City of Oakland gets Temporary Restraining Order against A’s-Coliseum sale

Original Coliseum pamphlet provided by Peerless Coffee’s George Vukasin, Jr.

Do you remember the name Egbert Perry?

No?

Perry was the money-partner with Ronnie Lott for a short-lived 2016 offer to buy the Coliseum complex, including both the stadium and arena, plus the additional parcels purchased extending to Hegenberger. Then just like that, the City of Oakland nixed the offer. Vegas interests and the Nevada continued to work with the Raiders on site plans for the football franchise’s move, and the Raiders have been running out the clock in Oakland ever since.

The A’s weren’t part of the Lott-Perry plan, which may have spurred the City’s decision. The offer was for $167.3 million and was made prior to a reappraisal of the complex, completed later in 2016. It was that appraisal that provides the basis for the A’s offer on the Coliseum property, a half-interest (Alameda County) for $85 million. Do the math to buy out the City’s share, and you have $170 million, remarkably close to the old appraisal. A mere two weeks after the offer was made, the offer was retracted and Perry was out after a purported double-cross.

Previously, Floyd Kephart’s New City group offered $116 million in 2015. That also didn’t get far. Which makes the news that the City is suing the County over the sale of the County’s half-interest of the Coliseum land not surprising in the least. Let’s be honest about this. Modern politics in Oakland has been shaped – for the worse – by frequent, almost constant litigation. It’s practically the only way the City knows how to operate. As reported by the Chronicle’s Phil Matier:

The suit took on added significance Tuesday when Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch issued a temporary restraining order on the sale and set a Nov. 14 hearing on the lawsuit.

“We were very close. This will put a chilling effect on us being able to close the deal,” Kaval said following the judge’s order.

A’s CEO Dave Kaval expressed shock at the lawsuit. In his professional and personal time in the Bay Area, he surely learned some local political history, especially about Oakland and California as a whole. Kaval is the last person that should be surprised by this. Kaval (and John Fisher) were shocked by the Peralta blowback. You’d think they would’ve braced themselves for City-County political tensions. After all, Oakland and Alameda County spent the better part of the last 40 years mired in tensions. Everything you see, from the original Coliseum to Mount Davis, is a product of those tensions, along with the truly unquenchable thirst for pro sports that keeps being displayed.

Now that the A’s (and MLB) have Oakland to themselves, they can start squeezing. So it was on the day of the AL Wild Card game that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred started the squeeze. I opined at the time that I didn’t expect him to start this early. Manfred, via the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:

“I made it clear that it’s time for the city of Oakland to show concrete progress on the stadium effort,” Manfred said. “It’s gone on too long, and things need to fall into place to get a new stadium here. The fans here, as demonstrated by the 55,000 here tonight, are great fans and deserve a major-league quality facility.”

We’ve seen this movie before. If the City folds on the lawsuit, Manfred will back sometime in February to praise City leaders for “coming to their senses.” If the City keeps on, we’ll start hearing louder murmurs about Portland. Or Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas, or maybe Salt Lake City or Sacramento. Probably not San Jose, as that ship has sailed. But don’t put it past Manfred to tighten the squeeze on Oakland, even if MLB’s apparent leverage is debatable. I wouldn’t discount the concept of Manfred taking over negotiations from Kaval and Fisher, using a team of negotiators to do the dirty work. Or Manfred could go the same route as he did with the Rays. In that case he started by granting the ability for the Rays to look at the City of Tampa/Hillsborough County. That resulted in the Ybor City domed ballpark plan, unveiled in June 2018 and dead by the end of the year. That was followed by the announcement of a potential split season situation, half in St. Petersburg and the other half in Montreal. Montreal backer Stephen Bronfman even showed up in Oakland last night, the better to get the Tampa denizens thinking.

Here’s the tough part. Oakland has barely stepped onto the legal battlefield. The EIR is supposed to be released before the end of this month, and that will bring its own lawsuit. Whether it’s from port operators, transportation companies, or Schnitzer Steel – or all three – it’s almost guaranteed to tie things up. Fortunately, the exemption the A’s lobbied for in Sacramento limits lawsuits to 270 days prior to certification. From the perspective of the A’s, it makes sense for them to prepare for that particular legal onslaught.

But the City getting on the same page with the County? They probably figured they had that in the bag. In May 2018, I saw a lot of remarks about how so many key figures were in the same room singing praises of the A’s plans.

The problems, as I pointed out back then, relate to the complexity of the projects. That’s right, projects – plural. As you know by now, there is the Howard Terminal part, the actual ballpark, located on the waterfront near Jack London Square. Then there’s the Coliseum, which will keep its arena (if anyone can afford to run it) and an amphitheater where the old stadium currently stands. Around that redone complex are a sizable urban park, commercial and residential development, plus some additional community facilities. It’s a way to throw a bone to East Oakland for leaving.

The plans also provide for some amount of affordable housing to be built and either or both locations. Just how much is the big topic of negotiation, as City Council President Rebecca Kaplan cited the state’s Surplus Lands Act in trying to put the kibosh on the sale. The main issue is the percentage and number of affordable housing units to be built:

…if the disposed land will be used for residential development, at least 25% of the total number of units in the development must have rents or sale prices that are affordable for persons and families of low- or moderate-income.

