Settlement could move Howard Terminal forward

Previous posts about Howard Terminal:

Later today the Port of Oakland’s Board of Port Commissioners will hold a meeting, during which an important settlement with SSA Marine will be discussed. This settlement is important as it should resolve the biggest legal obstacle hanging over Howard Terminal. The settlement discussion is a closed session item, so the terms weren’t made publicly available. Still, there’s no reason to think that the terms won’t be approved as the parties apparently have been in discussion for some time, and would probably prefer to avoid further litigation (which could run through next year).


Howard Terminal overhead shot with Jack London Square nearby

During the Don Knauss interview, he mentioned that environmental concerns were overblown. To wit:

We’ve done the diligence there as well and been assured by experts that a ballpark can be built on that site without a substantial cost associated with cleanup. Basically we can build a ballpark on top of that site without having to scrape the site clean like AT&T was built on (China Basin).

Wait a minute. China Basin was built without having to scrape it clean? Actually, it was scraped clean. Site remediation was done by the Giants, not the City or Port, and reimbursed to some degree by the federal government via the Federal Brownfields Tax Initiative. Piles were driven deep into bay mud (fill) to provide a proper foundation. Knauss is suggesting that a Howard Terminal ballpark can be built without replacing the fill currently at the site or even piercing the asphalt cap designed to contain the site’s contamination. I’ve heard this claim before but not the plan behind it. Naturally I have to be skeptical of this claim. China Basin and Howard Terminal are similar enough that it’s hard to conceive of how this would work.

AT&T Park’s foundation was built the many expected: land was cleared, cleaned up, and piles were driven to support the stands and ancillary buildings. This was required because China Basin sits in an extreme liquefaction zone. Howard Terminal also sits in an extreme liquefaction zone, which would presumably mean similar measures to China Basin would have to be undertaken. The difference with Howard Terminal is that the State of California put the asphalt cap over the contamination over a decade ago instead of cleaning it up completely, a process which would’ve cost $100 million ($131 million in 2012). That cost has long been the biggest source of the site costs associated with Howard Terminal.

Then again, maybe Knauss and the Oakland backers have a clever, innovative plan that would not require piercing the asphalt cap, or at least minimizing the number of intrusions. That would probably require building a smaller number of larger sized footings at the site, then constructing an above grade podium on which the ballpark would be placed. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Bryan Grunwald proposed a similar approach at his 980 Park site. There’s no concrete estimate of the cost of such a podium, but I’d expect it to be at least $100 million given the the size and load it would have to carry. That could conceivably be cheaper than cleaning up Howard Terminal. Would it be that much cheaper? We’re talking about building a ballpark in a liquefaction zone. There’s no room to cut corners.

Another issue is the amount of planned infrastructure. Again, Knauss claims that costs are being overblown. But he also acknowledged that parking would need to be provided on site, which makes sense given the lack of parking in the immediate area (only 1,200 spaces within 1/3 mile). And if more parking is to be provided on the 50-acre Howard Terminal site, more infrastructure has to be built to bring cars into the site. I had previously suggested two overpasses, one for vehicle traffic and one for pedestrians. Add those to the podium, other site improvements, and additional improvements to the area north of HT, and we’re talking about an estimate north of $150 million. Maybe it’s less, maybe they’ve come up with something really innovative. The problem is that quality engineering is expensive and requires expensive materials. Heck, even bad engineering can be really expensive.

Finally, there’s the lingering question of Who will pay for it? The Giants paid for their site cleanup, got a tax credit from the Feds, and received a minimal amount of TIF funds for the surrounding area. If Knauss is suggesting the same kind of deal to Lew Wolff, it’s a nonstarter. That’s around $650 million worth of risk, 95% of it to be borne by the A’s, with little promise of the kinds of returns the Giants got at China Basin. (Note: Walter Shorenstein thought China Basin was so risky that he divested his share of the Giants, and many within The Lodge looked askance at the plan.)

Maybe, just maybe, Knauss and his people have this figured out. Maybe there’s a creative way to make this all work for everyone. Again, I’m skeptical. Many of the same claims were made about Victory Court, and that site was swept under the rug with barely a peep.


P.S. – We haven’t even touched the transportation gap at Howard Terminal (BART or the mythical streetcar). Or whether the City, Port, and County would create yet another joint powers authority. Or lease terms. Or the lack of redevelopment funds for surrounding area improvements.

