27,000

While the A’s enjoy a well-deserved off-day after a most grueling road trip, let me bring your attention to a special event happening on the way back from Tampa Bay.

MLB is hosting a game in Omaha.

Yes, Omaha.

TD Ameritrade Park, well known as the home of the College World Series championship rounds, will host a Tigers-Royals game tonight on ESPN.

The game is considered a sort of warm-up for the CWS, whose championship starts this weekend at TDAP. There’s even talk about potentially scheduling the MLB draft concurrently with the CWS to give the draft a better profile both for baseball fans and draftees. While the path from the draft to the majors isn’t as clearcut as in basketball or football, baseball has been working to make the draft a higher profile event. What better way to do that than to dovetail with the premier annual amateur baseball competition? To be honest, I don’t know why they haven’t done it yet.

As for tonight’s matchup, I bring it to your attention because of the venue, naturally. I wrote about TDAP when it opened in 2011, thinking that I would see a game there eventually, maybe the CWS. The weeknight scheduling of the Tigers-Royals game made flying in problematic, so it’ll have to be some other time. Tonight the weather is good for a not-quite-summer ballgame.

TDAP was built primarily to host the CWS, and has done so capably after replacing venerated Rosenblatt Stadium. (Read my writeup from 8 years ago if you want the details on its development.) The park holds 24,505 seats, which curiously is close to the 27,000 advertised by BIG for the Howard Terminal ballpark. No, that doesn’t mean MLB is on its way to Omaha for more than this brief stop anytime soon, but it should start a proper conversation about how much stadium the A’s need now and into the future.

Inside TD Ameritrade Park Omaha Photo by Collinulness

Above is a picture of a building that holds 24,000-plus. The A’s are planning a structure that is similarly-sized, with the addition of a magnificent roof deck that could hold 10,000 more. When I compared the two visions, I came to the conclusion that Howard Terminal is essentially TDAP with fancier accommodations and a fancier roof above. The A’s have been careful not to say how much the park will cost, only that it’s privately financed. Where the financing will come from is still a bit of a mystery, but like with Fremont, it’s likely to come from real estate sales and leases.

And that aspect of it – the upzoning and turnover of a bunch of real estate – makes it just as important to know how much the construction bill will be. Because in the end, folks, A’s fans will be paying for the tickets, suites, and concession items. The real estate aspect is an indirect subsidy. Granted, that’s not as bad as having a bond issue backed by tax revenues. But it’s still a subsidy, and it’s worth asking if everyone from the City and Port to the A’s and A’s fans are getting a good deal on this. Whatever the A’s are planning, it can’t possibly be a better deal than $131 million spent on TDAP. Even if you double that budget to add MLB facilities and that roof deck and account for inflation, the total cost is probably less than $400 million. That’s a lot less than the numbers I’m hearing now. Especially once you add in the gondola.

The A’s had an economic impact report released recently. Yesterday they were scolded by Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan for repeatedly holding rallies outside of key votes in Oakland and Sacramento. The Council approved the motions on the two bills, with a clear message that they aren’t going to be rushed into rubber stamping Howard Terminal.

The saga continues.

P.S. – During my hospital stay in Phoenix, I encountered a number of alums from Creighton University, which has the fortune of playing their home schedule at TDAP. Creighton’s building a branch of their medical school right next to that hospital. For the Creighton baseball team back in Omaha, it’s not a bad place to call home.

More new Howard Terminal renderings

An alert reader pointed me over to the Bjarke Ingels Group’s website, where the page for the A’s project was recently updated. Many of the images are the same as what you’ve seen here and in the traditional media. There are a few new ones that I found interesting, so I grabbed them for discussion here.

First, a new view. This is is a reverse angle from what you’ve seen previously, elevated and facing east. Note that the entire Howard Terminal pier remains intact, which means the bite hasn’t been taken out of it for the turning basin.

Next is an image you’ve seen before from the ferry pier, only it’s shrouded in fog.

The camera gets pulled back for this one, with the new rounder shape. Strangely, from this angle it appears that the bowl is better suited for a baseball field to be oriented to the west.

The close-up of the facade is cool. I like the way it undulates. As this is envisioned to be part of a “ballpark within a park” I can appreciate this kind of openness. Pulling that off in practice is another matter.

What we have here is the party deck in the left field corner. I like the wood details and the Oakland logo, though I think it might look better if it was burned in instead of painted.

Lastly, we have the incline in left going up to the roof deck. It’s not known exactly how tall the roof will be. The A’s are asking for up to 150 feet building height for the ballpark, so that may provide a hint. The way to think of it is this: It should be at least as tall as the front row of the Mt. Davis upper deck.

