How we got to this point

East Bay Express writers Robert Gammon and Chris Thompson have this week’s cover story, a thorough chronology of events over the past several years that led up to the Pacific Commons plan. Even though the full article is available online, I suggest you get a (free) copy wherever you can. I can’t comment on all of the workings of the Oakland political machine, but I can say that the Fremont scenario described in the article played out exactly as I heard it nearly a year ago. It’s definitely a must-read.

Happy trails, Bud

You could see it on his face. He really didn’t want to be there. As commissioner, Bud Selig’s appearance at the A’s-Cisco announcement was perfunctory. His presence was needed to give the event that extra bit of gravitas, though he certainly didn’t lend a ton of charm to the proceedings. Soon, Bud Selig won’t have to fly cross-country to do these events. It’ll be someone else’s job.

It was thought that Selig would retire by the time his current tenure as commish expires at the end of 2007. Recently, he has given hints that he wants to stay on a little longer. With a new CBA in place and record attendance figures year after year, you’d think that he’d want to go out on top, or at least until he really has to face the steroids demon in earnest.

The only reason Selig would conceivably stay on would be that he thought his job wasn’t finished. That’s hard to believe, since Selig navigated MLB through 3 CBA negotiations, while presiding over the opening of 15 new ballparks (with 5 more on the way), and the expansion of the league by 4 teams. He’s also overseen the introduction of the wildcard, interleague play, and revenue sharing. In Andrew Zimbalist’s book In the Best Interests of Baseball? he refers to Selig as the sport’s first CEO.

It would appear that Selig does have some unfinished business as the game’s CEO. Chief among his concerns has to be the Florida Marlins’ situation. By inserting the league office directly into negotiations with local governments in the Miami area, Selig has bypassed the source of much consternation, Marlins’ ownership. The election of former minor league baseball lawyer, Charlie Crist, to the governorship of Florida has given MLB officials renewed hope for a deal. Kansas City was considered a problem area as well, but in April voters passed a package of renovations for Kauffman Stadium and its neighbor in the Truman Sports Complex, Arrowhead Stadium. The Mets and Yankees have broken ground on their new homes, and the Nats are well along on construction of their new ballpark, even if some of the other details are still being fleshed out. The A’s still have a long way to go before groundbreaking, let alone opening day.

So what’s next? National TV deals are set through 2013. Should Florida pan out, there would be one stadium deal nearing expiration: the Angels lease at the Big A. With the home market being LA, it would be in Arte Moreno’s best interest to get something done there, while not completely alienating the existing fanbase. He’s not going to maintain his franchise’s impressive growth in value by moving out of LA.

Perhaps it’s time that MLB truly starts to consider expansion again. Before you start complaining about the watering down of the talent pool, let’s remember that foreign talent has been extremely rich over the last several years and has shown no signs of slowing down, especially in Asia. There will always be marginal players or players of questionable value. Right now, some of them get 5-year, $50 million deals. If you’re really concerned about dilution of talent, turn the 25-man roster into a 24-man roster.

There are numerous ways expansion would help:

  • Having 32 teams makes realignment and scheduling easy. Again, let’s look to the NFL. They have a symmetrical dream system for scheduling, with even numbers of teams per division and conference. They have a fair number of intraconference and interconference games. Plus they kept great divisional rivalries intact. Take a look at this hypothetical MLB realignment scenario:

