Drip drip drip

Earlier today, A’s GM/minority partner Billy Beane was interviewed by the Baseball Tonight crew on a range of topics, first being the state of the ballpark chase. When asked where Lew Wolff was going next, Beane kept the party line by saying Wolff was “looking at options.” Ooooookay.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that San Jose is the most likely next option. And though Wolff broke and then kept his promise to wait until Opening Day to talk ballparks, that hasn’t stopped him from sending others to work out some other details. According to Soccer Silicon Valley founder Colin McCarthy (via BigSoccer), Keith Wolff and Michael Crowley were both at a SJ City Council session tonight to discuss last year’s Airport West land deal for an Earthquakes stadium. The 75-acre former FMC site is sandwiched between SJC and SCU. Parking and additional commercial development would flank the stadium. Public transit is good here as fans would be serviced by both Caltrain and a future BART terminus if/when that extension gets built.

Since the $132 million deal was negotiated, several things have changed. The world, for starters. Real estate values have dropped, and while a drop in median home prices doesn’t translate into a similarly precipitous drop for commercial real estate, it’s possible that the fair market value for the land is substantially below the initial price. With that in mind, Lew’s seen fit to try to get a better price for the land. I’ve actually heard this has been a mutually agreeable situation on both sides for some time, so this isn’t surprising.

In addition, the economic downturn has made the Edenvale/iStar housing development a poor financing route at this time. For now it’s not being pursued, and the Earthquakes’ planned stadium has been downsized in accordance with the lower than previously expected funds. The new stadium is expected to seat 15,000 and may have few luxury suites. Design-wise, it may also be difficult to expand, though I don’t think this is as much of a problem as some fans think.

Now if you’ve ever had the feeling that in buying the Earthquakes, Lew got a nice back door into San Jose City Hall, you’re not alone. I’ve felt that from the beginning. Yes, the entire ownership group may be nouveau soccer fans, but that only makes their work more enjoyable, I suppose. What we’re seeing now are precedents that will set the tone for negotiations with the A’s side of the business when the time comes. Consider that acquisition of both the Airport West and Diridon South sites started in 2005-06. A fair market 2009 land valuation would be applicable to both sites. Since Diridon South is worth more per acre and was “slated for housing,” the potential discount could be greater than at Airport West. These days, every dollar saved is important, especially if the savings could be used elsewhere – say a relocated PG&E substation.

———-Begin speculative section of post———-

All this Earthquakes/A’s talk allows me to segue into what I think the overall strategy is. I see this as a three-pronged, multiphase project in which some of the key steps have already been completed. Here’s an informal timeline (per Dan’s request, separated by team/sport activity – green for A’s, blue for Quakes):

  • April 2005 – Wolff/Fisher group assumes ownership of the A’s, Beane/Crowley given extensions and small slices of team
  • August 2005 – Coliseum North plan is unveiled
  • January 2006 – Oakland officials admit that Coliseum North plan is going nowhere
  • February 2007 – San Jose publishes Ballpark Draft EIR
  • May 2006 – Wolff/Fisher group and MLS announce plan to resurrect Earthquakes
  • November 2006 – Fremont plan is unveiled
  • March 2007 – San Jose certifies EIR
  • April 2007 – Talks between SJSU and Quakes break down
  • October 2007 – Earthquakes and SCU announce deal for renovated Buck Shaw Stadium
  • 2007-08 – A’s and Fremont continue to work on Cisco Field/baseball village concept
  • July 2008 – Earthquakes and San Jose agree on terms for Airport West property
  • November 2008 – Santa Clara County Measure B passes
  • January 2009 – Sharks agree to purchase 15% of Quakes
  • February 2009 – Fremont deal falls apart
  • March 2009 – Lew quashes any hopes of staying in Oakland

Notice how all of these events had a tendency to dribble out over time? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Part of that can be attributed to process (EIR, land acquisitions) and part of it appears to be by design. Assuming that Lew & Co. can navigate all of the remaining obstacles – and there are plenty – this is how I think all of this works out:

  • Quakes play at new stadium starting in 2010-11.
  • A’s play at Diridon South ballpark in 2014.
  • SVS+E, owners of the Sharks and operators of HP Pavilion, make a deal with the A’s/Quakes to operate both of their venues. Inherent in any deal is the understanding that neither stadium competes for certain events with the Pavilion. (I think this is one reason why no stage is planned for the Quakes’ stadium.)
  • A’s/Quakes work with San Jose to get development rights to the 8 blocks between Pavilion and ballpark. A’s promise to build enough parking to handle demand at all venues, for transit use, etc.

As with the previous timeline, there is some sequencing of events. By building the Quakes’ stadium first and the ballpark second, general contractor services can be bid in a “packaged deal.” Such an extended development schedule would be amenable to contractors, labor, and the sports franchises. All of that would be completed in time for San Jose and the Sharks to figure what major renovations needed to be done for HP Pavilion or whatever it’s called at that point. No wonder the City is trying to raise its Redevelopment Agency’s debt ceiling from $7.5 billion to $15 billion.

The SJ Giants would be moved and its owners compensated (I’m thinking North Bay). That would leave the Quakes as the less expensive, family-friendly option and the A’s as the bigger ticket with more in-house diversions.

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