35 thoughts on “Settlement could move Howard Terminal forward

  1. I know that the pile cost for att park were 6million. That was in 1997. If you want more info, or pictures go here.
    If you are really interested in an estimate for the piles and a pedestal design I could do it. I could make some assumptions. I am currently reviewing a job that has piles and Iam very familiar with concrete an steel construction costs. I would just need to know square footage of stadium minus the field dimensions.

    • @jordan – Thanks. Some quick math has the footprint at 277,000 s.f. (6+ acres) without the field. Total square footage would be around 1 million.

  2. I have a question about site ownership and how that gets used for baseball. As I understand it, SSA Marine is going to transfer ownership to the Port of Oakland. But how does it then become available to the A’s? Do they have to then buy it? Does the Port just transfer it over to the city, who then provide it to the A’s for building on top? Does the Port do that directly? Or is the Port and city one and the same for all intents and purposes? Just curious how that part works.

    Challenges aside, I love that location. It’s right next to JLS, and I can envision a huge transformation to the rest of the surrounding area. I would love to go to games there (whereas Coliseum City does nothing for me and is a ridiculous pipe dream to begin with). I’m excited to see another potentially great site that would keep the A’s in the Bay Area if Diridon falls through.

    • @Turin – SSA only had a lease on the site. The Port owns Howard Terminal. A new lease would have to be drawn up for the A’s and whatever third parties enter the fray.

  3. @ML, interesting post as usual.

    When you mentioned no room for error on a liquifaction zone, all I could think of was Monty Python’s King of the Swamp Castle:

    “When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England.”

    Nothing like building in an area with nothing but red flags flying as far as the eye can see.

    But, I’m no engineer so I’ll just continue to watch and see what unfolds.

  4. sounds like VC all over again–looks like CC is the only site in Oakland that is truly viable but unfortunately not desirable. Is it safe to assume that the port itself is in decline and there is no opportunity cost lost that needs to be included in the analysis?

  5. You say “We haven’t even touched the transportation gap” I’m not sure what the gap is: BART is 12 blocks away, and AMTRAK, AC Transit, and the ferry are right there.

    • @4Libertee – It’s 3/4 mile or a 15 minute walk. Studies have shown that 1/2 mile or less is the preferred walk. If everyone chooses to walk, more power to them. In SF the vast majority transfer to Muni to go the last 7/8 mile even though Muni is not much faster. The Broadway bus could be the bridge, but imagine 6,000 people (20% ballpark capacity) transferring at the 12th St station. That’s 100 trips!

  6. I think the majority of BART riders who go to China Basin walk to the park. I always do. After games the Embarcadero is crowded with people walking back downtown. HT is closer to the 12th St. and Lake Merritt BART stations than China Basin is to the Mont. & Embarcadero stations.

    • @xoot – I’ve spent multiple pregames observing people either transfer from BART to Muni or exit the Montgomery or Embarcadero stations. It’s easily 2:1 transfers from what I’ve witnessed. I can see it being more even postgame because of Muni demand, no time crunch, and nearby amenities.

      @Mike – Has to be $$$. The recent denial of CEQA-sidestepping legislation could be related. Probably not. Same thing happened in Brooklyn’s Frank Gehry plans.

  7. OT: wonder what this means??

    Steinmetz: Hearing #Warriors NOT moving forward with Snohetta & AECOM, orginal architect for proposed arena on Piers 30/32. Not sure why/what it means.

  8. ML, I don’t think there’s a “transportation gap” either. As you say, the park would be a little less than 3/4 of a mile from BART. You could offer shuttles from 12th St. BART easily and I do think that a large portion of the crowd would choose to walk. You could also look into airport-style people movers.

    The Atlanta Braves aren’t really in a comparable situation since public transportation use for baseball spectators is so much lower there, but I’ve taken MARTA (Atlanta’s rapid transit) to a Braves game, and they had dozens of shuttles lined up waiting to take people to the ballpark, which is more than a mile away from the closest station.

    In a nutshell: transportation would be a non-issue for this site, and it’s actually super convenient for people taking Capitol Corridor from both Sacramento and San Jose, not to mention the ferry or AC Transit. BART is obviously the biggest factor and as I said above I don’t see it as being an issue.

    • @Lev – Of course there’s a gap. You identified different ways to bridge. The questions are always cost? and convenience? Someone has to pay for it in the end – whether it’s users or the public.

      Let’s get real about Capitol Corridor usage. It’s close to 1% for games right now – I should know, I’ve used it many times. If it doubles for games at HT it’ll be a miracle. Ferry usage may have a slightly higher usage rate. With the reduced number of parking spaces near HT compared to the Coliseum, people will be compelled to take transit. At issue is whether or not transit is effective and convenient. It’s not something to be taken lightly. An EIR would bear this out.

  9. “In a nutshell: transportation would be a non-issue for this site”

    Transportation is always an issue when putting together an EIR. You should try and focus on how traffic is affected in the greater area, and if it can handle the amount of people as opposed to the game day experience for A’s fans. A draft EIR was put together for development around JLS (in 2002?) read the concerns AC Transit had just by adding 3 new buildings. If my memory is correct, the draft EIR never even turned into a final EIR. It matters very much. This is how projects die.

    Here’s the 2003 JLS draft EIR –

    Click to access oak035153.pdf

    If I can find the public comments from the various agencies who responded to the above EIR I’ll post them. I know they exist, I’ve seen some of them. Traffic is a HUGE issue.

  10. @ML and @muppet151 OK, so maybe I misspoke. The point is that this site poses no more of an issue with transportation than any other plan the A’s have right now: that includes San Jose, where the current site has no direct BART access and the state needs about $2 billion to make that happen. Transportation to Howard Terminal is neither impractical nor unfeasible. That’s all I was trying to say.

    And yeah, the Amtrak situation in California is unfortunate…it shouldn’t take almost two hours to get to Jack London from Sacramento. It’s a little more practical for San Jose, though. I was just listing agencies that are conveniently located for access to a Howard Terminal ballpark, not necessarily ones that will play a huge role in the transportation there.

  11. @Lev – It’s not about Howard Terminal’s transit accessibility vs. other sites. It’s about whether Howard Terminal passes muster as a City of Oakland project. Judging from past citizen hyperactivity over developer projects (Uptown, O29/Brooklyn Basin), it’s safest to err on the side of planning for new infrastructure, whatever that may be.

  12. Thanks ML. So the A’s would have to lease the site, or perhaps the city could lease it for them. In that case, It doesn’t sound like control of the site to me. It sounds like the door is a little more open for site control to take place. Big difference there, if you ask me.

  13. @ML,

    Couldn’t the transportation gap be remedied by the A’s using a system similar to the one the Dodgers use?

    For instance, the Dodgers have designated 40-foot LACMTA buses that shuttle fans from Union Station (nearly 4 miles away) into Dodgers Stadium. If the A’s were to use West Oakland, 12th & 19th Street BART stations (which are 1.0, 1.2, 1.9 miles away from Howard Terminal, respectively), I’m assuming the A’s could work something out with AC Transit to use a similar system (with 60 foot, articulated buses), with buses coming from all three said stations.

    Of course, Dodgers Stadium has MUCH more parking than an HT ballpark would. But in terms of transit accessibility, couldn’t this work?

    • @BayMetro – Sure they could. Will it run for free like the current Broadway shuttle? If so who subsidizes it? If it isn’t subsidized, how much will it cost? Would a ballpark renew a push for a streetcar? That won’t be cheap.

      The Sharks cancelled their free arena shuttle because of cost. Budget is a factor for any solution.

  14. AC Transit providing shuttles is only an option is the A’s pay – big. ACT cut service for Cal football (only 6-7 games mind you) because those games were costing ACT $200,000 a year. What would that number be at 81+ games?:

    The bigger concerns for ACT are how current bus lines are affected. Keep in mind much of ACT is the primary mode of transportation for residents in the immediate area. I do think this issue can and would be over come, but the negotiation wouldn’t be smooth, or cheap. ACT is very protective of their everyday riders, and rightfully so.

  15. @EE – Every bus line that has a stop on Broadway from 14th street on down would be affected by a JLS stadium.

  16. I do realize that, I am mainly thinking about lines that would have severe impacts. i.e. road closures/detours. Lines on Broadway would mainly have to contend with additional vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

  17. @all

    Mount Davis deal….too bad. We cant keep using that excuse. Nobody held a gun to our head to vote yes. We shoukd have told Al ” love to have you back in Oakland” here is your 200 mil build a stadium next to the A’s……but no…we had the bright idea to do mout Davis and hurt the coliseum….we could learn from this mistake and contribute to a seperate stadium this time around…. Also what about our Warriors…now there is a threat they could be denied to build at pier 32, would u want ur tax dollars for a new arena over a ballpark??? Oakland can only afford either a new stadium, arena or ballpark…..choose one Oakland

  18. @all
    Howard terminal is better suited for a potential NBA arena then it is for baseball. Sorry fellas. I’m contacting Kaplan to pass along the idea. Seems like sf pier arena is facing some lawsuits that coukd derail it. I suggest Joe lacob to look at Howard terminal for a nba arena ….I think coliseum north is a lot cheaper and feasible for both A’s and Oakland….a small 32,000 pnc sized ballpark next to the Raiders coliseum…..if we have been watching the A’s at the coliseum for the past 40 sumn years and still support….wouldn’t we A’s fans still support them in their own ballpark at the coliseum area another 40 year’s….cmon fellas…

  19. Lawsuits in SF? Where you seeing that?

  20. Check the SOS webpage. Well not really lawsuits…I overblown it…but its facing voting measures and trying to get public opinion on their side….

  21. Aaron, I am sure Kaplan will jump right on that suggestion.
    Who is this “we” who voted for Mt. Davis, again? That was my point in the other thread you cut and pasted this comment from. We, the tax payers, didn’t vote on the Raiders deal. The Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors did. And it was a horrible deal.
    We can use it as proof that we should vote.

  22. After reading through the settlement ordinance and resolution between the Port of Oakland, SSA, and apparently the operators of the Hanjin and APL terminals, it basically boils down to:

    At the end of it all, SSA will have control of all three middle harbor terminals, currently held by Hanjin, SSA, and APL. Apparently the operator for APL is not satisfied with their current terminal as the depth is only 42 feet, not deep enough for the mega ships APL operates. This new plan settles that problem as APL can now dock at one of the 50 foot depth berths.

    And with that, APL will leave their current terminal leaving an opening for none other than current Howard Terminal occupant Matson. Matson operates smaller (albeit still big) ships on the Hawaii and Guam routes and the 42 foot depth at APL is identical to their current home. Matson would benefit by being connected to the new SSA “super-terminal” and being much closer to the rail terminals.

    The settlement allows SSA to terminate their lease at Howard Terminal early.

    The only point that is a bit confusing is about the future of Howard Terminal. The report mentions a study funded by the Port that explores the best locations for a break bulk terminal, the report concluded Howard Terminal would be the best location. Keep in mind however the Port is currently planning a break bulk terminal at the old army base near the Bay Bridge toll plaza. Also, many references to the future of Howard Terminal simply use terms like “non-maritime use.”

    The financial impact of turning Howard Terminal into “non-maritime use” are little. They would expect losing about $10 million a year for four years, but recouping the loss by FY 2022-25.

    Overall, the Board votes Tuesday, July 2nd on the settlement, and I think it is highly likely the Board approves.

  23. @ML: The muni cars are cramped and small. Even fans going early, as I usually do, to catch BP, tend to walk. Less obssessive fans fill the restaurants and bars along the Embarcadero before games. They don’t take the muni there. When the Giants have their fedora giveaway games, the lines along the Embarcadero stretch all the way to the Bay Bridge. Those people aren’t taking muni. Generally, after a game, those of us who walk laugh as we pass by the muni loading docks, where a sizable number of people wait for wheels. Your observations don’t impress me a bit.

    • @xoot – “…where a sizable number of people wait for wheels.” Good job upending your argument, counselor.

  24. The walk back along The Embarcadero appears (I’m always riding along on MUNI, sure it’s cramped but its just a few minutes) to be a pleasant one with the perpetual views of the bay and bridge. The Oakland walk isn’t so hot. Walking under 880 is just not as appealing as under the Bay Bridge and walking through a warehouse district may not be as scenic as the bay front.

  25. ML: A significant amount of the toxic soil was indeed encapsulated within the foundation of AT&T. The soil that was removed was the areas with no building coverage. The giants also got lucky because California regulators misclassified the waste and allowed it to go to a low level haze waste site. After the feds stepped in, that soil was moved to a Utah facility. California I believe got stuck with the bill.

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