Newswrap: Trading Deadline edition

If you’ve come looking for up-to-the-minute transaction news, you’ve come to the wrong place. In the world of stadia, there are a few items of note.

  • Detroit’s city council is moving forward with plans to demolish Tiger Stadium, though it is unclear if any developer is willing and able to take on the task of redeveloping the northwest corner of Michigan and Trumbull. Legendary Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell has stepped in with plans to maintain and preserve important sections of the ballpark (with a third party). The concept includes a scaled down, 10,000-seat stadium and mixed use surrounding it. The field would be preserved for youth baseball use. Enough financial contributions have poured in to maintain the ballpark in its current state for the next year.
  • Washington Metro is considering a reduced “ballpark fare” to entice fans going to the new DC ballpark (opening in 2008) to utilize mass transit. According to the article, the fan mix is projected to consist of 49% that arrive via transit, 40% via car, and 8.5% via bicycle or on foot. The 49% figure is far higher than Oakland’s 15-20% and even more than New York’s 13-30%. The difference here is that the DC ballpark will have extremely limited parking at the outset whereas Oakland and New York already have 7-10,000 spaces in their respective vicinities.
  • The Twins are expected to break ground on their $390 million (and rising) downtown stadium on Thursday. There’s still the outstanding matter of how much the land acquisition will cost, somewhere between $13.65 million (the county’s pledge) and $65.38 million (the previous landowners’ estimate). Opening Day is scheduled for April 2010.

I also wanted to address something in Barry Witt’s article from last week:

While there’s much to be determined about what would go into the village, a set of deed restrictions filed last month by Wolff, Cisco Systems and ProLogis – the real estate company that owns Pacific Commons and plans to sell the ballpark village site to Wolff – reveal uses that will be excluded.

Those uses include Goodwill stores, laundromats, card clubs, veterinary hospitals, funeral homes, porn shops, gas stations, massage and tattoo parlors, churches and beauty schools.

The explanation can be boiled down to two words: property values. Many of those types of establishments inhabit less monied neighborhoods. It’s all in the interest of keeping potential housing prices high and profitable. Gas stations and churches don’t quite fit the profile, and for those I sense the issue is space. There is an existing Shell station less than a mile away and two more just over the freeway along Auto Mall, so it’s not as if the area needs additional petrol purveyors. As for churches, there’s already a growing trend of new churches converting previously industrial land for their use, so perhaps they are the real trendsetters here.

2nd poll results

12 days ago I asked the question, “How would the Piccinini group have been different?” Responses were fewer than the previous poll question, but the results for this one are nevertheless interesting.

  • Downtown Oakland ballpark – 18 (28%)
  • New Coliseum lot ballpark – 10 (15%)
  • Stayed in Coliseum indefinitely – 9 (14%)
  • Moved elsewhere in Bay Area – 11 (17%)
  • Moved out of Bay Area – 15 (23%)

No definitive answer here, and there’s no accounting for motivation. Unlike the last poll, I can group the answers. So I did just that, with the first three options thrown into a “Stayed in Oakland” group, the final two a “Left Oakland” group. In doing so, the tally looks like this:

  • Stayed in Oakland – 37 (59%)
  • Left Oakland – 26 (41%)

Some might say that staying in the Coliseum indefinitely wasn’t a realistic option, but I wanted to put it out there anyway to gauge interest. “Stayed in Oakland” would’ve won regardless of the third option’s inclusion.

The voting trend during the week proved pivotal. Results were fairly even for the first 4-5 days, but gradually tilted towards “Stayed in Oakland” during midweek.

This week’s poll question is pretty simple: “How big should Cisco Field be?

A’s promise school

Linh Tat’s article in the Argus addresses the school situation:

Besides opening an elementary school, A’s officials said they are willing to consider offering a specialized technology or health program for students, tutoring, math and reading programs, internships and scholarships. A program recognizing Fremont’s teacher of the year also was suggested.

“These are just our ideas that we would love to explore with you. . . . We really think there’s a great opportunity to get creative,” said A’s official Keith Wolff, son of team co-owner Lew Wolff.


“Our commitment is to whatever the student population is (that’s) created by the village,” Keith Wolff said. “We’re going to need to work with the district to serve them. That will be an obligation.”

