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.

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