Kaval Call: Part I – Howard Terminal Ballpark

When I spoke to A’s President Dave Kaval yesterday, he admitted that he had some 60 interviews recently about the just unveiled ballpark project. I wanted to talk with him sooner, but my rehab schedule is quite full these days, leaving only Friday afternoon available for me personally. Kaval called me on the dot at 1:30, and after some pleasantries I fired off a bunch of questions.

Howard Terminal at night (click for larger image)

I started off talking about lessons learned from the Peralta, er, debacle. Kaval said that the A’s have spent a year involved in community engagement, including 24 workshops and salons. This plan is “bigger than baseball” to borrow a phrase from the Sacramento Kings. It absolutely is much, much bigger. Check out the rendering above. To the left are I-880 heading towards downtown. Then there are some massive condo or apartment buildings to the west of the ballpark. Howard Terminal and the ballpark are in the middle. Then more new buildings, and finally Jack London Square, which is completely dwarfed by the scale of the new construction. To be fair, that would be the case even if the ballpark was by itself with no ancillary development due to the low-slung nature of the JLS buildings. However, this view really puts that comparison into perspective. A big key for Oakland citizens’ acceptance of this vision of the future is whether they want a big playground at this location.

View east towards centerfield from home plate (click for larger image)

The view from down low is dynamic, if not breathtaking. That’s partly because unlike most of the retro-modern ballparks built in the recent area, the outfield is semi-closed. The ballpark is oriented so that a line running from home plate to centerfield runs close to true east, or 90 degrees if you’re looking at a compass. The Coliseum’s orientation is 55 degrees, while AT&T Park is 85 degrees. And for those who prefer a splash landing-friendly orientation, Globe Life Park is angled to the southeast at 135 degrees.

Always eye-catching are the shipping cranes beyond the right field alley. Which, if Matt Olson had his way, might be reachable via his beautiful left-handed swing. Dead center has the requisite big scoreboard, but where is the batter’s eye? According to Kaval, the A’s intend to put a retractable batter’s eye in place. I asked if it would act like a pull-down projector screen. He said that it would operate more like an airplane hangar door. The tree-lined roof deck slopes down from either foul pole. Kaval confirmed that those slopes will be navigable via walkways. I could make out the paths on the inside facing the field, but not the outer perimeter. The rooftop deck will carry a lot of standing room admissions. How much is to be determined. I suppose if the A’s could get the proper fire and seismic clearances, the rooftop could hold 10,000 on its own. The A’s advertise the ballpark as having a capacity of 34,000 seated and standing, so I imagine there’s room to play around with the mix of seating types and standing areas.

Looming in left field is large ziggurat-style building. Incorporated within that structure or adjacent to it is expected to be a reconfigured power “plant,” which may end up becoming a massive “battery” or energy storage for the City. PG&E is working on a deal to make that happen by 2022. Shutting down the production side of the plant would allow more space on the other side of the tracks for parking or a green buffer zone. The ziggurat itself looks to have more condos, which if you haven’t noticed, is shaping up to be a major funding source for the ballpark.

Zoomed in view of right field sloping roof deck with “hobbit holes”

The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub had the tweet of the week/month/year when he compared the vision to Lord of the Rings.

I got a high-res rendering to investigate this further, and frankly, the image above the tweet looks like Hobbiton – replete with hobbits – to me. It makes perfect sense. After all, the Eye of Sauron showed up a few weeks ago across the bay. Kidding aside, the rendering shows that the ballpark will have three seating levels and five different concourse levels including the undulating roof deck. Break out your smartwatches and pedometers, folks, because we’re going on a hike at the ballpark! To Mordor!

Triple-decker, you ask? I asked Kaval about this directly. He confirmed that the second and third decks will be fairly small, the upper deck having only nine rows.    A level of suites hangs underneath the second deck.

Bottom to top: field level, suites, second deck, upper deck, roof deck

Now for the big architectural reveal. You’re probably looking at these renderings, wondering what’s on the outside? Brick? Glass? Stone? Metal? The answer is…

Nothing.

At least for now it is. The goal here is for fans to be able to have a great view of the field and the ballpark’s surroundings if they turn around. It’s still an outdoor park so it doesn’t need big windows like a retractable dome stadium would. And like I’ve indicated in the past, the architectural firm, Bjarke Ingels Group, isn’t likely to do a throwback design in terms of form. So open it is. The buildings to the west are meant to help protect against the onshore winds. Kaval mentioned that some wind tunnel testing was completed. That also explains the field orientation and semi-closed ballpark structure, even if there are few exterior walls. The corners of the square will have walls for the normal functions: security, concessions, and circulation. If you’re standing at a random location on any of the concourses, you should have a 360° view.

