Take a stroll with ABC-7’s Casey Pratt and our Jeff August as they take the lunch hour to walk from the 12th Street City Center BART station to Howard Terminal. Merry Christmas.
The late, long-lamented Key System once provided an efficient, well-planned streetcar network that operated in Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley. In the wake of the Great American Streetcar Scandal, streetcar lines were replaced by buses. That led to the eventual development of the BART system, which in 1972 was a then-futuristic regional network that decidedly was not a streetcar replacement.
It helped somewhat that Oakland started as the heart of the BART network, with eight stations within city limits and the first main trunk line (Fremont-Richmond) running through Downtown Oakland. What remained was a hub-and-spoke system in which AC Transit buses fed newly established transit hubs at the BART stations. While buses had more route flexibility than streetcars, they lacked the permanence and service quality of streetcars or light rail.
60 years after the streetcar-to-bus debacle, the modern era of light rail passed by Oakland. Meanwhile, light rail proliferated in San Francisco in the 80’s and San Jose in the 90’s. The 21st century introduced BRT – light rail in terms of station infrastructure, but buses by motor and wheels.
Construction continues apace on the San Pablo Ave and International Blvd lines. However, both terminate in or near Downtown Oakland, short of Jack London Square and Howard Terminal. Practically, that makes them no better than BART in terms of getting to the ballpark. If Howard Terminal becomes its own non-BART transit hub, it will be necessary for those BRT routes to extend to the waterfront. To accommodate BRT properly, at least one of the north-south streets running downtown (Broadway, Jefferson, Washington) will need to be modified to add BRT stations, eliminating parking or traffic lanes.
The free Broadway Shuttle provides a decent transfer option, though to properly handle the crush of pre-game and post-game riders transferring from BART, Broadway will still need to be modified. What could be the solution besides walking or street-clogging buses? A gondola, of course.
Wait. A gondola?
We’re not talking about the Venetian kind of gondola, as Oakland lacks the kind of canal system that could support a fleet of gondolas. Instead, the type of gondola discussed hangs in the air. Using similar technology as the Oakland Airport Connector, the gondola system the A’s are proposing would run above Washington Street between Jack London Square/Howard Terminal and 11th Street in Downtown Oakland.
A scaled down gondola system was installed at the Oakland Zoo last year as part of the zoo’s California Trail expansion. Implementation was predicated on the notion that visitors should be able take the 1,780-foot span and 309-foot elevation change from the entrance to the new Landing Cafe at the California Trail; all while minimizing impact the wildlife beneath the gondolas. Gondolas tend to be reliable – zoo operational hiccup being an exception – and don’t use a lot of energy. Austrian vendor Doppelmayr, which also built the Airport Connector, claims that the system can carry 6,000 riders per hour. Neither of the American systems come anywhere close to approaching that capacity. Single lines in Bolivia and Colombia can carry 3-4,000 per hour. Those examples are among the busiest in the world.
The trip from the 12th Street/City Center BART station to Howard Terminal will run over flat land, though not without a transition. A rider disembarking from a Fremont or San Francisco-bound train will do so on the lowest level, the third subway deck beneath Broadway. From there fans have to take a two-story escalator, elevator, or stairs to the concourse level, walk towards the 11th Street exit, then take another escalator/elevator to street level. Once on the street, the fan would have to cross 11th Street to the Marriott City Center, then find a way to move past the hotel and up 5 floors to what is now the Warriors’ practice facility atop the Oakland Convention Center. From there there should be a gondola station that will whisk fans to Howard Terminal.
It’s not an elegant solution. It beats walking, right? While I’m sure Marriott would enjoy the uptick of baseball fans staying at the City Center hotel location, the company may not be so enthused at the idea of thousands of people not paying anything to trample the facility’s elevators. There will be many fans who decide it’s better to walk especially on a sunny day or take the Broadway Shuttle to the water. Others will have to herd like cattle up or down EIGHT flights to transfer From the subway to the gondola. A better solution may be for the City of Oakland to extend the station’s concourse level and build a separate exit from the BART station to the Convention Center that could include banks of escalators and elevators to navigate the other 5-6 levels.
(BTW the $1 million Warriors practice facility was thrown into the Coliseum Arena renovation deal. The City’s half of whatever settlement comes from the Warriors for breaking their lease could be put to good use once the remaining debt is paid off.)
Curiously, in 2007 the City of Hercules in Contra Costa County researched a gondola to help alleviate traffic on CA-4. It seemed somewhat outdated given recent advances in ropeway technology, but the basic tenets of the pro/con debate appear sound.
1. Capital costs are low. Aerial cable transit typically has the lowest capital cost (on a per mile basis) compared to other fixed-guideway technologies.
2. Operating and maintenance costs are low.
3. Environmental impacts are minimal. Cable systems leave only a small footprint, require little space for a guideway and towers, and can be easily retrofitted into existing streets.
