Wolff says project “in flux”

Thanks to longtime reader/commenter Anthony Dominguez, who found an important ballpark blurb buried in the bottom of today’s gamewrap (Rick Hurd/Contra Costa Times):

A new venue supposedly would alleviate (attendance) issues, but Wolff acknowledged that such a prospect is closer to limbo than it is reality. Wolff said the team continues to wait for the environmental impact reports to be finished, and that the need to satisfy several constituencies has slowed the progress.

“It is now in flux,” Wolff said. “All I can say is we’re working hard every day, because our options if we fail, we really haven’t thought about those options.”

Wolff admitted that the process has frustrated him at times, but that it’s been the price of trying to construct something in California. He also said any reports that intimate the team is seeking public money are misrepresented.

“We haven’t asked for any money,” he said. “And I’m tired of people assuming we are.”

From parsing the quotes, it appears that Wolff is pointing the finger at the EIR process. We’ve gone over how lengthy the process is ad nauseum. There are whispers about the impact of the shuttle service the city/A’s may deploy, with city officials concerned that evening drivetime could be especially difficult. I devoted a post to the difficulty of getting a shuttle working when the specific plan was released. In some of the public sessions there was a mention of a similar split of driving vs. transit/walking fans to the current situation at the Coliseum. I expressed doubts about this as I suspect that the number of fans walking from within and near the baseball village will be lower than expected. It’s impossible to scrutinize at this point because the transportation study is not yet published.

Of course, it’s easy to hide behind the EIR when that’s expected. What I think is really hurting Wolff/Fisher right now are the real estate and greater financial markets. Not in terms of their wallets, but their ability to cobble together the village’s financing plan. We all know that the Bay Area real estate market has shrunk in many locales – especially the East Bay. Not even the recently signed mortgage bailout bill is expected to completely stem the tide:

U.S. home prices continued their plunge in May, including a 23 percent drop in the Bay Area. Continued declines make banks even less willing to lend, further pressuring home prices, Tyson said, threatening even prime mortgages and credit card debt.

The biggest issue at this point is that no one knows when the economy will bottom out. How bad will it be? How long will the “official recession” last? Fear caused by current economic uncertainty slows everything down from consumer spending to housing starts. And it’s those housing starts that are the linchpin to the whole deal. The financial market that Wolff/Fisher are asking to provide money for the village don’t want to hear about the ballpark paying for itself. It won’t, that’s been proven time and time again. They want something more stable to foot the bill. Until the real estate market collapse, that was housing. Without that in place and for a reasonable interest rate, the deal is sunk.

Now it’s a matter of when the turnaround occurs. At some point the Bay Area will see a very low inventory of new housing. Market forces will kick in, causing new housing to be built. The question is, when will that happen? And how much will Fremont lag behind the more resilient parts of the Bay Area (SF, Peninsula, Silicon Valley)? East Bay real estate experts I’ve spoken to have said the area is already turning around. But it’s hard to pick out a few data points in the rest of the noise.

Dodger Stadium shuttle service begins

After years of not having public transit service the Dodgers’ home in Chavez Ravine, the team and city of Los Angeles launched a shuttle bus service that takes fans from Union Station to Dodger Stadium.

“Dodger Trolley,” which reportedly had 500-600 riders (1% of a capacity crowd) on its inaugural night, is free and runs every 10 minutes, starting at 90 minutes before first pitch until one hour after a game ends. The trip is 2.2 miles each direction (map). That’s less than half the distance from Fremont BART to Pacific Commons, but nearly twice the distance of future shuttles to either the Warm Springs BART station or the planned Pacific Commons Amtrak/ACE station.

It’s a great alternative to the hilly gridlock normally experienced at Dodger Stadium, where no other transit mode is expected to build an extension in the near or distant future. It should also serve as a harbinger for Chavez Ravine’s future, in which the area surrounding the stadium will be largely developed.

Around the league, Dog Days edition

Major intrigue surrounds the Marlins’ stadium situation, as opponent and former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman’s lawsuit enters its second week. This followed an unsuccessful mediation period. Braman argues, among other thing, that the use of redevelopment money for the ballpark is illegal without a referendum. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Sarah Talalay has a great running tab on the case.

