49ers Draft EIR released

The Merc’s Mike Swift has a brief summary of the report, just released by the City of Santa Clara. Matier and Ross add a bit of snark. I’m going to spend the weekend poring over the details, so don’t expect much until Monday. Links to the report and related appendices can be found at the City’s DEIR page.

A note about discussing the EIR: Please refrain from commenting on the press reports, which are very limited right now. Start by reading the Summary section of the report, which runs 20 pages. From there you can tackle specific topics however you please.

Trains and baseball in the ‘burbs

Over at Inhabitat, there are fresh images from HOK and Parsons Brinkerhoff showing what a new multimodal rail station at Anaheim would look like. The planned site is about halfway between Angel Stadium (in the background) and Honda Center (off screen and to the right).

It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Diridon Station design team and the A’s ballpark design team to swap images, as it would help the public visualize the possibilities within the area. In Anaheim, they aren’t reusing an existing historic station as would happen in San Jose. Instead, a new, modern structure that looks like a huge blimp hangar would be used. It’s all part of a plan to do a great deal of infill development in the “Platinum Triangle” area of Anaheim.

Speaking of planning, San Jose’s third Good Neighbor committee session started a couple of hours ago. I haven’t attended any of the sessions, though I plan to be at one of the last two, which will be held on the following dates:

Good Neighbor 
Committee Meeting #4
Thurs., August 13 at 6 p.m.
City Hall Wing
200 E Santa Clara St

Good Neighbor Committee Meeting #5
Thurs., August 27 at 6 p.m.
City Hall Wing
200 E Santa Clara St

In addition, a Diridon site walking tour is planned for August 19, also at 6 p.m.

If you haven’t checked out the San Jose Redevelopment Agency’s ballpark website, it has a few items worth viewing. Of chief interest is the planning study handout, which shows just how extensive the broader development area is.

There’s also a depiction of the new Autumn Parkway layout, if you’re interested.

Trouble at the Trop

If you happened to catch the A’s taking a surprising two out of three on the road against the Rays last weekend, you got more than a passing glimpse of Tropicana Field. While the Rays and A’s may be on opposite ends of the team development spectrum, their stadium situations are much more similar. The Trop has in the past been accused of being rather library like, allowing The Happy Heckler to hold court in full clarity. (Incidentally, the Happy Heckler may not be so happy anymore due to the real estate downturn.)

While Stuart Sternberg has put some new paint, spit and polish on the Trop, it’s still not an ideal venue. He’s wanted to move anywhere but the orange dome despite the team being locked into a lease until 2026 (2016 with more favorable buyout terms). Last summer, the focus was on Al Lang Field/Progress Energy Park, a downtown waterfront site. The concept was shelved as the financial specifics couldn’t be worked out, especially as the economy started to go into the crapper.

This summer numerous options are being explored by ABC, a group consisting of local business and civic leaders. Multiple sites in St. Petersburg are being considered, and the site search has expanded to include Tampa. An online survey indicates that the leading site is in Downtown Tampa, followed by the Carillon business park site in St. Pete. Within the site study is a breakdown of ticket sales by county. While over half of season ticket sales come from Pinellas County (St. Pete), roughly equivalent numbers (29%) of single game ticket sales originate from both Pinellas and Hillsborough (Tampa) counties.

Local media has largely picked up the financing situation, which is problematic. The outstanding debt ($108 million over the next 17 years) at the Trop is an extra burden that must be carried by St. Pete, the Rays, or both even if a new ballpark is constructed. While dry, the financing presentation provides a good comparison between the financing structure at the Trop and other ballparks and major Florida sports venues. I’ll give you a hint: almost all public.

Last, and definitely not least, is a study commissioned by ABC and undertaken by Populous (formerly HOK). The beautiful, 47-page treatise goes into great detail as to what it would take to renovate Tropicana Field to modern standards. To do the job right, which would include building a retractable roof, the cost would be a mind boggling $470 million. One of the appendix documents goes line-by-line into the requirements, which vary greatly in scope. The renovation doesn’t need to include all of the prescribed changes, but most would be required. Here’s a sobering breakdown:

  • Circulation/Concourses: $52.7 million. Similar to the small-scale renovations I wrote about in March for the Coliseum, these improvements would come from ripping out several rows of seats to create more open concourses. The estimate here is twice as much as I projected for the Coliseum work, though this is more extensive.
  • Seating Size: $9.5 million. Expansion of row treads from 32 to 33 inches in most cases, from 18 (!) to 33 inches in others.
  • Club Lounges: $35.4 million. Construction of three new club areas, at field level behind the plate and along the first and third base mezzanine.
  • Press Box relocation: $13.8 million. Following an ongoing trend, the chattering class would be moved from the mezzanine to the back of the upper deck, behind the plate.
  • Suites: $21.6 million. Larger (500 s.f.) suites, including 2 levels along the baselines and 3 levels behind the plate.
  • Natural Light: $99.8 million. No, not kegs of the yellow liquid masquerading as beer at every seat. This would cover improvements to the roof system that would improve light transmission through the roof, along with clerestory windows and other methods to bring in daylight.
  • Operable Roof: $121.6 million. Your garden variety retractable roof at a newer ballpark (Minute Maid, Safeco, Marlins ballpark), in addition to the “Natural Light” improvements.
  • Site Amenities: $8.4 million. Redone gates and entry plazas.
  • Technology: $20.4 million. Sound, networking, closed-circuit video, surveillance. Includes en suite IPTV.
  • Interior fit-out/Renovation: $17 million. Carpet, floors, finishes.
  • Concessions Equipment: $13.4 million.
  • Signage/Scoreboards/Video: $23.3 million.
  • Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing: $33.6 million.

So what would it look like?

Looks a lot like Nationals Park.

The best part of the report? In the introduction is a little background about the circumstances that led to the building of the stadium. But while Populous is perfectly fine pointing out all of the modern ballparks it has penned, it in no way acknowledges the simple fact that they designed Tropicana Field!!!!! Yes, it was spec’ed and built before the modern ballpark era. Yes, it was meant to be multi-purpose. Still, no acknowledgement at all? Come on, now.

The upshot indicates that $470 million spent would still yield a somewhat inferior facility. The conclusion:

Tropicana Field would undoubtedly be a better facility, both in its ability to entertain fans and generate revenue, with an approximately $350-470 million (depending on whether a retractable roof is included) renovation. However, the multipurpose seating bowl geometry, overly narrow seating treads, compromised seating sections, and poor distribution of lower and upper level seats would still yield a ballpark with substantial flaws.

I suspect that a Coliseum renovation appraisal (save for the need for a roof) would be strikingly similar.

NUMMI implications

There’s a cloud over south Fremont, and its name is Toyota. With GM and the Pontiac Vibe out of the picture at NUMMI, Toyota had been silent about the plant’s future until last weekend. That’s when the #1 automaker in the world, which up to this point has never closed a plant, announced that the plant may indeed shut down for good. The leading question from that outcome, within the narrow scope of this blog, is of course, Does that open up a ballpark site in Fremont?

Before I answer that, a little history is in order. NUMMI arose from the remains of a plant that built various incarnations of the Pontiac GTO, among other vehicles. The GM-only plant shut down in 1982, then returned in 1984 as a joint venture between GM and Toyota. The mission was to employ Japanese production methods at an American plant. Since the (re)opening of the plant, it has built millions of vehicles, mostly the popular bedrock Tacoma pickup and Corolla sedan. GM offerings included the ill-fated 80’s-era Chevy Nova, the Corolla-twin Geo Prism, and the Vibe. The problem with NUMMI really boils down to this:

Nummi, the only large auto-assembly plant on North America’s West Coast, has the capacity to make 420,000 cars and pickups each year. It only made money in 1992, the result of California’s taxes and labor and pollution rules, as well as the plant’s UAW contracts, according to an estimate by Tokyo-based Credit Suisse Group AG analyst Koji Endo.

Now before you start blaming the UAW for this, let’s keep the labor costs in perspective. NUMMI team members make $29 an hour. Their counterparts at non-union Toyota plant in Kentucky make $25-27 an hour, in Texas it’s $21-25 an hour. That difference can be chalked up to cost-of-living as much as anything else. Cost-of-living for Toyota at NUMMI can’t be denied. Taxes are high, prohibitively so for many companies who choose to leave California. If Toyota is truly serious about shutting the plant down, over 5,000 jobs will be lost.

Last year, Toyota put the kibosh on reports that it was in talks to build the hybrid Prius model at NUMMI. This came as plans emerged for a new factory in Mississippi – those plans are now stalled, with the Prius production going somewhere else. It would appear that the door is open for the Prius, which is equally revered and detested as the darling of Bay Area freeways. Unfortunately, Toyota’s writing may have been on the wall when it came out with lower-than-expected pricing so that the car could better compete with Honda’s newly released Insight hybrid.

