Joy in Mudville

Stockton’s leaders may make the toughest decision in the city’s history next Tuesday. Drowning in debt and scrambling for ways to restructure or forgive that debt, the city is expected to decide whether or not to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Chapter 9 is an avenue set aside by the federal government for municipalities, and was most prominently almost twenty years ago when Orange County’s debts soared to an unsustainable level thanks to criminally poor fiscal management. Already, a $35 million building bought to be utilized as the next City Hall has been repossessed.

View across the channel from Weber Point toward ballpark (center) and arena (right)

A downtown bar featured in a LA Times article in March has closed. As I walked around during a weekday morning, I felt as if tumbleweeds were going to blow across the streets. Storefronts were frequently empty. The movie theater complex had little activity. The only places that felt alive were the local Starbucks, and, as I would find out within an hour, the ballpark.

The foul pole is a scant 300 feet from home plate.

The day game I attended was nearly sold out thanks to a number of elementary and middle school children who were in attendance. They were treated to the Ports’ 15-3 shellacking of the San Jose Giants. The win halted a Stockton 12-game home losing streak. The section I was in got coupons for In-n-Out Double Doubles thanks to a Max Stassi double, and the whole crowd got a free meal at a local Denny’s because of Chad Oberacker’s grand slam. I don’t know when I’ll be in Stockton again to redeem the vouchers. That’s life.

The only entrance to Stockton Ballpark/Banner Island Ballpark

Stockton Ballpark, as it’s officially known, was built by Swinerton and Frank M. Booth, the same company that built Raley Field. It’s very intimate, with 12-16 rows throughout the grandstand. Wedged between the channel and the arena, the left field foul pole is only 300 feet from the plate. There’s no second deck, no suite/press level cantilevered over the single concourse, and only a small club section. This was done to keep costs under control, which is a net positive in the end. There are plenty of concession stands down the first base line, very few down the third base line. A design quirk has an elevated bridge connecting the outfield berm area with the grandstand in the RF corner. To allow for service vehicle clearance, the bridge requires fans to take a flight up steps up and down. The berm wraps around to center, where it meets a Kinder’s BBQ stand. The bullpens and a seated picnic area are in left.

Exterior of arena facing channel

A road winds between the ballpark and the arena, connecting both to the waterfront. The 10,000-seat Stockton Arena is a clean, tidy affair, with decent concourse space and an auditorium-style layout for concerts. The side facing the water is glass, the other sides are concrete, metal, and wood panels, the latter of which are having their protective film fraying. No matter, it’s a decent looking building even if it towers over the ballpark and looks somewhat out of place in downtown Stockton.

As the City continues to fight for its future, there’s a lingering question of whether Stockton’s redevelopment efforts were worth it. California is unique in that it has a few cities that are the size of major league cities elsewhere in the country, yet places like Stockton, Fresno, Riverside, and Long Beach don’t get the kind of attention Cleveland, Buffalo, Milwaukee, or St. Louis does. Stockton saw a gravy train of new residents looking for cheap exurban housing and didn’t see the collapse of the housing market immediately behind it. They paid inordinate salaries and benefits to public employees, which put Stockton in the financial straits it’s in today. No one knows how exactly Stockton will get out of it, and what Stockton will look like when that happens. Chances are that the arena will be there. The ballpark will be there. And Dallas Braden will be there too by all rights. That can’t be all bad.


Tuman: Oakland should be like Brooklyn, not Detroit

Joe Tuman re-entered the public sphere in Oakland today with a scathing indictment of Oakland’s attempts (such as they are) to keep its pro teams in town. In an op-ed in the Tribune, Tuman called the Coliseum City project’s proponents in City Hall “depressing” and “in denial”. Those words could be important a five months from now, as Tuman is running for the At-Large City Council seat this year against Rebecca Kaplan. Both were also in the 2010 mayoral election, with Kaplan finishing 3rd and Tuman 4th to Jean Quan.

First, back to Tuman’s column. Tuman, who is also a professor of communications at SF State, compared Coliseum City (and indirectly, Victory Court) to China Basin and AT&T Park.

What did work in San Francisco is the new AT&T baseball park. But while we in Oakland admire that, we often overlook that economic redevelopment of SOMA (south of Market area) was under way before the new ballpark was planned or constructed.

It occurred because so many tech companies and startups wanted office and loft space in the less-expensive SOMA area.

Tuman absolutely nails it here. Yes, the Giants deserve credit for transforming a rundown section of San Francisco, but let’s remember that in 1997, the region was in the throes of the dot-com boom, epicentered only a few blocks from the ballpark site. That’s why when people ask, I say that South Park was just as important or more important than Pac Bell Park. Back then, SOMA was one of the last redevelopment frontiers in SF (remember the live-work zoning weirdness?). In most cities with new ballparks, the ballpark district is where you can find reasonably priced apartments, condos, and office space. In SF? Yeah, right.

Every so often I get a question from an East Bay citizen or fan about why companies from the SVLG couldn’t just support the A’s if a ballpark were built in Oakland or some such. I usually reply with an answer along the lines of, “You know how a San Jose stadium wouldn’t be convenient for you? Well, an Oakland stadium isn’t convenient for them.” Things are different from football, which plays the majority of its games on Sundays, or basketball/hockey, where the schedules aren’t as rigorous as MLB’s. Convenience is only one factor, with civic/regional pride and the attractiveness of the location are major factors. In the post-redevelopment era, with tax increment usage forbidden or severely curtailed, these redevelopment-based models need to be replaced with something more practical and smaller in scale (I’ll go into this more later tonight).

Tuman also goes on to point out how there’s no Airport Connector stop along Hegenberger which could be a focal point for transit-oriented development.

Zennie Abraham got Tuman to comment on Zennie’s blog about the A’s during his mayoral campaign.

Should Oakland Sue The Oakland A’s?

Tuman’s not in favor of using the legal process against the Oakland A’s, which seems to be threatening to leave Oakland every year, as he thinks it just encourages them to try harder to do so. But suing the City of San Jose is something Tuman’s willing to consider, as that municipality has worked to try to take the A’s away from Oakland, interfering with contracts between the parties in the process.

Tuman says he will be a friend to all of Oakland’s sports teams, but does not want to give away public money to retain them.  But he does leave tax increment revenue as an exception because of it’s market  generated nature.

Tuman isn’t anti-sports. He is realistic about the City’s interests and likelihood in keeping one or more of its teams, and frankly it’s good to hear this kind of talk. It’s a lot more honest than anything that’s been coming out of City Hall for the last few years. Now, Tuman probably isn’t going to beat Kaplan with her plucky attitude and infectious energy, especially on the campaign trail. (It’s a bit ironic that a communications professor is woefully behind on linking up with social media.) Still, a little more honesty and reason can’t hurt discourse. Honest discourse is exactly what Oakland needs.

Of course, the Brooklyn that Tuman refers to has itself succumbed to the allure of pro sports. Barclays Center will open this fall and the once-New Jersey Nets have already taken up the Brooklyn moniker replete with new colors and logos. Sometimes even Brooklyn can’t always be Brooklyn.

A room with a view

One of the more lamentable facts about modern indoor arenas is that, unlike their outdoor brethren, most arenas do nothing to celebrate the environments and neighborhoods in which they reside. Cold and insular, arenas are all about focusing on the floor or action. Attempts to draw attention to the crowd such as the “Kiss Cam” are token distractions. Get in the crowd, get the show over with, and get everyone out ASAP. There’s no time to linger or savor an event.

It wasn’t always this way. Some of the postwar arenas attempted to bring in the outside. This was best executed at the old Portland Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which still stands next to its much larger successor, the Rose Garden. Memorial Coliseum was a simple, elegant square wrapped on all four sides by glass curtainwall. The round, undulating seating bowl inside the shell provided a clean visual line that gave the building its purpose and indicated where an observer was in relation to the seats.

Views of Portland were available on all four sides of Memorial Coliseum.

The pre-1997 Oakland Coliseum Arena also showed this kind of elegance. A larger arena than the one in Portland, the Coliseum Arena boldly used floor-to-ceiling glass, with a concrete exoskeleton to protect it. Like Portland, the rim of the upper seating bowl was clearly visible, though the Warriors and the arena operator chose to use dark curtains to prevent any clerestory effect. Both arenas were designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, a firm more known for skyscrapers (Sears/Willis Tower, WTC Freedom Tower) than sports properties.

Early cutaway drawing of the old Coliseum Arena

One of the key directives for the Coliseum Arena renovation was that the building needed to be stuffed with as many seats as possible, since the old 15,025 capacity was great for generating sellouts but poor for generating revenue. So they packed the place to the rafters with seats and redesigned the seating bowl to conform more to basketball instead of the neither-fish-nor-fowl multipurpose seating bowl of yesteryear. Over 4,500 seats were added in the process, an impressive feat of packaging and engineering. Lost in the transformation was the grace of the old design. New concrete entry lobbies were added to the exterior. The regular entrance from the plaza became a club entrance. The glass walls had to be retrofitted, cluttering the look.

In the Warriors’ unveiling of the Piers 30-32 site, the renderings ownership showed had an arena pictured, more as a placeholder than anything else. They were very clear to note that there were no detailed renderings or even a specific design at the moment. Considering the site’s pictureque waterfront locale, a great amount of effort may have to be undertaken to design the building so that patrons can appreciate views of downtown, the Bay Bridge, and the East Bay hills. If that doesn’t happen, the arena may be considered nothing more than a big concrete box. Nobody wants that. I don’t think the W’s will go back to the circular seating bowl, but there are still ways to open up the space to the outside. One way is to do what many new arenas have done – remove some cheap upper end seats, even entire sections.

North (left) upper tier removed, which should create an enviable Downtown-Bay Bridge panorama.

In addition, the concourses could be laid out to allow views of the action from concession stands. Mind you, implementing some of these ideas could prove costly because they may translate into greater amounts of costly square-footage being built to satisfy the vision. The W’s should know by now that they have a chance to build a truly iconic building, and to skimp would be wrong and practically indefensible. Arena architecture is not known for looking backward or in a retro manner. In this case there’s truly something to be learned from looking at the past, and it can only result in a better arena, one that celebrates everything happening outside its walls just as much as the events inside those walls.

Pretty nice view

I went to the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday morning to pay my respects on the bridge’s 75th birthday. On the way back, I drove over to Piers 30-32 to check out the site of Joe Lacob and Peter Guber’s dreams, a rundown waterfront pier currently used as a parking lot. You may know the site currently as the home of Red’s Java House, the little shack that serves up quick, reasonably priced burgers. Fortunately for Red’s and their customers, the Warriors want to keep the venerable restaurant in place even as the new arena is built.

We talk a lot about how great the view is from AT&T Park. Frankly, it doesn’t hold a candle to this view from Pier 30.

Pier 28 in foreground, Bay Bridge in background. View looking north.

That’s just from sea level. Now imagine that you’re on an elevated deck overlooking Pier 28, with an unfettered view of the Bay Bridge. Better yet, imagine that you could see this from inside the arena bowl. How is that possible? I’ll explain later tonight.

A city’s predicament

I fear for Trib reporter Matt Artz’s email inbox, because it’s about to get pummeled.

In today’s edition, Artz tries to explain why Oakland’s three teams are varying shades of noncommittal with regards to staying at the Coliseum, or even in Oakland in general. For most of us who follow the situation closely, the information is pretty much old hat. Still, it’s good to read someone in the local media deal it as plainly as Artz did, even if the truth is unpleasant.

As Oakland fights to keep its teams, industry leaders say it’s hampered by the fact that its main lure was a site more attractive 40 years ago than it is today.

“I think that’s a real problem,” Smith College economics Professor Andrew Zimbalist said. “The times have passed it by.”

Exactly. No one questions how devoted or hardcore Oakland and East Bay fans are, they are among the best in the nation. Unfortunately, the business of pro sports has become such a high-stakes affair that economically, Oakland is practically a AAA market while San Francisco and San Jose/Silicon Valley are major league markets. Nowadays money trumps hardcore seven days a week.

Yesterday I was looking into how Orlando’s Amway Center was built, hoping to understand how it surpasses Oracle Arena in terms of amenities. Oracle does well in having four premium seating options: courtside seats, suites, and two different club options. Amway Center has an astounding seven options: courtside seats, founders suites, presidents suites, legends (party) suites, MVP tables, 4- and 6-person loges, and club seats. All seven options are priced specifically to target certain well-heeled demographics, whether they are big corporations, prominent small businesses, or rich people who simply want more elbow room. A future post will go into how all of this works. For now let me tell you that there’s no going back. All four North American pro sports leagues are multibillion dollar outfits. So are NASCAR and NCAA football.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan talked Thursday about having a huge Cowboys Stadium-like facility in the Coliseum complex, to be co-anchored by a convention center. One thing she didn’t mention was the price tag for such a complex, or even just the stadium itself. Lest we forget, Santa Clara’s Stadium Authority is on the hook for $700 million of the 49ers stadium costs. Zygi Wilf and the Vikings will be paying 49% of the Metrodome’s $1 billion replacement, leaving the rest to public funding sources. Even if you buy the somewhat dubious argument that the 49ers are paying for the lion’s share of the cost (who runs the Authority, again?), Santa Clara had to put up $144 million in hard dollars initially. What price will Oakland/Alameda County have to pay to stay in the game? $200 million? $500 million? Quan cites the $200 million NFL G-4 fund, but that’s available to every team, every market. Any new stadium will cost at least $1 billion.

Also today, a sobering analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows how cities struggle to make their money back even with glistening new stadia, characterizing these efforts as an “arms race”. Good thing that the leagues appear to be bedrock solid for the foreseeable future, because if they weren’t municipalities would be wading into their own “mutually assured destruction”. So dream big, people, because it’s not your money! Until there’s a price tag. Then it’s definitely your money.

Mayors go on the offensive, Wolff to meet with Knauss on Friday

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan is having caviar dreams on a canned tuna budget.

Quan finally agreed to an interview with The Game’s Chris Townsend, though he had to travel to Oakland City Hall to do it. I listened to the exchange intently, looking for some semblance of consistent messaging throughout. For the most part the message was consistent, but probably not what the teams and fans are looking for.

Quan continued to tout Coliseum City as a massive development stretching over 500 acres that could attract 32,000 jobs, major hotels, corporations, and anywhere from one to four pro sports franchises. That’s right, four. When Townsend pressed her on what she meant by that, she said that the City was looking at teams outside of the current three tenants.

In the wake of the Warriors’ announcement that they intend to build a new arena in San Francisco, East Bay backers are already talking about luring either the Sacramento Kings or San Jose Sharks to Oakland. Oracle Arena is built for basketball, not hockey, so the Sharks are out of the question. The Kings are a more intriguing proposition since Oracle is miles ahead of ARCO/Power Balance in terms of modernity and amenities. However, you can bet that Joe Lacob and Peter Guber would fight tooth and nail to keep a second team out of the Bay Area. Even if the NBA were to allow it, the Lacob/Guber ownership group would get a tidy compensation check from whomever brought a team to Oakland. You can forget about that being the Maloofs since they’re broke. David Stern has also stopped Larry Ellison twice from relocating a team to San Jose, so you can glean from those vetoes that Stern considers the Bay Area a single-team market. Remember that Oakland’s gambit is to replace Oracle Arena with a new one if the Warriors stayed. There is zero chance of anyone building an arena in Oakland if the Warriors are in SF. They’ll just soldier on with the current arena, which again is a perfectly fine venue from a technical standpoint.

As for the A’s, Quan revealed a couple of things that are quite germane to Oakland’s efforts going forward. She seems fully committed to Coliseum City in whatever form it takes. When asked about a site in downtown Oakland, she said that if Clorox CEO Don Knauss wants to move in that direction and can figure out how to pay for the extra cost, it shouldn’t affect Coliseum City adversely. She didn’t exactly dismiss Howard Terminal or Victory Court, but by now she has to be fully aware of the nine-figure costs associated with either of those sites, which makes them quite difficult to develop. For that she deserves a lot of credit – Oakland’s advantages are that it has land and a potentially easier process to develop venues. The flipside to that argument is that Oakland’s not as desirable or coveted as SF or San Jose, so there’s a very good reason why it’s easier or more available.

Beyond that, Quan may be getting a bit too starry-eyed for her own good.

As long as we have one huge sports facility [plus] we will have a much bigger convention center than we currently have in downtown Oakland.

That sounds like a pivot to me. If Quan and the City are pivoting it’s probably no coincidence that AEG is on board to manage the complex and provide consulting for the next phase of the Coliseum, which would be to have something along the lines of what they are planning in LA: retractable roof stadium, arena, and convention center in one location. Maybe AEG will get a team to relocate there, maybe they won’t. What they can do is influence both LA and Oakland by shaping development there. It worked in LA, and it sure looks like it’s moving in that direction at the Coliseum. Two years I wrote about re-using the Coliseum for a convention center after teams vacated. It sounded preposterous back then, but it could make sense with AEG steering things. Though again, it’s important to note that AEG has never shown much interest in baseball. AEG could decide that it would be best to use as much available land as possible for a top-notch convention center. A large convention center can easily take up a greater footprint than two stadia side-by-side.

The “one huge sports facility” term has me intrigued. Now the thought of Cowboys Stadium doesn’t sound quite as far-fetched since it would be part and parcel with the convention center. The key would be the flexibility of the stadium. If you want to go full-bore crazy, Oakland should shoot for what Doha, Qatar is doing with one of its 2022 World Cup venues. Called Doha Sports City Stadium, it’s a retractable domed affair with movable seating decks and facilities built into the roof, not a mere steel or fabric shell.

Inside the 65,000-seat Doha Sports City Stadium, which is planned for a 2017 completion date.

The project picks up where Japan’s Saitama Super Arena left off, doubling SSA in size and scale (UNLV has a similar proposal to SSA). Let’s be clear about what DSCS is: $1.5 billion in state oil profits to be used for a showcase venue that could conceivably be used for a future Olympics gig. And if you think the picture above is nuts, save your jawdrop for the next image.

Exterior view. The stadium is only a part of the extremely large development, with ancillary features all under the "single" roof.

I suppose that the attitude here is that if this is going to cost $2 billion, might as well go all the way. Something like DSCS would certainly give Oakland the “one huge sports facility” that Quan alluded to.

Meanwhile in San Jose, the City is quietly building up its case and legal team for a potential attack on baseball’s antitrust exemption. The call for such a lawsuit has only gotten louder in the last several weeks as the team continues to languish with no direction in sight. San Jose is not going to sue as long as Lew Wolff continues to follow MLB’s process. The buzz will only get louder. I’ve even heard that legal proceedings may not cost the City much if anything. We’ll see if that actually happens. I wrote last week that as long as Selig doesn’t make a decision, there’s no trigger for a lawsuit since Bud Selig can say he’s continuing to study the matter. That could be a big reason why Wolff’s position has been “any decision is better than none” since either a yes or no could provide a jumping off point for Wolff.

Wolff supposedly met or is meeting with Don Knauss today, according to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser. Maybe they’ll share Diamond Level seats for tonight’s Yankees game. Maybe Wolff will host Knauss in the owner’s suite. Knowing what we know about what both sides want, I don’t expect any earthshaking news. If I hear something I’ll be sure to update this post accordingly.

Update 5/26 7:37 AM – BANG’s Joe Stiglich has this regarding the Wolff-Knauss meeting:

A’s co-owner Lew Wolff confirmed that he met Friday with Clorox CEO Don Knauss, who has been outspoken about wanting to keep the A’s in Oakland.

Wolff declined to share what exactly the two discussed, other than to say he enjoyed the chance to talk with Knauss.

“I think we had a nice dialogue,” Wolff said. “We just exchanged some ideas. That’s all I want to say.”

There you have it. 

BTW, I’ll be tailgating at today’s Yankees game. If you want to drop by and chat, reply here or via Twitter. I’ll provide location info once in the parking lot.

Peter Guber talks to Tierney & Davis

Warriors co-owner Peter Guber went on The Drive yesterday, and the 20-minute interview that came out of it was the most entertaining bit of owner-speak I’ve heard in a long time. Guber is not like most co-owners, sitting in silence. He’s a Hollywood producer with showmanship befitting the town. A big-money player may work as the managing partner, whereas Guber appears to have a running mate-like role, selling the team’s concepts and working over the media. Joe Lacob, like Lew Wolff, has had some difficulty establishing a rapport with the local media and fans. For Guber this is old hat. However, Guber is taking on a similar role with the Dodgers, one that will take just as much effort if not more, so I can see why he wouldn’t be a managing partner of any one team.

Guber explained the process of selecting a San Francisco site, why Oakland was passed over (which will fall on deaf ears in the East Bay, I figure) and his history of ownership stints dating back to Mandalay Sports Entertainment, a conglomerate of minor league franchises including the model minor league team, the Dayton Dragons. Curiously, he considered the Warriors the only Northern California NBA franchise, a clear indicator that the Maloof family is more than one-foot-out-the-door in Sacramento. He even got in a little shot at the Maloofs:

GUBER: We believe – it’s a belief – that we’re going to turn it [the arena] into reality. We believe we can accomplish it. If we didn’t believe it, why would I take the energy and resources in the third act of my life and put it into something I thought was folly? No. All of us believe – Joe [Lacob], the different owners of the group, there’s a large group of intelligent owners – believe this is a beautiful, successful endeavor that we can bring to fruition. If we didn’t, I would go play poker in Las Vegas.

TIERNEY: Which casino by the way?

GUBER: Let me put it this way. Not. The Palms.

Guber went on to talk about how Larry Baer brought the Lacob-Guber team in to buy the Warriors. Guber indicated that Baer could have ended up as part of the ownership group, but dropped out during the process.

GUBER: When Larry Baer – yes, Larry Baer – called me at home in Los Angeles and said, “How would you like to buy the Warriors?” I said, “Great!” It fit my compass. I wanted to be able to get to a place within an hour, that I could go there regularly and be part of the community. Before, I had worked with Bob Piccinini to buy the Oakland A’s. In fact, closed the deal, made the deal with Billy Beane at my house, gave him a piece of the equity, negotiated the whole thing. Then, lo and behold, Bud Selig said “we’re going to do contractions” back in 2002 or 2004. “Let’s do contraction!” You know what contraction is? Not the same as what women have before they have a baby. This is what the league said they wanted to do with the teams. They wanted to get rid of Oakland and Minnesota. Ultimately, they made a deal with Lew Wolff about a year later. My partner (Lacob) went after that team as well. So Larry Baer said, “Let’s try to get the Warriors.” We went after the Warriors. Larry dropped out. Joe and I teamed up to buy the Warriors.

There’s a problem in Guber’s timeline. The contraction threat came with the 2002 CBA negotiations, which were the greatest threat for a work-stoppage since 1994-95. Contraction talk had started in 1999, and dragged on contentiously until August 30, 2002, when a deal was put in place that pushed out the contraction threat to 2006. The 2006 deadline passed without a peep, and contraction hasn’t come up in any substantive discussions since. The new CBA, which was finally made publicly available today, has language that the league won’t talk contraction until after the CBA expires in 2016. I digress.

Again, Guber talked 2002. But the Dolich-Piccinini group was knocked out in 1999, not 2002, a fact confirmed by Piccinini himself. Either the group was kept in play until 2002 as Guber said, or he has his dates mixed up. Piccinini is now also a part of the Warriors’ ownership group. He was also part of Jeff Moorad’s failed bid to buy the Padres. From the looks of things, Larry Baer was very active in getting the group as far away from the A’s as possible. Contraction died, which foiled the Giants’ attempt to get rid of the A’s via subterfuge. Now there’s simply no economic justification for it, and the price to contract two teams (estimated $1 billion) is too high for the owners and MLB to swallow.

The only question I have coming out of this is one I’ve had for the last few weeks: Why on earth is the City of Oakland working with the Giants and Larry Baer? Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said yesterday that he is looking at the A’s situation closely, with Sacramento potentially there if something can’t be done in the Bay Area. Guess who’d love it if the A’s had no choice but to leave the Bay Area? Larry Baer.

Update 8:47 PM – Guber was referring to the “secret” 2001-02 negotiations done by his group, Mandalay, and Steve Schott. The group also included Bob Piccinini, which I was not aware of until the interview. At the time, Schott was pushing for a move to Santa Clara and was in discussions with the City Council. Because of the sale talks, the Council felt betrayed and terminated any further pre-development work. The ownership would have included, among others: Guber, Piccinini, Paul Schaeffer (Mandalay VP), and Billy Beane. It’s difficult to keep these ownership groups straight.