    The four-team division allows for great flexibility. Teams can devote all of April and September to divisional races since an odd fifth team won’t be left out. And by instituting the unbalanced-but-fair scenario in green above, every team will be guaranteed an equitable number of series with each intraleague opponent. Sometimes it’ll be 6 series (division), 4 series (intraleague “A”), or 2 series (intraleague “B”). No more of that weird home-away-home stuff. The awkwardness that comes from pairing a 4-team division (AL West) with a 6-team division (NL Central) will cease. 2-game series would be mostly limited to divisional play, lessening travel hardships. There are some historical rivalry issues to work out such as Royals-Cards, but that could be accommodated within this revamped framework.
  • Major league baseball should have a team in a primarily Spanish-speaking market. Options include Monterrey and San Juan, or perhaps Mexico City, Havana (post-communism), or an economically stronger Santo Domingo, DR. Frankly, this is long overdue. It’s likely that a team south of the border will require revenue-sharing for its first decade of operation. That’s fine. Take part of the expansion franchise fee and put it into a fund for the team. It would be well worth the goodwill it will bring to MLB. The NBA and NFL are aggressively marketing in Asia and Europe. Why should MLB keep neglecting its fertile backyard?
  • Increasing the number of jobs could push average salaries downwards. The union will love the increase in ML jobs (50). The owners will automatically have some amount of depression in average pay, since more players will be fighting for a slightly larger salary pie. The NFL’s system works largely because over double the players of MLB yet have only slightly larger annual revenues. There’s little chance that MLB will increase active rosters to more than 25 men. It’s possible that adding two more teams could make teams compete more for that fourth outfielder or starting pitcher, but I’d rather have the market play that out.
  • Holding a city for ransom doesn’t work. We’ve seen this already play in Miami, where the city called the team’s bluff, knowing how crucial a market it is to MLB. The Marlins remain in South Florida, and with MLB heading the negotiations, a ballpark deal could be made. I personally am not a fan of the public funding being considered, but I don’t live in Florida. It’s up to Florida residents to decide the merits of the deal. Once ransom is off the table due to zero relocation candidates, then Portland, Las Vegas, and San Antonio can cease being stalking horses. If they’re interested, they can bid on the other expansion team. We’ll know which city has all of the pieces in place: site, financing, ownership group, economics. All three of those markets are somewhat small right now, but in a decade all three could be excellent medium-sized baseball markets. San Antonio could even be a fallback option if a south-of-the-border city is not feasible.
  • It’s almost time. Expansion wouldn’t occur until well into the next decade, perhaps 2015 or so – after the current stadium boom era has officially come to a close. That’s plenty of time between the last round of expansion (1998) and the next. This time, the owners wouldn’t be motivated by collusion or legal difficulties. They’d be focused on actually growing the sport. Rather novel idea, no?

What do you think about expansion?

The Loaiza-Kennedy rule of ownership

Today I’ll pose a “hypothetical,” y’all can debate it.

The A’s are buying up land in Fremont. Some of it will be meant for housing, some for parking, some for retail/commercial, some towards the ballpark, the rest for infrastructure. Here’s how the ownership situation would look:

  • Ballpark: 50% A’s, 50% Fremont
  • Ballpark land: Fremont (A’s would donate land)
  • Retail/commercial: A’s
  • Parking: A’s
  • Residential: Third-party developers (TBD)
  • Infrastructure: Fremont

The infrastructure piece is the obvious no-brainer, the rest are educated guesses. The A’s might want the ability to retain as much of the land for future development as possible. That’s why parking lots/garages would be owned by the team. The land for residential, along with development rights, would be sold early on to housing developers developers to assist in financing the ballpark. The rights might not be sold all at once because pending construction could create a glut of sorts in the housing market. Chances are that the rights would be sold in phases, which is fine if you’re the A’s because all you want to do is service annual debt. The rights would be sold well in advance of a 20-30 year term on privately financed stadium bonds, so that money could be used to either pay off the debt early or to be reinvested. Retail/commercial makes sense for the A’s to own because they’d rake in nice leases from the various new establishments.

As for the ballpark, that’s a less straightforward situation. The immediate response might be, “Doesn’t the franchise’s value go up if they own the ballpark?” Yes, but it would go up just as much if they didn’t own it. All that matters is that the team gets new revenue streams from the stadium. As a bonus, the team would be looked upon more favorably by MLB and financiers if they weren’t saddled with major debt, such as a privately-owned ballpark.