The A’s project $10.7 million in developer fees will go to the district, but both sides acknowledge the fees won’t be enough to build the school on their own. There are four questions that come out of this challenge:

  • Where in the village will the school be located?
  • How big will it be?
  • How much will it cost beyond the amount covered by developer fees?
  • When would it open?

With the A’s and Cisco partnering with FUSD, it could become quite a desirable grade school.

To vote or not to vote?

Fremont Councilman Steve Cho is keeping up his call for a ballot measure to decide the ballpark village. The other council members and the mayor apparently disagree. In Chris DeBenedetti’s article there are comments from both pro- and anti-development ex-pols.

So what’s the issue here? Cho believes there are “concerns from Fremont citizens that cannot be completely ignored,” yet he also believes if it came to a vote it would prevail in a majority. So it’s not as if there is overwhelming sentiment against the project, far from it in fact. In a way he has marginalized the process that the city and the A’s have crafted, which appears to be the real issue that some opponents are uncomfortable with.

Why would any citizen’s concerns be completely ignored? The council as a group has shown its displeasure over certain aspects of the plan, such as residential makeup and the school site. There were pointed land use questions that came from Anu Natarajan and Bob Wieckowski. Lew Wolff actually met with Gus Morrison, though Morrison’s concerns weren’t allayed. If there is some feeling that the plan is not getting the scrutiny it deserves, it wasn’t on display from the comments the council and the city’s community development director made. We’re talking about Fremont, not Oakland, San Jose, or San Francisco, where big machine politics are the order of the day. Fremont can’t count on Don Perata or Carole Migden to grandstand or ram legislation through the state senate.

Then there is the question of what the public would be voting on. Is it simply a land use decision? A vote to accept the team? Redevelopment agency bonds for infrastructure? School bonds? Would it end up being 1, 2, or 5 separate issues? And what would happen if one or more failed while others succeeded?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what happens when these issues get to a vote. There’s something called the 10:1 rule, in which proponents of a stadium plan typically outspend opponents 10:1 in campaigning. In Texas it’s even higher. Why? Because usually there is a big tax-free bond measure at stake to finance the stadium. That’s not going to be the issue here since it will be a privately financed stadium. Proponents trot out legendary retired players and coaches to shill for the project. Opponents complain that they don’t have the funds to compete. Whether or not the issue passes, hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars are spent and the truth frequently gets lost in the hubbub. That doesn’t invalidate the idea of having a vote, but it does highlight circumstances. At least in California, we tend to be a little more level-headed about these issues than other states.

Lew Wolff isn’t interested in a vote because he thinks the project is far too complex to be left in the hands of a single up-down measure. So do the mayor and the council outside of Cho. Opponents often ask what the proponents are afraid of, that it wouldn’t pass if it got to a vote. But we’re not talking about your typical stadium subsidy issue here, are we? I’ve already had to go onto different message boards and respond to e-mail from people who are armed with a lot of misinformation. I’d like to know that all voters are fully up to speed on all issues, that they have read the probable 1,000-page EIR and its comments, that they’ve reviewed the alternatives. Unfortunately, that isn’t realistic. So what would voters base their opinion on? Emotion? Prejudice one way or the other? Whether they’re a baseball fan or not? That’s definitely not how it should be decided. It’s hard to weigh cost-benefit from a single ballot measure unless the concept is egregiously bad (or amazingly good).

I applaud Councilman Cho for wanting to act as the conscience of the council. But honestly, he’s jumping the gun on the ballot measure idea. It would be preferable to have the plan’s details get worked out, and if there is a bond measure some other major issue that would directly affect taxpayers then it absolutely should be voted on. Until then, let’s keep focused on the task at hand, which is fleshing out the details.

The stuff not in the paper

Chris DeBenedetti’s Argus article is first out of the gate, followed by Barry Witt’s Merc piece. Of course, there are only so many inches in the papers, so I’m here to fill in the blanks (TV links: KTVU-2, KGO-7). (Update 5:34 p.m.: The archived webcast is now online.)