4. Construction impacts are minimal. Except for a limited number of foundations for towers or terminals, much less site preparation is necessary than for other types of fixed guideway.
1. Expandability is impossible or difficult at best. Since current technology makes it difficult to have systems consisting of more than two stations, future expansion to other areas of the city may not be feasible.
2. Alignment tends to be limited to a straight line. Angle stations both increase costs and consume relatively large amounts of land, the latter being undesirable in urban areas. Concrete or steel guideways carrying self-propelled vehicles are preferable if a curved alignment is needed.
3. Availability, while high, is not as great as for other technologies.
4. High winds and electrical storms force shut downs which would not occur with other technologies.
5. Evacuation techniques are dramatic and unnerving. Cautious public officials are unlikely to feel comfortable with them. Although the techniques are proven safe
and effective, media may emphasize their dramatic aspect.
6. Insurance premiums are high. This tends to cancel advantages to low operating and maintenance costs.
Compared to other modes of transportation, there aren’t a lot of studies on gondolas in urban settings in the USA. There are successful examples of the technology in Portland (Portland Aerial Tram) and New York (Roosevelt Island Tramway). Yet the tech has had difficulty escaping the notion that it’s meant primarily for ski resorts. The Roosevelt Island Tramway may be the most apt comparison for a Howard Terminal Gondola, as it runs on a BART-like schedule and has cabins that can hold up to 125 people each. Newer cabins used in Vietnam can carry 200. That’s a lot more than cabins at the Oakland Zoo (8) or even Portland (78). My concern about the gondola is that with its limited availability it will be looked upon as an exclusive toy for the well-heeled. At least compared to the OAC it shouldn’t cost half a billion to build it.
And now there are rumblings that Howard Terminal could be just the thing to close down underutilized I-980, re-use the old Interstate right of way for both BART and high speed rail or Caltrain tracks, while offering a station at Howard Terminal AND offering the long-sought-after Southern Crossing via another Transbay Tube to reach San Francisco. This is a clear example of wishing for things with no regard to how much they cost. If the combined Howard Terminal ballpark and transit center and trains on 980 and expanded ferry service and water taxis and redesigned Oakland streets end up costing eleven figures, what’s a few billion extra among friends?
I asked Dave Kaval how the gondola would be operated. Would it have a separate fare, or something rolled into the ticket price? Kaval response was
That’s not really determined yet. There’s an operating agreement with the operator (Doppelmayr or Garaventa), then we work out the details from there including fares.
Presumably that would include integration with the Clipper Card system, though BART saw fit to create its own app to handle payments for the Airport Connector as well.
My friends, Jeffrey and Kevin August, walked from the 12th Street City Center BART station to the open house at the A’s Jack London Square headquarters. They’re planning to do at least one more trip including Lake Merritt, then I plan to join them for the walk when FanFest happens, weather permitting.
Look, we all know how much of a cluster the Bay Area’s transit situation is. Could we all get on the same page and set some priorities? A fanciful double-tunnel based on a non-existent train extension incumbent upon a mega-development based on a small ballpark that is far from being approved? Pardon me for thinking it’s a bit of a stretch. Oakland is blessed to be the heart of the BART system. Why spend so much effort dreaming of ways to avoid BART? Or why does a second Transbay Tube have to connect through Oakland when there are so many other communities that don’t have BART at all? Answers to many of these questions will be revealed in the forthcoming EIR.
Take a look at a piece of the rendering below.
Pretty cool, right? You can see the three decks (four if you count the green roof deck). There are the trees lining the roof. And the awesome shipping cranes in the background. Do you know what you won’t see?
The shortest “splash hit” to reach McCovey Cove at AT&T Park went a distance of 367 feet. According to Google Earth, a ball only needs to be hit 362 feet to be a true splash hit without first bouncing on the promenade. How long do you think a ball would have to be hit to reach the water at Howard Terminal?
Based on my calculations, at least 700 feet down the right field line.
And you know what? That’s okay. Because of the somewhat enclosed nature of the outfield, a slugger would have to both hit a ball 700 feet long and more than 100 feet high to clear the grandstand. It probably would have to be rising as it leaves the ballpark – unless a dinger could somehow travel through the empty spaces in the outfield, not hit any fans or employees working on the concourses, and avoid trees and food trucks in the right field plaza.
You should be able to see the water from the upper deck. Maybe the second deck as well. But splash hits are a silly way to measure the worthiness of a ballpark. The concept of a splash hit is barely 20 years old! If the A’s are able to overcome all of the numerous obstacles to get this thing built, splash hits won’t be a big deal in the slightest.
There are plenty of good things about the location and setting as situated. Thanks to the orientation of the field and the placement of the stadium, there will be that large landing beyond the stadium in right.