One more thing. The description slide says that the ballpark will have 27,000 seats plus 10,000 standing room. Most of the SRO admissions will be on that roof deck. I did the party pass SRO admission at a Dallas Cowboys game a couple years ago, and I can say that once you get past three deep you have no view at all (especially for us vertically challenged folks). Same could be the case at this park, especially because the roof deck in foul territory won’t have an incline or risers. Maybe they’ll allow people to climb trees.

New Howard Terminal renderings released, Port Board Approves Tentative Agreement

We’ve got some new renderings. Seven, in fact.

First, the approach. The “picket fence” exterior treatment helps define the stadium better than previous renderings.

Walk inside the gate and down the approach, which like FanFest should be full of tents and booths. For now, it’s not. I remember the nearly religious experience I had walking to Target Field. This would be Seventh Heaven.

I haven’t seen this before, so I should bring it up: the next rendering is what it would look like as you stepped off the ferry dock coming from Alameda, San Francisco, or elsewhere in the Bay.

Next is a night view. Field of Schemes’ Neil de Mause noted how there are more cranes present on the property. That is despite the notion that the cranes would be more-or-less ornamental. There’s a touch of irony to that, given the opposition to the ballpark project coming from the shipping industry.

Nevertheless, the Port’s Board voted 7-0 last week to approve a tentative plan for the ballpark and ancillary development. The Port snuck in an amendment calling for the shipping interests and the A’s put together a working agreement to prevent the baseball games from interfering with Port operations. Both sides are digging in for the fight. The preliminary term sheet calls for the A’s to take four years to complete the EIR, all negotiations and site plans.

Some fans are irked by news outlets not updating file photos to reflect the A’s ever-evolving plans. As a stadium geek, I appreciate that thirst. But honestly, that’s missing the forest for the trees. The ballpark is now on its third revision and will undoubtedly undergo more before a shovel is in the ground. What’s important now is that the ballpark stays in the news. So far it’s doing fine in that regard. What personally irks me is that from the beginning, the renderings have generally eschewed basic safety requirements. The rendering above doesn’t have the fences in the outfield or padded walls along foul territory. The next rendering has no railings.

I recognize that simple things like railings and fences tend to be aesthetically annoying clutter. Yet they’re going to be in there if it gets built. It’s the law. There’s no getting around it. So show us what it’s really supposed to look like instead of the fancy marketing push. I’m sure it’s just a layer in the drawing, folks. Just turn it on. By the way, the previous image is the best one yet by far.

One thing that slightly bothers me about the new renderings is that the shrinking of Howard Terminal to accommodate the widened turning basin is not incorporated. Not only does the transformation take away a chunk of the land, it changes the skyline and reduces the amount of available open space. If the shipping industry accepts the wider basin in exchange for ceasing their resistance to the ballpark (no guarantee there), the waterfront would itself undergo some serious changes. The ballpark would effectively sit on a small peninsula jutting out into the Estuary, which frankly is pretty cool even if there likely won’t be splash hits.

The other thing that makes me concerned for the lack of completeness in these renderings is the missing infrastructure. You can see it in the site plans, whether we’re talking about a new ramp to the Adeline overpass or the new bridge to extend MLK Jr. Way over the tracks one block from the ballpark. As fans, we should see what those pieces of infrastructure will look like and how they will affect vehicular traffic flow, pedestrian circulation, and trains running through the area. We don’t even see the gondola on these, even though an animation has already been created. If the team doesn’t put the infrastructure in there, it’s harder to estimate the cost.

I’m aware that much of what I’m requesting will eventually be revealed in the Draft EIR, whether that comes out in the summer or later. Regardless, it’s up to fans and the media to keep pushing for answers. Stadiums appear to be becoming more disposable with each generation, but we should still look for something that lasts, like the 52+ years (51 for the A’s) on the decrepit yet still standing Oakland Coliseum.

To make Howard Terminal work it may have to shrink

You may not be aware that the year-long ENA (Exclusive Negotiating Agreement) started by the A’s and the Port of Oakland expired last week with little notice or fanfare. The pressure was on to get something out to the public, and so the Port did in the form of a preliminary term sheet for the A’s to occupy the dormant Howard Terminal. The Port’s Board is expected to vote on the term sheet on May 13.

We’ll get into business details in the coming week. For now, I’d like to focus on a single drawing of the revised site plan. In the plan, some additional areas are defined. It basically looks like someone took a bite out of the site.

Click to enlarge

According to the term sheet, the bite (southwest corner defined by the purple lines) amounts to six acres. That’s what’s being offered by the A’s and the Port in order to foster cooperation from the ILWU and shipping interests. Once the A’s give up the acreage, the Estuary’s turning basin inside the Inner Harbor could be expanded to help attract container mega-ships.