On Friday, case judge Jeri Beth Cohen struck down numerous smaller claims made by Braman, but not the core issue:

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen said she believes it does, but is “torn” because a Florida Supreme Court ruling, which states property tax money pledged to finance bonds for more than a year for major projects are subject to a referendum, is being reconsidered and is unclear how it should be applied until it is final. In that case, Gregory Strand sued Escambia County over spending property tax money without a referendum.

“The way I read Strand, it applies to this funding scheme. However, I’m torn because of the way the court issued the opinion on how to apply it,” Cohen said.

Braman contends the public has a right to vote on the financing for $3 billion in Miami projects, including a $515 million ballpark. He calls it a “shell game” for relying on property tax dollars meant for impoverished neighborhoods to pay off debt on the performing arts center to free up hotel bed taxes for the ballpark.

Braman has said throughout that he’d drop the case if Miami/Miami-Dade officials would simply put the whole development plan, which is far more extensive than just a ballpark, to a vote. If he wins the matter will undoubtedly go to appeal, where Braman has shown the willingness to keep fighting. Fish Stripes notes that a recent Miami Herald poll shows that 57% of respondents believe the ballpark is a bad investment.

Braman also talked out of school when discussing the Marlins’ financial situation:

Braman attorney Bob Martinez said the document shows the team was $150 million in debt and had no equity. Braman later slipped in that he turned down the team’s request to invest because “I could not invest in a company that had $163 million…” but he was again cut off.

The issue with the Marlins has always been Loria/Samson. Ownership groups are expected to meet a certain bar in order to operate properly. $163 million in debt? That’s Selig’s fault. I guess Loria had Selig over a legal barrel when Expos were “contracted.”

In New York the Yankees are in a battle to secure $350 million that they feel is needed to complete the new Stadium. Here’s the scoop, courtesy of Newsday:


February 2008: Planned upgrades to the scoreboard, concession stands and luxury suites spark the Yankees to seek an additional $350 million in tax-exempt borrowing via the city’s EDC. The problem lies in potential revision of an Internal Revenue Service regulation – a revision proposed shortly after the Yankees and Mets got IRS approval for their tax-exempt financing in 2006.


The proposed regulation under review by the U.S. Treasury Department and IRS would impose stricter interpretation of rules governing PILOTs. The proposed regulation would require PILOTs to be closely tied to “applicable taxes” such as a real estate tax, rather than a fixed payment – in the Yankees’ case, a PILOT equal to the debt service on the bonds. The change could disqualify the Yankees from benefiting from further tax-exempt government financing via PILOTs. The Yankees are trying to persuade Treasury and IRS officials to drop the proposed regulation.

Should the feds rule that PILOTs are to be restricted to specific (non-stadium) uses, it’s likely that PILOTs could never be used as a financing instrument ever again. That would affect all three New York area venue projects: New Yankee Stadium, CitiField, and Barclays Center. It could also affect plans to renovate Madison Square Garden. Since it’s the feds pressing the case, the restrictions would apply throughout the nation, not that many projects were looking to use PILOTs (most publicly-funded venues use sales or hotel/car rental taxes).

Bobb is back! – sort of

Say what you will about former Oakland City Administrator Robert Bobb, but he sure knows how to keep himself busy. Bobb was hired back by Oakland on a three-month consulting gig. The task? To identify where Bobb’s successor, now ex-City Admin Deborah Edgerly, fudged the budget. Bobb and the consulting firm he represents will get a cool $150k for the effort.

Bobb also officially wears another hat, that of President of the DC Board of Education. It’s a good way to keep his profile in the District high without burdening him with a ton of responsibility.

Now for the good/bad news. Bobb has yet one more job, one that could shape his political and financial future. He’s now turned into a developer – of ballparks, no less! Could this mean a ballpark in Oakland? Not quite. He’s focused his attention on a different former stomping ground, Richmond, VA (not CA). Sounds like he’s literally turning his success with the Nationals Park deal into capital. That’s not all. The article notes that he may have designs on Richmond’s mayoral job, after longtime friend Douglas Wilder (who had a stint as Virginia governor) retires.

