buildings have an arched or flat ceiling). Beyond that, the new exhibit hall would fill a need not met by anything currently in the East Bay. The best part is that the arena could be run completely separately below or in conjunction with the exhibit hall, providing additional hospitality and exhibit space, the arena itself largely unchanged. Some new infrastructure would have to be built, such as a large freight elevator and ramps to the revamped upper level.

Old sketch of arena elevations, note drop ceiling

Old sketch of arena elevations, note drop ceiling

Another option is more conventional. In this case the seating bowl would be torn down but the upper concourse would be expanded to the perimeter of the building. There would be no second ceiling above the arena bowl. Available square footage would be cut down to 60,000 or less. Uses would be fairly limited, such as commercial (office) or even retail. If there ever was a natural spot for a movie theater multiplex, this is it. 15-20 screens could easily fit in the space, even an IMAX theater. Again, there’s a need that’s unfulfilled in Oakland right now, and Coliseum City would be well positioned to capture that market with its expected higher-income residents, office workers, and visitors. Cost would be fairly minimal for the JPA, as the theater operator would presumably bear the cost of constructing the auditoriums.

The name “Oracle Arena” is expected to expire after 2016, when the naming rights deal ends and the Warriors have construction underway. When that happens the name will probably change back to the Oakland Coliseum Arena, the venue’s original name. That’s fitting, whether the arena continues as is or is transformed in some manner. The building may not have seen much winning in its 40+ years, but it’s full of great memories and events. If there’s a way to keep it operating that works for the public, it should be explored to its fullest.

A’s extend PDC with Midland, Sacramento remains unclear

The A’s AA-Texas League affiliate, the Midland Rockhounds, is playing for the league crown tonight in Game 3 of a 5-game series with the Tulsa Drillers. That didn’t stop the team from getting together with the A’s to announce an extension to their Player Development Contract, which was set to expire at the end of this season. The extension will run another 2 years, to 2016.

As a result, 4 of the A’s minor league affiliates will have PDCs through at least 2016: Vermont (A- – Penn League), Beloit (A – Midwest League), Stockton (A – Cal League), Midland (AA – Texas League). That leaves the Sacramento River Cats as the lone outlier. Murmurs have only gotten louder about an upcoming deal with the Cats and the San Francisco Giants, so much that Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton has come to River Cats’ ownership’s defense about the move. The change would force the A’s to affiliate with another Pacific Coast League city, likely Nashville or Fresno.

The “free agency” period for available affiliates starts next Monday, with announcements followed by a two week negotiation period. Consider it like the Winter Meetings, but for major and minor league teams instead of GMs and agents. If anything, as A’s fans we’d like to hear of an announcement early next week, which would mean that the A’s didn’t end up losing out on the biennial game of musical chairs that often occurs. While that’s somewhat rare among AAA teams, there may be numerous affiliates available, and some locales will be more popular than others (there seems to be a trend that disfavors high-altitude cities such as Albuquerque and Colorado Springs).

 

MLB 2015 Travel Grid (Schedule) Now Available

Every year it happens like clockwork. MLB releases its tentative schedule for the next year in early September, and I cut it up and remix to make something suitable for planning ballpark trips. I call it a Travel Grid. The Travel Grid is table of all games based on each team’s home schedule. One variant places the teams in regional clusters, allowing users to connect the dots to plan trips.

Sample of Travel Grid in PDF format

Sample of Travel Grid in PDF format

Want to do a 3-5 days seeing games from Washington to Boston? It’s possible. Want to catch games at both Chicago parks and Milwaukee? If it’s there you’ll see it. I started doing this a few years ago to help me plan my own trips. I hope it’ll help you plan yours.

The schedule starts a week later than what you’d usually expect, on April 6, and ends October 4. Every 5-6 years this reset has to occur, as we “lose” a day every year. The late start may help avoid more rain postponements that have seemed to be more frequent in recent years. The downside of that is the postseason running dangerously close to November. The All Star Break will be July 13-16. Much of the pain for the A’s will be frontloaded, as they’ll experience 2 of their 3 longest road trips (9-10 days) in April and May.

A’s interleague opponents will be the NL West, which will bring about a few changes. Instead of the 2+2 format the A’s and Giants series’ took on the last couple years, the teams will play 6 times, 3 in SF in the summer and 3 in Oakland as the last home series of the season. That sets up the possibility for some cool roadies. In mid-June the A’s will play 3 at the Angels and 2 at the Padres. If you’re looking for lengthy A’s East Coast trips, things don’t look as promising. Other than series at the Indians and Yankees to end the first half, there are few trips where you can stretch out and follow the team for a week unless you’re willing to take on multiple leg flight schedules. The team has a particularly brutal stretch next September when they visit the Rangers, then fly to Chicago to meet the White Sox, then back to Texas for a series against the Astros.

