Ray Ratto column

The inimitable Ratto puts the A’s and 49ers in a little game called “Survivor: Stadium Edition” which plays out less like the reality TV show and more like a rigged game of Monopoly. Whether you find humor in his column or not, the message is very clear: Getting a new venue for either team is not going to be easy, quick, or cheap. In the end, he still says to bet on the A’s, despite the obstacles.

Uptown’s price tag rising

From the this isn’t exactly a big surprise department: the Oakland Tribune is reporting that new costs may force the city of Oakland to fork over additional subsidies to the Forest City Uptown housing development. Among the rising costs: escalating values of land to be acquired, and cleanup costs for a site that used to house a Chevron station. A Sears Tire and Auto Center also needs to be relocated, which may force Oakland CEDA (Redevelopment) to pay for additional land on which the relocated garage would be placed. The cleanup effort would cost the city $4 million, and the cost to relocate the garage could be as much as $12.5 million. That pushes the total cost of subsidies and ancillary costs to nearly $80 million, or about $80,000 per apartment.

Rising costs are common in projects of this magnitude. It is possible, though not likely, that the subsidies will run high enough to push the Oakland City Council and Mayor Jerry Brown to dump the project. Virtually every important politician in Oakland supports the Uptown project, and it would take some major revelations and negative political sentiment to turn the tide against it.

But what if it did? It could make the land available for a ballpark, since Oakland has already used eminent domain to acquire the majority of the individual properties, allowing them to sink the costs to an extent – though the public may demand the team pay for the land to reimburse the city. Previous property owners who were forced to sell because of eminent domain may have the potential to sue because the city would be using the land for a different purpose than originally intended. The cleanup costs mentioned in the article would still need to be covered, and it would be unclear who would foot the bill. Then there would be the political problem – no one associated with the city outside of Larry Reid has publicly supported spending taxpayer money for a ballpark. Proponents including the A’s would probably have to wait until Brown left office and hope that a more friendly face, such as Ignacio de la Fuente, won the next mayoral election. Then the political machine would have to get in gear to line up other support, from the City Administrator Debroah Edgerly to State Senator Don Perata. Why? Because no matter how much many fans would like a privately-funded endeavor, it’s much more likely that some public component will be required, whether it’s 75% in the Minnesota Twins deal, 33% in the St. Louis Cardinals’ new Busch Stadium, or 5% in the Pac Bell Park deal.

Giants, A’s cable ratings down

From Steve Kroner’s Chronicle article:

Ratings for Giants telecasts on Fox Sports Net Bay Area and KTVU (Channel 2) and for A’s telecasts on FSNBA and KICU (Channel 36) are down approximately one-third from a similar point in 2004.

The Giants are averaging a 3.0 rating on FSNBA, the A’s 1.5. While 3.0 is great for a sports broadcast, things would be much better with Barry Bonds around. As for the A’s, they are suffering from a severe case of bandwagonism, with few signs of an end to the malaise in sight. Expect the trend to continue until either team goes on a significant tear.

Startup to timeshare luxury suites

A novel concept to the marketing of luxury suites was launched today by a startup called Owner’s Pass. John Arledge and Peter Cochran created the Los Gatos-based firm, which will sell timeshare packages of luxury suites. The packages not only bring down the often prohibitively high cost of suites ($100,000 per year or more), but they’ll also offer the opportunity to use a single fee to cover multiple sports. More details are available in an Oakland Tribune article.

When I first saw the article, I thought, “Why hasn’t anyone done this before?” Then it occurred to me that the major pro sports franchises are often in competition with one another and do their best to lock their customers into annual or even multiyear deals. Sometimes it even appears that the market is oversaturated. As for the startup, buying leases for the 6 major franchises here in order to timeshare them can cost upwards of $500,000 a year, a risky capital cost for a business whose customer base has potential, but is yet unproven. Still, there are many firms who have a hard time justifying annual leases on suites, and this could very well open up the market significantly for them as well as smaller companies. If the Owner’s Pass business model works, they will expand to other markets, and they may become a cornerstone of a huge secondary suite sales market. Good luck to them.

Ballpark concepts continued…

Fleshing out last night’s news a little more is an article from today’s Oakland Tribune. Along with talk of design and the architectural players involved, is more information about potential sites: the Estuary site and the now shutdown Oakland Army Base. At some point I’ll try to take pictures of the base and the surrounding area. In the meantime, here’s a snippet from the article including quotes from Michael Ghielmetti (the president of Signature Properties who met with Wolff over a month ago), regarding the Estuary site and Oakland in general:

Oak-to-Ninth has been discussed as a possible site because of its waterfront location. And Wolff met with Michael Ghielmetti, president of Signature Properties, the firm that owns Oak-to-Ninth.

“Oak-to-Ninth has challenges because it is not very close to transit, and the access to and from the site is very difficult, but I am not going to be the one that says absolutely not,” Ghielmetti said Wednesday. “When we met with Lew and his son, we were talking in broad concepts about a variety of locations in Oakland and reasons to stay in Oakland.”

