10 months. In the short term, that’s what we’re looking at with the approved exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) for a potential ballpark at Howard Terminal. 10 months to figure some things out. Not the really important things, such as the real hard/soft costs of building there. No, the $50,000 (half of Oakland Waterfront Ballpark’s deposit) available for any kind of environmental impact study won’t go much further than figuring out if the soil at HT is still contaminated. (Hint: It probably is.) Instead, 10 months will buy Oakland some time to figure out, well, what exactly are they figuring out? According to the East Bay Express:
The agreement may also shed details on the feasibility of the site for a ballpark and its costs to investors and the public.
That’s a good start, though again, $50k won’t go far. It won’t even cover the full cost of a feasibility study, which usually ranges in the $100-200k range. Now, you may think that’s pocket change to all the rich people who want this to happen, but consider that $100k is still hanging up the process with Coliseum City, almost 6 months after the timeline was put in place. Some time in the near future, the Port of Oakland and OWB will have to come to another agreement to fund a feasibility study, which will take at least 6 months to complete. Historical notes: the City Council approved $750k for Victory Court studies at the end of 2010, while a 2010 Raiders stadium study at the Coliseum cost at least $125k.
Timing is a curious thing, since 6 months from April at the very earliest puts the publishing of such a feasibility study past the date of the 2014 general election. That works out well for all of the various mayoral, city council, and port commissioner candidates, since they don’t have to be linked to anything written that details costs, and thus they can support Howard Terminal in a nicely vague, non-committal way. If Mayor Jean Quan loses, her successor can pick up the ball and modify the proposal or push it through.
The way the ENA is constructed, 10 months is the time for the Port, City, and OWB to work out the basic tenets of a ballpark deal. Presumably this would include the following:
- A very rough estimate of site prep costs
- Who ends up paying for site prep and infrastructure, or the identification of a funding gap (similar to Coliseum City)
- Options that include various forms of on-site ancillary development, including a separate arena or other public facility
- How does the Port make money from this?
- What happens if MLB and A’s ownership go along with the plan
- How the agreement changes if new team ownership takes over
- A plan B if Howard Terminal is rejected by MLB
That last bullet point has led to speculation that the site could work for the Warriors, who are running into legal and regulatory difficulties with the Piers 30/32 arena project in San Francisco.
Naturally, any broad study won’t be able to get to the bottom of determining the full cost of site prep and infrastructure the way an EIR is designed to. Victory Court’s demise was forced by a number of factors, including rising land acquisition costs (not applicable with Howard Terminal), regulatory hurdles, and the death of redevelopment (very applicable). The W’s are running into the same problems now. Pursuing the W’s in this manner still looks awkward, as Let’s Go Oakland leader Doug Boxer is being paid by the W’s to work on the Piers 30/32 deal – in effect moving the W’s out of Oakland – while leading the effort to keep the A’s in town. And if W’s co-owner Joe Lacob is interested in buying the A’s, well, it’s not hard to connect the dots to figure out who’s giving Lacob advice.
Assuming that the ENA leads to a working agreement and a ballpark project, the parties can proceed to the environmental review phase, which the Port concedes could take 2-3 years. To keep this in perspective, that’s an EIR starting no earlier than 2015, and probably finishing sometime in 2017 if no legal challenges come along. We’ve already heard about neighbors looking for answers about infrastructure. That’s nothing compared to CEQA challenges, which in California are simply part of the process. Though, if the project skimps on providing infrastructure, those neighbors could easily be an early source of a CEQA challenge.
Signature Properties President and Brooklyn Basin (O29) developer Michael Ghielmetti noted the similarities between Howard Terminal and his project from a process standpoint.
Lot of the same issues, certainly not the same, but very similar regulatory frameworks and outreach process we would expect to occur. This is more complicated in many ways and less in others.
For those who care to remember, Brooklyn Basin was no slam dunk. It took 13 years to get to the recent point of groundbreaking. During that time it had an EIR certified, then thrown out, then recertified. Then-State Senate President Don Perata wrote a bill authorizing a land swap that exchanged waterfront Trust land for industrial land at the Oakland Army Base. A petition to force the project to be subject to a referendum appeared to have garnered enough signatures, then was declared invalid because of improper ballot language (like Sacramento but without the carpetbagging element). Multiple lawsuits were filed. By the time the dust settled, the recession was in full swing and the project laid dormant. The Bay Area’s economic upturn allowed Brooklyn Basin to rise like phoenix. As long as the tech sector continues to grow, it’s reasonable to expect a full buildout.
A land swap shouldn’t not be required, since a ballpark could simply be a privately-funded facility built on public, Port-owned land like AT&T Park. However there are already murmurs of legislation waiting in the wings. Bills could be limited to CEQA streamlining (so far good for the Kings, not so good for the Warriors) or extensive enough to authorize financing for the infrastructure piece.
This all promises to get good. Not immediately, but soon enough. This time the flood of information shouldn’t begin and end with an economic impact report. Fans want real info, as does the press. Don’t settle for less.
P.S. – While I was writing this I got some feedback on Twitter from Port Commissioner (and Mayor Quan’s campaign manager) Michael Colbruno. BTW, love his Twitter handle.
— Michael Colbruno (@MikeOpera) March 29, 2014