Challenges Facing Howard Terminal

After yesterday’s game, I headed up to Howard Terminal yet again to snoop around and take a few more pictures. I also read up on SSA Terminals/SSA Marine’s lawsuit against the Port of Oakland. This post will contain an analysis of both.

First, let’s start off a bird’s eye view of the site, with a few items labeled for further discussion.


Overview of Howard Terminal and Jack London Square

From right to left you see:

  • Jack London Square in the southeast corner. A one-block stretch of Broadway is visible.
  • One block over from the heart of JLS is Washington St, followed by Clay St. Broadway and Washington extend to downtown Oakland. Clay does not.
  • At the end of Clay Street is the Ferry Terminal, the Ferry Landing (10 Clay St.) commercial building and a small public plaza and green space.
  • A narrow promenade (10 feet wide in an important stretch) runs along the shoreline west to Howard Terminal. If a ballpark were built at Howard Terminal, the lightly-used promenade would have to be widened as it’s the safest and best pedestrian access from the Ferry Terminal and the JLS shoreline and marina.
  • Complicating matters is the Oakland Fire Department EMS Station, which is home to Fire and Police boats. The station would have to be reconfigured to widen the promenade.
  • The blue and red stars indicate the rough locations of ballpark sites. The blue star is the site I identified on Tuesday. It would probably be the most expensive site because it’s all piers, not land, and would make the foundation more expensive. The red star is the site surveyed in the 2001 HOK study. It is inside the original shoreline.
  • North of the blue star is the power plant, which can’t be moved without incurring great expense.
  • The green lines are possible locations for pedestrian and vehicular overpasses, lining up with MLK Way and Market Street, respectively. Both connect with North and West Oakland, as well as 980 and 880. At Howard Terminal, the streets are 900 feet apart.

Now I’ll explain why the overpasses (green lines) will be needed. A couple of pictures for comparison:


View East from The Embarcadero and Clay toward Jack London Square


View East from The Embarcadero and Clay toward Jack London Square


View west from The Embarcadero and Clay towards Howard Terminal

These tracks cannot be moved. They are a big part of what makes the port truly intermodal. If 40,000 people are going to cross these tracks and The Embarcadero to get to a Howard Terminal ballpark, it is paramount that safe methods for getting those people across are implemented. Gates and traffic cops aren’t going to stop stupid, drunken fans from playing chicken with an Amtrak or freight train. Unlike the light rail trains run by SF Muni outside AT&T Park, these trains don’t stop quickly even if they’re traveling fairly slowly.

The second picture also shows that there is little streetscape west of Jack London Square. The westbound car lane ends in another block at Jefferson, and the track area isn’t paved. It would make the most sense to completely shut down The Embarcardero near Howard Terminal to all traffic other than trains for a 6-8 hour window on game days.

How then, do you get people across The Embarcadero? It’s for all intents and purposes a moat. By building bridges, of course! The scale and number of bridges would be driven by the amount of parking that is made available adjacent to the ballpark. And that is largely driven by the amount of parking available in and around Jack London Square. Over 3,000 spaces in lots and garages are present, plus at least 500 on-street parking spots. However, only 1,250 spaces are within 1/3 mile of either HT ballpark site. Extend the radius to 2/3 mile, which is sort of the fringe distance that people are willing to walk, and you get 7,000.


Comparison of parking near ballpark sites

Additional parking may be made available under the BART alignment or on street, but it’s clear that parking near Howard Terminal is a clear site deficiency. The obvious place for a new facility is next to the ballpark. 16 acres would yield 2,000 spaces, which should serve the dual purposes of filling the needs of the ballpark and satisfying current JLS tenants (restaurants, Yoshi’s, movie theater) that have depended on the existing infrastructure. For that much parking, whether it’s all surface or new garages, two entrances would be required, or rather, two overpasses. That’s why I drew the two overpass paths. Market Street is the main entrance to Howard Terminal and is already set up to handle heavy traffic with four lanes. MLK Way is also four lanes. The overpasses would also create two additional pedestrian overcrossings, netting four total along The Embarcadero.

