Patience, Grasshoppers

Two bills supporting the Howard Terminal ballpark project are now on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk, thanks to their safe passage through the state legislature. You haven’t heard much static during this part of the process, which is unique to California. CEQA regulations make it tough for big projects like stadia to get to the groundbreaking stage, which has created a new environment where CEQA exemptions are allowed to shorten that process. Despite those efforts, the process remains largely the same.

We’re where those four arrows point on the right, 1/3 of the way up (I added the green arrow)

A lot of the process happens in parallel, especially the items on the left side of the cart. There is a draft version of the EIR that’s scheduled to be released sometime in October. A’s President Dave Kaval gave select media members a tour of the Howard Terminal site earlier in the week where he walked them through much of the rest of the process. The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson documented some of those next steps well, so you should take a look at it. If you can’t see that, I’ll sum it up.

  • October: Draft EIR published
  • March 2020: City Council vote
  • December 2020: Groundbreaking?

Of course, there are numerous important steps between fall of this year and spring of next year, or spring and winter of next year. As you all know from reading this blog, the devil’s in the details. I didn’t hear much about lobbying efforts from the shipping industry, though they kept up their occasional media assault on the project. I imagine the shippers are lining up their arrows for the draft EIR, which should create its own sort of postseason fireworks. The legislation stuff is the easy part.

About that legislation, Governor Newsom has until October 13 to sign it. That shouldn’t be a big deal, with the only real complication being the presence of other more important bills for Newsom to sign. You see, the biggest achievement was already earned when area legislators chose to write these bills to create exemptions for Howard Terminal. It’s hard to find vocal opposition these days, especially now that the bulk of stadium projects in California are privately financed, which means there are no direct subsidies or tax measures involved in the venues’ construction. If you’re a legislator, are you going to say no to a private business looking to invest and you don’t have to put up anything yourself? Or be the c*ckblocker for some other city?

Well, about that. There will undoubtedly be debate about the infrastructure part of the plan, which is still mostly unsettled and requires fleshing out. For instance, Mayor Libbby Schaaf indicated that she’d be willing to put up to $200 million of the City’s money towards this infrastructure. Some of that will go towards new sidewalks in a part of town that doesn’t have many of those, or new pedestrian or vehicular bridges to go over the train tracks that run next to the site. How much will go towards dealing with the demands of the shipping and trucking companies in West Oakland? And how much of the beautification aspects of the project will be confined to Howard Terminal itself, as opposed to the nearby areas?

Take the picture below. It depicts the ground level of Margaret T. Hance Park, an urban park in Phoenix.

Margaret T. Hance Park (Phoenix) looking west

What you don’t see is that underneath it is Interstate 10, which runs right through central Phoenix from east to west. The park itself was built atop a series of bridges and decks to connect downtown Phoenix to midtown and points north over the freeway, which in this area was once called the Deck Park Tunnel. Hard to tell from the photo, right? The park is 32.5 acres in size and is flanked by new apartments and condos, an arts district, and a library. Some of you are probably thinking that this is the approach that should be taken with the tracks along the Embarcadero, or I-980 if/when it’s decommissioned as a freeway. If that happens, it’s many, many steps down the road and will cost billions, so I wouldn’t get too excited about the prospects of either. Still, it’s nice to consider the possibilities.

Specific and Incomplete

While most A’s fans were spending most of the weekend wondering how exactly the A’s could survive the rest of the regular season and postseason despite a patchwork bullpen, I started digging into new documents released by the City of Oakland. We’re talking about the Downtown Oakland Specific Plan, EIR, and EIR appendices, light reading totaling over 1,600 pages. For those who have some experienced reading such docs, that size shouldn’t be a surprise.

1,600 pages allows for over 100 mentions of Howard Terminal. However, for the purposes of the Specific Plan, Howard Terminal is not considered part of Downtown. It remains part of West Oakland.

Howard Terminal as “Future Potential Development Site” (see legend)

Howard Terminal is literally next to what’s defined as downtown and will have major effects on Downtown. A comment by Vivian Kahn of Oakland planning firm Dyett & Bhatia lays out the issue accordingly:

The proposed Howard Terminal project will obviously have a significant impact on the Specific Plan area and, in particular, the Jack London District. While the previous drafts of planning docs for the Specific Plan went on at length about the potential benefits the stadium and associated development would bring to the Jack London District, this version states that Howard Terminal is “outside the plan boundary.”

So “Downtown” per the Specific Plan looks like this:

Something’s missing here

You’d think that, given the amount of time the City and the Port have used the mull the idea of a ballpark at Howard Terminal, they would at least include the parcel in their study. Rather, the documents are evidence of the City trying to have its cake and it eat it too. The idea is that if a ballpark is approved, it would create spillover development in nearby blocks. The implication is that with a ballpark Howard Terminal would be annexed into Downtown at a later point. If a ballpark isn’t built, Howard Terminal remains part of West Oakland as if no speculation nor ancillary activity will happen. To me, that sounds foolhardy at best. Are the only alternatives at HT the ballpark or the lower-impact maritime use the Port utilizes currently? Some creativity is in order. The quotes below acknowledge how impactful the ballpark project will be.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Howard Terminal is undergoing its own CEQA process and the City will put out a draft EIR shortly. Changes approved by the Port, City, and BCDC should influence downstream changes in Downtown Oakland Specific Plan, the West Oakland Specific Plan (last updated 2014), and the Estuary Policy Plan (1999). 20 years is an eternity in Bay Area planning, so all of these documents merit serious updates.

Activity areas loosely defined

It doesn’t take much work to see Market Street gentrifying in much the same way Broadway has, with Howard Terminal as its southern anchor. I’ve heard two types of responses to this. Some fans welcome the expansion of Downtown to Howard Terminal and the bonanza it would bring. Others are decidedly more wary of gentrification. One fan even tried to educate me on where Howard Terminal was.

Of course, I had to correct that missed assessment. Look, I get that the ballpark could be huge for Oakland. It’s why John Fisher has the whole A’s staff in line behind Howard Terminal. But let’s be honest about what we’re dealing with here. Howard Terminal, combined with the Coliseum redevelopment, looks like a massive land grab. The A’s have tried to disassociate the two projects. The problem with trying to say they’re not connected is that only the Coliseum is approved for development now. The staging of Howard Terminal has the ballpark coming in first, followed by development surrounding the ballpark that could stretch out perhaps decades and has many steps before plans are approved. The Coliseum is the financial bridge to get there. That’s fine if that’s the intent, just be honest with everyone about it, and not use A’s fans to communicate it out through the community.

When Danny Glover spoke at Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland on Saturday, he mentioned gentrification a lot. He said that West Oakland could be transformed into San Francisco East. That sounds a lot like what happened to Brooklyn or what’s in progress in Long Island City in Queens. Gentrification has a creeping effect. In some cases there’s an argument that it’s needed to clean up neighborhoods or make them more livable. There is a flip side to that coin, in that those very same neighborhoods can become less livable for some because they’re less affordable. Glover was recently in two films that covered the current era of technology and gentrification: Boots Riley’s 2018 film Sorry to Bother You (set in Oakland) and Joe Talbot’s/Jimmie Fails’ 2019 film The Last Black Man in San Francisco (set in SF’s Fillmore and Hunters Point).

Here’s another tidbit from the DOSP:

Bottom line: If you think gentrification is not a factor in all of this, you are in willful, total denial. Be prepared for the backlash.

P.S. – San Jose took steps to annex the Diridon site as part of its Greater Downtown initiative in 2011. Nearly a decade later, Google is set to swallow all of the newly annexed area (save for the arena) whole. That’s gentrification for you.

Planning for an emptier nest

The Raiders played their final and only preseason home game at the Coliseum last week. Thanks to the Winnipeg debacle last week and the Raiders’ London trip in October, the Coliseum field will have two months of unmolested bliss before the baseball season ends. Come November, the Raiders and their backloaded home schedule takes over, and when 2019 turns the page to 2020, Mark Davis won’t have to deal with those real pricks in Oakland anymore. anymore.

Over the last month, the Warriors packed their own moving trucks to leave Oakland Arena. Curious, I asked if anyone knew what happened to the Warriors team store at the club level entrance. I quickly got an answer.

That spot, mere feet from the A’s Executive Offices at the arena, seems like a good location for a year-round A’s team store. The sharing relationship for the regular stores at the C and D gates has long been uncomfortable, as the A’s usually had to clear out the stores to make way for the Raiders in the fall, while the Raiders had a more permanent storefront on the other side of 880. The Raiders would have to vacate the C/D gate team stores in the winter. This time it will be permanent.

The departure of the Dubs and Raiders gives the JPA and the A’s quite a bit of additional freedom to operate. The A’s could negotiate a multi-year lease to have a permanent team store location in the space vacated by the Dubs. Alternately, the A’s could install a pop-up store for use during the rest of the 2019 season. Either way would be a big improvement and would complement Championship Plaza, which has remarkably transformed into a feature attraction of its own.

The other scuttlebutt I’ve heard about the Coliseum is that the bullpens will be moved from their current home in foul territory to spaces in fair territory beyond the outfield walls. The details of this aren’t clear yet. Maybe they’ll replace the stairs with the pens. Perhaps the BBQ Terrace sections past the foul poles will have pens carved out of them. Or maybe there’s space in left and right center. Wherever they end up, the fences in front of the pens are expected to be replaced with plexiglas or chain link.

2012 Game 162

We as A’s fans have been conditioned to love the bullpens despite their inherent disadvantages. They take up a lot of space that could be used for other purposes. The bus stop-style sheltered benches encourage banter between the staffs and fans, though sometimes that goes too far. If the pens are moved, I have a hunch that those areas will be turned into field clubs/party boxes like Tropicana Field.

Rays’ bullpen party area is a tribute to a different Game 162

If this were to happen, how would you like to see this executed? I’ll insert a poll question below shortly.

Oakland Coliseum, Population: 1

This morning I went into the wayback machine to find out how many times I had written about Scott McKibben. The answer: 4, all in 2014 and 2015. McKibben previously was the head of the Rose Bowl and would, presumably, provide some professionalism to the Coliseum JPA, which had no one in the executive director role for six years. He was hired in early 2015. He abruptly resigned last week after reports indicated that he negotiated an additional $50,000 finder’s fee from the three-year, $3 million naming rights deal with RingCentral.

We’ll see if the other shoe drops and the City and County decide to get litigious. For now, let’s consider what’s happened on Scott McKibben’s watch.

  • Warriors announced move to SF’s Mission Bay site in 2014, after initially announcing a move to Piers 30-32 in 2012
  • Raiders announced move to Vegas in early 2017
  • A’s announce intent to move to Howard Terminal in 2018

Throughout all of this, McKibben was being paid upwards of $250,000 per year. What was he getting paid for again? Prior to the McKibben hire, AEG was brought in to replace SMG as the complex operator. AEG has been to the key to more bookings on the calendar for both the arena and the stadium. McKibben doesn’t deserve blame for the Warriors and Raiders moves, as those decisions were way over his head. Yet there is precious little to replace 8+ NFL games and 41+ NBA games. Plus, as Chase Center establishes itself as the Bay Area’s premier arena for concerts (13 during the opening month of September, 30 through the rest of the year), the JPA and AEG are scrambling to fill dates at the renamed Oakland Arena. Speaking of the name, that also unceremoniously traveled across the bay to the ballpark at China Basin. Thankfully, an arbitrator ruled that the Warriors have to pay the remaining $40 million of debt on the Oakland Arena, though the Raiders settled a much more favorable outcome on their behalf. I would feel bad for McKibben, but he’s the same guy who in 2017 tried to jump ship to the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, only for the JPA to give him a raise to lure him back. The raise was $50,000. That’s a totally “professional” move if I ever heard one. Regardless, he’ll land on his feet.

Since the Warriors and Raiders announced their exodus, no teams have been brought in to fill their enormous gaps they will leave behind. The closest the JPA got is some talk at the beginning of this year about an Indoor Football League franchise. The new Oakland franchise would be owned by Roy Choi (not that one), who also owns IFL franchises in San Diego and Cedar Rapids. San Diego’s team didn’t do great on the field or at the gate this year, pulling in only 300 fans for its season finale a couple months ago. The sordid history of of indoor football deserves a proper book treatment, maybe even a TV show or film. I’ve heard many colorful stories. I’d still like to know the full story of why the Fry brothers chose not to move forward with the San Jose Sabercats even after they won their fourth championship. Other than Oakland’s arena football dalliance, there has been no talk about fielding other team sports. No WNBA team despite Rebecca Kaplan’s cheerleading for it.. No G-League team as the Dubs chose Santa Cruz instead. No other fringe team sports like roller hockey, indoor lacrosse, or team tennis. At the Coliseum last year there was a bid by an East Bay group to convert the entire shooting match into a soccer complex flanked by the existing arena and a new ballpark. That went nowhere fast.

AEG may not be blameless for this situation. The company makes its money by filling dates and selling concessions, and for a venue operator fringe sports don’t make a lot of money to piggyback from. There is a line where it might make more sense to leave dates empty instead of actively trying to fill the arena to only 5,000 or so. For an outdoor stadium that requirement scales much larger due to the minimum staffing needs for given events.

What do you have when all the kids are leaving you with an empty nest? The only thing that’s worth anything these days is land. There’s plenty of it off Hegenberger, 110-155 acres depending on who you ask, 800 total when you include the land stretching across the Nimitz toward the airport.. There are also sweet, sweet entitlements to cash in if anyone’s interested. That’s why the A’s are sticking around at the Coliseum through 2023. As long as they are a tenant, they could exercise the right to build 3,000+ homes and 4 million square feet of commercial and office space. If that sounds like Coliseum City, that’s because it is. The A’s heard the questions about the confusion over the need to develop both Howard Terminal and the Coliseum. At a social media influencers forum last week, they said that the Coliseum isn’t needed, that the two projects are separate. There’s a timing problem with that position, since the only entitlements available right now are at the Coliseum. The only thing that can generate the cash the A’s are seeking to fund the ballpark is at the Coliseum. Ancillary development at HT is undergoing the approval process. It’s part of the long tail. Scratch that, l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g tail.

From the Coliseum Final Specific Plan, 2015

Now the awkwardness begins. The A’s plan to leave the Coliseum just like the other teams are doing, only they get to cash in on those sweet, sweet entitlements. Personally, I agree that they don’t need them. They have 40-55 acres at HT they can leverage if everything goes to plan. A redevelopment plan at the Coliseum is already approved. It’ll take time to bring in reopen the bidding process and bring the right uses in. That’s exactly what should happen. No shortcuts.

If everything doesn’t go to plan, the Coliseum remains a good backup plan. As we’ve used this joke ad nauseam, we’re talking about the A’s. There is no Plan B. It’s the best dad joke I’ve ever heard.

2020 Travel Grid

As promised yesterday, here is the latest Travel Grid. The usual conventions are in place, such as sending the northeastern teams to the Sun Belt during the first weeks of the season to avoid rainouts, or the stuffing of the summer months with trips from the West Coast teams to the East Coast. The aforementioned international games (April 28-30 in Puerto Rico, June 13-14 in England) are italicized in the PDF versions. Without further ado, here are the links:

  • PDF (poster one-sheet)
  • PDF (multi-page)
  • XLSX (Excel 2016)
  • CSV (comma-delimited)

In the past I’ve tried to consolidate all of the schedules from Spring Training and the minor leagues to create an extra special “All Baseball” schedule. Why? I’d like to see if I could catch a game in every professionally affiliated ballpark in the span of six or seven months. The release dates of the minors tends to fluctuate as we head towards the fall. If I get leads on those I’ll give it a shot.

P.S. – Coincidentally, the NBA released its 2019-20 schedule yesterday as well. That could open a new world of possibilities.