There is that single scoreboard in center and dual ribbon boards around three-quarters of the interior rim. Obviously there’s a lot of space available for other scoreboard panels, fixed signage, player tributes, and other message boards. Some of those items will be governed by economics. Since the Coliseum’s existing scoreboards are only a few years old, I can see them being reused at the new venue. At least there won’t be tarps. On the other hand, there’s isn’t likely to be much homemade signage on display. The place is being called the “jewel box.” It’s not a corner convenience store. Or the Coliseum for that matter.

I let Kaval know that in Bay Area history there another venue which tried to be marketed as a jewel box.

Oakland Coliseum Arena, the original “jewel box” of the Bay Area

I’m not going to rehash the history of the arena as this post has already run 1,100 words. Maybe another day.

Update 11:34 AM – After posting, I realized I forgot about the lighting design. It’s best viewed using the rendering looking west from beyond the outfield towards home plate. The designers call the roof deck the “eyebrow” of the stadium.

Lights shown as a ribbon attached to roof deck

A while back I saw some social media threads discussing ways to use existing shipping cranes or even making fake ones to use as light standards. I shook my head when I saw that as I knew that those old lighting conventions are at this point visual affectations. Light standards are a relic of the 20th century. It’s 2018. We can use LED lighting for our sports fields. It’s more power efficient than the old metal halide lamps of yesteryear. LEDs don’t require much time to warm up, are solid state, and are already in use everywhere from scoreboards to replacements for incandescent lamps to smartphones. Folks, we have the technology.


Tomorrow we’ll go into the ballpark’s setting on the waterfront, and what that entails. And if you haven’t noticed, the theme of my posts is to start with the ballpark and extend outward in my analysis.

18 thoughts on “Kaval Call: Part I – Howard Terminal Ballpark

  1. Classic Marine Layer write up. Love it.

  2. Finally! We have something we can all actually talk about! Amazing analysis ML as always! I’m really glad you got your hands on some high res images, the details are made much clearer. Also I didn’t know the Oracle dawned the original nickname of “jewel box”. I’ve always said that arena never gets the respect it deserves for its architecture. It has its flaws but it was truly ahead of its time.

    When I first heard of these renders, like probably all of you, I immediately stopped what I was doing to look at them. I’ve waited well over a decade to see real ballpark renderings for HT, I’ve literally have had dreams about this. So when I saw them my first reaction was it was different than what I was expecting. However the more I look at them, the more I love it.

    A few things that Im curious about are is not having true walls around the stadium really a good idea? I feel like glass would be better, providing a nice transparent look. Having nothing at all may come across as looking unfinished. I’m not a fan of Levi’s stadiums exterior open face looking design, it looks uninspiring and lazy to me. But much like Oracle, I think a glass exterior could solve that for this HT design.

    My other thought was safety for the roof park. I love that concept but the “Hobbit” slopes look a little steep? Are people able to roam freely on them or are they subject to only the top, flat, part?

    The other thing I noticed was what looks like a pool of some sort located in one of the renderings by the cranes. What exactly is that? If it is a pool that doesn’t seem fitting for that environment.

    Anyway I LOVE what I’m seeing. I still won’t be satisfied until shovels hit dirt but I feel way more confident about this plan more that any other one.

    • @LeAndre

      Good point about the open face apse to glass, it dose fell sort of unfinished like a triple A park.

      I hope they do use class, not only for that reason, but it seems like it would be another buffer against any wind.

      And, as always ML thanks. I appreciate the detailed nature of your questions.

  3. I owe everyone here an apology. I promised ML I would return to my internship and publish a piece on the Howard Terminal/Coliseum open house. I got waylaid with real life and my day job.

    I attended and it was a good time. The real insightful posts are here, anyway. And that is why folks come to this site 🙂

  4. I like the plan. It shows creativity and a unique design, which I think is appropriate for this site. Had the Peralta site worked out, I think a more traditional architectural concept would have been preferable, but in this location, on the waterfront, they needed to come up with a forward-looking and different design, which they did. Yet the “jewel box” layout still harkens back to the Old Shibe Park. And, importantly, they are not in any way copying AT&T! While there are more details to be worked out and questions to be answered, that’s what the EIR will do.

