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.

MLB 2018 Travel Grid

For those who were waiting for next year’s travel grid, it’s ready. Thanks for your patience. I’m not planning any trips next year, so I don’t have many comments on the schedule itself. If you have questions or would like some guidance, comment below or ask me on Twitter.

Formats:

As usual, tips (advice and $) are always welcome. The PDFs contain both alphabetical and regional layouts. Use the first sheet in each file for the appropriate layout.

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.

-=-=-

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

10 years, 30 teams, 30+ stadia

When I was a preteen in the 80’s I was given a sketch board. I couldn’t do freehand drawing to save my life, but as I constantly watched and listened to baseball games every summer, I used that board along with a compass and protractor to create my own reproductions of stadia, especially ballparks. I learned how to understand space, capacity, and sightlines. I never took any drawing or architecture classes, considering my interest little more than a small hobby.

As I became an adult with some disposable income, I decided to take my interest directly to those places that inspired me. In 1989 my two prime muses were the Coliseum, which at the time was considered one of the best modern ballparks in baseball, and SkyDome, which was so technologically advanced I couldn’t help but admire it. I went there once, in 2000, long after the salad days of the early-mid 90’s. The facility was still relatively new at the time, yet it was surpassed by the onslaught of retro-modern parks like Camden Yards. In the intervening years I visited all of these new parks, while mentally and philosophically abandoning domes like Skydome/Rogers Centre and Tropicana Field. I decided at the beginning of the year that both venues deserved their own story. This weekend I’ll talk about Rogers Centre. Before the end of the season I’ll talk Tropicana, which I visited in June.

Back to Toronto. The tour I took today took me to the visitor’s dugout. Along the way I got to see this:

If you don’t recognize it, it’s called a bogie. The term is normally used in conjunction with trains or, in sports parlance, the traction systems that move retractable roofs. In this application, bogies like this one are used to move the lower seating deck so that it can better accommodate baseball or football crowds. Such technology used to be the hallmark of the old multipurpose, cookie-cutter stadia of the 60’s and 70’s. Nowadays they’re practically extinct thanks to teams and cities building very specific purpose-built facilities. Take a good look and remember that this kind of stuff used to be pretty cool.

The other reason for taking care of Toronto and St. Pete is that I’ve only kept track of these ballpark trips since I started the blog. The travel aspect started in 2008. I’ve now gone through 30 teams and 33 ballparks since then. Over ten years without a gimmicky 30-parks-in-30-days plan or anything else I couldn’t practically pull off, I’m happy with this. After this trip is over I may consider heading back out on the road to visit ballparks or other sports venues, but for now I’m satisfied. My hunger for this is sated. And maybe, just maybe, that’s a signal that we can all turn our collective attention to Oakland first and last. No more Joneses to keep up with. It’s now all about the A’s. As it should be.

—–

2008

  • Camden Yards, Baltimore
  • Nationals Park, Washington
  • Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
  • Yankee Stadium, New York City
  • Fenway Park, Boston

2009

  • Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland
  • AT&T Park, San Francisco
  • Petco Park, San Diego

2010

  • Chase Field, Phoenix
  • Minute Maid Park, Houston
  • Globe Life Park, Arlington TX
  • Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
  • Busch Stadium (IV), St Louis
  • Wrigley Field, Chicago
  • Miller Park, Milwaukee
  • Target Field, Minneapolis

2011

  • Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
  • Angels Stadium, Anaheim

2012

  • Comerica Park, Detroit
  • Progressive Field, Cleveland
  • Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati
  • Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago
  • Coors Field, Denver

2013

  • Safeco Field, Seattle
  • Marlins Park, Miami
  • Turner Field, Atlanta
  • New Yankee Stadium, NY Yankees
  • Citi Field, NY Mets

2017

  • Tropicana Field, St Petersburg
  • Rogers Centre, Toronto

 

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.

-=-=-

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

SunTrust Park: More Braves, Less Atlanta

SunTrust Park in left field as twilight approaches

After visiting the Braves’ new park a month ago and giving it a good amount of thought, I came to the conclusion that in many ways, it is the future of ballparks. That is not necessarily a good thing. The advent of full-scale ancillary development with ballparks will change the economics for some franchises where it’s available. We can’t truly judge that impact yet, so I’m going to mostly focus on the ballpark itself, with some observations about The Battery, the development surrounding the ballpark, along the way.

I’ll start with the good news. SunTrust is a real improvement on Turner Field inside the gates. It’s much more compact and intimate than Turner, while also having more amenities and luxury within. While I’m with the near-universal criticism that the Braves chose to make this move far too early, abandoning a perfectly functional 20-year-old building in the process, I also have to note that ballparks have come a long way in 20 years. I just don’t know that it’s worth the investment, especially if you’re not getting a public subsidy to help pay for it.

Four decks and three separate concourses serve the stadium

33 rows fill the lower deck, which itself is split into upper and lower sections. The club and premium seating sections are all stacked behind home plate, much like Marlins Park. Large group seating exists down the lines, with the Hank Aaron Terrace overlooking left field and the Coors Light Below The Chop bunker beyond the right field wall.

Braves Monument Garden on lower concourse behind home plate

The biggest achievement is the Monument Garden, a spacious and quiet mini-museum along the lower concourse. Suites block access access to regular seats, allowing Populous to eliminate restrooms and concession stands, replacing them with this meditative space. The Braves are the longest continually operating franchise in MLB, and the team will let you know about it with numerous old jerseys, a long timeline covering the team’s history in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, and the various Hall of Fame Braves. BBHoF plaques are mounted along the concourse wall, while their numbers stand in water features in the center of the Garden. While it doesn’t have a bar as in Seattle, there’s a lot more history to cover, so take your drink in and meditate in the Garden for a while. Having a concourse view is preferable, but if you’re going to remove that view, at least give fans something cool like this.

Hank Aaron statue atop Monument Garden

This same attention to historical detail is repeated all over the park. The terrace club allows the patricians to feel the same sense of history without having to share space with the plebes.

Technology is solid, as one would expect with a park dubbed the “future of ballparks.” The two large display boards in the outfield complement each other, though at times it can be confusing determining which one is the main board. There’s a single ribbon board above the lower deck. WiFi antennas are ubiquitous, with internet provided by Comcast. The cable giant even moved its local operations to The Battery, occupying the big glass office building in right-center.

Banks of LED lights can be turned on, off, partially lit, or with strobe effects.

Sandlot kid’s area behind CF

As perhaps an unintentionally nod to the declining popularity of youth baseball, there is no sandlot diamond at Hope and Will’s Sandlot, the designated kids’ area. Instead, there’s a zip line and a climbing wall, which when I think about it, would be neat additions to the actual playing field. Think about it, Rob.

The REAL future of ballparks

The level-by-level diagram shows you the real future of baseball. Every perceived premium space and seat is now at the field, along the infield, and most importantly, behind home plate. I wrote about this evolution in May. With the opening of SunTrust Park, it’s further confirmation of the concentration of high-$, high-amenity seats, as well as the separation of those premium sections from the regular seats. The Rangers’ ballpark is sure to follow in these footsteps, if not surpass the Braves’ efforts entirely. Think about that the next time you sit in 315-319 at the Coliseum. The cheap upper deck ticket behind the plate is not long for this world.

Catwalk leading to upper deck sections behind the plate

Like the lower deck, the upper deck concourse behind the plate has no view of the field. The press box is located there instead, with few amenities (a couple concession stands and restrooms) available. Since there are seats in the upper deck, access to them is granted by stairs leading to a catwalk on the roof of the press box. It’s these inconveniences that make me wonder what’s next in terms of ballpark development.

Pre-construction rendering of The Battery ATL and SunTrust Park

Like it or not, the theme everywhere at The Battery is Coming Soon. While the main plaza beyond right field has retail and restaurant tenants, many of the other buildings to the south (bottom of pic above) are not fully completed. The developers managed to get commitments to thousands of apartment leases, ensuring that there will be some amount of activity when the Braves aren’t playing. Signs on the ground level advertise a good mix of retail chains and local establishments to come. It’s hard to say how successful this will all be because the Cumberland area where The Battery is located already has three large shopping centers in place, including a major regional mall. And with the Braves treading water at the .500 mark, the team for now is a coming attraction, whereas the ballpark is already in place.

I didn’t drive to the park when I was there thanks to accommodations only a mile away. Many of the parking lots are in office parks on the other side of I-75, requiring a stroll over the interstate on a newly constructed pedestrian bridge. Some parking exists at The Battery, though most of it is for VIP’s and residents of the complex. It’s a mess, albeit one I didn’t get to experience directly. Since the area doesn’t have a MARTA (BART-like) stop anywhere close, fans hoping for reasonable public transportation are bound to be disappointed by having to use at least two bus transfers from the Midtown stop. A better option if ridesharing from Midtown, which for me cost about $15 a ride.

My hotel would be in the lower left of this map, putting me closer than a lot of fans who parked nearby

Planning for the ballpark always seemed like a head scratcher to me. The land on which the ballpark and the development sits is 60 acres of former forest land that is sloped down from northeast to southwest. That makes for suboptimal ballpark placement and orientation. The Braves chose to place the ballpark in the northeast corner, with home plate facing nearly true south. When sitting in the ballpark one can look towards right field and see the rest of the Battery. The rest of your vision is freeway and greenery interrupted by the occasional office building or hotel. It’s not a skyline, the site’s distance from downtown Atlanta is too far to incorporate the skyscrapers in the distance. It may have made more sense to put the ballpark at the south end, orient it a more natural northeast, and build the surrounding stuff to fit. The plan could have allowed for fans parked to the north to descend to the park, creating a grand entrance in the process. The location is clearly suburban and while it’s suited for a neighborhood ballpark, the plans reach much higher to be more of a downtown ballpark (there are clear differences). All in all it feels like a missed opportunity.

The Chop House is a restaurant. Don’t make it more than what it is.

That brings me to the most popular criticism of SunTrust Park: the park’s lack of a signature feature. It’s hard to come up with such things when there’s no existing building to incorporate into the park (San Diego, Baltimore) or a small, hemmed-in site to force design decisions. The Braves so far are trying to use the Chop House as that signature element. The effort falls flat because it tries to puff up the Chop House to being more than multi-level restaurant that it is. Even if you accept the premise, the Chop House is not impressive enough nor of a scale to demand that kind of attention. It’s only open during games. Other group accommodations are directly above it, blunting its visual appeal. The Comcast building looms behind it, much more imposing but outside the actual ballpark footprint. I’m not going to call it the whole package “fake” or “artificial” because those are cheap shots that don’t get at the heart of the issues. Over time the place will fill out and wear in like a pair of jeans. Question is, will those jeans be out of style in 10 years? Knowing what we know about the last 30 years of ballparks, the answer is probably yes.