That said, if you’re looking to put together ballpark visits, the schedule’s pretty friendly. East Coast possibilities for 5-7 day trips (the length I like) are available pretty much every month. Similar length Midwest trips are ripe in June (Rust Belt) and July (Chi-StL).

The 2015 Travel Grid is available in two layouts: an alphabetically ordered (left-to-right) table and the aforementioned regional cluster layout. Both are available in Excel, CSV (comma delimited), and PDF (poster view) formats. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments or send me a tweet.

Regional

Alphabetical

Enjoy!

Coliseum City Draft EIR Review: Ballpark Setting

The renderings in the Coliseum City Specific Plan (co-mingled with the EIR) date back to July 2013. So far, no announcements have been made about architecture firms winning the business for any of the Coliseum City venues. With that in mind, when looking at the renderings don’t worry too much about how they look. They’re effectively placeholders, there to show the mass and complete the layout of the buildings within the plan. If you’re asking about a dome on the stadium or how many seating decks are in the ballpark – don’t bother. It’s highly subject to change.

That said, we can look at a few aspects, such as how the ballpark is placed and oriented within the ballpark. That is the subject of this post.

First, let’s look a bird’s-eye view from the south, with the entire project built out.

birdseye-view_north

Coliseum City with new arena on the other side of the Nimitz

The BART bridge is to be replaced by a much wider pedestrian concourse, connecting a better-connected transit hub, residential development at the BART station parking lot, hotels lining the concourse, and the broader development with the venues. The concourse will be built at what is currently 73rd Avenue, the street connecting San Leandro Street to the Amtrak Station. Doing this moves the dividing line of the complex further south/east, with the bulk of the developable land on the north/west side of the concourse. Several high rise condominium buildings flank the concourse where the existing Coliseum currently sits.

birdseye-view_east

View east across Nimitz down pedestrian concourse

The concourse is widest outside the football stadium and at 880, where there are two (!) bridges spanning the Nimitz.

birdseye_closeup-view_north_ballpark

Above concourse, looking towards ballpark

The Plan describes two levels of circulation: the elevated concourse and street level, where most of the buildings and the ballpark will be situated. Fans would descend stairs to the plaza that leads to the ballpark. There could also be a trolley or streetcar station at this intersection. The plaza and the four blocks surrounding it are the focus of what is called the “Next Generation Sports and Retail District.” This area would be closed to cars on event days, allowing for a big party zone between the two venues.

cutaway-entry

Side view showing concourse and street level elevations, plus cutaways of venues

Should Coliseum City come to fruition, there won’t be anything like it in the country, with two or three venues anchoring a big district. It would also be huge for the City if the large swath of commercially-zoned property slated to be office/R&D could be put together as a potential campus for a large tech company. Right now all of that activity is focused on the Peninsula and the South Bay, with Google, Apple, and Facebook devouring huge tracts of land for future expansion. At the moment Oakland is a few degrees removed from such activity, but that’s where they should be thinking.

district-med

The Plaza between the ballpark and stadium

I’m still not a big fan of orienting the ballpark to the northeast. While that’s proper in terms of MLB guidelines, the orientation turns its back on the plaza and feels like a missed opportunity. It would be nice to have people walking along the plaza be able to see into the stadium, the way you can from much of the Gaslamp District in San Diego. The idea is to fully integrate all elements of the plan, and this is a miss.

There is a publicly-accessible area of the ballpark beyond centerfield, where a Park-at-the-Park like grassy knoll provides views. But getting there requires walking along the edge of the complex, along a perimeter road, past a hulking parking garage. It’s not the friendliest or most accessible approach. A nice side effect of this approach is the fans traveling south on BART will get a good look at the ballpark as they arrive at the Coliseum (City?) station.

View into ballpark with loop road and publicly accessible "knoll" in foreground

View into ballpark with loop road and publicly accessible “knoll” in foreground

Another thing that bothers me, though it’s entirely understandable, is this from the Project Description (page 3-39):

Operation and scheduling use of the Ballpark would be restricted from having major events (including baseball games) on the same day as football games at the adjacent Stadium. Since no large events could occur simultaneously, parking for the Ballpark would be accommodated within the same on‐site parking facilities as used by the Stadium including the 3,240 surface lot spaces and 7,500 dedicated event parking garage spaces.

