Official: Peralta/Laney Ballpark is Dead

Wash: “It’s incredibly hard.”
Beane: “Hey, anything worth doing is.”

About six months ago I wrote the tweet below, not knowing yet which ballpark site the A’s were choosing:

Reality is here, and it is a bitch.

Feeling pressure from faculty and students alike, the board for the Peralta Colleges abruptly ended ongoing discussions with the A’s about building a ballpark at the current district headquarters next to Laney College. There was to be a Board vote next week to decide whether or not the district would enter formal negotiations with the A’s. Not anymore. With tepid support from Oakland City Hall, the A’s were facing an uphill battle for approval even at this lowest level. They didn’t even get to the first switchback on the trail.

The decision was followed by a series of reactions from relevant parties, including the A’s using 280 characters instead of a screenshot:

This doesn’t require much analysis, and with the whole process being cut short after three months it doesn’t merit recriminations. The A’s underestimated the potential opponents, and the City was hands-off with no support. That’s often a quick recipe for failure, even as I hoped the parties to get through at least to next week. So much for that.

So what happens next?

Well, we’re in the holidays, so for now, nothing. Early in 2018 we should hear more, especially as the A’s will have to regroup leading up to FanFest, whenever that is. And unlike 2017 FanFest, when many fans interpreted the site as the A’s leaning towards Howard Terminal, maybe next year’s choice will reveal more about the A’s plans with Peralta fading away. The A’s led by Dave Kaval have shown that they’re willing to accelerate their process if they see an opportunity. Despite the missed opportunity at Peralta, I’ll be encouraged if the team shows the same urgency in 2018.

As for sites, they don’t suddenly change in value or potential now that Peralta has dropped off. Let’s look at them, December 2017 edition.

Howard Terminal

People are asking about this, naturally. I remain skeptical of the site because of the cost of infrastructure (transportation and parking), the cleanup costs that the site would incur, and the need for enhanced rail safety for cars and pedestrians. Oakland and HT proponents could salve the A’s wounds by offering a package of improvements that address the A’s concerns. Not so sure about any way to mitigate winds and temperatures at HT, which for the A’s were a few degrees cooler than at Peralta. (I informally saw this from looking at wunderground.com maps while watching late season games.)

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

There are several approaches that can be taken at the Coli. The most popular has the A’s playing there until a new ballpark is built nearby within the Complex. That’s clearly the least disruptive path. It doesn’t resolve who pays for the stadium’s or arena’s outstanding debt. Development of the remaining 100+ acres is already entitled thanks to the failed Coliseum City plan, but those entitlement can start to have developers attached to them with a revised plan and cleared land.

Kauffman Stadium

BANG’s Dieter Kurtenbach, who lives close to the Peralta site, suggests that the A’s renovate the Coliseum. While that could be the cheapest option, it would also appear to be the cheapest option, which MLB doesn’t want. Then again, Kauffman Stadium was brilliantly renovated, though it was originally built as a ballpark, not as a multi-purpose cookie cutter with a gazillion unfortunate compromises.

I can see the A’s reign in their approach at the Coliseum, given the comparably limited economic potential there. Instead I suspect they’ll focus on the old Malibu/HomeBase lots along Hegenberger, which are somewhat separate from the original Coliseum complex in terms of access and ownership. The A’s may proclaim that there’s no “Plan B” – a classic Lew Wolff tactic – but they’ve always had the Coliseum plans in the desk drawer ready to quickly revise and present at a moment’s notice. Why? They’ve talked with the JPA about the Malibu/HomeBase site on-and-off since 2003, before the City even bought the land.

Malibu (triangle) and HomeBase (rectangle) lots at south end of Coliseum

Lest you forget, there were other sites under consideration!

Somehow part of the Oakland Army Base near the Bay Bridge was rumored. If Howard Terminal was too windy, OAB has to be disqualified just for the wind alone. There were no other serious contenders.

And whatever happened to San Jose? In normal Silicon Valley fashion, Google is about to swallow much of Downtown SJ whole, as it is planning with San Jose a sprawling, 240-acre campus by the Shark Tank that could bring in 20,000 additional employees to Downtown everyday. Google and its real estate partner have already bought a bunch of the land previous set aside for the ballpark, including the old AT&T facility on Montgomery. Amazing what happens when you just wave a bunch of cash in an landowner’s face.

Even Scott Ostler put a new (old) site in the hat, Victory Court! He even wondered how it didn’t work, I “chronicled” it for you Scott. Or in one two words: Redevelopment Died.

It’s been a long journey, and it’s far from over.

I am a poll… And so can you!

A’s projected development timeline for the ballpark

Since the A’s announced that the Peralta site is the preferred location of the new ballpark, there has been precious little actual news about the park. Other than talks with community groups and potential stakeholders, the only release of note is the announcement of a team of architecture firms to work on the ballpark concept. As expected, the lead for the ballpark structure will be HOK, which also worked on Avaya Stadium, the Earthquakes’ stadium in San Jose. They also worked on the “twin” venues in Columbus, Huntington Park and Nationwide Arena. The principal for the A’s ballpark, Brad Schrock, who previously worked on Coors Field and Safeco Field while part of HOK’s previous sports practice. Schrock later started 360 Architecture with George Heinlein, while the HOK sports practice eventually split off to become a separate company named Populous.

The other architecture partners may be familiar as well. That includes Norwegian firm Snøhetta, which Chronicle architecture writer John King pointed out was behind the

“ill-fated arena that the Golden State Warriors proposed for the city’s Piers 30-32, where the firm emphasized the public space aspects of the private building.”

Seems as if there is a parallel in that like Piers 30-32, there are harsh critics on the other side of the bay who are against the ballpark at Peralta full stop, though for clearly different reasons. In SF’s case the Piers were considered part of the Bay, not land, so they faced an uphill battle towards approval versus a well-heeled political gentry. The Peralta land borders Lake Merritt Channel, which will require its own special approvals, though not to the extent of anything built on the shores of the Bay proper. Snøhetta is also notable for having just finished the SFMOMA expansion, which was funded and overseen by one John Fisher, a.k.a. the A’s owner.

The rest of the team will work as follows:

“The public aspect of planning efforts will kick into full gear in early 2018. Sasaki and Studio T Square will be at the front of such efforts. The ballpark design itself will be handled by HOK in partnership with Snøhetta, which also will take part in the urban design work.”

Sasaki is expected to work on how the ballpark works within the context of Lake Merritt and the Oakland Estuary. Studio T Square, an Oakland firm, is slated to handle the relationship of the ballpark with the delicate Chinatown, Eastlake, and San Antonio neighborhoods.

On the heels of this news are a pair of polls. The Oakland Chamber released a poll in which of 500 likely voter respondents, the ballpark was supported 2-1. A week later, another poll by Oakland Rising indicated that 80% respondents prefer that the new ballpark be constructed at the site of the old Coliseum instead. How do appraise these polling efforts?

We don’t.

The polls are for the news cycle and public relations, nothing else. There’s nothing to vote on, only vague promises and threats. Most of the dealmaking will be done by the A’s and Peralta CCD, and only after Peralta decides it’s worthwhile will the project be planned and debated in earnest. And even then, there’s no promise of an actual vote, referendum, or any other plebiscite. After all, Oakland voters never voted on Brooklyn Basin (Oak-to-9th), the most transformative project to hit the city in years. If anything gets voted on at all, it will be for funding some package of to-be-determined infrastructure improvements.

Let’s see the vision take form before approving or dismissing it out of hand. A project this iconic deserves a proper, full evaluation. Oakland residents deserve it. A’s fans deserve it.

(Apologies to Stephen Colbert for ripping off the title of his 2012 children’s book.)

Peralta Board Meeting and Discussion

Tonight’s Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees meeting went as I would expect for a typical Bay Area stadium forum. It was frontloaded with a dozens of pro-stadium speakers including building trades and union supporters. That was followed by residents of Chinatown and Eastlake, most of whom were opponents of the park. That was followed by faculty and students of Laney College, largely against the park as well. Most of the grievances that were aired in previous reports are repeated tonight, with no new information revealed.

View south of Peralta HQ lot

The Board made it clearer that no decisions were going to be made tonight. Sharon Cornu, who is acting as a consultant for Peralta as the district explores the project, gave a presentation on the history of the site. An overview of the unique environmental aspects and the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood wrapped up the presentation, leading into the aforementioned speakers. Those speakers, by the way, didn’t include any representatives from the A’s. That’s not unusual since there is no formal project submitted to the district to support.

A lot of FUD was spread tonight, including plenty of talk about about the unholy alliance of “labor and financial capital.” Many students and local residents fully believe that this is the first step to the A’s taking over all of Laney, shuttering it in the process. Perhaps that’s the usual slippery slope argument, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. Peralta is not exactly rolling in dough, and the district is looking towards the future, when it has to deal with increased upkeep and maintenance costs. Laney has trouble paying its instructors, so the district has to start looking at other ways to deal with these problems. Yet there’s still a charter at Laney where the mission remains education, so however well or poorly that is going, it’s still going to be the most important thing for the district, not cashing out for a quick payday.

The A’s have to thread the needle on this project. They are aiming at developing the Laney College parking lot across the channel from the Peralta HQ site. To what extent? Cornu’s specialty is affordable housing. The A’s want to build their own village around the ballpark, and that lot may or may not be the extent of that. The A’s may end up kicking some parking revenue to Laney. They could build something 4-6 stories tall there, or 8-12 stories including a hotel. They have to build as much as they can to pay for the ballpark and satisfy whatever is called for in a future community benefits agreement. Yet the growing wish list of items needed to complete the agreement may well render the whole project unprofitable. The A’s are making a lot of claims about what they can do for Oakland. Those claims may end up forcing the A’s bite off more they can chew. I like how the sister-team Earthquakes started which a much less ambitious project and added features as they went.

View west across Lake Merritt Channel

Chinatown developer Carl Chan also spoke. I’m curious about his delineation of “good” traffic from “bad” traffic. “Good” traffic brings visitors to restaurants and shops housed in his properties. “Bad” traffic doesn’t do that. I have to think there will be a good amount of both if a ballpark opens nearby.

Many of the residents of Chinatown and Eastlake have been there for multiple generations. The two neighborhoods have been hit less by Oakland’s encroaching gentrification than others, and the g-word is their chief concern, making up a large part of their opposition. I tend to think, though, that gentrification can only be somewhat mitigated, not avoided completely. A 2017 report on the state of housing stock showed that only 6% of housing under construction is considered affordable. That’s despite goals of 20-28% in past years. Affordable housing has taken a hit since redevelopment ended and local pools of property taxes for such housing dried up. That affordable housing is going to be built in these places, and then all the way east down International Boulevard and San Leandro Street (some is already near the Coliseum and Fruitvale stations). What creativity could be worked into the deal to pay for the affordable housing “subsidy?”

The recent news that a plume of pollution has been sitting and spreading underneath the Peralta land could provide an impetus to act. The cost to cleanup the land is unknown and requires study. If the cost runs into the millions Peralta won’t be able to do nothing, including turning off monitoring of groundwater underneath. If high cleanup costs forces the district into a deal, the A’s as developer indicated that they’d cover it. If this scenario sounds familiar, it was one of the main worries about the Howard Terminal site. The pollution is bad enough that, according to BANG’s David DeBolt, there are actually two plumes. The second is coincidentally enough underneath Laney College’s baseball field. Would the A’s be willing to pay for that as well?

It can be scary to listen to the comments, go through the laundry list, and figure out the project costs. I’ll try to get into that more next year as the project solidifies. Until then, understand that mitigation means compromise. It’s gonna take some work, and some negotiation.

Jack London Square lures A’s… Front Office

The following had been rumored for months. Now it’s real.

Oakland A’s announce new office at Jack London Square

The Oakland Athletics today announced that they have signed a lease with CIM Group for approximately 40,000 square feet of office space at Jack London Square, the premier waterfront office and retail destination located in downtown Oakland. The new front office headquarters will allow the Athletics to consolidate their operations by relocating from their current offices located at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Oracle Arena. The club will make the move in January 2018.

Jack London Square offers the A’s proximity to both the Coliseum and the potential new ballpark at the Peralta site. Additionally, Jack London Square provides the amenities of a mixed-use environment on San Francisco Bay, with dining, shopping, and entertainment options, similar to the A’s vision for their new ballpark as a gathering place for bringing the community together.

“We are excited to put roots down in Jack London Square,” said Dave Kaval, Oakland A’s President. “We continue to say we are ‘Rooted in Oakland’ and this move helps further strengthen our commitment to this community.”

“The Athletics add to the growing lineup of prominent tenants including eclectic dining options and destination activities that employees, residents, and visitors from the greater Bay Area can enjoy,” said Shaul Kuba, Co-Founder and Principal of CIM Group.

“Our new offices will allow us to have our entire staff together in one location to create a dynamic and collaborative work environment,” said Chris Giles, Oakland A’s COO. “Our staff will now have the opportunity to easily gather for formal meetings or informal exchanges as it takes advantage of the beautiful outdoor waterfront areas. We will also still keep our office space at the Coliseum for day-of-game responsibilities.”

CIM’s 2016 acquisition of Jack London Square included 234,000 square feet of office space across three buildings. Designed to maximize the site’s waterfront views, Jack London Square’s seven mid-rise buildings are spread across the property around a central plaza that is programmed year-round with special events to enhance public engagement. It offers approximately 243,000 square feet of modern office space and approximately 191,000 square feet of retail, with a variety of dining and entertainment options that appeal to employees, residents and visitors. The property also includes a 1,095-stall parking facility. Jack London Square’s striking one-third mile of publicly accessible waterfront provides a significant recreation opportunity including biking trails, picnic areas, and water sports.

The Howard Terminal supporters didn’t get their site picked for a ballpark, but they can be happy knowing the A’s will have a good view of it for years to come.

Should the Peralta ballpark site come to fruition, I expect that the front office would move to their own carveout of the facility became ready. The A’s have plenty of time figure out how that will work. In the meantime, expect a lot of field trips on foot exploring the neighborhood and paths between the office and the ballpark site.

The baseball operations side will stay in the Coliseum. Getting all those marketing, sales, and finance people out of the Oracle Arena wing should help create a little more elbow room.

Ballpark Sites Aplenty: A Map

Some fans have been trying to chronicle the sordid history of A’s ballpark proposals. That’s why this blog exists! I wrote a post summarizing the journey just before Thanksgiving 2010 during a bout of post-recession malaise. Note the amount of outdated information despite the fact that the post less than seven years old. The amount of upheaval the Bay Area underwent since the recession was and remains simply remarkable.

Here’s the map of all explored ballpark sites. Refer back to the original post for explanations. Note: The A’s choice Peralta site is not on this map. It would be located below the blue “D” in Oakland.

Here’s your drone’s eye view from Peralta

About a month ago ABC7 producer extraordinaire Casey Pratt asked for a few estimates of heights for a potential ballpark at the Peralta site. I told him he should aim for three different heights: 40-50 feet above grade for the rim of the second deck, 70-80′ for the upper deck, and 100′ for the top of the stadium. He had his drone videographer check out the site. Some clips of the drone footage ended up in sports anchor Larry Beil’s comment about the Coliseum and the Raiders. No matter. We got a vista, and it’s the right vista.

Peralta site view north towards downtown and Lake Merritt. (Click to view larger)

Not only is this the right view, it’s angled almost exactly north and situated approximately where I envisioned home plate in my mockup. The banner at top left blocks some of the skyline, but you already know what that looks like. You can see Lake Merritt in the center and Laney’s ballfield in the foreground. That brings to mind this observation – has there ever been a non-spring training MLB park that has another baseball field in the background? I can’t think of one. Now imagine all the buildings in the foreground replaced by some grandstands and as Barbara Manning once coined Seals Stadium, one perfect green blanket.