A little background on Richmond is in order. Richmond has been the longtime home of the Braves’ AAA squad since 1966, which places the team in the city longer than the A’s have been in Oakland. Last year the Braves decided to move the team closer to home in Gwinnett County, GA, so they could have easier access to those prospects (the A’s moved their AAA team to Sacramento in a similar move). A large factor in the decision was also the futility in which the Braves and Richmond have tried to get a new ballpark deal in place.

Bobb’s development group, Robert Bobb Group LLC, is one of several firms competing for the development deal. Bobb’s plan looks like this:

The group would build in its place a multi-pronged sports and retail complex, called “The Arthur Ashe Learning and Sports Megaplex,” which includes:

• A 200,000-square-foot Arthur Ashe Center featuring a 200-meter indoor track, an indoor soccer field, a 50-meter swimming pool and a 30-foot climbing wall, among other amenities.

• An 8,000-seat minor-league ballpark and adjacent 19,000-square-foot baseball training facility.

• A 6,500-seat basketball arena that would become the new home of Virginia Union University’s basketball team.

• A 60,000-square-foot tennis center for Virginia Commonwealth University, along with several outdoor courts and a 10,000-square-foot sports medicine center.

In addition to the sports facilities, Bobb’s group also proposes building a 200-bed hotel and retail shops totaling 373,700 square feet. In his proposal to the city, Bobb also claims to have a “letter of interest” from a big box retailer for a 200,000-square-foot store on the site.

The still-TBD new baseball tenant would likely be a AA club, as there are no AAA teams looking to move at this time (except perhaps Nashville, whose future stadium situation is uncertain).

Bobb appears to be building, in essence, a sports village. It’s not known how much public assistance will be required for the project, but rest assured Bobb wouldn’t be involved unless there were some sizable public funds at stake. That’s his specialty.

As for Oakland? Well, I suppose that Bobb could, in his peek into Oakland’s broken finances, throw in a well-timed quip about how all of the city’s fiscal waste could’ve helped pay for a ballpark. Would he take over the city’s temporarily-filled head bureaucrat position? Who knows? I think he sees his political future in Richmond, not Oakland. Still, this three-month gig definitely allows him to dip a toe in the local waters again.

Nats Park, the Sequel

A ride on the Metro took 25 minutes from the Rosslyn Station to Navy Yard, including a transfer at L’Enfant Plaza. Before boarding the train, I took what is purported to be the third-longest escalator in the world.

The escalator ride itself took over two minutes.

The first game’s start was delayed thanks to rain that impacted me as I drove from NYC to DC. The second game’s delay waited until the middle of the game.

Overall, three of the six games I attended were hit by rain delays.

This next picture shows the press box above the lower section of the upper deck. Why did I include this? The upper deck of Cisco Field will have a similar look (minus the red).

Again, the concourses are spacious and well-planned. On the other hand, the gray beams could use a splash of color.

The Presidents Club seats have been sparsely filled at most home games this season. I suppose that makes Washington powerbrokers the most fairweather of fans.

My original assessment of Nationals Park stands: serviceable but uninspiring. I take away from the DC portion of the trip one particular observation. It’s going to take a long time, perhaps decades, to make DC a baseball town again. It’s not just the omnipresent Redskins that make the place a football town. When baseball left our nation’s capital for the seemingly the last time in 1971, the institution that is attending baseball games – that is fandom – also left. As a result, lots of Nats attendees don’t have a good sense of what it is to be a die-hard fan (not helped by the Nats’ constant crappiness). The relative proximity of Baltimore only made it worse, as fans from say, Northern Virginia, had to deal with lengthy drive. If you have a family of four and you leave at 5:30 to attend a 7:05 game, you probably have to leave well before 10 if you want to get home at a decent hour. For most of that Friday night’s fans the mass exodus occurred in the 6th inning.

Coincidentally, the distance from B’more to DC is approximately the same length as my drive from San Jose to Oakland. I can see this type of situation playing out in Fremont among the South Bay fans, who have been conditioned to this way of attending games for decades. When a ballpark is only 15-20 minutes away, many will have to learn to attend games the proper way (apologies to families with small children, who tend to dictate this on their own). Conversely, those further north will have to get used to allotting more drive time for games they attend. It sucks, of course it sucks. When it comes to building stadia these days, beggars can’t be choosers.