Matier and Ross pointed out the A’s offer today. The idea could in theory bring the shipping interests and associated labor on board. Their stance is that they’re threatened by encroaching development. The argument against them is that Howard Terminal itself remains dormant, outdated, and not equipped to handle the new generation of container ships, which the Port badly wants. At the same time, the shippers that would be best positioned to handle the enormous mega-ships the Port covets are situated along the inner harbor, west of Howard Terminal.

If the Port anticipates this new wave of container ships, it might behoove them to facilitate a deal to expand the turning basin outside of Howard Terminal to accommodate those new ships. That could be a vital piece to getting the Matson and SSA on board. However, that’s only part of the story. This kind of change would effectively consolidate the seaport operations along the waterfront, which might make it seem like the Port loses valuable waterfront while it gains greater efficiency for the existing shippers in the process.

Turning basin

Questions remain about how the Port and City would handle the traffic for both vehicles and trains coming through the area. The EIR should answer much of that. Yet one other party to all of this Estuary action has been silent through all the hubbub last week. Schnitzer Steel has the one privately owned parcel, right next to Howard Terminal. And if you look at how it’s laid out, it stands to reason that it too would have to be reduced or reconfigured to allow for the wider turning basin.

Schnitzer Steel with Howard Terminal to the east

Schnitzer actually wanted part of Howard Terminal when the terminal parcel became available. The Port wasn’t interested in parting out Howard Terminal, so that bid went nowhere. Schnitzer has a dock with a conveyor arm extending out separately from the shore. What if Schnitzer doesn’t want to reconfigure their facility, especially if a bunch of housing is going to be built a few hundred feet away? The solution would appear to be some sort of land swap, in which Schnitzer sells its property to the Port and gets relocated somewhere else on Port property that also has waterfront access.

Outer Harbor Berths 33 & 34 provide 16 acres

It just so happens there is such a property along the outer harbor, Berths 33 & 34, where such a swap could conceivably take place. Berths 33 & 34 are available for lease. Whether such a swap is practical or feasible is something for the EIR process to figure out, though Schnitzer holds the cards and they could charge a great deal for the hassle. The track record of the A’s paying top dollar to help neighbors vacate is not great to say the least. If all these things line up – changing the Port designation, legislation for the land swap, moving costs for Schnitzer, and the infrastructure changes needed to make it all work – then the A’s have a shot. Rest assured that next week’s vote isn’t the first step. That step was taken years ago.

Intransigence

As part of the expanded in-house audio coverage of the A’s, the team launched a new podcast covering ballpark matters. The first installment of The Build features A’s President Dave Kaval being interviewed by Chris Townsend. Included in the discussion is the following Kaval quote:

It’s just really important that people understand that we’re going to be responsible about environmental cleanup. That we’re going to take an industrial area and repurpose it just like San Francisco with AT&T Park or Oracle Park.

I’m sure this has been communicated to the various community groups the A’s are corresponding with. I hadn’t heard it quite so publicly stated until now.

I just wonder how effective this strategy will be.

Every time the A’s start on a new ballpark project, they encounter some sort of resistance. And without fail, that resistance tends to be minimized, only to eventually derail the A’s efforts. Or as Ken Arneson recently tweeted:

The script should be rather familiar by now. The A’s release news of a new site they’re interested in. Then someone mentions a process-related NIMBY issue in an article. The team says everything’s fine and everyone’s being heard, all while opposition mounts. Eventually the team moves on to the next dream site, sometimes scaling back the vision, sometimes expanding it. This happened at the Coliseum North site, then at Fremont, followed by San Jose, and finally the Peralta/Laney site. It’s practically like clockwork.

What concerns me is that the word you rarely hear in these public talks is the one word needed to forge a deal: compromise. It’s almost as if the strategy is that local government or a court will step in and rule for the A’s. There’s rarely any talk about how it could affect entrenched parties. I’ve heard a lot comments to the tune of, It’s hard but was it as hard as X? At this point, whether it’s harder than “X” is largely academic. If it’s hard enough to kill the project, that’s enough, and try as we might deign to understand the process, we can still have a very difficult time with those implications if we maintain blind spots. The one real effort to compromise with the Port pledged by the A’s so far is their willingness to remove several acres of land at Howard Terminal in order to expand the turning basin in the Inner Harbor. I’m surprised at how little press this has received so far, since it could significantly transform the shoreline along the Estuary and maritime uses. Schnitzer Steel could be affected as well, though how much isn’t clear.

Port interests have been upfront that redevelopment of Howard Terminal threatens their operations and livelihood. Perhaps that’s an overreaction, especially if the Port itself isn’t running at capacity. However, there is an argument that giving up shoreline from a purely commercial (real estate) interest is short-sighted.

About Kaval’s comment, I mentioned redevelopment last June when a fire at Schnitzer Steel broke out:

AT&T Park was made possible by the closure and decommissioning of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco after Loma Prieta, which allowed the city to remake the entire waterfront from Mission Bay to Broadway.

The A’s aren’t asking to reform the Oakland waterfront the way the SF waterfront was redone after the earthquake. But if port interests feel threatened by even the hint of a transformation, you have to understand the history of the Port. The Oakland waterfront became a thriving industrial area thanks in part to San Francisco giving up industry on its inner bayside shoreline. Accessible shoreline for large ships and boats doesn’t grow on trees. Short-term concerns, such as impacts on heavy truck and rail traffic, have gotten vague suggestions for accommodation so far. Meanwhile, the Port continues to expand its operations thanks to its takeover and cleanup of the old Oakland Army Base.

Click to enlarge

In the map above, you’ll see that the Oakland shoreline is mostly divided into three zones. The maritime area, where traditional port operations take place, is in West Oakland. The commercial sector covers the Acorn neighborhood south of the 880-980 split through Jack London Square and out to Brooklyn Basin and Jingletown and East Oakland. The airport is its own economic engine. What we’re really talking about, then, is a sort of zoning turf war, with the commercial sector encroaching upon the maritime operations even as the maritime area itself expanded over the last twenty years.

That is the struggle the Port commissioners are dealing with. It may come to a head in the next few weeks, according to Port Commission President Ces Butner:

“It will be up to us to make a decision, both on the financial impact and on whether the ballpark fits in with the port,” Butner said. “We are not going to cause the terminals any financial hardships. We are not going to step on our own throat.”

Butner said a decision will be made hopefully by the end of April.

“Unlike politicians, we will not be kicking the can down the road,” he said.

Butner, who a couple years ago saved Speakeasy Brewing after the company shut down, could help determine the fate of another treasured Bay Area institution.

Howard Terminal Site Plan: First Look

In case you’ve been unable (unwilling?) to peruse the presentation given to the BCDC on Howard Terminal last week, go get it. Now.

While you’re waiting for that to download, I’ll go through some of the important slides. First, let’s look at how the ballpark is situated on the 55-acre site.

Site: Ballpark only

That’s a lot of space to the west, right? While there won’t be splash hits, it looks pretty snug in the Southwest corner there. From the looks of things, BIG may have placed it as far southeast as possible while maintaining the orientation and the preferred street grid.

Street grid, you ask? There’s one of those, too.

Site Plan: Full buildout

All the blank space is filled in, with streets and potential heights for ancillary buildings. Most are up to 200 feet tall, some are 300 feet tall, and one is listed at 400 feet tall. What would that look like if you were standing on the shoreline? The next slide should give you a sense of it.

Cutaway for building and stadium scale

This will be the one of many red flags for a lot of people. Nothing in the Jack London Square approaches that scale. Even the ballpark, which by itself would be the tallest building in the neighborhood, is absolutely dwarfed by the condos and suites to the west. Like what happened with Brooklyn Basin, location is everything. And this location is on the shore.

History of Howard Terminal shoreline

In the image above you can see how much the shoreline has changed, from the 1877-surveyed shoreline in green to the extended beach and wharf area, completed over 20 years ago. The sticky part is that the orange areas were built for port commercial purposes, not for housing, parkland, or office buildings.

Overlay of site history and ballpark site

I overlaid the ballpark site to get a sense of where it would fit in a historical context. The problem here is that the ballpark will be on bay fill. Will the BCDC and the State approve a completely different purpose for the land? We have two historical cases of this. At China Basin it worked out for the Giants. At Piers 30-32 the Warriors faced resistance and moved their concept a mile south.

One other thing to consider is the lack of public space. The second image in the post, titled Open Space & Public Access, shows which areas would be available. The concept for this goes back all the way to the original Fremont concept in 2006. I’m guessing there are 12-15 acres available, plus the roof deck, which I calculate to be 1.5-2 acres on its own. For reference, Brooklyn Basin is 64 acres, of which 30 acres is set aside as open space. I don’t see how the amount of open space identified for Howard Terminal will pass muster, unless everyone decides that the overriding necessity is the new housing over everything else, enough to indirectly subsidize the ballpark.

Site Plan for Howard Terminal released

I’m assembling a bunch of thoughts about the new renderings unveiled at the BCDC session earlier this week. For now I picked out one snippet which I’ll share here.

You can see the rooftop park above the ballpark to the right. A potentially 300-foot tall building is to the left. What’s that on the top?

More seats! Would those count as part of the park’s daily attendance figures, or are they they suites for the ultra-wealthy? Take a guess.

What’s really interesting is that the 300′ building isn’t alone. Behind home plate, there will be another building, 400 feet tall. I figured it would be worth showing what that might look like.

If it matters, the current tallest building in Oakland is the Ordway Building, home of Kaiser Permanente, and near Kaiser Center and the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

More thoughts over the weekend.