Port gives Howard Terminal thumbs up, warns of hurdles

The Trib’s Matt Artz wrote today that the Port of Oakland is “very interested” in converting Howard Terminal into a ballpark/commercial site. That’s a big step. Having the Port and Matson onboard is a good start. Now Oakland boosters have to get SSA Terminals onboard, which is suing the Port over contract terms. I wrote about that and other challenges two weeks ago. It’s worth a read if you hadn’t seen it it.

Artz also brilliantly sums up Oakland’s broader challenge at the moment.

With A’s owner Lew Wolff determined to move his team to downtown San Jose, Oakland needs to show baseball officials that it too has a viable site for the team that could persuade baseball owners against pursuing the very touchy subject of rescinding the San Francisco Giants’ territorial rights to San Jose.

Viable, unfortunately, is a term that is prone to subjectivity. Knowing that, let’s try to break it down into what MLB’s goals are in its neverending exploration:

  • Can the site be acquired cheaply and quickly? That’s an unknown as long as the SSA issue remains in litigation. Otherwise, it’s a site that can be configured and prepped fairly quickly, as long as cleanup isn’t too lengthy or expensive.
  • Overall, is it cheaper to pursue this site than to build in San Jose and compensate the Giants? Another unknown. The only thing we have a decent idea about right now is what it will cost to build in San Jose (including remaining land acquisitions). There’s still much to determine regarding Howard Terminal. Will infrastructure costs be borne by the club, the City, or some combination of the two? Will the cost be too expensive for either to bear, as was apparently the case with Victory Court? Plus we have no idea what proper compensation is for the Giants.
  • Will the risk that comes with Howard Terminal be too great or manageable? It’s unfair to Oakland, but when you combine the lackluster attendance history with the poor corporate base compared to San Jose, it has to be asked. How can an individual team such as the A’s pull this off, especially if they are not expected to get significant monetary help from either MLB or the City, County, or other public entity?

In the end, it’s all a big cost-benefit analysis. And if it means Oakland, I’ve gotten accustomed to taking the Capitol Corridor train to day games. It’s no sweat off my back. This is when we find out if and how Oakland can put together a good deal for the A’s and for MLB. This is how we define viable.

45 thoughts on “Port gives Howard Terminal thumbs up, warns of hurdles

  1. i wouldn’t mind going to a howard terminal a’s site, don’t think a oakland park will be as successful as a park in downtown sj but if as long as the a’s stay in the bay area be it oak or sj, then fine.

    just don’t think it can happen in oakland in terms of getting a group willing to spend what it’ll cost to buy the a’s and then build the park with all the issues even before the first pillar goes into the group. add to that the city officials who’ve had a horrible track record over the past two decades so i doubt they have what it takes to get this potential billon dollar project done.

  2. One of my biggest fears through this whole process would be the Port saying, “A ballpark? Why didn’t anyone ask us?” This news is encouraging though that at least the Port would be a willing partner.
    And the quote that says a ballpark would be ready in five years goes with what I have heard: Opening Day 2017.

  3. I live in West Alameda, the Howard Terminal Ballpark would be so close I would hear the crowds from my home and ride my bike to games. However, the article refers to the terminal as being “contaminated.” The Naval Air Station (right across the water from the HT site) has run into every environmental hurdle imaginable in terms of trying to develop. There are plenty of other developmental hurdles in this little town of NIMBY’s; but the Navy hasn’t made things easy. The Navy has squashed many projects before they got off the ground knowing they could face lawsuits down the road. If you’ve ever driven around the Naval Air Station you know that it should be real estate gold with its unobstructed views. But it’s been dying a slow sad death for 15 years because its “contaminated”, and there’s no end in sight. If the area around Howard Terminal has similar contamination, this is a real problem. I hope they’re not connected. Here’s a link to the discussion the Navy had with Alameda this past July – http://alamedapointinfo.com/documents/alameda-point-environmental-report-navy-receives-comments-landfillwetlands-plans-alameda-p

  4. Positive news for Oakland? This is such an Oakland-Only blog. ML is so biased.
    (I’m joking here!)

  5. One thing that has been assumed when discussing all the “viable” sites that Oakland has spewed forth is that MLB does not want to rescind the Giants TRights to SC/SJ; thus (the theory goes) merely drawing lines on a map and screaming “see, viable!” will force Wolff/A’s to stay in Oakland. I think this is false. I strongly believe that MLB (through the committee) is thinking long-term health of the league in its study of the region. Having two ballparks located in shouting distance of one another DOES NOT take full advantage of the market and would still leave the A’s as “small market” compared to the Giants.
    Again, this isn’t all about what’s best for the Giants or what’s best for the city of Oakland. Its about what’s best for ALL of MLB.
    All this said, if MLB (in all its stupidity) states that San Jose can’t happen for the A’s, it won’t mean that Wolff will HAVE TO build in Oakland. What was that quote again from Wolff on where he can, can’t build? In the end I fully expect Howard Terminal to goo down as an Oakland footnote much like Uptown, Coliseum North, VC, Coliseum City…

