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. 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.

Six of One, Half Dozen of Hohokam

I’m starting a new job Monday. It’s a full time gig, which will force me to attend Cactus League games on the weekends and listen to weekday games via streaming.

That’s a marked difference from last spring training, when I went to one game, an A’s-Brewers tilt at Maryvale, as part of a rehab outing.

Things are looking up these days, so I splurged for a Spring Training Pass, the Cactus League equivalent of A’s Access. I’ll have admission to the lawn and standing room areas around Hohokam, though I may upgrade my location here and there. I’ll go to 6 games at Hohokam, planning for at least 2 more (Angels, Giants). I’ll also drop by Salt River Fields to see how the new artificial turf fields look. The Dbacks are installing artificial turf at Chase Field, which I believe is part of the new reality coming for outdoor as well as indoor stadia.

Partial schedule. Bold indicates games I’ll be attending

In the meantime I’ll continue to enjoy the lush green blanket in Mesa. Maybe I’ll see you there. Thanks to the Japan series, there’s less than three weeks until the first game!

 

Running the numbers on the gondola

I wasn’t sure how long I’d last at FanFest, so I made sure to pack a lot of activity in the morning just in case I petered out in the afternoon. That turned out to be good planning.

    • Arrived at the Amtrak Jack London Square station at 9:20
    • Walked to Howard Terminal while passing through Jack London Square via Water Street. 0.7-mile walk took longer than expected because of the amassed crowds and booths. Arrived at the east gate by the old oil storage tank at 9:38.
    • Went back towards the action at JLS, sat on a bench outside 10 Clay Street for a breather. Listened to coach and player intros, 9:55.
    • Looked around, found the Regatta 1 space where the A’s were holding the ballpark Q&A sessions. Grabbed a good seat at 10:15.
    • First Q&A session started at 10:30, lasted a half-hour.
    • Headed towards food truck corral to meet Jeff, who couldn’t get in the first session. We decided to get non-food truck grub, so we decided to walk the gondola route down Washington at 11:30. (Sadly, Jeff’s brother Kevin couldn’t make it as his munchkins were having a little too much fun with some balloons, so they had to leave early.)
    • The walk up Washington to the convention center took 17 minutes (also 0.7 miles) with light pedestrian and vehicular traffic. After we arrived at the convention center, we went into the Marriott. Jeff retraced his journey with Casey Pratt to the Warriors’ practice facility. We didn’t have access to the fifth floor entrance, so we left to get lunch at 12:15.

Gondola Route down Washington, ballpark placed at Howard Terminal

  • After lunch I was starting to crash and Jeff had to visit his sick grandma, so we hiked over to the 12th Street BART station. He was going to Pleasanton, me to Oakland Airport at 1:15.

As is often the case, the escalator at the BART entrance was out of service. I took the stairs and groused about it a little. During our journey I showed Jeff the video the A’s and BIG posted of the gondola simulation. It looked cool, though it missed the transfer from BART to the gondola station (900-foot walk). The station itself is planned to sit above the intersection of 10th Street and Washington Street.

To make the station work, a two-block stretch of 10th Street would be converted into a pedestrian mall. Washington would remain open to vehicles, though the streetscape could be changed to accommodate more trees and perhaps wider sidewalks and less parking. I think it would be a good idea to put in a reversible bus lane for use during games. Jeff thought Washington should be closed to vehicles like 10th. I agreed, pointing out the political difficulty in doing so.

After we boarded a southbound BART train, I downloaded the gondola economic impact report. While the numbers from the report looked impressive, a closer look showed one particular set of numbers was missing: The cost to riders.

To be fair, this is how such reports are often written. The reason often given is that the agencies or private parties involved are working on different ways to charge for the service, and a final determination hasn’t been made. However, I took some of the aforementioned numbers and tried to figure it out.

  • $123 million to build gondola over 0.7 miles, including a station at each end (Washington & Water, Washington & 10th).
  • $4.6 million annual operating cost
  • 1 million riders each taking round trips

If you write a $123 million loan for the gondola, you end up with an $8 million annual debt payment spread over 30 years at 5%. Add the operating costs (labor, maintenance) and it comes to $12.6 million per year just to break even. That’s important, because the A’s aren’t going to depend on local or regional mass transit funding to make this happen. It means that every one of those million riders, not all of whom will be A’s fans, have to provide the equivalent of $12.60 in revenue for every round trip.

Powell-Mason cable car line (via Google Earth)

Should the A’s get this thing built, they’ll come up with innovative ways to help pay for the gondola. They could pass the cost on to subscribers of their All Access plans. Or levy a transportation fee with every ticket. Still, $12.60 to cover the literal last mile to the ballpark is a bitter pill to swallow. No wonder their pitch includes tourists! The gondola path includes a descent over I-880 down to the waterfront, reminiscent of the Powell/Mason and Powell/Hyde cable car lines. Speaking of which, have you looked at how much it costs to ride a cable car these days? $7 each way! Makes a $12.60 round trip look like a bargain! Sort of.

This is how the Oakland Airport Connector worked out. I rode the elevated cable-car line from the Coliseum BART station to Oakland International Airport. It cost me one-way $6.65 (less 50 cents if using Clipper). The tram ran smoothly and had only few other people in it.

Saturday afternoon on the Oakland Airport Connector

I enjoyed the OAC the two times I’ve taken it, but I can’t get past the idea that it’s an incredible waste of money. There is some history behind this money pit via Matier & Ross:

When it was proposed, the cost of the 3.2-mile elevated tram line was put at about $134 million. By the time work began in 2010, the cost had risen to about $500 million — requiring BART to issue $110 million in bonds to pay for it.

Despite the growing costs, the project was propelled forward because it was seen as a boon for the airport and a job creator in the midst of the post-2008 economic crash.

Now, however, it’s a headache for BART — and another red line in the system’s looming $477 million budget deficit over the next decade.

If BART is smart, they won’t touch the gondola with a ten-foot pole. Make that 900 feet for good measure. At least aerial trams don’t run into cost overrun problems.

Now consider that the cost of the gondola for a family of five, not including their regular BART fares or parking or anything else, could be $63. I’m about to get the Spring Training Pass. 12 games for $50 plus a $5 handling fee. Good to know bargains like that still exist.