The price for the overpasses? Around $10 million each. Add that to the promenade expansion, parking construction, and other site improvements to make Howard Terminal hospitable for a ballpark.


Promenade from Ferry Terminal to Howard Terminal

Before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s important to note that no ballpark at Howard Terminal will be possible without SSA Marine/SSA Terminal vacating the premises. And while Matson (partnered with SSA) provided support to Don Knauss in his efforts to either build a ballpark on the waterfront or buy the A’s (or both), it doesn’t appear that Howard Terminal operator SSA will be easy to move. While SSA’s container business is down in Oakland, the company is not blaming the downturn on the way Howard Terminal is configured. Instead, SSA has a problem with its lease at Berths 57-59, just over a mile west of Howard Terminal (Berths 67-68). SSA is suing the Port of Oakland over alleged violations of the federal Shipping Act. SSA alleges that the Port is giving preferential treatment to Ports America, a competing terminal operator at the Outer Harbor, Berths 20-26. SSA’s claim is that Ports America (PAOHT) is leasing its site for 45% less per acre than SSA, while not having to contribute much to infrastructure improvements. Due to the more expensive lease, SSA is saying that it’s losing business to lower-cost competitors like PAOHT to the tune of $46 million per year.

Renegotiating SSA’s lease to make it on par with PAOHT could negatively affect port revenue $10 million annually (offset somewhat by new lease terms), and while the two sides have talked they haven’t sat down to negotiate. The lawsuit will be three years old in December. SSA is being coy about what they want out of this besides a lease. The ballpark gives them a very convenient trump card that it wouldn’t otherwise have, now that we know that Howard Terminal is the only site in Oakland that MLB is investigating. It’s a very tough spot for the Port and City to be in. If the City doesn’t get the Port to renegotiate the lease along SSA’s terms, Howard Terminal is dead before it begins. It can’t kick SSA off the property as the lease goes until 2017, with two possible 5-year extensions that SSA will probably decline. Plus any changes to Howard Terminal like the ones I described previously have to work for the other tenants of the Port like PAOHT and other shippers, making the Port every bit as beholden to its tenants as it is to the City (from which the Port operates independently anyway). And if you want to make things even more complicated, the City of Oakland wants out of a bad bond hedge deal with Goldman Sachs. Who’s a major investor in Carrix, the parent company of SSA? Goldman Sachs.

Cost estimation is difficult, but back-of-the-napkin math has infrastructure at $50 million depending on site and foundation, and an ongoing loss of $10 million in fees to the Port with a redone lease and relocation costs. From the looks of things, SSA might play ball if they get their lease redone. If not, what’s their incentive? This reminds me a lot of what the City of San Jose did with AT&T on a rezoning deal near Valley Fair. Considered a quid pro quo deal, we may never know if it really is one unless a ballpark in San Jose is built. SSA appears to be in line for a similar enriching.

40 thoughts on “Challenges Facing Howard Terminal

  1. re: Cost estimation is difficult, but back-of-the-napkin math has infrastructure at $50 million depending on site and foundation, and an ongoing loss of $10 million in fees to the Port with a redone lease and relocation costs

    …Absolutely yikes. And never mind the years and years it would take to accomplish all this, even if someone magically came up with the money.

  2. @ML–any idea on land costs associated with a proposed ballpark at HT–slo_town indicated it would be in the form of a lease–I assume to the city with the city charging any prospective developer of a ballpark a reduced rate over what they would pay.

  3. Thanks for the write up ML. A couple of points of clarification:

    1. The SSA lease expires in 2017 (not 17 years from now). Under the lease terms, SSA has two five-year options. As the current lease is way above current market rates at the Port, no one expects SSA to exercise those options.