The plaza you see above is every bit as much a blank canvas as the actual ballpark. I project it to cover a half-acre. Not a half-Mark Acre, 20-25,000 square feet. That’s a lot of space for food trucks, a Rickey Henderson park for kids, and monuments to other A’s greats. The possibilities are endless.
As ballyhooed as the hire of Bjarke Ingels Group was, the key player for this plaza is a lesser known but still important landscape architecture firm, James Corner Field Operations. They worked on the High Line in New York, Navy Pier in Chicago, and Seattle’s Central Waterfront. Field Operations’ portfolio is global and striking. Their expertise could be the key to make Howard Terminal a true destination of its own, not just a wharf adjacent to Jack London Square. Not to diminish BIG’s talents, but Field Operations will make everything fans interface with at the ground level.
According to Dave Kaval, that ground level will be raised 3.5 feet to deal with sea level rise. That’s forward thinking. But Kristina Hill, associate professor of environmental design at Cal, isn’t convinced. From former A’s beat writer John Hickey’s article, Hill says:
There is legacy contamination in the areas where they will be building, That’s been capped, but generally those doing the capping haven’t lined it from below. And that means when the groundwater comes up, those contaminants can be remobilized.
I asked Kaval about this. He said that the San Jose Airport West site, on which Avaya Stadium was built, underwent extensive cleanup and had groundwater monitoring wells installed. So far, so good. But there is one major difference between Airport West, which used to be a factory for defense contractor FMC, and Howard Terminal. The San Jose site isn’t on the water, and is 9 miles upstream from the bay. As you all know by now, Howard Terminal is directly on the bay. How to deal with it? At least BIG has some experience. Hill:
They (BIG) know about coastal design, but they have mostly worked in Europe and they may not have had to work with this kind of issue. Europe hasn’t done as much as the U.S. to monitor water quality. It has done more in isolating and removing contaminated soils. So European firms may not have had to think as much about how rising groundwater could remobilize wastes.
Remember, the Port of Oakland entered a use covenant regarding Howard Terminal. It stated:
Based on the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment, the Department concluded that use of the Property as residence, hospital, school or day care center would entail an unacceptable cancer risk. The Department concluded that the Property, as remediated in accordance with the approved Removal Action Workplan, and subject to the restrictions of the Covenant, does not present an unacceptable threat to human safety or environment, if limited to current terminal use.
Now that there’s no long-term terminal operator at Howard Terminal, the Port and City of Oakland are freed up to pursue this ballpark development. The risks, however, still remain. And as we’ve been made fully aware, groundwater isn’t the only potential problem. Schnitzer Steel’s toxics can fill the air. Look at that rendering above on a beautiful sunny spring or summer game day. Now imagine a plume of smoke rising from Schnitzer Steel to the west. Will the first giveaway item be dust masks? Or water filters?
My dust mask turned brown after being outside for a few hours today. No, this isn’t makeup. Makeup would be on the INSIDE of the mask too. Keep that in mind if you’re in NorCal like me. #CampFire #CaliforniaFires #California pic.twitter.com/iOjVqwNBE0
— Ray Gunnz (@ray_gunnz) November 16, 2018
The hope appears to be that Schnitzer will “wise up” and sell, then relocate. That strategy didn’t work for the A’s at Coliseum North. It didn’t work at either Fremont site. And it didn’t work in San Jose.
For future use, here’s a brief lexicon of terms that will be used when discussing Howard Terminal going forward.
This is gonna take a while. Get started by reading the CEQA Notice of Preparation filed by the A’s last Friday. Or read about the AB 734, the CEQA streamlining that passed earlier this year. Head in the clouds, feet on the ground.
P.S. – That 700-foot home run distance is something, right? Remember when the Warriors were going to build their waterfront arena on Piers 30-32 in San Francisco? Well, they ended up moving to the site where Chase Center is being built. How long do you think a Steph Curry three-pointer from the shoreline is? About 600 feet.
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.
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.
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.
The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub had the tweet of the week/month/year when he compared the vision to Lord of the Rings.
As a baseball fan, Oakland fan and “Lord of the Rings” fan, I’m endorsing the hobbit-friendly design of the #HowardTerminal A’s ballpark.
Which I will be calling “The Shire” if built to these specifications. pic.twitter.com/o9clEZoMOH
— Peter Hartlaub (@peterhartlaub) November 29, 2018
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Besides monitoring Twitter and reading every article I could find, I made time to talk to A’s President Dave Kaval earlier this afternoon about the Howard Terminal and Coliseum announcement. Unlike the Wolff interview series a few years ago, this was over the phone and won’t be transcribed. Instead I’ll describe what I’ve seen so far and intersperse it with relevant quotes from Kaval.
