SJ Ballpark Study Session (3/1)

While I was travelling a few weeks ago, I completely missed out on a ballpark study session given for the San Jose City Council on March 1. Previously it was reported at this session that the EIR commenting period would have to be moved out a couple of weeks, but there was more to the session than that. Consultant HOK+Sport was on hand to present the details of their study. Even though the minutes were short, the session provided clarification on a few matters of debate. Excerpted from the Q&A discussion:

8. So we finish the EIR in June, what are possible next steps? Do we build a stadium for the Oakland A’ (sic) and they will come?
No, a development agreement with the A’s would be necessary. The San Francisco Giants territory would have to be resolved. Any team agreement would have to be approved by the major league team owners and the Commissioner of Baseball.
9. Why do we need to go to the voters? What percentage of the vote do we need to move forward?
The Municipal Code provides that the City may use tax dollars to participate in the building of any sports facility with a seating capacity of greater 5,000 only after obtaining approval of the majority of voters. If, however, the proposed source of the public funds is a special tax, a two thirds vote would be required for the tax.
10. OK, so you need a franchise and a developer. What might they bring to the negotiation table?
There is a broad range of possibilities under a development agreement. A developer could add a range of possibilities including development of adjacent properties (assuming they have site control) including residential, commercial and hotel development. They could also bring financing in the form of equity or debt to the project.

There are a total three files to check out: the agenda (posted prior to the session), a study update (also posted prior to the session), and the aforementioned Q&A notes. You can also view the session on the city’s website. Take a look at list of archived meetings, then find the one titled “SJRA Ballpark Study Session.” Considering the 9 a.m. timing of the session, it wasn’t surprising to see the tiny smattering of attendees aside from the city council and presenters.

Some interesting nuggets culled from the session:

  • Excavating the site to have a below-grade field is considered the main option in order to reduce height.
  • The PG&E substation may not have to be moved, but if it isn’t the ballpark design would be constrained. One option under consideration pushes the ballpark towards the northeast corner of the site and preserves the substation.
  • Council member Ken Yeager asked for an example of a similar ballpark/existing neighborhood development. HOK couldn’t cite a recent development that closely resembled the Diridon/Arena/Delmas Park situation. Camden Yards was the only one with a neighborhood close by.
  • Council member Chuck Reed asked for a clarification on the legality of the pursuit of a ballpark. City attorney Rick Doyle addressed this previously in a memo, which he paraphrased during the session by saying that the money spent on the preliminary study and EIR process is required to get to the point of being able to present something to the voters. Reed expressed concern about the lack of a financing plan and asked “somebody, and it’s not gonna be someone at this dais” to scope out the scheme. He then brought up the Baseball San Jose group and found County Assessor Larry Stone, who is a BBSJ leader, in the audience.
  • Council member Forrest Williams asked about territorial rights, since he has received numerous questions from his constituents. Economic Development Director Paul Krutko cited the need for a partnership with a team. Krutko also incorrectly cited the DC-Baltimore situation, which is not the same because the Orioles had TV market rights to DC, not exclusive stadium territorial rights. Mayor Gonzales then pointed out that the Arena was built on spec, which isn’t realistic now or in the future regarding a baseball stadium. Williams followed up by saying that he’s been echoing many of the same statements, but that the public is looking for something more solid, more substantial. Williams asked about an optimal size, and one of the HOK presenters noted that Coors Field was built too large (50,000) because the public was caught up in getting a team. Once the novelty of having a team and a new ballpark wore off, the Colorado Rockies, mired in a lack of on-field success, has had difficulty selling out the stadium.
  • Vice-Mayor Cindy Chavez wanted information on surrounding development and economic impact. Redevelopment head Harry Mavrogenes talked about development in the area between HP Pavilion and the ballpark site. Recently the Planning department submitted design guidelines for this area and other transit-close areas in and near downtown. Diridon/Arena, including Diridon South, is part of this newly expanded downtown area.
  • Council member Nanci Pyle brought up the concept of soccer as an alternative, a dual-use stadium, or a dual-stadia concept. HOK replied that dual-use stadium would be an option should the substation be moved to the south end of the fire training site.
  • Council member Dave Cortese brought up the idea of pushing the A’s to make a decision. He also promoted a separate socioeconomic study, focused on the impact on the immediate area and surrounding neighborhoods, with research done on other cities who have done similar urban stadium projects. Cortese finished up by posing the issue of financing not as a future bridge to cross when a team comes, but as an issue that needs to be proactively addressed to avoid missing opportunities should they arise. He also called for laying out a detailed, real timeline that the public can view and assess. Mavrogenes replied that the timeline could be produced in the next 30-45 days. I’m looking forward to a non-fluff economic report, if they really have the cajones to commission one.
  • Representatives from Ballpark Tax Watchdogs, the Shasta/Hanchett Park Neighborhood Association (west of site) and the Burbank/Del Monte Neighborhood Advisory Committee (southwest of site) spoke during the public comment period. Word of advice to Ballpark Tax Watchdogs: if you’re going to arm yourself with information, don’t just refer to a book that’s almost a decade old, especially when the plea’s bound to fall on deaf ears (namely the Mayor’s). Instead, check out the Field of Schemes website or an article published today in the Boston Globe. They’re a little more up-to-date. S/HNPA and BDMNAC expressed their disgust over the lack of disclosure regarding the ballpark process and plans. Their outrage appears to have brought results, since the EIR commenting period was extended to April 20 and four public outreach meetings were scheduled shortly thereafter.

I was surprised at the lack of certainty within the city council. It wasn’t just about the EIR – there was no real consensus on how San Jose should proceed. Cortese was right in calling the situation a Catch-22. It made the most sense to push the process out not just to accommodate a more comprehensive review of the EIR, but to allow the numerous variables in the situation to settle. If the A’s really do move to San Jose, it will be a result of equal parts hard work and serendipity.

P.S. Read that Boston Globe article (registration required) I cited earlier if you get the chance. It’s the most well-balanced treatment of the subject matter I’ve seen, perhaps, ever.

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