    2. The lost revenue to the port, assuming SSA is moved to another location a the Port is actually $10MM minus the new lease payments that SSA and the Port negotiate. Additionally, since the lease was set to expire in 2017, the Port should only have the $10MM on the books til then. Relocation costs are hard to measure. The are some outbuildings that SSA had built. Perhaps you’d need to move those. SSA does not own the cranes on the terminal. Conceivably those could stay there and could be an interesting aesthetic for a new park and honor the history of the site.

  4. @ML: Great post, thanks for taking the time to sum all this up and give us additional details about this particular site.

  5. Fine work indeed, ML.

    I’m almost going to miss these when a new stadium is built, wherever that will be.

  6. @ML, if not too off-topic, could you kindly elaborate a bit more about SSA’s support of Knauss? Or, perhaps provide a link for where you found that info? I would be curious to read more, wondering if it somehow could act as a way to help negotiations speed up even a small amount. Thanks for any info that you can further provide.

  7. What exactly is the relationship between Matson and SSA? I was under the impression that SSA operates Howard Terminal and holds the lease while Matson is the exclusive/sole customer.
    So I suppose my follow-up question is who was the executive at the press conference?

    • @slo_town – I hadn’t thought about that. Here’s the explanation:

      In 1999, Matson and Stevedoring Services of America, Inc. (SSA) appointed SSA Terminals as the manager of terminal and stevedore operations at Matson Terminals, Inc.’s facilities on the West Coast. MTI continues to operate Matson’s container stevedoring and terminal services in Honolulu.

      So… Matson’s nice, but for it to go anywhere they need Matson and SSA.

      Ed. – Post edited to reflect companies’ relationship.

  8. As much as i love Oakland this just seems too difficult to get off the ground. The closest thing Oakland may get to a waterfront park is if they tear down the nearly neglected Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and go with their original plans back in the 60’s for a stadium on the lake front. Of course, many folks wouldn’t approve with Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center being historical.

  9. This is off-topic, but of interest to me as I am an A’s fan in the Sacramento area who is getting quite frustrated over the whole stadium thing. Is there anyplace anywhere in the East Bay other than Oakland or Fremont where an MLB quality baseball stadium can be built for not too much money (however you wish to define as “not too much money”) that is not too far from a BART or Amtrak station or a planned BART station??? I live in Davis and I don’t know the East Bay very well so I ask this out of total ignorance. Has the possibility of building a stadium in San Pablo, Richmond, Concord, et. al. been explored? I’m an A’s fan and I simply want to be able to go to an A’s game without having to travel 100 miles or so to get there. I would prefer that the team stay in Oakland, but San Jose is fine with me. Obviously, if the team somehow moved to Sacramento, I would be ecstatic, but I agree that that is NOT happening.

  10. Nice post, thanks for the info. The situation is very intriguing and information is very short, except for here.

  11. @ML Thanks for the clarification on SSA and Matson. Like I mentioned in the previous thread, it sounds like Matson is willing to play ball … no word on SSA.
    As for the $50 million rough estimate, that sounds pretty consistent with the $49 million figure. What you’re thinking is very close if not exactly the same plan as what is being considered.
    @GoA’s I’m not 100% sure if the plan is to lease. I would assume the Port would not want to lose control of the waterfront property and instead have a long-term lease for the land like Jack London Square. The Port has tried to acquire Schnitzer Steel’s property at lease twice (with the intention of having Schnitzer lease back the property). As you can imagine, Schnitzer was not interested.

  12. @BayEast: this is a wild guess, yet KCC will likely get renovated one day, with all the work going on at the Lake Merritt channel and neighboring museum improvements. If both will draw, then they cannot have a blighted, landmark convention center there forever. On that note, it will not be torn down, even if it was the only possible location for a ballpark.

  13. @BayEast: A ballpark simply would not fit in that location. Politically though, there is no way the convention center (Oakland Municipal Auditorium) would be demolished.
    Not to get too terribly off-topic, but someday the building will be brought back to life. I would love to see some-sort of combination of St. Louis’ City Museum, Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory, and perhaps the rebirth of Peralta Park … train and all!