ESPN SportsTravel visits the Coliseum

ESPN writer Anna Katherine Clemmons has a good write up on McAfee Coliseum today. She includes the history of the place with renovations, plus a smattering of opinions on the move. There is both praise and criticism of both the fans and the venue. Worthwhile read.

About the Oakland factor:

The stadium lies off of I-880, a quick jaunt from either San Francisco (assuming Bay Bridge traffic is light, which is almost never, despite the $4 toll) or San Jose.

But since San Francisco Bay Area’s namesake city of hills, hippies and sourdough already has the Giants and 49ers, this home to the A’s and the NFL’s Raiders tends to attract suburban fans from a smattering of outlining towns.

So much so, that at this 6:05 p.m. game between the A’s and the Rangers, I couldn’t find an Oakland native. I searched diligently, talking to at least 30 fans inside the stadium before finally stumbling upon a city resident sitting in the center field section eating chicken tenders and French fries 10 minutes before the national anthem.

Pro-Oakland types often say that ownership has in effect spit on them and driven them away. Some non-Oaklanders have concluded that the fandom really hasn’t been there in the first place. Honestly, I think it has more to do with numbers: Oakland’s population is only 1/6th of the East Bay, even less of the Bay Area’s 7 million. One thing I’ve pondered is how many former Oakland residents attend ballgames. As the Oakland Hills has taken in transplants from San Francisco and the rest of the country, certainly many longtime Oakland residents were displaced. Some have left the flats for opportunities elsewhere, especially with the erosion of the manufacturing sector. It’s likely a combination of the above factors, which is rather inconvenient for partisans looking for an easy scapegoat.

I’ll be in the stands tonight, with a slightly different perspective on the Coliseum since concluding the East Coast trip.

Fenway Park

The greatest thing about Fenway Park is its lack of pretense. It wasn’t designed in a way that drew attention to itself. It can’t afford to be set back in its tiny block of Boston. It doesn’t have artfully designed gates and entrances. Nor does it have an very distinctive exterior. It’s red brick and green painted steel, of course, but that brick isn’t a façade. Along the first base grandstand, it is that brick that keeps standing spectators from falling to the sidewalk below. Fenway was built in sections, expanded over time, and has evolved to become the institution it is today. Never during its 96-year history has there been the luxury of extra space.

Still, the reputation of Fenway as a tight, cramped space is a bit overblown. Several years ago the City of Boston granted the Red Sox the right to use Yawkey Way as a concourse on gamedays, a la Eutaw Street at Camden Yards. On the first base side the main concourse has a decent amount of room but no place to view the game, unless you’re referring to the catwalk-like area behind the grandstand along Van Ness St. Everywhere on the concourse it appears that it’s busy and hectic. Yet when you walk into the seating bowl it appears that every seat is filled. What gives? It seems magical.

Speaking of magical, there’s nothing quite like sitting in one of the wooden grandstand seats towards the rear of the seating bowl. They’re comfortable and well-worn, albeit not spacious. The issue with grandstand seats isn’t so much the seats themselves as it is the row/riser width. Leg room is severely limited.

Then there’s the Green Monster. It’s amazing how much affinity for a place can translate into tangible monetary value. Only in Fenway would outfield seats 37 feet above the playing field be priced $160 apiece. I can’t say I’m a big fan. I loved the Monster’s lack of clutter prior to the Monster seats and the 2003 All Star Game. I liked the home run net and how sluggers tried to get their blasts over it. That said, little of the Monster’s character has changed. Out-of-town scores still have to be changed by hand on the outside of the scoreboard. There’s still a resounding clank when a ball bounds off the upper part of the Monster.

The suites and premium/club areas are all above the main seating area, giving a concourses a communal feel. This works from an aesthetic standpoint because many of those patrons, who tend to pay less attention to the game anyway, aren’t in high-visibility seating areas where their lack of fan participation would look bad.

Fenway isn’t without faults. No matter how much the purists debate the matter, columns suck. If you happened to be in Section 2 just 20 feet down the row from my seat, this is what your view would look like:

Thankfully, new methods of engineering cantilevers has made columns unnecessary, while allowing for more aggressive overhangs with each new ballpark.

I also noticed the rather ironic framed SI cover while walking through the suite level:

And as hardcore as Red Sox Nation appears to be, they’re not immune to their own brand of shameful idiocy. Witness the video I captured: