Rangers and Arlington Working On Third Ballpark

Third? You ask. The Ballpark in Arlington was the first true ballpark in Texas. Arlington Stadium was an overstuffed minor league park not worthy of full MLB bonafides, right?

Arlington Stadium was an overstuffed minor league park, true. But it held up for 22 years in an era where ballparks were not as obscenely specced as they are today. Arlington Stadium was redone during the time of the cookie cutter stadia. It was a round bowl. A bare bones facility. It had no roof. There were no cantilevered decks, and the press box attracted the North Texas winds like a vacuum. It was odd and disproportional, yet I had a slight affinity for it when I saw the A’s play road games there. Perhaps that’s because I never had a chance watch a summer game there.

Arlington Stadium (photo by Mike Fitzpatrick)

In 1994 the Stadium was replaced by The Ballpark in Arlington (review), an early entrant in the new era of retro-classical ballparks. TBiA (now Globe Life Park) was built to hold 50,000 fans, a bunch of offices in center field, and the new standard of club seats and suites. What TBiA lacked was any kind of roof with an air conditioning system. A fixed roof was not really in the cards, and the only retractable roof at the time was at the hulking SkyDome, far too expensive for the $191 million budget. So to compensate, the Rangers built ultra large covered concourses with an open facade. It felt airy, and felt pretty good in April and sometimes September. July and August were punishingly brutal thanks to the humidity. George W. Bush, who was looking for a trophy to propel his burgeoning political career, didn’t have six years to wait until the retractable technology evolved to the point of affordability, as it did for the Astros. So TBiA was built, Dubya became governor, and the Rangers stayed in Arlington.

Recently, Rangers ownership, now changed twice, started looking for a more technologically modern home, citing the need for a retractable dome thanks to the heat and humidity problems. A dome over the top of TBiA was considered problematic because of the lack of a support structure (and infrastructure) to carry the roof’s load. Prominent Dallas interests quietly started talking up a ballpark within the city, perhaps close to American Airlines Center. Arlington pulled the rug out from Dallas by working with the Rangers on an eventual replacement for TBiA, even though eight years remained on the lease.


What will be the price tag for improved climate control? A cool $1 billion, half of it charged to the citizens of Arlington via extensions of existing sales/hotel/car rental tax hikes. Arlington pols feel confident about the plan because they may pay off the debt at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium 10 years early. Sure, they’ll outfit the park with more restaurants, bars, club levels, different types of suite boxes, and custom bat/bear/doohickey booths. And there will be a huge fan plaza with retail and a hotel, finally giving the immediate area something else walkable from the park. That mini ballpark village will be called Texas Live!, located kitty corner from the current ballpark to the southwest.


There are a few sobering takeaways from this whole exercise.

  • Public money makes a stadium project move faster. Once those coffers are open, stakeholders are willing to move heaven and earth to make these projects happen. This is the #1 reason why no stadium is happening in Oakland right now, why San Jose’s ballpark fizzled, and why the Earthquakes’ stadium was delayed. Owners and leagues want municipalities to have skin in the game or a pound of flesh, whatever you want to call it.
  • There is little virtue in paying off a stadium early. Just as AT&T Stadium is projected to be paid off early, Phoenix’s Chase Field had its debt retired early. For Phoenix, all that meant was that the Diamondbacks asked for a new ballpark earlier than planned. Same goes for the Rangers in Arlington. Considering how so many sports venues don’t pay for themselves, such moves take a lot of chutzpah.
  • The next wave of ballparks is here. Cobb County’s park for the Braves will open next year. The Rangers are shooting for 2021. Arizona is asking for their own smaller, more intimate park. Arte Moreno has been saber rattling Anaheim for years. Other teams will call for extensive renovation plans. This new era may not have the same wholesale turnover of venues as it did during the Selig era, but whatever happens promises to be very expensive, and for most teams, largely unnecessary.

Sometimes it feels like the world is passing the A’s by. This is no more clearly evident than in the stadium game. At least the Rays are here to keep us company.

Wrigley Field gets long-needed facelift

For the last several years the Cubs have adorned the façade of Wrigley Field with vinyl signs, as I witnessed firsthand in 2013. While they were bold and colorful, they distracted from the structure itself.

Vinyl covered exterior seems loud, no?

Vinyl covered exterior seems loud, no?

Back then I wrote about the contrast:

Wrigley famously has very little façade. Behind home plate is the light gray concrete structure accented by green and the distinctive red marquee. It’s not brick or sandstone, and there’s little to write home about. At some point recently the Cubs decided to have huge vinyl signs of the players cover up much of the concrete, as many newer parks have done. As much as I appreciate the blast of color, I miss the old humble concrete. Along the first and third baselines are chain link fences, so the back of each deck is exposed to the street it faces.

As part of Wrigley’s multiyear renovation project, the vinyl and chain link have been torn away, replaced with elements that open up the space and hark back to Wrigley’s earlier pre-war state.

Now that’s better. Gone are the concrete board and cage-like chain link fences, replaced by much more ornate galvanized steel gates.

The terra cotta facade, better seen in the Chicago Tribune’s article on the makeover, is somewhat more controversial than the rest, since the material is not exactly in keeping with steel ballpark construction. However, it is a throwback to Wrigley during the 30’s. At scale, it’s applied only to provide a warm accent that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and certainly would be less effective with mere paint or another metallic surface. It makes Wrigley even more approachable, if that was even possible. Wrigley’s famed red marquee was reinstalled only two days ago, and it remains as hot as ever. I look forward to going back sometime soon, even just to admire the exterior.

P.S. – Note the amount of roster turnover signified by the players on the vinyl signs.

2016 Cactus League – Few Changes In Store

It nearly hit 90° in the Valley of the Sun this week, so you know that spring training is rapidly approaching. Pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park today, though many of them and the position players have already been working out in preparation for the season.

The A’s haven’t announced any changes to Hohokam, the renovated stadium they moved into a year ago after decades at Phoenix Muni. Most of the big-ticket items were taken care of the first go-around. It’s a spacious, comfortable place to watch and should remain so for years to come. The biggest change I know of is not the facility but rather a new way to get to it, or at least close to it. Valley Metro finished the first phase of its Mesa extension last August, stretching to Central (downtown) Mesa. The station at Main Street and Center Street is the closest to Hohokam, 1.7 miles directly south of the stadium.

1.7 miles from the Center & Main light rail station to Hohokam

1.7 miles from the Center & Main light rail station to Hohokam

That distance is probably a bit too long to walk for most. Credit to those who do. Alternately, Mesa’s Downtown BUZZ free shuttle operates Monday through Saturday between Main Street and Brown Road, the major street just to the south of Hohokam. BUZZ runs all the way out to the Cubs’ Sloan Park if you’re interested. There’s also Valley Metro Bus 120 ($2 ride), which runs on Mesa Drive and Brown Road, stopping south of Hohokam. Pedicab would be a good option if it were available. And remember, if you go early you can visit Fitch Park along the way in the morning, catch a couple workouts, then head over for the 1 PM first pitch.

Speaking of Fitch Park, the City of Mesa announced that it renamed the unfortunately monikered “East 6th Place” at Fitch to “Athletics Way.”

The “Dead End” sign has to stay because it’s factual.

One difference for the A’s is the addition of two night games:

  • Monday, March 14, 7 PM – Giants
  • Thursday, March 24, 7 PM – Rangers

For those two you’ll have to drive/cab/rideshare.

For those driving everywhere or taking Uber/lyft to ballparks, there aren’t many changes of note. There are no new ballparks to speak of. There probably won’t be one until the Brewers decide to leave Maryvale.

Scottsdale Stadium is getting a new scoreboard. The new LED board is sized 24′ x 40′. That’s not as large as Hohokam’s jumbo 26′ x 56′, but it’s still a massive improvement over the old traditional scoreboard/postage stamp video combo.

Map of Cactus League parks from Royals Review

Map of Cactus League parks from Royals Review

If you’re touristing down to Arizona to catch a weekend’s worth of games or longer, chances are that you’re staying in one of four places:

  • near Sky Harbor Airport (PHX)
  • Old Town or South Scottsdale
  • Tempe
  • Central Phoenix (downtown)

All four of those locations are fairly close to the eastern bunch of Cactus League parks (Salt River Fields, Scottsdale, Tempe Diablo, Hohokam, Sloan). The five West Valley parks (Maryvale, Camelback Ranch, Surprise, Peoria, Goodyear) are a good 15-25 miles away from the preferred cluster of hotels. You shouldn’t stay in the West Valley unless you intend to spend most of your time at one of the facilities or you’re staying with family in, say, Glendale or Peoria.

If you’re getting around the Phoenix area, it’s best to look at just the area as basically two freeway loops. The largest is constituted by I-10 to the south and Loop-101 acting as the west, north, and east perimeter, about 15 mile x 20 mile rectangle. Camelback and Peoria are close to the west segment of Loop-101, while Surprise is way out beyond, and Goodyear is on the way out to LA. The Maryvale neighborhood is somewhat sketchy, though it shouldn’t matter since the Brewers’ home schedule is all day games. Meanwhile, the east cluster is nice and compact, with all ballparks within roughly 5-10 miles of each other. The other freeway loop is Loop 202, which covers a 10 mile x 20 mile section known as the East Valley, including Mesa, Chandler, and Gilbert. I-17 runs north to Flagstaff, whereas US-60 comes from the northwest, merges with I-10, then heads east towards New Mexico. The funny thing about driving around Phoenix is that even though the area is much smaller than the Bay Area, I find that I’m less tolerant of driving long distances. Maybe that’s because I’m conditioned to driving longer distances in the Bay Area, and there are more freeways to handle those distances. It may also be Phoenix’s monotonously endless street grid. Either way I’m surprised at how the landscape affects me as a driver.

If you’re planning a trip to the Cactus League and you have questions, drop a note in the comments. I’ll be happy to answer whatever I can.

Raiders ink 1-year lease with options, hire former 49ers CFO MacNeil

The Raiders agreed in principle to a one-year lease at the Coliseum, with the potential for extensions in 2017 and 2018. Specific terms were not revealed at today’s press conference, but the main reveals are that the Raiders will pay more in rent than they had in the most recent lease, and that Larry MacNeil, former 49ers CFO, was hired to work with the City/County/JPA on a new stadium deal. Davis touted MacNeil’s experience in developing Levi’s Stadium.

Towards the end of the press conference, Davis challenged A’s ownership to “commit to Oakland”:

Right now there’s 120 acres. There’s parking, there’s an arena. We like the gameday experience of tailgating on that parking lot. We don’t want to give that up. Now, there’s two teams that play in that Coliseum. One’s the Oakland A’s, one’s the Oakland Raiders. People have not listened when I said I do not mind if there are two stadiums on that site. The A’s stadium would take about 12 acres, the Raiders’ stadium would take about 15-17 acres. That’s fine with me, but I do not want to give up the parking.

If, in fact, the A’s do want to stay in the Coliseum site, they need to commit A.S.A.P. so that we can go ahead and design and take down the Coliseum, provide all the infrastructure necessary to build two new stadiums in Oakland, and two teams will then come back in and play in two new stadiums. What I do not want to do is build a football stadium in the corner of the parking lot while the Coliseum is still standing, and then once we have a brand new stadium we begin to tear down – or build a new baseball stadium – and then tear down the Coliseum, disrupting the ingress, egress, and parking, tailgating experience for Raider fans on gameday. What it’s going to take is for the A’s to make a commitment to Oakland and tell the people what they want to do.”

You mean something like this, Mark?

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

The A’s response did not waver from their ongoing evaluation process:

Let’s, for a moment, follow Davis’s argument all the way through to its hypothetical end. He is right that he’s been consistent about this. For nearly two years he has wanted the Coliseum torn down immediately, to be replaced by either a football stadium on the original footprint, or two venues next to each other. As you can see from my drawing above, it can be done while taking up only slightly more land than the original Coliseum did. There would even be some advantages in that a grand plaza could be built between the two stadia, leading to the arena.

But is it realistic? Let’s consider how this would progress. Assuming that Lew Wolff and John Fisher could be convinced to go along with this plan, the Coliseum would be torn down and the site graded shortly after the end of the Raiders’ 2017 season – let’s call it a year from now, February 2017. From that point new infrastructure would have to be put in place, followed by actual construction. If they started by the summer, the A’s couldn’t move into their new home until the 2020 season because of a very compressed schedule for an early 2019 opening. The Raiders could potentially open in 2019, but consider that 2019 is the projected opening for the Rams’ stadium in Inglewood – and that site is ready to go, demo already completed. For all intents and purposes, both the Raiders and A’s would be out of Oakland for three years – the A’s probably to AT&T Park, the Raiders to Levi’s or somewhere else. Throughout all of this, Davis would have final say on any development on the 120-acre Coliseum site.

Is there anything in Davis’s history or actions that makes anyone believe Davis is the person to make this happen? He has no experience in development or in the kinds of complex legal and business arrangement requires. His sudden ability to rattle off catchphrases like “opportunity cost” like he just rolled out of a basic microeconomics class isn’t impressing anyone. MacNeil is a good hire, but his presence alone isn’t going to convince investors to subsidize a stadium. And Davis’s desire to stick with ingress/egress/parking as his most important issues in Oakland is downright bizarre. Preserving parking has some nobility to it and is a good way to pander to Raiders fans, especially when compared to the mess that is Levi’s Stadium parking. That argument can’t possibly impress the other 31 owners, who have demonstrated repeatedly that they want deals that improve revenue for teams and for the league as a whole. Parking is worth maybe $4 million a year in revenue. Davis has somehow neglected to talk about revenue as a rationale as every other owner seeking a new stadium has done. Raiders ticket prices will be frozen again for 2016, keeping prices and local revenues essentially flat for the several years since he took the reins. And Mt. Davis will remained tarped to boot. If the Raiders’ revenue position is going to improve, the Raiders will have to charge much higher prices at the new stadium, and in the intervening years they’ll have to test out those higher prices on fans at the Coliseum, the same way the Warriors are doing now in preparation for their new arena. Without a major revenue boost, there isn’t even a business case for building a new stadium, even a small one. The $500 million (+$100 million gift) Davis frequently talks about comes from stadium revenues. If he can’t hit the targets in those loan programs he’ll have hell to pay from the other teams’ owners and his own investment group, in large part because he’ll end up bleeding his golden goose (the NFL’s TV contracts) to pay everything off. And we still don’t know how the $300 million funding gap would be filled.

Historically, none of the old multipurpose stadia have been redeveloped in the manner Davis is suggesting. There generally was a sequence with one tenant staying in the old building while another was built next door, then the old one was demolished and replaced. That was a successful model in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia. While the Bay Area has the luxury of high quality venues that could host the two Oakland teams in a pinch, you’re also allowing them to take both feet out the door for three years. Either team (or both) could back out of any stadium deal at any time (really, please try to force a team to build a stadium when the city is providing no money for it). The only leverage Oakland has is that the Coliseum still exists and remains functional, allowing MLB and the NFL to maintain its inertia regarding both teams. Without the Coliseum, Oakland is practically a non-entity for pro sports. I’m not sure if the politicians gathered around Davis at the presser believe in Davis’s vision. The presser certainly wasn’t the venue to argue against Davis. The theme of the event was unity, even though all they were talking about was a short lease extension. Well, unless we start to see hard numbers and actual advantages for the A’s and Raiders besides preserving parking, we’re a long way from actual unity.

P.S. – Davis is trying to play some sort of PR game by claiming that the Raiders are “hamstrung” by the A’s lease. That’s only true if the only way to build a stadium is to do it Davis’s way. Otherwise the A’s lease can be terminated with two years’ notice. That’s it. It’s not unreasonable for the A’s to ask for some time to get their affairs in order. Unless you’re Tommy Boy, I guess.

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: