Just like that, Coliseum City is in jeopardy.
The interwebs are abuzz with reports that the Golden State Warriors and the City of San Francisco are going to announce a Pier 30/32 arena deal as soon as this week. The team has issued a non-denial denial, and the rumor appears to have multiple sources, which makes this news possibly the proverbial smoke that will lead to fire.
If true this is terrible for the Coliseum City project’s prospects. By virtue of an arena’s typical utilization, the arena part of the complex is a a major anchor that the project needs. Losing the Warriors removes at least 43 home games from the schedule, totaling 800,000 annual spectators. Oakland/Alameda County could refashion the arena to better attract more concerts and other types of events. The risk with that plan is that the old arena in Oakland and the new arena in SF will be only 11 miles apart, so they’ll be competing for exactly the same acts and events. The Warriors will have the advantage of new technology to make their venue superior and more flexible for staging. They’ll also have a great incentive to keep the arena as busy as possible since they’re footing the bill for the construction cost. This affects HP Pavilion to a degree as well since it will be overshadowed by its much newer competitor to the north. However, HP Pavilion is over 40 miles away, serving the South Bay. This sort of spacing is already evident in the Bay Area with Chronicle Pavilion in Concord and Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. The two major LA arenas (Staples Center, Honda Center) are also a good distance apart, allowing both to combine to serve the bulk of the LA market.
The W’s leaving means that the naming rights deal with Oracle, which runs through the 2015-16 season, has a very slim chance of being renewed. There’s little point for Oracle to do so, as the marquee tenant will be in the process of vacating while the arena itself will be at a competitive disadvantage compared to its competition across the bay. Even though Oracle CEO Larry Ellison lost out to the Lacob-Guber group when bidding on the Warriors two years ago, the SF Warriors brand should be more valuable than the GS Warriors, making a potential naming rights deal something that Ellison should consider.
Currently there’s about $95 million of debt outstanding at the Oakland/Oracle Arena. With each lease year completed $5 million comes off, leaving a shortfall of $70 million for the W’s to pay off if they leave at the end of the 2016-17 season. This amount would be payable by the team regardless of whether they played in SF or Oakland. This is because Oakland positioned Coliseum City as having a new arena to replace the existing arena. This effectively adds $70 million to the cost of the new Oakland arena because there’s little chance that Oakland/Alameda County will operate the new and old venues side-by-side. If you were Joe Lacob and you knew that you’d have to pay $70 million either way, why would you choose Oakland over SF?
This gets to the heart of Oakland’s problem in pitching Coliseum City to its tenants. All three teams want much greater revenues, and just as important, greater control over revenue streams and more independence from each either. They’ve been able to coexist with little friction over the last decade, but that didn’t come about without a good deal of previous strife as all three teams have had legal battles with the Coliseum Authority. Mayor Jean Quan has already put out yet another letter restating Oakland’s commitment to the Warriors, just as she did with the A’s. What she and the JPA need to do – which they haven’t done yet – is explain how Coliseum City will significantly increase each tenant’s revenues (W’s rank 13th according to Forbes) compared to other options. Instead we’re having discussions about whether or not Coliseum City can pay for itself, which is a major perception problem. Most of the City’s arguments have been about how Coliseum City will benefit Oakland, with little said about how each team will benefit. Only the Raiders part of the project has any traction, thanks to ongoing planning work designed around and with input from the team. Yet the Raiders continue to entertain options outside Oakland just in case Coliseum City doesn’t take off. All three teams and ownership groups know how difficult their respective plans are on their own. To tie feasibility and risk into other parts is unnecessary, even foolish.
SF has shown its willingness to speed up the environmental review process when needed, as it did with the America’s Cup project. A similar effort could be done for the Warriors’ arena, with the caveat that the impacts for an arena will be significantly different. The America’s Cup only occurs once every three years over a short, well-defined timeframe. An arena gets 800k visitors annually for NBA games plus another 500k or more for other events. Onsite parking at the W’s arena is expected to be only 1,000 spaces, leaving the team and city looking a few thousand more within the vicinity to meet demand. It’ll be a challenge to get the W’s arena approved and built. SF’s advantage is that it has successful precedents in AT&T Park and, coming soon, the America’s Cup. That’s experience that matters.
This new SF arena plan is in its infancy, so it’s premature to call this one “in the bag”. One thing’s for certain – the two parties are heavily motivated and appear to be making measurable progress. If only we could say that about an A’s ballpark…