We may finally have some deadlines. We may have a framework from which important questions can be answered. We may finally find out if Howard Terminal makes sense once and for all.
A group calling itself Oakland Waterfront Ballpark L.L.C. sent a letter to the Port of Oakland last week, asking for an exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) for Howard Terminal. The ENA would run up to 12 months, allowing OWB to negotiate a long-term ground lease for Howard Terminal. A second period would be used to obtain permits from the City, Bay Conservation Development Commission (BCDC), and State Lands Commission (SLC) as needed. That time would also be used for the environmental studies (EIR, others) that would be required to secure such permits. After that’s done, the actual ground lease would be exercised, potentially leading to the construction of a ballpark on the site – pending club and league approvals and buy-in.
OWB is made up of mostly familiar faces: Clorox CEO Don Knauss, former Dreyer’s CEO T. Gary Rogers, Signature Properties principal Mike Ghielmetti, Baseball Oakland leader Doug Boxer, and a new entrant, developer Seth Hamalian. Hamalian’s planning a high-rise residential building in Uptown.
Howard Terminal’s still in a state of evaluation by the Port, as the Port is considering three other bidders for short-term use as longtime operator SSA departs for Middle Harbor. A group assembled by the Port to study future uses will not complete its work until the end of this quarter at the very least, and the Port is bound by the SLC to ensure that the land is used for maritime purposes as long as possible. A ruling in favor of OWB would help pave the way for a non-maritime use such as a ballpark. It’s possible that maritime uses could be arranged as a temporary use while the details of the ballpark plan are worked out.
A key item in the letter is the notion that OWB could come in at any time do testing of soil or groundwater at the site. While that’s good, that’s really only a continuation of monitoring that’s already in place by law. The big issue is what happens to the site as it’s modified to accommodate a ballpark (and ancillary development). That includes potential cleanup or contamination that may occur with a breach of the asphalt cap at Howard Terminal.
OWB would be obligated to deposit $50,000 with the Port for the original six-month ENA, with another $50,000 due if a six-month extension is required. If they two sides can’t come to an agreement on the ground lease, the deposit is refundable. OWB would have the right to assign the ENA to current or future A’s ownership if they came around to liking the site.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, for her part, keeps pushing an idea that zoning should be easy at Howard Terminal because the site was considered for a convention center long ago. It’s a strange claim, we’ll see how well it holds up. At least OWB acknowledges the roles of the BCDC and SLC. Those two bodies are going to impact the scope and final approval on the project, there’s no way getting around it. Among the matters to resolve: Where is the shoreline technically and how close to the shoreline can they build?
One thing missing from the KTVU and EBX links above is the ever-persistent question of cost. Cost sank Victory Court before ($240 million), and it threatens to sink Howard Terminal. 2001’s HOK study had Howard Terminal’s site cost at $177 million, and that was without any new transit infrastructure such as a nearby infill BART station or a streetcar to bring fans from existing BART stations downtown. A 2004 Caltrans feasibility study commissioned to investigate such options estimated that a new BART station along the West Oakland alignment between Market and Filbert Streets would cost $250-300 million, and that other options at Brush/Castro or Washington Streets were not doable due to the incline of the track, more than the 1% grade required for BART platforms.
Neither OWB nor Oakland has to start a feasibility study or an EIR until the ground lease with the Port is worked out, which is a shame because we’ve been wanting to know the cost for many years. There’s absolutely no reason why such work couldn’t start today, as long as one party budgeted money for it. It’s a chance to delay the reveal until circumstances force a decision, which is the way the mayor’s painting the situation. Quan mentioned on KTVU that the Raiders’ stadium deal at the Coliseum could be done by the summer. That assumes that everything goes well, including the all important determination of how to bridge Coliseum City’s funding gap. The adult conversation comes with many steps. This is a big step.