  6. It’s understandable for the Pro Oakland folks to feel energized about this news. There’s been little to no news for many years that equaled this much positivity. While this is a relatively small amount of positive news, again, it’s understandable to be energized. But TonyD speaks to the continued reality quite well. First, there appears to be a working assumption that MLB does not want to allow SJ to be opened to the A’s. There is nothing to believe that is or isn’t a fact. It is a complete unknown and therefore cannot be assumed. Second, LW/MLB have a general stadium completion $$$ figure associated with SJ. Until Oakland can get to a point that provides X, Y and Z (EIR, infrastructure, purchase, possible clean up, etc etc) which allows LW/MLB a general $$$ figure, the HT site is barely more than a notion (and can’t be compared with SJ). Third, a no vote on SJ does not equal the A’s building in Oakland. That’s post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking. Everything in the second point needs to be done, then an acceptable figure needs to be assessed, then fences need to be mended between LW and Oakland, then no viable/better site such as Fremont (or other site) pops up. While all that doesn’t preclude Oakland (not by a long shot), Oakland would still need to make a good, solid case to LW/MLB. Given the history, this is a very very shaky reality.

  7. We still need to know where the money comes from. If the SJ ballpark was going to be built with plentiful Silicon Valley money and all that goes away in Oakland, who pays for the ballpark? The owners out of the kindness of their hearts? Not likely. PSLs, which already proved a disaster in Oakland? If there’s no financing plan, there is no plan.

  8. Reading the blurb has me wondering about the state land trust. The contamination is what it is. Remediation will be required and that is going to either be cost prohibitive or it isn’t. But the state land trust is a mystery to me. Does anyone know how that works? Is it straightforward, as in the city wants to develop 25 acres so they must donate 25 other acres to the trust?

  9. If I’m building a ballpark in Oakland, my first requirement from MLB is for them to modify the CBA so that, once the A’s new park it built, they are still eligible to receive revenue sharing checks. That would alleviate a portion of the risk for the A’s by allowing MLB to insure the project without explicitly doing so. The next CBA will be in place before any A’s ballpark opens.

  10. A new ballpark that still requires league subsidies. Isn’t a new ballpark supposed to grow revenues and enable the team to be profitable? Talk about defeating the purpose. Not that I disagree with the notion of continuing revenue-sharing if the ballpark is in Oakland. it may in fact be necessary.

  11. @Jeffery Not sure of all the details, but I did a bit of research and it seems the land that would need to be waterfront property. Since, from the Artz artile, a swap is not required, it would seem any swap wouldn’t require an equal acreage of land.

  12. Re: contamination. The contamination has been capped and the site is subject to an agreement with the state that will not allow certain uses a ballpark is NOT one of those restricted uses. Pretty standard stuff by development standards.

    @Jeffrey, the land is subject to the Public Trust doctrine and subject to jurisdiction of state lands and the BCDC. But a ballpark use has been shown to be allowable (look across the Bay) and since a large portion of the site would likely be open space with public access (a large part of the perimeter would be a guess), some have surmised that both agencies would like the idea of a ballpark on that site.

    @Tony D and TW, feel free to be negative on the HT idea but I would imagine the Commissioner has taken so long b/c he is looking for any reason not to overturn the Giants rights. I know this isn’t a popular sentiment for you guys but please give us some other logical explanation for a three and a half year delay IF SJ is so easy to do, makes such financial sense, and is shovel ready, while Oakland has had nothing but “smoke and mirrors.”

  13. @Jeffrey / gojohn10 – Tidelands Trust is a covenant between city/county and state in the public’s interest. It’s not an organization that owns land like State Parks or the federal BLM. The State Lands Commission makes decisions on land use. TT effectively restricts grants to public use, which is why you don’t see many high rise office towers or apartment building directly on the shore. I wrote (and learned) about Tidelands Trust when I took in a meeting about O29 several years ago.

    Is a ballpark a public use? Given that AT&T Park was successfully built on TT land, there is a precedent for it. That won’t mean a Howard Terminal ballpark will sail through. There will be lots of hearings and lawsuit threats, you can bank on it.

  14. why are the A’s not expected to get significant help from MLB??? yes, theyve done absolutely nothing about the territorial rights fiasco, but that doesnt mean they wont help with putting baseballs best ballpark in oakland at howard terminal

    • @ACV – Unlike the NFL, MLB has no central financing mechanism for stadia, not even a little one. So to make that happen for Oakland would be even more unprecedented than changing T-rights, which actually has been done in the past. No way the owners back something like that. Teams are expected to either finance their stadia on their own or leverage municipalities to get it done.

  15. FWIW: A’s rank 8th in ESPN’s Uni rankings, out of 100-something teams, ahead of the Yankee$ and Dodgers, behind Cubs and Cards

  16. SS,
    So contamination, though apparently expressed as a concern by the Port, is not a concern?
    Also, I completely agree MLB is trying to avoid changing territories, but that doesn’t make HT a slam dunk. Heck, it’s a two sided coin… If MLB thought they had a way to avoid territory changes it wouldn’t take 40+ months to announce it.
    Any idea on the plan for bringing the surrounding infrastructure up to snuff? I imagine that’s part ofthe convincing that Oakland has to do.

    • @Jeffrey / Stanley Stanson – Contamination being capped means nothing if they’re going to build on HT. It will have to be cleaned up. The question is, How much will it cost?

  17. SS,
    Just FYI, I wasn’t being facetious with either of those questions.

  18. SS,
    you actually have the reasoning behind the long delay wrong. As has been explained here before, if MLB wasn’t going to alter territories or allow the A’s San Jose, there would have never been a study, we would have known three years ago and Cisco Field at Fremont Pac Commons would be two year’s old by now.
    The notion that somehow MLB is “afraid” to change territories is complete nonsense! Think otherwise, prove it! And no “its been three years, we would have heard something by now” answers. Lets have facts to back that one up.

  19. For the record, MLB territories (both geographic and television) have been altered changed before. A quick list of some:
    1) Giants move from NY to SF in 1958, as Bay Area was once Boston Red Sox territory (SF Seals were their minor league affiliate).
    2) Giant’s territory was expanded (I.e. changed) in 1992 to include Santa Clara County so that they could relocate to San Jose.
    3) Montreal Expos move to Washington DC, television territory of Baltimore Orioles compromised.
    there are more but you get my drift. Territories can change when MLB sees it fit and in their best interest. They’re not sacrosanct and previous changes did NOTHING in terms of setting precedence or rampant relocations. Case by case basis all…GO A’s!!

  20. Tony, I admire your confidence but I have to say… Your logic is a bit off. If MLB was doing this specifically in order to change the territories they would have already. These guys are monopolists. They don’t make change even if it is called for unless they have no other option. They grow by keeping the status quo, not by seizing opportunity and taking big risks.

  21. Stanley, you would imagine? Here are the known facts: no decision has been made and it has been 40+ months. Voile! Just about everything beyond that is just imagining. As to the only certain conclusion that can be gleaned from the delay: MLB has not decided because they don’t have a clear enough cost-benefit framework to say “no SJ:” or “yes SJ”. And that the lack of clarity means taking no position/making no decision is their safest and/or best play.
    As far as what you imagine? Sure, it’s possible. Waiting for the Giants to get more mortgage payments on the books is also possible. Maybe waiting on a new CBA or TV $$$ to be in place. Maybe MLB is trying to get the A’s and/or Giants to wear down over time and come to an agreement. Maybe there are several powerful owners dead set against changing TR but a majority does (or vice versa). Hell, maybe MLB is actually trying to dot all the Is and cross all the Ts to make the best decision possible for MLB (maybe lawsuit defense too). Ultimately it is nothing but a rank guessing game as to what this delay means. So when the assumption is made that SJ is off the table and that assumption is part of your plan, do you think, maybe, that should be a point of discussion? It should be pointed out?
    As for HT, “feel free to be negative”? Are you serious? Given the utter lack of effective leadership from Oakland for this LONG, the statement shouldn’t be “feel free to be negative”. Negativity should be assumed, it should be built in for anyone grounded in reality. A “feel free to be positive” is the statement that is applicable here.

  22. Agree with Jeffrey 100%. I admire Tony’s confidence but Bud Selig does not give me any confidence of the sort to do the right thing and MLB does not take risks or like to change things. The other owners will follow Selig into the pits because he has made them so much $$.

    Selig gets booed everywhere by fans but the owners love him for all the $$ he has put into their pockets over the years. Therefore the owners take a back seat and let Selig work, to them Selig has earned that right.

    MLB is an very old business and “baseball time” is measured much slower than real time. This 3.5 years of nonsense to us is nothing in the bigger scheme of things in MLB.

    To MLB another 3 years means nothing to them hence why the delay. To us real world people we consider 3 years an eternity in business….Not baseball business.

    As for Howard Terminal, this reminds me of the 49ers plan to build at Hunter’s Point at a old Naval shipyard.

    The cost of cleanup was so staggering the 49ers and city quickly abandoned it as a possible site. Howard Terminal faces the same problem albeit not as big but it will stop this before it starts.

    It is amazing that MLB clings to an Oakland miracle after all these years…

  23. ML, the contamination has already been dealt with. It’s been capped. There was a plan filed with DTSC and it was completed. The ballpark can be built on top of the existing cap. The developer will need to work with DTSC to ensure compliance. It’s an issue but a difficult one.

    As to infrastructure, much of it is in place. The site is very well served by electrical, water and sewer service. The sidewalks need to be widened in places and, as others have indicated, there would need to be a vehicular/ped bridge built over the tracks. Some parking would need to be built on HT to serve the VIPs. There is an adequate amount of offstreet and onstreet parking. I don’t believe we are talking about a massive capital outlay.

    Tony D, I’m not trying to antagonize you but it just flies in the face to suggest this long delay means MLB is going to change the territorial rights of the Giants. I’m not sure how anyone reads the delay as being a “good thing” for the current ownership.

    Sid, how much have you studied the HT site or the proposal to make such assertions?

  24. TW & Tony, it’s funny that silence means that SJ is happening instead of MLB trying to find a way around SJ – i have no clue what will happen w/ this group, but MLB’s silence is like staring at clouds: you see what you want to see.
    As for Howard & the Alameda Navy yard…
    I’m surprised that Barbra Lee hasn’t fought to get some federal funds to at least repair the navy Superfund site. I assume it’s a federal site (DOD) and cleanup should be borne by them. I hate to point this out, but she is on the freakin’ Appropriations Committee!!! get it done Lee. If you really want to help your district develop, clean up our county.

  25. @Jeffrey,
    We’ve been at this WAY to long to start insulting each other ;). If MLB was interested in the “status quo” they would have never allowed Washington/Baltimore (roughly same population as Bay Area) to become a two-team market. I appreciate your opinion, but like what I say it’s just that, an opinion. Hopefully (and even you’ll agree) I am right. If not…can you say your SAN JOSE A’S OF FREMONT!!

  26. @SS – so would you support guaranteed revenue attendance for the A’s so HT could be built?

  27. An opinion of but grounded in serious reality: Howard Terminal (like every other site Oakland outlined on a map) ISN’T HAPPENING! At least for a ballpark…

  28. SS,
    There is a lot more infrastructure work than a ped bridge and sidewalks… I just drove brought there on Thursday to check it out. That site is prepared for an infusion of 25k 81 times a year without serious improvements to the streets surrounding the area, as an example.
    No insult intended. Look again at Washington and Baltimore in the MLB Constitution. They territories were purposely (I assume) defined in way that they do not touch. There is a 3 county buffer betweenthe two. TV territory is I one thing, marketing territories are another. I know it makes little sense to us, but it’s different for MLB.

  29. @Jeffrey,
    Even you’ll agree with this one: it will be nice when we FINALLY hear from Selig/MLB on this issue, whether its FOR San Jose or the A’s remaining in Alameda/CoCo County. Until then, let the opinions fly all!!

  30. @ru155 – Would Howard Terminal qualify for those funds? I only brought up Alameda on the possibility (probability) that Alameda’s nuclear waste is the cause of Howard Terminals contamination. The original cleanup costs were a projected $900 million. The Navy shot that plan down. If Howard Terminal is contaminated because of past Naval activity (I’m guessing it is being only about 300 feet away) I can only imagine how a conversation between Mayor Quan and DOD officials would go down, where she demands they immediately fund Howard Terminals cleanup so a ballpark could be built there. Cleanup costs could be tens of millions, leading to finger pointing and make and make for legal fodder for Oakland NIMBY’s (who do exist).

    • @Burton – Howard Terminal’s cleanup is not for military uses. Rather it’s for previous industrial use. From a 2002 DTSC assessment:

      A human health and ecological risk assessment has been prepared for the Site and indicated that the residual soil contamination will not pose a risk to the Site users due to the existing thick asphalt concrete cap; furthermore, the groundwater concentrations will not exceed the levels that would harm ecological receptors in the Inner Harbor. However, the risk assessment concluded that the construction activities that would breach the asphalt concrete cap would cause excessive exposure. Therefore all construction would need to be performed in accordance with a Health and Safety Plan.

      Guess what would breach the asphalt cap? Drilling foundation piers or driving piles, that’s what. Plus last time I checked, you can’t grow grass on asphalt. That’s why cleanup is not something that can be easily brushed aside.

  31. Tony,

    I absolutely agree on that.

  32. @ML – Thanks for clearing that up.

  33. Ru155, funny? Once again, the silence and the length of time means nothing certain, period. What is “funny” about applying logic? You, I, Tony, Steve, ML etc etc are free to imagine what the delay/lack of final decision means for discussion purposes. However, what we imagine and 5$ will get you a Venti Mocha Latte at Starbucks……that’s it. Bottom line, there are multiple plausible explanations as to why a decision has taken this long.
    Now could the delay mean MLB is determined to find a SJ alternate/force a deal in Oakland? Sure, that is possible. But there also arguments against that being the reason. For instance if they want the A’s to stay out of SJ, what purpose does it serve to allow LW to stay on the SJ plan? Why not say no to SJ and force LW to the bargaining table with Oakland? Even better, after this long of not wanting SJ/wanting Oakland, why has it taken this long to simply decide a site? There isn’t a good explanation to take 4 years to simply find a site.
    But in fairness to your belief, every imagined possibility also has reasons why it may not be the reason. So ultimately, instead of Oakland relying on SJ being a no go, why not outright win it? Get their asses in gear and come up with a winning proposal? Look to SJ, see what they did to get people looking their way, and do the same!
    Here’s a question for you: What entity has moved WAY slower than the snail pace BS/MLB/BRC in deciding on an A’s ballpark? I’ll give you a hint (fill in the blank): O A K _ A N D

  34. …Wolff won’t be forced to the bargaining table with Oakland. He’d sell for top dollar and then the next ownership group should be required to prove they can and will build in Oakland. None of this taking five years to look at it and then deciding it can’t be done.

  35. ML, I’ve talked to developers who have built in these conditions. from what I hear, this is an issue but (a) not overwhelmingly expensive, (b) technically feasible, (c) somewhat routine as far a complex development is concerned, and (d) always working with and in compliance with the state agency (DTSC). You pierce the cap, you take precautions necessary to avoid exposure to workers, the public at large and the environment.

    Of all the potential issues surrounding developing HT, this one shouldn’t stop it.

    Jeffrey, yes, there will need to be significant infrastructure improvements.

    Anon, no.

  36. @stanley stanson – A ballpark has a massive footprint. Usually the construction involves a complete grading of the site with lots of earthmoving. What methods are you suggesting will be used to avoid large-scale disruption of the cap? Are they going to truck in tons of dirt and lay that over the cap? That will only make the structure taller and prone to a different type of scrutiny, greater visual impacts. In any case, I’ve never heard of a stadium project that was done in that manner.

  37. @ML and SS–AT&T Park was built on contaminated soil. They had to remediate the site to dig down for below grade for the turf and bullpens. Then they installed pier/pile and grade beam foundation that supported a one foot thick concrete deck. They also replaced the sea wall. Piles were needed due to poor soils. Poor soils are also present at the SJ and Coliseum site. Also infrastructure has to be trenched and this can’t happen in a contaminated site. In addition there are not the parking assets nearby to support the ballpark at Howard Terminal, these would have to be built. BART is to far away. And a live railroad separates the Howard Terminal from access requiring expensive grade separated bridges.

    If you need free land, I still recommend building the ballpark over the depressed section of I-980 between 14th and 18th. The site would be supported on a pier and beam foundation with 60′ spans. No contamination but you would have relocate two ramps at a cost of $20-30M. Near BART and plenty of existing parking assets.

  38. @TW, yeah, it’s still funny, bro. I’ve gone from the pro-Oakland, to SJ-only, to wtf-plan. Why take all this time and not tell Wolff to scrap his SJ dreams? I don’t know. Maybe Selig has tried to wrangle owners but has fallen short; he wouldn’t put it to a vote until he knew he had enough owners lined up. Maybe Selig holds a secret grudge against Wolff from their college days when Wolff swiped the hottie Selig was trying to get with, and now he’s just making him squirm.
    Yes, Oakland city gov is crap: slow, illogical and corrupt. But until MLB makes a decision, nothing is certain.

  39. Well, if Tony’s having conniption fits, then there must be something to this.

  40. Conniption fits? Whatever you say Rob. Good to see you posting by the way (sarcasm)…

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