In lieu of any assembled thoughts on the subject, I’ll lay out my plans for the coming days. Expect Part I of the Kaval Call series to come out tomorrow, with the subsequent installments coming in the next few days. I’m still jotting down my thoughts, so if you have any questions drop them in the comments and I’ll try to include my responses in the posts. Yes, there will be some comments about The Shire.
Kaval Call: Part I – Howard Terminal Ballpark
- Shape and Style
- Roof Deck and Path
- Outfield and Views
- Scoreboards and Technology
Kaval Call: Part II – Waterfront Setting
Kaval Call: Part III – Gondolas not BART
Kaval Call: Part IV – Coliseum Redevelopment
Huge thanks to A’s VP of Communications Catherine Aker, who asked me a couple months ago if I would be interested in interviewing Kaval. At the time I declined, telling her to let me know when the A’s were ready to announce something. As a pro would, she got back to me this week.
It’s Hot Stove League time again, and for the A’s it means something different than signing guys to huge nine-figure deals. Instead, the team will open its doors Thursday afternoon to
Come on down to Jack London Square for the Oakland Athletics New Ballpark Open House 4-6 p.m. this Thursday at 55 Harrison!#RootedInOakland #OaklandAthletics #JackLondonSquare #Oakland pic.twitter.com/9qm6VdKFjC
— Jack London Square (@JackLondonSq) November 26, 2018
Apparently they’ll present or discuss both Howard Terminal and the Coliseum as potential future sites. So far I haven’t heard about any plans to use the Coliseum land to help fund Howard Terminal. I won’t be at the open house as I’ll be busy, but the Brothers August (Jeffrey and Kevin) will both be there and plan to report back. Say hi and dream about the future.
The A’s also announced that FanFest will be back at Jack London Square on January 26. I wasn’t able to make it last year due to the unfortunate timing of my health scare, but I’m feeling well enough that I might make it up for the day. Plans are in the works.
Over at NBC Sports California, Ben Ross interviewed A’s COO Chris Giles about many of the changes planned for next season at the Coliseum. Like the 2017 re-opening of the upper deck and the unveiling of the Treehouse last year, the team is introducing new and improved seat offerings throughout the lower bowl. Let’s go over what’s new.
The biggest changes will be in the seating sections inside fair territory near the foul poles. Oak Landing will be a group standing area in left field, while the Hero Deck will adorn the opposite sections in right field.
The A’s will be able to pitch both areas as being in home run territory, which they used to do with the BBQ Terrace sections that are being replaced. The BBQ Terrace sections encompassed only four rows above the outfield fence. Above that is the familiar walkway and the soon-to-be-converted sections. This will be a welcome addition, as the old seats didn’t sell all that well except when heavily discounted or made available in trade-ins for season ticket holders. Considering the general availability of other locations in the now-47,000 capacity Coli, these aren’t the most fetching locations. But they could prove inviting to large groups or companies that want to bring a bunch of people to a game while on a budget.
For those whose budgets are higher, the A’s are converting other lower bowl sections to more luxurious seat opportunities, with greater amenities to boot. First up is the Coppola Theater Box, a field box or mini-suite with catering and translucent privacy panels.
Some number of rows will be removed to accommodate these boxes, and as you can see from the rendering above, they will be located next to the stairs leading to the Plaza Level.Some sections, such as 117 and 301 or 330, probably won’t undergo the conversion. It’s safe to believe that the conversion will occur through much of the field level. Here’s what a similar field box looks like at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ:
Behind the road dugout, the A’s are installing what they call Lounge Seats. Big and cushy and replete with refrigerators and televisions, this offering is meant to mimic the creature comforts of a fan’s living room while being at the ballpark. The A’s would be smart to offer blankets for those chilly April and May night games.
The Terrace has small group tables above the home dugout, also with in-game monitors.
Dugout Seats will also be offered. How can the A’s do this when the dugouts themselves aren’t large enough to hold the teams? The actual location of those seats will be the walkways between the dugouts and the Diamond Level seats, which until now were mostly an overflow area for players, coaches, and front office staff.
One big takeaway from these images is that the new seats and tables will take up a lot of space. From the looks of things each of the new premium rows will cover the equivalent of three rows in the regular sections nearby. Certainly there will be a price to pay for that kind of leg room. The exception to this is Oak Landing, whose standing rows will take up two regular seating rows.
The A’s are scattering these sections throughout the Coli, which promises to break up the monotonous ocean of empty seats often seen throughout the season. Still, there’s only so much the A’s can do to a place as large as the Coliseum. The upper deck closure failed, and the Treehouse converted part of the Plaza Outfield area, so that level isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s funny that a decade ago when we talked about new ballparks, it was generally agreed by many fans that the A’s should aim for 40,000 seats. Nowadays 40k is practically too big. The new premium and group offerings are yet another experiment in scarcity. We’ll see by the end of the season how successful that experiment is.