An op-ed by Oakland Waterfront Ballpark leaders Don Knauss and T. Gary Rogers hit the Tribune tonight, making its case for a ballpark at Howard Terminal. In the op-ed Knauss and Rogers extol the virtues of downtown ballparks, while also talking up Oakland as a beneficiary of spillover effects from the startup boom in San Francisco.
That’s in keeping with the Oakland-as-Brooklyn narrative many are trying to pitch when wooing companies and potential residents to Oakland. From the housing standpoint, it’s definitely working. High rents in SF and comparable or better cultural and lifestyle resources in Oakland make a compelling choice for some residents and companies. But let’s not make this more than it is. Right now, Oakland is a stylish, cheaper bedroom community for SF that Marin’s too stuffy to produce and Daly City is too plain to provide. Is Oakland’s best sales pitch We’re San Francisco-adjacent? If Oakland wants to be taken seriously as a major city of prominence, its pitch shouldn’t be that it’s close to SF. The pitch should be that Oakland is the new home for investment. SF brought in $5 billion of venture capital last year. San Jose brought in $3.5 billion. Oakland? $242 million. Plus Silicon Valley is the home of VC’s and the big companies like Apple, Google and Facebook – companies that regularly acquire or acqui-hire those same startups that Oakland covets. Oakland should be more than simply riding on the coattails of the very city it hates like a bitter enemy. As a coach who recently coached a team based in Oakland would say, C’mon Oakland, you’re better than that.
The other part of the Knauss-Rogers argument seems to be aimed directly at this blog:
Some have said that, as a former industrial site and one close to railroad tracks, Howard Terminal poses unsolvable challenges for development as a ballpark. The reality is that Howard Terminal carries no greater challenge to being successfully developed than other former industrial sites along the San Francisco Bay, including Mission Bay and the famous ballpark across the Bay.
Not unsolvable, guys. I describe these challenges as cost-prohibitive. Nearly any problem can be solved if you throw limitless amounts of money at it. Limitless amounts of money are not available from the City of Oakland’s coffers, and ultimately any group that may want to build at Howard Terminal will face a situation where the cost to develop is too high to make their money back, nevermind making a profit. Those costs, and the lengthy development timeline associated with them, are what Lew Wolff is talking about regarding Howard Terminal. The cost and time of dealing with CEQA, the BCDC, SLC, FRA, CAPUC, Caltrans and local agencies threaten to make Howard Terminal too costly too pull off.
If OWB wants to prove Wolff, me, and numerous other doubters wrong, they sure have a funny way of showing it. The exclusive negotiating agreement signed in the spring, which was supposed to start the pre-development process, only called for a $100,000 deposit by OWB, only half of which will go towards any studies. Frankly, that money isn’t enough to do anything substantial. Howard Terminal will require $2-3 million worth of studies to determine its true feasibility.
Oakland and many of the Howard Terminal proponents had a chance to prove out a waterfront ballpark site five years ago. It was called Victory Court. It offered many of the same economic advantages as Howard Terminal, but lacked the SF-adjacent angle because the nation was mired in a recession. Supposedly over $1 million was spent on studies for Victory Court, some of which could be used for Howard Terminal. We never saw any of those studies. As redevelopment died and the recession showed few signs of abating, Victory Court died. Unlike the big to-do when the initiative was launched, there was never a report issued about the site’s demise. We found out later that acquiring the site at up to $240 million would’ve been cost-prohibitive. Thankfully, Howard Terminal is already owned by the Port of Oakland. However there are plenty of issues that could make Howard Terminal too expensive to develop. If OWB is so confident in the site, pony up the money to get it properly studied. If OWB really believes in the site, they should’ve paid at least a good portion of that $2-3 million ($500,000 would probably suffice for starters) to get the ball truly rolling. As it stands, the ENA and $50k look like someone did something, but when the time comes to show results, the only thing to say will be that Oakland spent the first year trying to figure out if the ballpark was worth pursuing. We’re past the point of feigning interest, folks. Commit the real money, get those studies going in earnest, and prove Wolff (and me) wrong once and for all. Over the past few weeks there have been a few op-eds from interested parties. Let’s aim for fewer op-eds and more reports. It’s not that hard, Oakland. And if you’re waiting for Wolff to write a big check for those studies, I have to wonder how committed OWB and its supporters really are to the idea.