  14. What is the deal with the scrapyard that is adjacent to HT opposite Jack London square? Seems like a perfect place to develop. I assume that is also SSA’s land?
    Also seems like that oil tank for the power station isn’t going anywhere. Too expensive to move and not sure there is anywhere better to put it anyway unless the entire power station is relocated.

  15. @LakeshoreOAK Guess luckily for us we don’t have to worry about that happening, since this will be an going issue till the end of time.
    @Matt Concord has the perfect place with the old naval station. All undeveloped land. Right off highway 4, north concord bart station close by, depending on where you locate it. But with MLB wanting a downtown area in a big city will never happen.
    @ML. I like the yellow “text” in the water was that supposed to say something?

  16. Was HT a major topic at the last Save Oakland Sports meeting? Any report from anyone that went?

  17. Concord/Richmond/San Pablo all dont offer any surrounding downtown activities and are all farther from Silicon Valley corporations.

  18. @gojohn10: That is Schnitzer Steel that I have referred to in previous posts. They fully own and control the land and have absolutely no interest in selling. Their Oakland facility is a major shredding and processing yard that includes the bulk shipping terminal, which they also fully own and control. Their next closest facility of that magnitude is in Portland I believe, so Oakland is the heart of their NorCal and Nevada operation.

  19. @gojohn10 – I think you’re referring to Schnitzer Steel. They’re one of the only non-Port properties on the Oakland side of the Estuary. They’re not going anywhere.

    @Mike – Got a little too cut-and-paste happy with the text. When I saw it in the final uploaded version I said to myself, “Fuck it.”

    @DavidL / slo_town – HJKCC would make a fine museum. Make the south side of the Lake be the Museum district.

  20. re:SSA

    With the green light given on the Oakland Army Base redevelopment (to a logistics center) couldn’t SSA be relocated there? With a favorable list, of course. I don’t know the full tenant list, but I believe Maersk is currently located there.

  21. @Marine Layer, Many thanks for all your all work on this blog, love your passion!

    So sad that we even have to revisit Howard Terminal location. It’s going to be another 5-year saga before any stadium gets built there if it even happens. The A’s need a new stadium now and don’t like the fact that the greedy Giants A-hole front office is the main obstacle to move to SJ. I wish Bud Selig would grow some balls and make some sort of decision regarding the territorial rights issue, which is so silly given the A’s currently play across the bay from the Giants and not 45 miles south of them. I have been a life long Bay Area fan, but have crossed off the Giants from my favorite teams list due to their greedy ownership! Food for thought, there’s a reason the Giants want to keep the A’s in Oak-town and it’s because they want to keep the Bay Area a 1-team market. Giants own the BAY AREA right now and will continue to own it as long the A’s stay in Oakland. A’s have a solid fan base, but the Giants are without a doubt the darlings of the Bay Area even though they have only won 1-championship compared to Oakland’s four World Series trophies. Yes, the Giants probably would not mind if the A’s to moved somewhere far from here, so the they can be the Golden State Warriors on the MLB. Poor to average teams with great attendance every year because they’re only show in town! Anti-SJ stadium folks, reconsider your stance because the A’s would immensely grow their fan base down here, that’s why the Giant’s front office is fighting it! SJ has a great location that has been throughly analyzed, not something that was already looked at and dismissed as being the 4th best option after even the Fremont location. I personally liked the Fremont location because it brought the A’s closer to the South Bay. The A’s need an infusion of a new fan base and SJ would be a great place for it, just ask the Giant’s front office folks!

  22. @AG:

    It’s too easy just to blame the Giants here. Of course, they stand in the way but their territorial claims are in MLB’s operating agreements. There are many factors stopping a move to SJ including Selig not wanting to set a precedent by choosing one team over another (not as many on this board would like to think is a precedent about territorial rights), Oakland’s putting forth of some sites that are worthy of study and consideration and, although many will argue with this one, the San Jose site itself that has multiple issues (site control of important out-parcel, SJ Redev land transfer, a public vote, etc.)

    Also, you must have a short memory. It wasn’t that long ago that the A’s were the top team in this market. Consistently outdrawing the Giants and putting a better team on the field every year. This stuff ebbs and flows. So a statement like, “the Giants own the Bay Area right now and will continue to own it as long as the A’s stay in Oakland” is just hyperbole. The same stuff the “Oakland-only” crowd gets accused of doing on this board.

    • Also, you must have a short memory. It wasn’t that long ago that the A’s were the top team in this market. Consistently outdrawing the Giants and putting a better team on the field every year. This stuff ebbs and flows. So a statement like, “the Giants own the Bay Area right now and will continue to own it as long as the A’s stay in Oakland” is just hyperbole. The same stuff the “Oakland-only” crowd gets accused of doing on this board.

      20 years is not that long ago? LOL. That’s more than half my age haha. Curious, since you are also so sure about the viability of Oakland as well as it’s “proposals”, would you also condone guaranteed attendance and luxury box sellouts by the city and county (a la the Raiders deal)? I’ve asked this from other pro Oakland folks (Lakeshore, Anonasfan) and have not received one response even though they are so vocal about how feasible a stadium in “pick your regurgitated proposed Oakland area” would be.

  23. SS: These are the same already-studied-and-rejected sites all over again. And Oakland is putting forth $0.00 for ballpark construction. FWIW, it’s been 20 years since the A’s were the top draw in the Bay Area – before ATT Park, before the ruination of the Coliseum. And Haas still lost money. The Giants started overtaking the A’s in attendance as soon as Bonds came to town.

  24. stanley stanson:

    Come on, man. The Expos moved to DC with Selig’s blessing. The Nats and the O’s are doing just fine. The g’s just wants the A’s out of the BA.

    Oakland has no viable plan for anything. The clueless mayor Ms quan is taking advices from the g’s for pete’s sake.

    Selig is just stalling for time until Lew and Fisher give up. That’s the plan in my humble opinion.

  25. @SS, you write: “It wasn’t that long ago that the A’s were the top team in this market. Consistently outdrawing the Giants and putting a better team on the field every year. This stuff ebbs and flows.”
    Well, the mlb world has changed a lot in the last two decades, and the ebb and flow are subject to new influences. The Giants bounced back from the 94-95 strike with a team that began to draw, even in Candlestick, and they went into the new park in 2000 a winner. That was a great combination. They’ve been to the WS twice since then, and the team’s popularity has steadily increased. The million people who flooded the streets of SF after the 2010 WS only suggested the scope. Similarly, the daily SRO crowd at China Basin these days is only part of the success story. TV revenue is huge, and the increased fan base generally is impressive. The Giants have money to spend, and they do, and not just on payroll.
    Meanwhile, the Moneyball era was famous outside Oakland late in the day, after the book was published. Crowds at the Coliseum were dwindling; Wolff et al bought the team and the rest is history, which you all know more about than do I. Die hard A’s fans are great baseball fans–but they’re an ebbing popoulation. I know these anecdotes don’t conclusively prove anything, but they’re true. In spring 2011, when the Oakland Little League kids showed up for their earliest practices, before team uniforms were distributed, most of those kids wore Giants hats. Every time I go to a Giants/A’s game at the Coliseum, I see a middle-aged father in shorts and an A’s hat herding two or more kids wearing Giants hats. . . . The Giants are marketing for the future, almost as coldly as was the villain in Chinatown, Noah Cross. (“The future, Mr. Geddes. The future.”)
    The Giants, of course, aren’t superior; they’re just operating in the business world of baseball differently than are the A’s current owners. The A’s need to make some huge efforts on several fronts if they want popularity flowing back in their direction. I said weeks ago that a Cubs/WSox coexistence is about the best the A’s can hope for going forward. But even to regain that much presence, the A’s need to start competing.

