If Howard Terminal ballpark happens, so should a new BART station for it

My last article with Howard Terminal as the main subject (and not as an aside) was posted on November 15, 2014. That was nearly 15 months ago. Since then, few things have changed in the immediate area. The site remains without a tenant, short or long-term. While relationships with shipping companies SSA Marine and Matson solidified, the same can’t be said for rival Ports America, which pulled out of Oakland completely.

No site studies were completed on Howard Terminal, so in the event the site become an official relocation site for the A’s in the future, it will again come time to figure out just how much it costs and how long it will take to get the site ready. Thankfully, in Mayor Schaaf’s recent push for HT, a preliminary figure has been floated for site prep and infrastructure: $90 million. To me that sounds conveniently low, especially because $90 million is also the figure to get the Coliseum ready for the Raiders – even though we don’t know how much can or would be developed there.

Fortunately, we know that the infrastructure budget would include at least one bridge extending Market Street over the Embarcadero and Union Pacific tracks to Howard Terminal. There’s also a good chance we’d see a small parking garage to serve the stadium, probably for players, management, and VIPs such as suite holders. The actual cleanup cost is still to be determined, since we don’t have a proper sense of the footprint and placement of the ballpark in relation to the waterfront, not to mention the fate of the rest of the 50 acres.

Oakland has embarked on updating its Downtown Specific Plan. As is often the case when such updates come around, the city has chosen to expand its definition of downtown, now including Howard Terminal as part of an expanded Jack London district. This is a good move if the purpose is to recast HT as Jack London Square’s commercial flank to the west, instead of HT’s legacy as a dirty, blue collar, West Oakland port facility.


Howard Terminal and Ballpark at the far left of expanded Jack London District

The expansion makes the Jack London District quite large, extending 1.25 miles from west to east. That’s as long as a stroll from the marina all the way to 21st Street down Broadway. Or in walking distance, 25 minutes or so. To get a sense of distance and walkability, Oakland plotted out a series of maps showing rights-of-way, transit access, and walking distance from key points. Take this map, for instance:


Radius of 5-minute walking distances from various points within Downtown Oakland

Based on where the the ballpark is located, it’s about 10 minutes from Jack London Square. It’s another 10 minutes to the nearest entrance for the 12th Street BART station. That’s going to require some sort transit option to bridge that distance, either via a more frequent Broadway Shuttle, the long-rumored Streetcar project, or another BART station in the vicinity of JLS. Because BART inclines from a tunnel to an elevated viaduct as it runs by 880, the most likely place for a station would be Market and 5th St. That’s a great location relative to Howard Terminal, only 1/4-mile away. There’s room and BART-owned land there for a new station. To accommodate BART’s up to 710-foot trains, the station would have to be located between Market and Brush Streets.


Gray marker on Market St denotes location of BART infill station

BART aerial at 5th Street at Market Street

BART aerial at 5th Street and Market Street

The downside of BART at Market and 5th is that it’s 3/4-mile from Jack London Square, though at least it would be in the district (barely). A streetcar would conceivably serve more locals and non-ballpark users, but its route would run closest at JLS, again, 1/2-mile away. In a 2012 study, the streetcar’s estimated cost was $202 million. An infill aerial BART station would cost $70 million or more to construct. To me, if there’s a choice it’s a no brainer – build the BART station. But I’m not an Oakland resident, I’m an A’s fan who cares most about BART access. Citizens of Downtown Oakland who want a more comprehensive transit plan for their neighborhood may not find such an option satisfactory. The location is also not conducive to a big transit-oriented development plan, which makes it less attractive for grant funding, a possible necessity for construction.

Some may think that this infrastructure is unnecessary for the ballpark. They point to the numerous fans who walk from the Embarcardero BART station the long way along the waterfront to AT&T Park. Yes, people do that. They do it because it’s scenic. The walk from 12th Street to Howard Terminal is not scenic, whether you’re taking Broadway, Washington, or MLK. Forcing people to walk 20 minutes after taking in many cases a 15-25 minute BART ride is not convenient. It’s not up to the standards the public expects for transit availability. And it’s incredibly disrespectful to the needs of the disabled and seniors. You know what those people have in San Francisco? They have the ability to transfer to MUNI without leaving the station. Thousands of able-bodied fans do the same thing. They have the option to either walk or take transit directly to the park. That’s pretty close to ideal. Or if you want ideal access, there’s the Coliseum and the BART bridge. A’s staff are on hand at each end to help fans in wheelchairs. In upgrading ballparks, we shouldn’t downgrade access. We’re better than that.

Manfred addresses ballpark topic

Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan held a wide ranging interview with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, published earlier today. Included in the questions were a couple about the stadium situations for the A’s and Rays:

Two NFL teams are about to move. Baseball is the sport that has gone the longest since a franchise relocated. Are you nearing that situation with Tampa Bay or Oakland?

It remains my strong preference, because I think it’s a policy that has served baseball really well over time, to stay in the markets where we’re located. We’re going to exhaust every possibility to get stadiums done in Tampa Bay and Oakland. But clearly you would think I was sort of la-la if I didn’t recognize at some point in time it may be necessary to consider alternatives.

No one should be terribly encouraged or discouraged by this. Manfred will clearly let this process play out and see where it leads, even if that means a dead end in either market. When that runs its course, we’ll see what (if anything) opens up. San Jose partisans may look at this as good sign for them, but that’s waaaaaaaayyyyyyy down the road.

I’m more encouraged that Manfred is clear about his position. He’s not mincing words like his predecessor, or saying “it’s complicated” or uttering expletives when asked. Manfred’s too early in his tenure to be worn down about the issue as Bud Selig. Check in again in five years. Manfred is happy that the Rays will get to explore all of the Tampa Bay area, even if the financing picture there remains bleak. As for Oakland, there’s this:

End of 2015 Poll: When will the A’s move into a new ballpark?

Setting Terms: A Commitment to Exodus

Okay, there was real news about the Raiders and Oakland today, not rumors, so I feel compelled to write about it. I’m over the soap opera news cycle of the last year, looking forward to January, when something LA might (not) be resolved to the NFL’s satisfaction.

As St. Louis and San Diego provided stadium financing plans pledging $350-400 million in public funds for their respective stadia, Oakland officials offered a mere five-page letter promising no public money for construction, hoping that the NFL’s respect of legacy and history would help keep the Raiders in the East Bay. The NFL’s reaction was that the letter was expected, while Mark Davis expressed befuddled disappointment.

At this point, you have to think that based on the efforts City of Oakland and Mark Davis, few people within the NFL believe that any new stadium is going to happen in Oakland. The City has no will to do it, and Davis has spent far more time and effort on Carson than Oakland. The NFL will have to gauge the owner’s interest in resolving the Raiders’ situation against resolving the dilemma in Oakland. Of course, many within the league previously preferred to have the Raiders share Levi’s Stadium with the 49ers, the same way the Giants and Jets share MetLife Stadium. Even with Davis continually dismissing the idea, the concept remains a viable backup plan should nothing continue to happen at the Coliseum.

But again, my beat isn’t the Raiders except in how the Raiders’ plans might affect the A’s. From today we got a big list of deal terms the City is willing to make in the pursuit of the Raiders’ new stadium. Whether or not the Raiders stay, regardless of the Coliseum’s future as the home of the A’s, the numbers are effectively setting the bar for future stadium deals for either team. What is Oakland willing to provide? Let’s take a look at the “concepts” presented to the Raiders.

  1. 69 total acres in and around the Coliseum, including the “South 60” consisting of the B & C parking lots, plus the Malibu and HomeBase parcels. Also included are 9 acres of publicly owned land near Coliseum BART could be used for a hotel or other commercial development adjacent to an expanded BART station and transit hub. The Raiders and a partner developer would receive development rights based on the Coliseum City rezoning effort.
  2.  $90 million in infrastructure, to be designed and approved by the City of Oakland.
  3. No public money towards construction of the $900 million, 55,000-seat stadium. The Raiders would be responsible for all stadium construction costs, including overruns.
  4. At least 8,000 surface parking spots with minimal ancillary development.
  5. Raiders would own the stadium, City and/or County would own the land underneath. That would set up recurring ground lease and possessory interest tax (PIT) payments.
  6. Raiders would take in all stadium revenues while assuming all operating costs.
  7. City’s promised defeasance of the outstanding Coliseum debt (worth $100+ million now, goes down over time).
  8. Construction to start in 2017, stadium opening in 2019.

Per the A’s current lease at the Coliseum, if they are to be evicted because of new stadium construction for the Raiders, the Coliseum JPA has to give the A’s at least two full seasons at the Coliseum while they figure out where to play next. The lease terms also call for the A’s to be compensated for the scoreboards and for lost revenue associated with new football stadium construction.

If we’re to assume that the A’s should get a similarly valued deal to the Raiders in order to stay in Oakland, the deal would be worth $200 million straight away because of the debt and infrastructure costs, plus the value of any development rights wherever the A’s end up, whether that’s at the Howard Terminal, Uptown somewhere, or the Coliseum. That’s the price Oakland will have to pay, and MLB will be happy to press Oakland hard on that. The A’s are expected to build their ballpark entirely with their own money, so it should in theory be a pretty clean deal with no intrusions or complications created by new, single-purpose quasi-governmental agencies like stadium authorities.

Just to be clear, that’s $200 million in value, not cash. The A’s would never see that money except in terms of the completed infrastructure. It could be that certain sites have such high infrastructure costs that they could approach $200 million on their own. New parking garages, the community benefits agreements and PITs Mayor Libby Schaaf mentioned during tonight’s press conference – they’re all worth something. Will Oakland show as much restraint for the A’s as they have displayed with the Raiders? I imagine they would, though it’s far too early to speculate. For the time being, let’s continue to watch how the NFL-LA business shakes out, and see where the Raiders end up as a result.

A’s get an early Christmas present from Oakland

As rumors and nostalgia swirled around the Raiders and what might have been their last game at the Coliseum, the City of Oakland provided some news on the ballpark front as well. According to BANG’s Matt Artz, a 21-page report detailing several potential ballpark sites was sent to A’s ownership for their review. (PDF download)

City staff apparently scoured the city limits looking for sites. Some of them had already been studied in the past. Others haven’t been studied, though we have covered them here sometime in the past. The study is in an early enough stage that many property owners haven’t been contacted about land availability. It’s quite likely that many sites in the current study will drop off quickly, while others have yet to be discovered. Regardless, this is an exciting development that should hopefully lead to some productive talks.

From the quotes and the tone of the article, I expected little more than a rehash of previously dismissed sites. While that’s all there (Victory Court, Howard Terminal), the City included a total of 10 sites, including a couple of alternatives that have been mostly discussed on this blog and not much elsewhere. To me that’s a huge positive, because it shows that the City is willing to consider sites outside the normal developer/booster group focus. It’s a necessary step.


Four of the ten ballpark sites highlighted within Oakland

We’ll go over all of these in detail. But first I want to spend a moment discussing the USPS site in West Oakland. The 22-acre sorting facility, which you might see as one of the first things in Oakland as your BART train exits the Transbay Tube, is not going to happen. As noted in the document, the USPS site is not for sale. It might only be under consideration because of a twice-delayed initiative by the Postal Service to reduce the number of retail locations and sorting facilities like this one.

In the Bay Area there are a handful of these facilities in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Richmond, and Petaluma. A list of closure candidates indicated that if any facility were to be eliminated or consolidated, it would be Petaluma. Oakland or Richmond could then benefit as it took on Petaluma’s capacity. In any case it’s highly unlikely that the Oakland facility would close down, making the site unavailable for future development.

Over the next few weeks you can expect a few hundred words on every site, including sites I’ve already written about several times. At the same time, keep in mind that unlike the Raiders’ situation, there is no deadline to providing anything to the A’s or MLB. The process is expected to work out much more slowly, which, quite frankly, is the only way to do this right.

P.S. – Bonus points for anyone who can identify a site in the list that I proposed a while back.

Baseball makes net expansion official

MLB continues to try to strike the balance between views and safety. Baseball announced recommendations for netting behind the plate, essentially extending the backstop to the inside edges of each dugout. Implementation of the new standard will be up to each club, since ballparks aren’t exactly uniform in terms of dimensions, even behind the plate. The press release:

MLB issues fan safety recommendations

Fan safety initiative leads to new netting recommendations for next year

Press Release December 9th, 2015

The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball has issued recommendations to all 30 Major League Clubs aimed at enhancing the safety of fans attending Major League Baseball games, while also preserving the interactive elements that are integral to the baseball fan experience.

The recommendations — which resulted from a review that began earlier this summer — include the following:

• Clubs are encouraged to implement or maintain netting (or another effective protective screen or barrier of their choosing) that shields from line-drive foul balls all field-level seats that are located between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate, inclusive of any adjacent camera wells) and within 70 feet of home plate. The Commissioner’s Office has retained a consultant specializing in stadium architecture and protective netting to assist interested Clubs in implementing this recommendation.

• Although Clubs already provide warnings to fans about the dangers posed by batted balls and bats entering the stands and the need to pay attention to the action on the field during each at-bat, the Commissioner’s Office recommends that Clubs continue to explore ways to educate their fans on these issues and is providing Clubs with resources to assist them in this area.

• The Commissioner’s Office will be working with the Clubs and online ticketing sellers to identify ways to provide customers with additional information at the point of sale about which seats are (and are not) behind netting.

Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. said: “Major League Baseball prides itself on providing fans in our ballparks with unparalleled proximity and access to our players and the game taking place on the field. At the same time, it is important that fans have the option to sit behind protective netting or in other areas of the ballpark where foul balls and bats are less likely to enter. This recommendation attempts to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pre-game and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir.

“I am confident that this recommendation will result not only in additional netting at Major League ballparks but also draw additional attention to the need for fans who make the choice not to sit behind netting to be prepared for the possibility of foul balls and bats entering the stands.”

The consultant not named in the release is expected to be Populous. The A’s and Giants are committed to making the change, though it may take some weeks before we hear specific plans. The Phillies are looking at a thinner material to use for the netting. I’m interested to see what it looks like.

Part of the view from Section 119 is "obstructed" by the backstop net

Part of the view from Section 119 is “obstructed” by the backstop net

Extension to the inside ends of the dugouts is unlikely to tamp down interest in complete netting from foul pole to foul pole, or at least in line with the edge of the infield down both lines.

The eternal struggle between sightlines and safety, Part 2: Expanded netting

After various incidents and increased concern for fans in the expensive seats around the plate, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is getting ready to recommend that teams expand netting past the current backstop area.

The expectation here is that despite the lack of uniformity among backstops (the Coliseum’s notch is perhaps the most unique), nets will extend to the far ends of the dugouts. There’s some inconsistency there as well, since new ballparks sometimes have dugouts of unequal size in favor of home clubs. Unless legislation or legal action forces specific standards beyond the dugouts, it seems as if MLB will provide a minimum standard and give individual teams the discretion to go further if they wish.

Part of the view from Section 119 is "obstructed" by the backstop net

Part of the view from Section 119 is “obstructed” by the backstop net

At the Coliseum, the net is situated in front of the Diamond Level seats, extending to the start of the dugouts on either side. Designing extensions becomes complicated thanks to the walkways between the Diamond Level seats and the dugouts. Unlike a modern ballpark whose dugouts are directly connected clubhouses, at the Coliseum teams have to use these walkways to go into the stadium. Often these walkways are used as extra standing space for players, or as spots for photographers (see above photo).

Transition from the Diamond Level seats to regular seats creates a net design challenge

Transition from the Diamond Level seats to regular seats creates a net design challenge

Since these walkways have to be functional, they can’t have a net hanging down and obstructing them. I suspect that when the time comes to put in a new net, it will run from the far end of the A’s (third base) dugout atop the roof, then follow the shape of the original notch, going behind the Diamond Level seats, and around to the visitors dugout. The Diamond Level seats will get their own protection, in the form of another net that extends eight or nine feet high, just tall enough that anyone standing in that area will be safe. The Mets went a particularly heinous route by installing plexiglas-fronted boxes on the field for the World Series. I had thought that the plexiglas era was behind us, yet there those boxes stood at Citi Field, like penalty boxes for the rich.


Red line represents a net that angles down to the dugout, blue line extends the same height all the way to the end

Once you solve the problem of how to redo the backstop, there’s the question of how much protection is needed down the lines. Besides the issue of determining the length of the net, there’s also the height and shape. Given that many of the most dangerous bats and foul balls whiz right over the top of the dugout, it makes sense to have protection there. But does it need to be the same height as the backstop? Can it taper down to the far end of the dugout?

MLB and its clubs probably have some decent statistical data that can create a framework for recommendations on the height and length of nets in every ballpark. I hope the teams take this to heart, as there have been too many avoidable injuries in the last year, let alone decades. Then again, sometimes when you try to protect yourself you just set yourself up for another kind of danger.