From an outsider’s standpoint, the only thing that could save NUMMI is – that’s right – massive federal money. The Department of Energy handed out 1/3 of its $25 billion in advanced technology loans last month, including $460 million for Tesla. Tesla has already committed to building its Model S sedan in SoCal, but it plans to build its battery and drivetrain factory somewhere in the Bay Area. The factory would employ less than 500. Ford got a whopping $5.9 billion to better improve fuel economy of its entire line, while Nissan got $1.6 billion to retrofit a plant in Tennessee in anticipation of one or more electric cars. Toyota received nothing (not to say that they didn’t apply). Toyota may be up for one of the next two rounds, and if that’s the case, a major infusion of cash to get NUMMI up to Prius production standards may be in order. Knowing what hangs in the balance, I can only imagine that locals and union officials are lobbying Congressman Pete Stark and Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein to get the ball rolling. Couple that with state tax breaks authorized by Governor Schwarzenegger and the state legislature (um…), and suddenly the climate becomes much more hospitable for doing business in south Fremont. Like the initial closure of the GM plant and reopening as NUMMI, the process could take some time to hash out. There’s zero chance you’ll see Priuses rolling off the assembly line this fall.

Got that? Okay, now for the doomsday scenario. Let’s assume, God forbid, that the plant does close for good. Suddenly there are now 400 acres to develop in Fremont. The Alameda County Assessor’s office pegs the assessed value of the land and plant at $1 billion. The plant has plenty of historical value, which means it’s not getting demolished anytime soon. Toyota, which as mentioned before has no experience closing down a plant, would have to deal with messy, ugly divestment of the various assets at NUMMI. As the NUMMI legal arrangement is dissolved, the land will be divvied up and sold. The ripest fruit would be at the northern and southern ends, which are undeveloped. The 107-acre northern section has been considered as part of a large area where a ballpark and/or parking could be built. It’s also the parcel that NUMMI considered for a parts warehousing operation, if it wanted to run things the non-Lean, old-GM way. Since any debate of the impact of placing a ballpark there would be rendered moot, it’s suddenly a prime site. Just sell the land and bring the piledrivers, right?

Not so fast, my friends. It’s unlikely that any parcels will be designated for new development on their own without a larger development plan. Before the City of Fremont even gets to that point, they’ll probably exhaust every effort to keep some kind of manufacturing in place at the site. The last thing they’d want to do in the near term is approve incompatible development that could jeopardize that. Let’s say that Tesla becomes a major financial success and becomes a standard bearer for electric car manufacturers worldwide. Last summer they’d shown interest in a from-scratch plant in San Jose, before they caught wind of incentives that come with reusing brownfield sites. Perhaps they’d want a piece of the old plant. Who’s to say they won’t have the same concerns that NUMMI had? Given the generally low wage jobs that come with a ballpark, I’d expect the City to move very slowly on this.

The future of NUMMI, even in death, lies with Toyota. Toyota may very well close the plant, while showing no interest in selling any land. They have every right to reopen the plant at a later date when the economy rebounds. They can also dictate the pace and style of development there. Toyota has some difficult decisions to make here, and closing the plant is only the first. Should the plant close, the aftermath will not be swift, and it will be difficult.

Selig says… nothing

The Chronicle’s John Shea has some “news” from the commish courtesy of the All Star Break BBWA meeting.

“Territorial rights are always sacred,” Selig said at a Baseball Writers Association of America meeting.

Selig refused to comment on whether baseball would approve an A’s move to San Jose, a city that’s in the Giants’ territory but is luring A’s owner Lew Wolff. The A’s, whose attendance has fallen five straight years, claim a move from the Coliseum to a new venue would ensure higher revenue and a greater chance to be competitive.

Selig warned, “We’re living in an economy where it’s tough to talk about new stadiums.”

Yes, I did say that the panel’s report should have been out by now. What’s the hold up? Who knows? It could be that, knowing the state of the economy, there’s simply no rush. No one’s breaking ground anytime soon. It could be that additional possibilities are being explored by the panel to ensure that every avenue has been exhausted. That’s probably not what Lew Wolff wants, but at this point there’s no harm in being thorough.

Update: Jesse, a regular participant in the comments section, had a question for Selig during yesterday’s online town hall at MLB.com. Here’s the Q&A:

Vince Micucci: The next question from Jessie in Oakland: The A’s are my lifelong passion, but I am afraid they are going to move. When will the stadium committee that MLB sent to Oakland be ready to deliver a review?

Commissioner Selig: They are close. Mr. Dupuy will meet with them shortly. It’s a difficult situation and I understand his concerns. But the Oakland A’s need a new ballpark — there’s no question about that — to be competitive.

The Giants have built themselves a wonderful, wonderful ballpark, and the A’s need to do the same thing. So this committee has been very thorough, has examined all of the different possibilities, which they should do, all of the different places that they may be able to go and everything else.

So I’m confident in the end that we will make a very meaningful and rational decision.

Great work, Jesse. Before you readers start parsing the response, I’ll advise you – don’t. You’ll be taking gigantic leaps if you do.

Neukom reaffirms territorial rights

Giants managing partner Bill Neukom headed down to a Los Altos Rotary Club event today, where he attempted to clear up some supposed misconceptions about territorial rights. From the Merc’s Mike Swift:

Neukom said “there is a misunderstanding about the facts” relating to baseball’s territorial rights, adding that the Giants established their formal claim of rights to the five counties from Marin to Monterey, with Santa Clara County at the center of that territory, as long ago as 1994.

“We asked for those counties because those are the natural counties for our fan base,” Neukom said. “And those are the counties that we intend to continue to engage as Giants fans. Nobody else asked for any of those counties. Oakland asked for Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and got them.”

That’s news. Silly me, I thought Santa Clara County was granted so that the Giants could move there.

What‘s missing from the story? No threats. No mention of reprisals. It wouldn’t sound so strange if it wasn’t the same guy who legally reorganized the Giants ownership group as “San Francisco Baseball Associates L.P.” Good lord, how much more legalese can it get than that?

Historically, the head Giant owner has deigned to grace the South Bay with his presence once or twice a year, but usually in a place like Los Altos or Palo Alto. Not that I expect Neukom and his bowtie to show up at the intersection of Tully and King, but why not hang out in San Jose for a lunch and talk to interested parties here? Nah, I suspect that as long as this continues Santa Clara County as a whole will be treated like a satellite, worthy of token outreach at best. Don’t let the recent investment in the SJ Giants fool you. That’s the baseball equivalent of setting up Vichy France. Vive le résistance!

SB 43: Legislative flea flicker

A mini scandal is brewing in Santa Clara, where the 49ers stadium plan is getting help from State Senator Elaine Alquist (D – Santa Clara). She gutted an active, rather innocuous bill, SB 43, and replaced it with completely unrelated language geared specifically towards Santa Clara and how it should work the bidding process for the stadium.

The original bill was drafted to help the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) determine which health care fields could benefit from greater diversity, linguistic and cultural knowledge. It’s a bill that could be beneficial for my brother, who is a rare male in a female-dominated sector. SB 43 was moving swimmingly through committee when, on June 30, all language was replaced with rules that govern that the design-build process for the stadium only. It doesn’t establish rules for any other joint powers agencies that may undertake other stadium building projects throughout the state. The bill has gone back into committee.

So what we have is effectively a legislative trick play. Masquerading as a simple interior run, the QB (Alquist) gets the pitchback and heaves a bomb to the WR running down the sideline (49ers), all while the OL (stadium proponents) and DL (opponents) are completely unaware. In a real flea flicker the OL is usually aware, but apparently not this time.

There are all sorts of questions about how this all came about. Let’s tackle them from the start.

Why the bill language change? The deadline for introducing new legislation passed at the end of February, so the only way to get these rules passed was to rub out an existing active bill.

Why didn’t they just introduce the bill early in the year? My guess is that the Niners felt it would’ve opened the project up to greater scrutiny before they were ready to unveil the revised plan (remember how I questioned the short evaluation period before the City Council vote?). The 2007 handout made no mention of the bidding process.

Did Sen. Alquist receive a campaign contribution from the 49ers? Alquist’s office also revealed late that it received a $1000 campaign contribution from the 49ers.

What’s so controversial about this “no bid” change? Stadium opponents are already getting their pitchforks and torches ready now that “no bid” has entered the discussion. The city charter requires a public bidding process for projects like this, in order to get the lowest high quality bid for the allocated budget. In industry parlance it’s called “design-bid-build.” In this case, they’re going with “design-build” which changes the process by identifying a specific lead contractor early and working hand-in-hand from the start. Design-build can yield cost reductions if done right because it can prevent expensive project changes, which cost as much in terms of development time as anything else. There are few firms that have the experience necessary to do this work. What probably happened is that the 49ers and HNTB already had feelers out with construction firms and labor groups to lock in rates and costs as well as they can, which is a good idea – the A’s/Quakes have been trying to do something similar. The problem is that we’re dealing with public money, for which there is already a defined process. Did the Niners jump the gun? We’ll soon find out.

From the City’s perspective, this is an endaround the city charter, though a charter committee will be convened to rule on the bidding process. If Santa Clara is figuring out a way to deal with this, then why is state legislation involved? This is one of those cases where a bill is unnecessary and potentially wasteful. Not in the “I want my legislators working full time on the budget” sense, more the “let local issues be handled at the local level” sense.

So why are they doing this? It sounds like the decision to go with design-build was not arrived at hastily, and it may have been baked into the project from the onset. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to educate the public about the matter during, oh, the last two years? Now stadium proponents have to be careful that this issue doesn’t get too hot, despite the process being a peripheral detail.

And what of the original SB 43? I doubt anyone’s going to get hurt by it disappearing, and it can easily be reintroduced in the next legislative year. Though I have to wonder – was the original SB 43 just a placeholder for the existing bill?