To confirm my projections, A’s COO Chris Giles answered some questions as part of an all-day Q&A on Twitter, including this one about the park’s orientation:

Folks, if this thing is built you’ll be using that Panorama mode on your camera a ton.

As part of the A’s rollout of Peralta, they released a video, narrated by team President David Kaval, with numerous clips of the city and soundbites from locals, including pols such as Mayor Libby Schaaf and Cprominent developer and unofficial “Mayor of Oakland Chinatown” Carl Chan.

Chan wants to build housing to revitalize Chinatown. The neighborhood is quite fragile, though, and has vocal activists working constantly against the threat of gentrification, which has visibly touch several Oakland neighborhoods in the last several years.  Finding a balance there is going to be difficult, and it seems strange that the A’s ballpark could be in the middle of any plans. Considering the rather large scope of the A’s initial plans, the A’s may be biting off more than they can chew, even though the ultimate goal is merely a ballpark on 13 acres. That deserves a much lengthier post, so for now let’s look at the broad timeline Kaval released today.

Assuming that everything goes well, a 2023 opening is reasonable. If the A’s can’t get local stakeholders on the same page, the one year will elapse and the team will likely fall back to the Coliseum. The two years of permitting and environmental review is right, as long as the team gets legislation enacted to limit legal challenges to the EIR, the same kind the Warriors and 49ers received. That would put clearing the site in late 2020 and groundbreaking in the spring of 2021. If Peralta doesn’t get support, the A’s could shift to the Coliseum and move forward without requiring an EIR since the complex is already entitled for a stadium. In full Lew Wolff tradition, the team is not talking about a backup plan. For now it’s Peralta or bust.

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P.S. – Thanks Casey for getting the drone footage!

Peralta Chancellor cozies up to A’s ballpark proposal

When I went to the fireworks game two Saturdays ago, I noticed that one of the concessions stands in the upper deck was operated by one of those charity groups that probably provided free labor in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. Seems like everyone does it these days. So a light went off when I saw Tuesday ‘s Chronicle article about how the Jowel Laguerre, Chancellor of the Peralta Community College District (Laney, Merritt, etc.) has become a great supporter of the project to displace his own office with a future A’s ballpark.

Peralta ballpark site

Scribe Kimberly Veklerov honed in on the opportunity in front of Laguerre:

Some of Laguerre’s ideas: culinary students could intern with stadium concessions, multimedia students with the scoreboard graphics team, police academy students with ballpark security, and design students with the merchandise team.

Assuming the A’s play ball with Peralta as part of an extensive community benefits agreement, it could be a win-win scenario for both parties. Local college has a way to directly funnel students into high-profile employer next door, and team finds a nice source for cheap, vetted labor. Of course, there are limits to how extensively this could go, since you need to have experience in many positions – even food service – but there aren’t too many downsides except for existing Coliseum employees whose positions could be converted into internships.

Except for part of the Haas ownership era, the A’s nearly 50 years in Oakland have been run on a shoestring budget on and off the field. Former 49ers employee Chris Giles will become the A’s new COO, another step towards the eventual ballpark site choice and construction. More sales and marketing hires are to follow as Dave Kaval’s team attempts to sell the hell out of the A’s and the stadium.

That aside, there is some momentum with the Peralta site. There’s a champion in Laguerre, and the land deal aspect is simpler than Howard Terminal. Sure, the DDA will still be a thousand pages long, and there will be lots of students and Chinatown & Lake Merritt citizens who will vociferously protest whatever the deal it is. For more on that, check out Shawn Roberts’ Medium post on the focus group session he attended. (I originally planned to comment on the post, but I chose not to focus on a single set of observations.) Rest assured, the eventual choice will not come quietly.

The other sites have been in stasis since the baseball season started. Maybe there are super-secret talks that have resolved Howard Terminal’s myriad infrastructure issues or the Coliseum’s debt albatross. Maybe they still have a ways to go. I’m not so sure that an August announcement from the A’s is in order. Some of the media are sticking with that. Personally, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if they A’s unveil their choice in a few weeks. For me a few months feels more realistic.

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P.S. – Check out Mark Purdy and Andy Dolich checking out the three sites from last week.