The A’s and the city packed a lot of content into an hour, yet they’re merely skimming the surface. What wasn’t covered in any real depth? Here’s a list:

  • Transportation, other than acknowledgment of the previously planned train station and shuttles.
  • School site options (admittedly the least analyzed issue)
  • Affordable housing (except that the city-developer guidelines dictate that affordable housing should have no distinction by location – i.e. segregation)
  • Infrastructure and public services planning
  • Retailer possibilities for the ballpark village
  • The 40-acre parcel which may hold additional parking, the train station, a school, or other infrastructure

What did they touch on? Quite a bit, actually:

  • Parking: 10-11,000 spaces around the ballpark. More on that later.
  • Residential planning: This looks to be a contentious issue, as it’s likely we’ll have the bottom-line oriented developer pitted against the city’s progressive, New Urbanist leanings. Councilwoman Anu Natarajan took the biggest swipe at the plan, suggesting that the planning team should’ve gotten the city involved earlier. She said that the superblock-type residential development in the 115-acre townhouse area had very little variety in terms of densities. She even disclosed that a few years ago she worked for SF-based planning and design behemoth EDAW, who is working for the A’s on this project.
  • Phasing: Unlike the 5-6 year projections in the economic impact report, it looks like housing will be more gradually built. At a pace of 300 units per year, it’s expected to take 7-10 years to complete the entire residential portion.
  • Mixed use outside the village: Both Natarajan and Vice-Mayor Bob Wieckowski had previously suggested that the A’s have a little more flexibility in the plan to keep some amount of commercial space, specifically office space. There appears to be a unified stance to keep the townhouse section from looking like a typical suburban subdivision.
  • Outreach: Valley bigshot Jim Cunneen is heading this effort, which I’ve been told is going to get moving quickly.
  • The ballpark: I hope to get cross-section graphic that Keith Wolff used during the presentation, because it actually appears more aggressive than the original simulation. Should they follow through the ballpark would most certainly take on Fenway-like intimacy.
  • Minisuites: They would be located 15 rows from the field, with four 6-person suites sharing a common, large lounge area. Cute design that’s sure to cause some suite envy elsewhere in pro sports.
  • Environmental: Community Development Director Jill Keimach brought up the guidelines in use by the city and the developer. Out of that came the point that much of the wetlands just beyond the project area are still in transition and need protection. Buffers and other measures must be taken to ensure the development is compatible with the recently restored wetlands.
  • All those consultants: So it’s a team consisting of 360 Architects, Gensler (Andy Cohen was co-presenting with Keith Wolff), EDAW, and Cisco. There might have been others but I missed their names. This isn’t some mom-and-pop operation.

And so the dialogue begins in earnest. The council made it clear on more than one occasion that they’re not going to rubber stamp this project. Councilman Steve Cho even went so far as to suggest a ballot measure which would “put it to rest,” though it could be argued that a vote would just as easily rescue him and his colleagues from having to take a major stand on the project. None of the other pols spoke in favor of a vote, BTW. Cho felt that such a measure would pass. I doubt that sentiment gave Lew Wolff a warm fuzzy. He and Mayor Wasserman were separately interviewed following the session and downplayed the need for a vote. Wasserman said that it was difficult enough to educate five council members, let alone 200,000 citizens. Before you say that Wasserman is dismissing the will of the people, note that the environmental impact report will probably be 1,000 pages long and won’t read anything like the latest Harry Potter book. If every Fremont voter wants to read the entire EIR (as I will) and all supporting documentation, it’ll be available when the comment period opens. Somehow I doubt that more than a few hundred people will read the whole thing.

Onto parking. The 10-11,000 figure falls in line with tally I posted last Saturday. Natarajan said that she has “no concerns about parking at all.” The interim parking plan (west of Cushing Pkwy on future residential land) definitely has legs. Discussion went from “how to get enough parking” to “What can we do to make it useful, beautiful and environmentally friendly?”

This was the first of many public sessions. Format may change a bit to allow for more dialogue exchange, or that may simply take care of itself as the discussions become more narrowly focused. The schedule moving forward:

  • Preliminary view – 7/24
  • Council input on plan – September
  • Business terms – Fall ’07
  • Financial analysis – On-going
  • Input from agencies – On-going (Caltrans in a couple of weeks)
  • Community outreach – On-going

Notice that the submission of the dev plan isn’t listed there. It’s really a chicken-and-egg problem. The A’s want to submit a plan that has the best chance of passing with as few modifications as possible. Yet they can’t until they have more in-depth discussions with the city. That isn’t to say that the proposal will be locked when it’s submitted, but when it comes time to present the proposal and all alternatives under consideration, those options need to be clear.

