To make Howard Terminal work it may have to shrink

You may not be aware that the year-long ENA (Exclusive Negotiating Agreement) started by the A’s and the Port of Oakland expired last week with little notice or fanfare. The pressure was on to get something out to the public, and so the Port did in the form of a preliminary term sheet for the A’s to occupy the dormant Howard Terminal. The Port’s Board is expected to vote on the term sheet on May 13.

We’ll get into business details in the coming week. For now, I’d like to focus on a single drawing of the revised site plan. In the plan, some additional areas are defined. It basically looks like someone took a bite out of the site.

Click to enlarge

According to the term sheet, the bite (southwest corner defined by the purple lines) amounts to six acres. That’s what’s being offered by the A’s and the Port in order to foster cooperation from the ILWU and shipping interests. Once the A’s give up the acreage, the Estuary’s turning basin inside the Inner Harbor could be expanded to help attract container mega-ships.

Matier and Ross pointed out the A’s offer today. The idea could in theory bring the shipping interests and associated labor on board. Their stance is that they’re threatened by encroaching development. The argument against them is that Howard Terminal itself remains dormant, outdated, and not equipped to handle the new generation of container ships, which the Port badly wants. At the same time, the shippers that would be best positioned to handle the enormous mega-ships the Port covets are situated along the inner harbor, west of Howard Terminal.

If the Port anticipates this new wave of container ships, it might behoove them to facilitate a deal to expand the turning basin outside of Howard Terminal to accommodate those new ships. That could be a vital piece to getting the Matson and SSA on board. However, that’s only part of the story. This kind of change would effectively consolidate the seaport operations along the waterfront, which might make it seem like the Port loses valuable waterfront while it gains greater efficiency for the existing shippers in the process.

Turning basin

Questions remain about how the Port and City would handle the traffic for both vehicles and trains coming through the area. The EIR should answer much of that. Yet one other party to all of this Estuary action has been silent through all the hubbub last week. Schnitzer Steel has the one privately owned parcel, right next to Howard Terminal. And if you look at how it’s laid out, it stands to reason that it too would have to be reduced or reconfigured to allow for the wider turning basin.

Schnitzer Steel with Howard Terminal to the east

Schnitzer actually wanted part of Howard Terminal when the terminal parcel became available. The Port wasn’t interested in parting out Howard Terminal, so that bid went nowhere. Schnitzer has a dock with a conveyor arm extending out separately from the shore. What if Schnitzer doesn’t want to reconfigure their facility, especially if a bunch of housing is going to be built a few hundred feet away? The solution would appear to be some sort of land swap, in which Schnitzer sells its property to the Port and gets relocated somewhere else on Port property that also has waterfront access.

Outer Harbor Berths 33 & 34 provide 16 acres

It just so happens there is such a property along the outer harbor, Berths 33 & 34, where such a swap could conceivably take place. Berths 33 & 34 are available for lease. Whether such a swap is practical or feasible is something for the EIR process to figure out, though Schnitzer holds the cards and they could charge a great deal for the hassle. The track record of the A’s paying top dollar to help neighbors vacate is not great to say the least. If all these things line up – changing the Port designation, legislation for the land swap, moving costs for Schnitzer, and the infrastructure changes needed to make it all work – then the A’s have a shot. Rest assured that next week’s vote isn’t the first step. That step was taken years ago.

Intransigence

As part of the expanded in-house audio coverage of the A’s, the team launched a new podcast covering ballpark matters. The first installment of The Build features A’s President Dave Kaval being interviewed by Chris Townsend. Included in the discussion is the following Kaval quote:

It’s just really important that people understand that we’re going to be responsible about environmental cleanup. That we’re going to take an industrial area and repurpose it just like San Francisco with AT&T Park or Oracle Park.

I’m sure this has been communicated to the various community groups the A’s are corresponding with. I hadn’t heard it quite so publicly stated until now.

I just wonder how effective this strategy will be.

Every time the A’s start on a new ballpark project, they encounter some sort of resistance. And without fail, that resistance tends to be minimized, only to eventually derail the A’s efforts. Or as Ken Arneson recently tweeted:

The script should be rather familiar by now. The A’s release news of a new site they’re interested in. Then someone mentions a process-related NIMBY issue in an article. The team says everything’s fine and everyone’s being heard, all while opposition mounts. Eventually the team moves on to the next dream site, sometimes scaling back the vision, sometimes expanding it. This happened at the Coliseum North site, then at Fremont, followed by San Jose, and finally the Peralta/Laney site. It’s practically like clockwork.

What concerns me is that the word you rarely hear in these public talks is the one word needed to forge a deal: compromise. It’s almost as if the strategy is that local government or a court will step in and rule for the A’s. There’s rarely any talk about how it could affect entrenched parties. I’ve heard a lot comments to the tune of, It’s hard but was it as hard as X? At this point, whether it’s harder than “X” is largely academic. If it’s hard enough to kill the project, that’s enough, and try as we might deign to understand the process, we can still have a very difficult time with those implications if we maintain blind spots. The one real effort to compromise with the Port pledged by the A’s so far is their willingness to remove several acres of land at Howard Terminal in order to expand the turning basin in the Inner Harbor. I’m surprised at how little press this has received so far, since it could significantly transform the shoreline along the Estuary and maritime uses. Schnitzer Steel could be affected as well, though how much isn’t clear.

Port interests have been upfront that redevelopment of Howard Terminal threatens their operations and livelihood. Perhaps that’s an overreaction, especially if the Port itself isn’t running at capacity. However, there is an argument that giving up shoreline from a purely commercial (real estate) interest is short-sighted.

About Kaval’s comment, I mentioned redevelopment last June when a fire at Schnitzer Steel broke out:

AT&T Park was made possible by the closure and decommissioning of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco after Loma Prieta, which allowed the city to remake the entire waterfront from Mission Bay to Broadway.

The A’s aren’t asking to reform the Oakland waterfront the way the SF waterfront was redone after the earthquake. But if port interests feel threatened by even the hint of a transformation, you have to understand the history of the Port. The Oakland waterfront became a thriving industrial area thanks in part to San Francisco giving up industry on its inner bayside shoreline. Accessible shoreline for large ships and boats doesn’t grow on trees. Short-term concerns, such as impacts on heavy truck and rail traffic, have gotten vague suggestions for accommodation so far. Meanwhile, the Port continues to expand its operations thanks to its takeover and cleanup of the old Oakland Army Base.

Click to enlarge

In the map above, you’ll see that the Oakland shoreline is mostly divided into three zones. The maritime area, where traditional port operations take place, is in West Oakland. The commercial sector covers the Acorn neighborhood south of the 880-980 split through Jack London Square and out to Brooklyn Basin and Jingletown and East Oakland. The airport is its own economic engine. What we’re really talking about, then, is a sort of zoning turf war, with the commercial sector encroaching upon the maritime operations even as the maritime area itself expanded over the last twenty years.

That is the struggle the Port commissioners are dealing with. It may come to a head in the next few weeks, according to Port Commission President Ces Butner:

“It will be up to us to make a decision, both on the financial impact and on whether the ballpark fits in with the port,” Butner said. “We are not going to cause the terminals any financial hardships. We are not going to step on our own throat.”

Butner said a decision will be made hopefully by the end of April.

“Unlike politicians, we will not be kicking the can down the road,” he said.

Butner, who a couple years ago saved Speakeasy Brewing after the company shut down, could help determine the fate of another treasured Bay Area institution.

Howard Terminal Site Plan: First Look

In case you’ve been unable (unwilling?) to peruse the presentation given to the BCDC on Howard Terminal last week, go get it. Now.

While you’re waiting for that to download, I’ll go through some of the important slides. First, let’s look at how the ballpark is situated on the 55-acre site.

Site: Ballpark only

That’s a lot of space to the west, right? While there won’t be splash hits, it looks pretty snug in the Southwest corner there. From the looks of things, BIG may have placed it as far southeast as possible while maintaining the orientation and the preferred street grid.

Street grid, you ask? There’s one of those, too.

Site Plan: Full buildout

All the blank space is filled in, with streets and potential heights for ancillary buildings. Most are up to 200 feet tall, some are 300 feet tall, and one is listed at 400 feet tall. What would that look like if you were standing on the shoreline? The next slide should give you a sense of it.

Cutaway for building and stadium scale

This will be the one of many red flags for a lot of people. Nothing in the Jack London Square approaches that scale. Even the ballpark, which by itself would be the tallest building in the neighborhood, is absolutely dwarfed by the condos and suites to the west. Like what happened with Brooklyn Basin, location is everything. And this location is on the shore.

History of Howard Terminal shoreline

In the image above you can see how much the shoreline has changed, from the 1877-surveyed shoreline in green to the extended beach and wharf area, completed over 20 years ago. The sticky part is that the orange areas were built for port commercial purposes, not for housing, parkland, or office buildings.

Overlay of site history and ballpark site

I overlaid the ballpark site to get a sense of where it would fit in a historical context. The problem here is that the ballpark will be on bay fill. Will the BCDC and the State approve a completely different purpose for the land? We have two historical cases of this. At China Basin it worked out for the Giants. At Piers 30-32 the Warriors faced resistance and moved their concept a mile south.

One other thing to consider is the lack of public space. The second image in the post, titled Open Space & Public Access, shows which areas would be available. The concept for this goes back all the way to the original Fremont concept in 2006. I’m guessing there are 12-15 acres available, plus the roof deck, which I calculate to be 1.5-2 acres on its own. For reference, Brooklyn Basin is 64 acres, of which 30 acres is set aside as open space. I don’t see how the amount of open space identified for Howard Terminal will pass muster, unless everyone decides that the overriding necessity is the new housing over everything else, enough to indirectly subsidize the ballpark.

Site Plan for Howard Terminal released

I’m assembling a bunch of thoughts about the new renderings unveiled at the BCDC session earlier this week. For now I picked out one snippet which I’ll share here.

You can see the rooftop park above the ballpark to the right. A potentially 300-foot tall building is to the left. What’s that on the top?

More seats! Would those count as part of the park’s daily attendance figures, or are they they suites for the ultra-wealthy? Take a guess.

What’s really interesting is that the 300′ building isn’t alone. Behind home plate, there will be another building, 400 feet tall. I figured it would be worth showing what that might look like.

If it matters, the current tallest building in Oakland is the Ordway Building, home of Kaiser Permanente, and near Kaiser Center and the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

More thoughts over the weekend.

Public Meeting Schedule for Ballpark at Howard Terminal

The A’s will be one of the subjects of a slew of public meetings in the coming weeks. Apologies for being late to post this (for those who might attend tonight’s BCDC session). There will be another. Follow this link for more information. Port of Oakland meetings are held in Jack London Square. BCDC meetings are held at 530 Water Street in San Francisco.

  • March 11 – BCDC Design Review
  • March 14 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners
  • March 28 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners
  • April 11 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners
  • April 18 – BCDC Design Review
  • April 25 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners

If you can’t make it to any meetings, at least read Bill Shaikin’ LA Times piece on the A’s plans.

There is a façade after all

The A’s put out some updated renderings of their vision at Howard Terminal. You can see some of the images at the A’s Oakland Ballpark site. I’m going to do a bit of a deep dive, so stick around for that.

First up, a glimpse of that retractable batter’s eye (click on each picture for a larger version).

I imagine the final color will be forest green or black, and covered with flat paint or non-reflective vinyl. There’s also a chance it could be used as signage, so it may be best to stick with a more neutral color. In the end, it is the batter’s eye, so the vision of batters will come first.

The other thing I immediately noticed from this image: light standards! These will supplement the main lights which will be tucked under the rim of the roof deck. The LED lights will be angled down towards the field, and I suppose the outfield light standards will as well, though it is those light standards that will arouse complaints from the Bar Pilots. The most similar lighting design from a true outdoor stadium (no retractable roof) I can think of is at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ.

A few notes on the above picture: You can see the lights beneath the roof deck rim. They are arranged in squares, which might look something like this. The intriguing aspect of the above pic is the presence of red pyramids. I have to assume that they’re tents, but what if they were something else? Monuments? Obelisks? Whatever the case, I can tell you what’s gone: hobbit holes. Perhaps the A’s brass got sick of all the LOTR references (*raises hand*) and while I can’t blame them if they did, surely they know by now that we talked about hobbit holes mostly out of love and only partly in jest, the same way we would talk about second breakfast. The hobbit holes have been replaced by larger openings. And I can’t forget the big statue of Rickey beyond the scoreboard.

Perhaps the big takeaway is that the ballpark itself has transformed from a “jewel box” squarish shape to a circular one reminiscent of the Coliseum. The seating bowl maintains its minimal foul territory and angles at the foul poles. The roof deck looks like a big green “O”, which should look great via an overhead blimp or helicopter shot. The roof deck should also easier to navigate if it becomes a public space such as a park. In the image below, you can also see the descent from the corners to centerfield, which has a series of little platforms facing the field at different elevations. There’s also a big statue of an elephant on the first base side.

My initial take on the architecture was some surprise at the seeming lack of exterior treatment. The new version has a façade made of concrete, steel, or wood that gives the whole exterior a vertical blind effect. Glass curtainwall is played out, so this is a refreshing change.

You can also see the circulation inside through the facade. I personally loved how that was visible in the old Oakland Coliseum Arena. Here fans could go directly to the roof deck via the sloped sections or take escalators or stairs on the main concourses.

As for the bullpens – there’s space for them, though not necessarily the space you prefer. I consider it in flux.

A’s announce new traditional and streaming radio partnerships

Fans expressed worry as the A’s didn’t announce who would be broadcast their games over the radio at FanFest. The team was working on something, we were told, and today they unwrapped some new partners.

For traditional, over-the-air radio, the team will partner with KTRB-860 AM for the 2019 season. A decade ago the A’s attempted to buy KTRB to transform the station into a homegrown A’s flagship, but the A’s couldn’t come to terms on a price, estimated to be around $5 million plus necessary transmitter upgrades, so naturally the station became yet another hot talk gabfest.

Hawaii? Aloha. Tahoe, Susanville? Ahonui.

The big news is that the A’s will have streaming for free through a new deal with TuneIn Radio. TuneIn will handle all of streaming within the A’s market, though I’m not sure what defines the A’s market for the purposes of streaming (IP check, perhaps?). The MLB At Bat app continues to offer its Premium version with audio included for $19.99 per season or $2.99 per month, spring training included. Audio is automatically included in the A’s Access season ticket plan and subscriptions to MLB.TV. MLB.TV is sold for $118.99 for all teams’ video telecasts or $91.99 for a single team, blackouts pending, natch.

I’ve had the TuneIn app on my phone for years, even though my use for it has decreased over time. It’s good to see that I’ll be able to use it again. TuneIn has a Premium 30-day free trial for new users (again, A’s games are free). Whether I’ll be able to use it for the Cactus League while the A’s call Mesa home for a month – TBD. Whatever the case, more options are good. TuneIn will also offer an A’s channel that will operate 24/7, which will be nice if you want to check out a late-night/early morning reply of an earlier game, something the Giants enjoyed on KNBR for years. Admittedly, the advent of on-demand replay makes a scheduled rebroadcast largely unnecessary, but it’s still nice to have.

Streaming games tends to lag compared to live action, so it isn’t going to supplant the old pocket transistor radio you would frequently take to the Coliseum. As wireless speeds and the processors in your phones get more powerful that lag will continue to decrease. On the other hand, perennial pre/postgame host Chris Townsend will remain part of the proceedings, as his bookend shows will be expanded. The pregame show is called “A’s Total Access,” which is a branding exercise if I ever heard one.

I’m not sure if the A’s deal with KTRB will go longer than 2019. I suspect that the A’s are using this year as a platform to launch the streaming offering. The A’s launched their team website some 22 years ago.

Ever the innovators, the A’s could oversee the twilight of the radio era. Then again, other clubs will have something to say about that.