    As an Oakland ballpark supporter on this site from way back, I and other Oakland proponents have endured a lot of negativity about Oakland’s ability to build a ballpark. They still have a long way to go, with many opportunities for this to get derailed, but this is encouraging, and I am optimistic. I’m looking forward to hearing about the details as they unfold in the next year.

    • Agree 1000000% on the “nothing like AT&T” aspect of the park.

      I really hope they rethink the lego/ikea pyramid style buildings around the park.

      The stadium itself is just fine. As a huge fan of the Oakland A’s for 4 decades, I will support a ballpark anywhere in the Bay Area built with private funds. The design is the least of my concerns, though as a dude with an MBA I also worried mightily that the plan was going to be something that looked like AT&T and that would have been a long term disaster.

      To me, the biggest hurdles as of this moment are:

      1. The Coliseum side of the proposal (as ML and I have pointed out for years the A’s will need a huge swath of land to redevelop/flip to other developers at a profit in order to pay for the stadium itself), that proposal seems shaky and if it is attacked by Oakland Council insurgents it could bring down the whole house of cards. This is not new and was a challenge for Peralta as well.

      2. State Agency approval and required Legislation to make the site entitleable for the type of development proposed, which is prohibited on the site as of now (covenant entered into in 2004). This is pretty straight forward, there are more than 30 State Agencies that have to sign off. I would temper enthusiasm for a 2023 opening because of this factor. It could derail the whole thing, but more likely it will make the whole process take longer (this is why the A’s didn’t “pick” Howard Terminal until they literally had no other choice in the downtownish area).

      3. Schnitzer Steel and Local Neighborhood Opposition. Despite all the reach out and community engagement, there are still residents in the area that don’t want what a ballpark will bring and there are tenants of the Port that do not want a park there. These folks will either need to be steamrolled by Oakland City Officials or assuaged in some other way.

      At the end of the day, if what we see in the drawings materializes it will be over a decade or more. I already tried to talk my wife into retiring to JLS, at least I will have plenty of time to work on her “Hard no.”

  5. It’s exciting to see some new news about the ballpark. Much of the discussion surrounding the news has been, “How we going to get there?” After doing a little searching I found the link below about the creation of a new BART line and a multimodal station. Has anyone else seen this and what are your thoughts about its feasibility?
    http://www.connectoakland.org/2017/02/21/central-station-the-heart-of-oakland/

    • Bill, I have seen this, and I believe the possibility of a BART extension in this location was discussed here in the past. I think it’s an interesting idea and would help both the ballpark and JLS as well as Alameda. But it would be complicated to design into the BART system and would be years in the future if they ever decide to do it, not to mention the huge cost.

      • BART is currently in the planning phase of a second transbay tube. The target I have heard, from folks who have seen the pitch, is to be approved and entitled and ready to move by 2030.

      • @ jeffreyaugust

        Have you heard if they are considering different routes?

        For example would they consider extending 12th street to JLS, then to Alameda and on to somewhere in South San Francisco, or the peninsula? That would be a transbay tube connecting the southern end, which could eventually meat up with existing lines.

        Is that too hopeful, too costly, too fanciful, or a combination of all three?

      • Routes are still up to debate by actual planners but heading out through JLS, Alameda and then somewhere South of Market (Probably near where the Warriors new arena is because there are plenty of businesses that folks commute to down that way) seems to make sense.

        I would think you’d have a new line that had end points at 12th Street (really, it’d be out to Antioch , but the existing station it terminated to would be 12th Street) and 16th and Mission, with stations in between at JLS, Alameda (probably 2), Mission Bay and maybe somewhere else in between Mission Bay and 16th/Mission.

        I haven’t personally seen the plan, which is nothing more than a strawman to be debated until real in depth planning and politicians get involved 🙂

      • Wow, I never thought about a line coming across the Bay that would have direct access to the Warriors new arena (or close enough), as a Warriors and A’s fan that would be wonderful. That’s also something that would probably require both organization’s full political influence.

      • Well, really it would be terminating where the UCSF Medical campus is, several tech companies (including Uber and Dropbox’s new Corporate HQs adjacent to the Warriors Arena), AT&T Park and a lot of recent residential development. SF’s downtown has been extending southlike since 1990.

      • Thanks.

        I didn’t realize so much was happening in that area, if the A’s (sooner but stil a while) and the Warriors (much later), can take advantage of all the other reasons BART should take that route for a new transbay crossing, that would be great.

  6. I mean, I have read this 27 times now… when is part 2?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

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