The Wolffs appear to be aware of these issues and others that haven’t been mentioned much (such as the rights of nearby Pacific Commons retailers to have their parking lots left intact) and the city’s insistence on thoroughness means that yes, the right questions are being asked. And then some.

Wolff preso at 7/24 City Council session

Lew and Keith Wolff will provide an update on the Cisco Field project during a work session prior to the regular city council meeting next Tuesday night. The one hour work session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. and the A’s are the only item on that session’s agenda. There will be a public comment period. The regular city council session is scheduled for 7, as usual.

Will they file the long-awaited application? Answer some of the questions brought up by Gus Morrison? If you can’t be there, you always have the live webcast.

Update: The 7 p.m. session will not be a normal council session. It will be a Redevelopment Agency meeting. The 5:30 p.m. session will combine the regular council meeting and the ballpark work session. Attendees are encouraged to arrived at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the session.

Land use plan emerges

First, take a look at the Argus and Merc articles. The first article has links to three new PDF’s that contain descriptions of the buildings in the core village and two views of overall layout:

Context A and B differ in one major way: timing. Context A shows the development after all of the residential units have been built. Context B shows the development some years prior to completion. Instead of housing west of Cushing Parkway, 5,970 surface parking spaces are shown. For the first few years, that parking combined with the planned parking east of Christy Street and additional spaces in both the village and the Albrae lot (across Auto Mall) should provide plenty of parking. By the end of 2016, all of the extra parking will be replaced by townhomes (and probably the school), but that gives the A’s several years to truly gauge parking demand. If demand is high enough, additional garage parking can be built to make up for the loss. Interestingly enough, the Giants are facing their own parking loss, as the Port of S.F. has to decide what to do with a 14-acre parking lot across McCovey Cove from AT&T Park.

The best part is that according to the lease plan there will be 3,110 spaces set aside for retail use. Obviously, much of that parking will be claimed by retailers and the hotel, among other commericial uses. But there’s no reason why a good portion won’t be available for game attendees as well. And the funny thing is that I added up all of the non-residential parking shown there, and I got 4,510 spaces. So it would appear that at least for a few years, there’s the possibility of over 10,000 spaces in the immediate vicinity. It’ll be nicely broken up due to the design plan. Whatever the final number is, I don’t get the sense that the A’s are terribly worried about it.

There are also a pair of mystery elements: ramps that appear to run underneath the village. The ramps may be service entrances to the ballpark’s outfield. They may also lead to additional parking for players, team employees, and VIP’s.

Moving over to retail, the big surprise was a theater smack dab in the middle of the village. Articles refer to it as a movie theater, but that isn’t a given. Small multiplexes such as the CineArts (Century) brand in Santana Row, Marin, and Pleasant Hill usually show smaller budget and independent films, and it could make sense in this location because the only nearby indie moviehouses are across the Dumbarton Bridge in Palo Alto.

However, a more interesting move would be some kind of performing arts center. Currently the only one in the city is the Gary Soren Smith Center on the Ohlone College campus, and it’s just a little over a decade old. There would be a huge question of financing such a complex, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on the table for discussion. Perhaps there’s a way to split the 54,000 s.f. allotted for the theater so it could accommodate both a live theater facility and a smaller film multiplex. The movie theater would be the bean-counter’s choice since a private concern would capitalize and operate it. A performing arts center would be a far more culturally significant venue.

Ah, but there’s more. Certain buildings in the village have been identified as anchors. Those orange blocks are in the north corner (upper right) and southwest area (left). The north anchors are around 30,000 s.f., which should accommodate a multitude of large retailers such as Crate and Barrel and Best Buy. The intriguing space is the 140,000 s.f., two-level southwest space. Based on size and location, I’d lay my money on Nordstrom being the tenant, since a typical Nordstrom is around that size.

The school’s location still needs to be worked out, and the transit hub needs to be addressed. There’s plenty of time to make those elements work.