 

First glimpse of 2020 MLB schedule

It’s that time of the year again. Back to School sales have started, we’re getting close to the Little League World Series, and MLB provided its first taste of the 2020 schedule. The downloadable schedule isn’t available yet, so I’ll either scrape the new schedule or wait for the download to be released. While we’re all waiting for that and for the 2020 Travel Grid, I compiled some notes about the schedule.

Opening Day is Thursday, March 26. I’m still not a big fan of the “Opening Weekend” realignment of the schedules put in place years ago, but it’s more necessary now to fit in the required off days and travel days, so I’ll begrudgingly accept it. Besides the second edition of the London Series (Cubs-Cardinals, June 13-14), there’s also Mets-Marlins in Puerto Rico, April 28-30 in San Juan. There’s no series in Japan or elsewhere in Asia or the Western Pacific this time. The Rangers are opening Globe Life Field (not Globe Life Park, that’s the current one) next year, and the A’s hit the road to battle both the Rangers and Astros in both late April and late May.

The road trip to circle on next year’s calendar is a three-city venture in August to visit the Bronx, the nation’s Capitol, and Beantown (August 6-16). That includes a day off and ample time to take in plenty of other sights and attractions on the Eastern seaboard. That day off, August 13, also happens to be planned date at Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA. The Field of Dreams game will be played at a 8,000-seat makeshift stadium featuring the Yankees and White Sox.

That month of August looks grueling, since the three-city, ten-day road trip will be followed by a short weeklong homestand and then another road trip for the A’s to visit Atlanta and then Toronto. That month will make or break the A’s.

More notes and the Travel Grid to come.

You Are The Experiment

As some of you may have heard, I took a trip from the scorching desert to the relatively cool Bay Area, partly to catch the last two games of the Rangers series. After Thursday’s and Friday’s episodes showcased lackluster performances, it was wonderful to watch the A’s kick it into gear and finish with a split. On the way, I met with old and new friends, which only enhanced the experience.

I attended Saturday’s game on whim after I visited a friend I hadn’t seen in person in 20 years. The biggest impact for me, now that I’ve been away from the Bay regularly for a few years, is how vast and difficult this area is to navigate. Unless I prefer being in transit for half a day, it’s best to pick an neighborhood where I’m likely to hang out and visit friends, then stick to that area. Of course, since I have friends I’d like to visit in all four official “parts” of the Bay plus Santa Cruz, I usually have to pick and choose my battles. Otherwise I’m doomed to be stuck in transit. My friend works at Stanford, so we spent time walking around the campus.

Back to Saturday’s game. It was a fireworks night with a Pixar theme, so I was prepared for a big crowd. The announced attendance was 36,468, and from the packed concourses and the patterns of seats filled I observed in the park, the number looked accurate. I had a field reserved seat in 127, which I gave up late in the game to watch the finish from the upper deck. (I stopped sitting in the bleachers years ago, especially when the upper deck reopened in limited form and then completely.) Overall, it was a fairly typical Coliseum experience.

Sunday’s game was different. Before the game I took the early Capitol Corridor train from Santa Clara to Jack London Square. It took 13 minutes to walk from the Amtrak platform to the approximate east plaza of Howard Terminal at Clay and Water Streets. Google Maps estimates the walk to take only 9 minutes, but I intentionally took the pedestrian bridge over the tracks, as fans would be encouraged to do on game idea. The bridge, which takes riders some three stories over the tracks to meet Federal Rail Administration height requirements, was responsible for the extra 4 minutes. And in case people start thinking they can chance a crossing of an active rail line, I bring to your attention A’s COO Chris Giles’ recent video of his attempting to leave the A’s corporate offices at JLS, only the be delayed by not one, but TWO, trains.

Fencing, which already exists at the station to prevent pedestrian crossings, will be required at Howard Terminal, though trying to get 25,000 fans to do the right thing and take the more time-consuming bridge will be a task. 4 minutes shouldn’t matter, but you can’t discount someone being in a hurry, drunk, or both.

My buddy, educator and theater writer David Chavez, was kind enough to offer me one of his club seats with the A’s Access benefits that provides. It was also Root Beer Float Day, which for me meant I could enter the park early like other fans. As usual, the East Side Club (split into the branded Treehouse and Stomping Ground areas) was packed, reminiscent of FanFest. I’m not an autograph hound, so I went to the various media tables to get float refills (pro-tip) after I paid $5 for a commemorative mug. Shortly before first pitch I surveyed the crowd. Later I found out the announced attendance was 18,906. It seemed like that entire crowd was crammed into the East Side Club before the game. Situations like that make me wonder how expansive similar facilities will be at the next ballpark. Would everything be housed in a club, or a regular concourse, or even the outfield plaza the A’s are planning? The ESC is 40,000 square feet, which sounds large at first glance. It’s roughly the size of half a football field.

Belly full of diet root beer and vanilla ice cream, I didn’t think much of using the $10 concessions/merchandise credit on my ticket, despite David’s cajoling. Late in the game I felt somewhat hungry, so I went into the club. The fancy brick oven pizza stand was closed. It was already the bottom of the 7th, so beer was pretty much ruled out (I don’t drink much these days). I ended up getting a nachos helmet, of which I only finished half. The $10 credit wasn’t going to be enough for the food except David swooped in to claim the 50% All Access Pass discount. Along with a bottled water I paid nothing. While I appreciated the discounts, the program felt a bit over complicated as I wasn’t clear if my ticket or Dave’s pass had to be scanned first. I didn’t think it was a big deal to save a few bucks. It would’ve meant more to me if I were attending 20+ times a season.

Monday, the A’s announced that they are tweaking the Access plan to make it easier to exchange tickets and bring in guests. So far it looks like this (click graphic to expand):

10 game plan

24 game plan

Full Season plan

The big immediate take away is that the Plaza Club sections (212-214) have been folded into the Plaza Infield area. The transformation of the old Plaza Outfield sections into the Treehouse (LF) and the Stomping Ground (RF) and additional amenities have created the kinds of affordable adult and family hangout areas the Coliseum has been missing since Mount Davis was built. The changes also reduced much of the Coliseum’s reserved seat inventory, which is important as the team attempts to create an inventory similar to their new ballpark plan. Keep in mind that in the above diagrams there are effectively no reserved outfield seats. That may seem a bit schizophrenic as the A’s were trying to sell only 35,000 reserved seats during the Wolff era and only last year ballooned up to 48,000. During this current Kaval/Giles pricing experiment, the upper deck is for sale mostly as a stand-in for the roof deck planned for the new ballpark. The Giants series will see the tarps on the Mount Davis upper deck removed and seats sold as overflow. Instead of the harsh cuts taken in the past, A’s management is being more sensitive to fan needs and preferences.

I’m not an Access member, so I can’t speak to the fan experience other than the aforementioned anecdote. What the A’s are doing is every bit as disruptive (Silicon Valley term) as Moneyball was for player evaluation. So far it’s worked out well, resulting in an increase from 4,800 to 9,535 Access plans. It shows that fans are adjusting to the new subscription model, which Giles has at times called “Baseball as a Service” (Silicon Valley-esque term). The model provides less friction for fans to attend, and it seems to have created plenty of word-of-mouth sales opportunities. There is a downside, though, in that while there’s less friction to attend, there’s also intrinsically less to get people to show up, or “stickiness.” A 2016 USA Today article reported that two-thirds of those with gym memberships go unused. In the past the A’s were aiming for 75-80% of season ticket holders to show up for every game. Baseball, and the world around it, are changing. There will undoubtedly be more tweaks to come in the next couple of years until the new ballpark deal is sealed. Until then, you guys are all beta customers. File those bug reports and expect more.

P.S. – Remember when the A’s announced they were removing the General Admission designation on the bleachers and turning them into reserved seats? I did, and I recall proposing a split of the Plaza Outfield sections into something quite similar to the Treehouse/Stomping Ground remake. Someone once said that good artists copy, great artists steal. No charge for this one, guys.

P.P.S