There’s one more motivation that makes the most sense: Lower property taxes. If the A’s owned the ballpark outright, they’d have tax liability over a $400 million building plus some $20-40 million in land. The property tax rate in Alameda County is 1.2%. Look up those timetables, and that comes to $5 million per year, or the ’06 salary of Esteban Loaiza. Sure, depreciation would take a bite out of that over time, but even so that’s up to $100 million left on the table over the life of the stadium. If the A’s are looking to own half of the stadium as outlined above, their property tax hit would be around $2.4 million, or the ’06 base salary of Joe Kennedy. (These figures don’t include special assessments.)

Then again, look at the A’s current situation. They don’t pay any property tax on the Coliseum because it’s also publicly owned. Since the A’s would be moving all of their business ops to somewhere in Fremont, they would be contributing more to the county’s coffers than they would in the current lease at the Coliseum. That gain has to be balanced against the hard and soft costs associated with having an entertainment district.

The $64,000 question has to be:

“Is the opportunity cost for getting a baseball team worth it?”

Let’s look at alternatives for the land:

  • Another office park. That’s what was originally planned for the area, though the original tenant, Cisco, nixed those plans long ago. Fremont’s legacy position of reserving the area for light industrial and commercial use made sense decades ago from a planning perspective, but now that very little is actually manufactured here compared to the Far East, it’s a policy worth revisiting. There are still large swaths of land to the south on Fremont Blvd/Gateway Blvd that are completely undeveloped. Fremont doesn’t have the cachet that the Golden Triangle cities – Santa Clara, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Mountain View – offer for building large corporate campuses. Warehousing/distribution remains a popular land use in the area, but how much additional land does that industry really need locally to function? And is it a growth industry, especially when land costs continue to rise?
  • Another strip mall. That’s not likely because existing Fremont shopping centers, Pacific Commons and the Fremont Hub, already cover this market. In fact, there are very few big box retailers that don’t occupy either of those two shopping centers. The only one I can think of would be Best Buy, but honestly, aren’t there enough Best Buy locations out there? Along Auto Mall/Durham, there’s also Fry’s, Home Depot, REI, and Wal-Mart. They’re pretty well covered.
  • Housing instead of the ballpark/ballpark village. This would run counter to Fremont’s intentions to keep entertainment dollars within city limits, while adding the need for additional services. Not gonna happen.
  • Leave the land undeveloped. Now this is unrealistic. The dirt’s already turned over. The wetlands preserve, which is outside the project land, has already been created. Someone’s going to do something with the project land, whether it’s the A’s, Cisco, or ProLogis.

The endgame is that after 30 years, the city will own the stadium outright. Is this a good deal for the city? For the county?

Election in Fremont?, Paying off the SJ Giants

Three articles showed up in today’s rags that you should read:

  • Chris De Benedetti of The Argus covers the possibility of a ballot measure for Cisco Field and the ballpark village.
  • The Merc’s Barry Witt writes about Rule 52, also known as the “15 mile rule.” Rule 52 prevents a major league team from relocating to within 15 miles of another team without compensation or approval by the affected team.
  • Merc writers Mary Anne Ostrom and April Lynch chronicle Lew Wolff’s legacy of local development and forays into sports business.

Fremont’s mayor and city council have been consistent about eschewing a referendum. The likelhood of a vote increases should general fund money be required, but both the A’s and Fremont have insisted that pulling from the general fund is not going to happen. Still, there remains a question of how new services for the area will be paid for. A ticket tax? Assessments on the new condos? Tax increment financing? I can’t wait for the discussion to begin in earnest.

Rule 52 is not expected to be a major issue, at least with regard to the San Jose Giants. Even if compensation is required, it probably won’t be an enormous amount. Perhaps the two sides could do the right thing and put the money towards refurbishing dilapidated San Jose Municipal Stadium. Then again, SJ Giants ownership could take the money and sell/move the team to an area that wants a team and has far less competition: Petaluma or Napa. In the past, I wasn’t clear on whether Rule 52 was still applicable, since the Nationals technically set up shop within 15 miles of Orioles’ territory by playing in RFK Stadium. We won’t know until snippets from the next ML Constitution are released (leaked).

Clear Channel goes private

Radio industry behemoth Clear Channel agreed to a buyout by a group of private equity firms, including Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital Partners. The total value of the buyout is said to be $18.7 billion.

The deal won’t directly free up the radio market for the A’s to pursue an interest in their own radio station. Clear Channel is divesting itself of its radio properties outside the Top 100 markets in the country, as well as its television stations, which are also in small markets. The closest market where a station could be available? San Luis Obispo. There’s a slight possibility that if some of these small market stations were swallowed up by one of Clear Channel’s competitors, there could eventually be some tradeout of properties. I’m not holding my breath.

Ballpark Village

There’s a very good reason why we haven’t heard how much the whole development is going to cost:

We don’t know how big it will be.

The orange area represents the Cisco land that will be purchased by the A’s. The red area contains land that Wolff has recently acquired (they haven’t acquired all of it yet AFAIK). Blue areas are additional land that probably will be acquired. Now take a look at the area with an approximation of the ballpark:

The cryptic message, “9,000 spaces within a comfortable walking distance,” means two things:

  • They want people to walk through the village to get to the parking garages/lots. There will be garages adjacent to the ballpark, but those will be geared towards VIP’s, suite holders, and personnel – 1,200 spaces or so. Everyone else will be walking 1/8 to 1/4 mile.
  • They’re going to need every square foot they can get. The village will extend into the blue area immediately to the north. That red area, nearly 20 acres, could be very important. So could the old Christy Concrete plant. Combined, they’d provide 31 acres, or around 4,000 spaces. If it’s surface parking, perhaps the tailgating tradition will live. If they build garages, tailgating’s dead. The blue/red areas by the freeway are the best locations for parking from a development standpoint because of that all-important freeway access and the fact that the location automatically routes fans away from quieter residential neighborhoods to the south.

Village planners will have some challenges ahead of them. Questions to ask include:

  • How can housing and the wetland preserve co-exist? It appears that a large buffer will be required between the two, perhaps a couple hundred feet. This could be a good thing, since some amount of open space and parkland will be required. Might as well put them both together by making a greenbelt run along the southern portion of the orange area. The transition between the two areas would be smoother, plus there would be a nice place for families to go outside of the ballpark village core. But would that be enough to ease environmentalist concerns?
  • Where will the fire station/police station go? There is a fire station on the other side of I-880 on Grimmer Blvd., so it may not be necessary to have yet another one. Fremont doesn’t operate police precinct stations, but considering the likely higher crime rates that will come with a new entertainment district, it makes sense to have some kind of community police center. This plan means 40,000 additional people and 10,000 additional cars coming into the city 81+ times per year plus playoffs and exhibitions, along 5,000+ permanent residents. Fortunately, such a station need not take up much space. As far as actually policing the games, I get the feeling that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department will be tapped for that role.
  • What about schools and parks? This is that additional infrastructure piece that is uncertain regarding funding. Lew Wolff’s admission on Tuesday that the team’s new name will have “of Fremont” is a big deal from a political perspective. It’s a bargaining chip. How much value it actually has is up for debate, but it’s Wolff saying that if Fremont wants the publicity that comes with being part of the team’s name, it should contribute something other than simply pushing paperwork around. What that “something” is, is uncertain. It’s absolutely clear that one elementary school will be required due to the large number of new residents (5,000 or more). There should be a park with playing fields. It’s likely that the developers would donate this land in exchange for the city of Fremont and Fremont Unified partnering to build the school. If you’re looking for a similar type of development, you need look no further than Santa Clara, whose Rivermark development stretched over 150+ acres on the old Agnews Hospital site. Obviously, no ballpark was included, but the community got a new $20 million K-8 school, a community policing center, a fire station, and a 11-acre park.

I haven’t included the transportation part because it deserves its own discussion, and from comments here and elsewhere, it is quite a divisive issue.

Kudos to Carl Steward for mentioning Drawbridge in his column today. I love Drawbridge.

I saw the Cisco Field commercial broadcast for the first time during a break on KGO-7’s late newscast. Cisco’s seriously into this.