Signature has a unique perspective because they’ve done or are completing 5 separate housing developments in Oakland of varying sizes. Since they were picked to develop the Estuary site, it isn’t clear whether they are more interested in building their housing plan (which still has yet to be fully approved) or sharing the site with the A’s (which hasn’t formally been brought up as an option yet). The key may be Oakland city mandates regarding affordable housing. Debate surrounding minimum amounts of low-income housing are stalling the Uptown deal, and it looks like they might stall Signature’s plans as well. For more on the Estuary including a mockup, check out my mockup plan and photo overview.

Wolff gives some details

The important stuff from John Shea’s Chronicle article:

The owner has formed a venue development committee involving two team executives — President Mike Crowley and Wolff’s son, Keith — and three outside firms, including 360 Architects, Gensler Architects and International Facilities Group.

Committee members have toured several newer ballparks, plus Boston’s Fenway Park, and plan to check out other pro sports facilities, including basketball arenas. The mission is to gather information to be better prepared to design a new home, if it gets that far.

“They’ll come up with a prototype, and they’re thinking outside the box,” Wolff said. “With venues, you want the next new one to be better than the last new one.”

Wolff isn’t as interested in building a park on the Coliseum parking lot and said a downtown site is “probably not in the cards,” but he did say he’s more open than ever to locations in and around Oakland, preferably with BART access. Public help, he added, is necessary.

Let’s pick apart the statements made here.

  • Touring existing facilities comes with the territory. Part of the process is evaluating the designs and architects associated with them, and crib some of the best ideas. Fenway is an unusual example of a refurbishment that is ongoing.
  • Looking at basketball arenas is a good move. Philips Arena has a unique design with the suites stacked on one side of the building and the seating bowl cantilevered around them, making for better, lower sight lines. 360 designed Miami’s American Airlines Arena, which is notable for a special innovation: floor suites. Jacobs Field in Cleveland has a version of this in their Dugout Suites, covered front-row seats between the dugouts at the same elevation as the dugouts. Behind the seating area are the individual suites, below the lower seating bowl. This type of seating would most certainly demand a premium.
  • Gensler has a wide ranging portfolio, but little sports venue experience. My guess is that they’ll work on concourses, public spaces, and fan-oriented areas. In an effort to escape the drab gray that dominates the Coliseum, a new ballpark would be bright and full of color.
  • “With venues, you want the next new one to be better than the last new one.” – The standard-bearer currently is Petco Park, though it’s likely that the new DC and Minneapolis ballparks will be completed in the next 3+ years. Better also often means more expensive, which could drive up the price of the project. I can see Wolff trying to limit the amount of concrete that’s poured, while maximizing revenue within the space as much as possible.
  • The Coliseum’s out based on the power lines issue and conflicts with the Raiders and Warriors. It may also be because he saw the limited development potential and balked, thinking the cost wasn’t worth the return. Saying Downtown is not in the cards really means the Uptown site is not feasible. That’s probably because it’s too far along the development timeline to scrap it.
  • What does that leave? The Estuary site for starters. Then perhaps the OUSD and Laney College sites. All 3 have been profiled here, and all 3 have development issues to overcome. The Kaiser Convention Center just closed down so it may become available, but the site’s too small to house a ballpark unless other land is acquired. Howard Terminal is locked into a long-term lease agreement.
  • The old Army Base in west Oakland is a possibility, but it would require a new BART station, site cleanup, and a buyer for the required property. Based on the activity that occured after the closures of Treasure Island, Alameda NAS, and the Presidio, it’s not the most expeditious process.
  • There are also sites that may be available that are currently active or in use, such as some of the light industrial area that lines I-880 between Downtown and Jack London Square. Acquisition costs for such properties would be the big issue there.
  • I don’t know what to make of the “public help is necessary” comment. I’ll ask the reporter myself about that.

Oakland City Council Seat 2 Election Results

From the Oakland Tribune: Preliminary results indicate that Pat Kernighan won tonight’s special election for the Grand Lake-Chinatown City Council seat. Though it’s projected she will not receive more than 30% of the vote, there will not be a runoff, and Kernighan will be declared the winner. She was previously chief of staff for Danny Wan, who vacated the seat in January.

Kernighan will have some sway over the fate of the Oak-to-9th Estuary site, profiled here previously. While it isn’t likely the property will be the home of a ballpark, it remains a viable option, should all interested properties come to an agreement.

Kernighan has commenteed publicly on development of the Uptown site for a ballpark. This is her statement, first published on the Greater Grand Lake Coalition website:

I am encouraged that Lewis Wolff has the potential wherewithal to finance a new baseball stadium without need of public money. A new A’s ballpark would make a lot of Oaklanders happy, but I am adamantly opposed to spending public dollars to build one when there are so many other unfunded public needs of much higher priority.

She hasn’t publicly commented on Oak-to-9th’s possible use as a ballpark site.