  26. Oakland-only advocates cling to those territorial rights as the savior of baseball for the city. But if there is no money and no site in Oakland, then there won’t be any savior. Eventually, the team will be relocated to a more accommodating place. Sacramento has already put in its pitch and surely knows the score (San Jose: banned from MLB, Oakland, no $$ and no site). Other cities will come forward, too, once they know they have a rare chance to snag as precious commodity as an MLB franchise. The existing football stadium will not be the permanent home of the A’s.

  27. Really, none of us have much of an idea what Bud’s ultimate goal is here. I was listening on the radio yesterday and there was talk of how some owners thought San Jose was closer to San Francisco than Oakland… Yikes.
    All I know, as a fan who has done a lot of research on this stuff, is that should the A’s get a new stadium in San Jose, or Oakland, they will still be the Mets, Angels, or White Sox of the Bay Area. They always have been (unless our only measure is attendance). And honestly, that is just fine with me.

  28. @Stanley: The A’s consistently had great records from 2000-2003 and made the playoffs each year. They also had consistently low to mediocre attendance and yet weren’t owned by Lew Wolff. You must be remembering the late 1980s but that was a long time ago.

  29. I’m sure the A’s would kill to be comparable to the Mets or Angels right now. At the moment, they’re more like the…Philadelphia A’s.

  30. Oakland-only folks cling to the territorial rights thing as the savior of MLB for their city. But as long as there is no $$ to pay for a ballpark in Oakland and no place to put it, anyway, there will be no savior. Eventually, other suitors will come forward, just as Sacramento already has, if San Jose continues to be banned. A 46-year-old football stadium will not remain the A’s permanent home.

  31. @Stanley:
    Yes, you are right about the issues regarding the SJ site, but I could see a great ballpark being built there a lot faster than in any place in Oakland. The main reason is the OWNER wants to build it in SJ, not in Oakland, and he should have that right. I just want to see shovels hitting the dirt like in Santa Clara for the Niners, so the A’s can play in baseball only stadium somewhere here in the Bay Area.

    The Giant’s front office is being greedy for not even bulging on the territorial rights issue. The A’s Haas ownership did the right thing for baseball when they gave the Giants the territorial rights to Santa Clara County for free in the early 1990’s. The Giants wanted to build a ballpark in SJ back then, but it never came to fruition due to ballot measures that were voted down. Giants now want crazy money for the territorial rights, which is completely greedy on their part considering they’re making money hand over fist there at AT&T park. Plus, I agreed with Lew Wolff about the territorial rights for Santa Clara County should have been conditional on the Giants moving to SJ. It is ridiculous MLB wrote it into their constitution leaving the A’s with only two counties in the Bay Area. Lew Wolff has made it clear that he just wants to share the territorial rights to Santa Clara County with the Giants and not make it exclusive to them. Just like the Giants have the right to put a Giants Dugout in Walnut Creek, which they have done, the A’s should be able market anywhere in the Bay Area.

    I would like to see Bud Selig educate all the MLB owners about the history behind the territorial rights and show them how lopsided the boundaries are for the two Bay Area clubs. After hearing the Steve Henson radio interview yesterday, Selig will also need to educate some of the MLB owners that the A’s potential move to SJ would put them 45-miles further away from the Giants. Selig should then let the owners vote on the issue, so we can all move on from the nonsense.


  32. @AG – To clarify your understanding of T-Rights, they only affect stadium location. They don’t do anything to block marketing. The A’s could open up a store across the street from AT&T Park if they wanted to.

  33. Has something changed that makes Howard Terminal even remotely possible with Wolff/Fisher in charge? I mean, even if the City and MLB and the corporations involved put something feasible together, isn’t this simply 100% guaranteed NOT to happen as long as Wolff/Fisher own the A’s?

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