The Plan calls for more than 18,000 parking spaces, an 8,000-space improvement over the current complex. 13,000 of those spaces would be in garages, and of those spaces 5,000 would be off limits because they would be slated for hotel and residential use. The net gain for event use, if some of the office parking is used, is an extra 3,000 spaces or 13,000 total. Despite the great reduction in available tailgating space (only possible 3 surface lots totaling 4,200 spaces), a parking restriction like the one described above would remain in effect. That would limit the ability of schedule makers to freely assign weekend home series for the A’s in August, September, and October. It also shuts out any possibility of going to both Raiders and A’s games in the same day within Coliseum City: an A’s game at 1 and a Sunday night Raiders game at 5, or vice-versa. It’s better than sharing a field, I suppose.

Coliseum City Draft EIR Review: Owning vs. Leasing

I’ve done my initial run through of the EIR (except for the traffic data) and have taken lots of notes along the way. Over the next few weeks, I’ll write up specific subjects, the first being the most germane to what we normally talk about, the ballpark at Coliseum City. Before I dive into that, I wanted to touch on something in the language of the EIR that had me curious, and frankly a little baffled.

From Project Description, page 3-34:

NFL Stadium and Multi‐purpose Event Center
…The Oakland‐Alameda County Coliseum Authority would control the use of the Stadium through a management agreement with a professional management association (currently AEG). The Stadium would be leased to the Oakland Raiders, a National Football League (NFL) franchise, for playing home games during the NFL pre‐season, regular season, and post‐season and for other NFL related events.

Page 3-38:
The Ballpark is expected to be developed by the Oakland A’s professional sports franchise on land owned by the City of Oakland and Alameda County. Like the Stadium, the Oakland‐Alameda County Coliseum Authority would control the use of the Ballpark through a management agreement with a professional management association.

The Ballpark would be leased to the Oakland A’s for playing its 81 home games during the MLB regular season6 and potential post‐season games,7 and for other MLB events.

Page 3-39:
The new Arena would be leased to the Golden State Warriors, a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise, for playing home games during the NBA pre‐season, regular season, and post‐season.

Notice the common theme? All three venues would be owned by the City/County/JPA and leased to the teams. Since this is merely the Project Description of an EIR and not a DDA (Disposition and Development Agreement), it’s not exactly iron-clad. It’s a little strange that the City would continue to want to own and operate these venues, when it has shown frequently over the last 20 years that it’s not all that good at managing venues.

Currently, the structure is set up so that the JPA owns the venues and the land. They collect rents and other revenues and pay for expenses (except for the A’s gameday ops). The JPA is not a “professional management” group, so they hire another company to do that such as AEG or SMG previously. The various agreements with the teams have caused City and County to hemorrhage red ink, whether we’re talking about the ongoing subsidy for the Raiders, the Coliseum’s debt service, or the cloudy nature of the Arena’s debt once the Warriors leave for SF. It’s this difficulty and mismanagement that has caused Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors to be a lot less sanguine about Coliseum City’s prospects than Oakland. Supervisor Keith Carson has been upfront about wanting to get out of the stadium management game.

Now we’re looking at the JPA (or a successor public agency) absorbing billions of additional debt liabilities. Start with at least a half-billion that would cover the infrastructure costs at Coliseum City, plus the $120 million of remaining debt at the existing Coliseum. Add to that $1 billion for the football stadium, $600 million for the ballpark, and probably $700 million for the arena. That amounts to around $3 billion in debt load. Naturally, when dealing with such enormous figures, some questions will arise such as:

  1. How would that debt be structured?
  2. How would City and County taxpayers be protected from shortfalls or defaults, they way they weren’t with Mt. Davis and the redone Arena?
  3. How would the JPA balance out the lease agreements so that no one team benefited more than the others? (This plagued the JPA in the past)

If the City is willing to cover infrastructure costs and pay off the remaining stadium debt, should it also have to go the extra mile to finance these venues? That’s S.O.P. for the NFL (see Santa Clara), but it doesn’t have to be that way. The City & County could say, Look, we’re giving you enough help to get this started, you take it the rest of the way. And the biggest reason to have the JPA do the financing is to provide availability to tax-free bonds. The franchises don’t need that kind of help.

That’s not to say that all publicly-financed stadium deals are terrible. Some of them work out well, like SAP Center and Chase Field. However, the risk the City & County would have to take on is more than a bit much. There are actually multiple privately-financed venues completed over the last 15-20 years: AT&T Park, Gillette Stadium, Staples Center, American Airlines Center. They are also among the most successful venues in their respective sports.

At some point some within Oakland is gonna have to playing hardball and stop giving everything away. If not, maybe they should find new negotiators.

P.S. – Notice how, because all the talks with the Raiders are behind closed doors, there’s little hubbub about them? Contrast that with the very public lease extension talks with the A’s, which only grew more rancorous as they became more public – even though they were over a deal that cost less than $30 million total. No, it makes much more sense to keep quiet on a deal that is worth 100 times as much, right?