Of course, over the post-recession period, the Bay Area has been plagued by an inability to build affordable housing. Call it a perfect storm of rising construction costs, the ridiculous never-ending seller’s market, and the loss of decades-long affordable housing subsidies when former governor Jerry Brown killed redevelopment. There are perfectly reasonable arguments to be made on both sides of the debate. From the City’s angle, surplus land is an extremely limited resource that shouldn’t be handed out without a competitive bidding process. For developers including the A’s, having to bake in an allowance to accommodate a greater amount of affordable housing will undoubtedly cut into the profitability of the project. In the A’s case, it could impact the feasibility of both projects, though the A’s launched their own PR offensive to counter such notions.

Thing is, the A’s haven’t done a very good job of explaining how the two projects aren’t connected. They did a media tour of Howard Terminal a couple weeks to reaffirm their stance. From reading the Community Engagement document available at the A’s Ballpark site, the two efforts appear to be directly related, if not joined at the hip. That’s a tough position to be in, because once you decouple the two projects, it’s easier to argue that one doesn’t need the other.

The explanation is not that difficult. If the A’s are approved to build at Howard Terminal, they plan to build the ballpark in the first phase, hoping for a 2023 Opening Day. The ancillary development at Howard Terminal, whatever form it takes, will take place after the ballpark opens and will take perhaps decades to complete. That makes the A’s ballpark village next to Jack London Square part of the long tail. Meanwhile, the Coliseum is already approved for some 3,000 housing units right now. That makes the Coliseum a sort of bridge financing for the ballpark. Fisher and Lew Wolff employed this to success at the separate Avaya Stadium and iStar developments in San Jose, the latter helping the finance the former. What’s being attempted in Oakland is the same thing on steroids, except for one big difference. iStar, located in South San Jose near where IBM built the first disc drive, was largely undeveloped in its previous form. To date, Avaya Stadium is in its fourth year of operation near SJC Airport after breaking ground in 2012. Some commercial and residential development has been done at the iStar site, though we’re coming to the end of 2019 and not one single-family home has been completed. In San Jose, they built a stadium and a separate subdivision on separate parcels miles apart. In Oakland, they want to do something similar, except that they’ll move the sports-related jobs from the Coliseum to Howard Terminal in the process.

The sales pitch for the Avaya Stadium/iStar package didn’t arouse much debate in San Jose. The stadium was set to replace a former military vehicle manufacturing plant. San Jose’s historic sprawl had plenty of room for 25 acres of new housing, especially after the recession brought construction to a halt. Ten years later, the housing crunch is far more acute, reaching every part of the Bay Area. Collectively, local governments did a poor job of planning to add to the housing stock, including forecasting and accommodating affordable housing. If Oakland officials want to take nearly 200 acres in two high-profile locations and hand it to the A’s to finish the job, they and the A’s should prepare themselves for the lengthy debate to follow. Manfred, who played the nice guy until Wednesday, now gets to play the heavy.

P.S. – Please don’t tell me how no developers want any part of East Oakland. Besides the A’s interest, the JPA had two unsolicited bids for the land in 2018, Tesla and a group trying to build a soccer complex and stadium at the complex. What developers want is Bay Area land for relatively cheap. Interest from previous developers for Coliseum City, the 2018 bids, and the eventual exclusive negotiating agreements for the A’s shows how much people want to take advantage of the Coliseum. It doesn’t hurt that the land has freeways and a transit hub right next to it. East Oakland has no potential? Perhaps if you’re stuck with a 1968 mindset.

P.P.S. – Read J.K. Dineen’s piece in the Chronicle for an extensive description of one property owner’s CEQA-related shakedown and how it affected both San Francisco and Oakland. Then take a look at that Community Engagement document and try to understand what kinds of partnerships are being forged, and what remains to make a similar one with the City. Keeping any sports team in Oakland is/was going to cost something. The City is thankfully over direct subsidies, but the ambitious nature of these two projects has me thinking that the final price tag will approach eleven figures including cleanup, community commitments, and new infrastructure. That might be what it takes. No one is publicly talking about costs yet. That’s what truly concerns me.

P.P.P.S. – None of the oft-mentioned relocation candidates deserve more than a cursory look unless they approve or start building a major league-ready ballpark. These days that might mean 30,000 seats or less. It probably also means those 30,000 seats will be quite swanky with pricing and amenities to match. The new AAA parks in Las Vegas and Nashville are exactly as advertised – nice AAA parks. They’re not meant to handle MLB crowds temporarily given the greater requirements these days. If someone wants to ink a deal with Henderson, Nevada for a billion-dollar domed ballpark 10 miles from the Strip, good luck.

Oakland Coliseum Complex: The Admirable Failure

I have two copies of Paul Goldberger’s recent book Ballpark: Baseball in the American City in my possession. One is a hard copy, the other a Kindle version. The book goes through the history of ballparks, from before baseball was properly organized in the late 19th century through the pre- and post-war periods to the under construction Globe Life Field and the planned Howard Terminal ballpark.

In chapter 7 (“Leaving the City”), Goldberger makes the following observations about Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, built in boom year of 1950:

Memorial functioned reasonably well for baseball despite its football-like appearance. Reportedly football fans in Baltimore believed the stadium’s layout  favored baseball, which further underscores the paradox most devoted of the multi-purpose stadium: it is never ideal for any sport, and the most devoted fans of one sport, frustrated by the facility’s shortcomings, are likely to think that the design favors the needs of another sport over their own.

A couple weeks ago, the Coliseum underwent its final football-to-baseball conversion, marked by numerous comments about how baseball has it better there. This sentiment was echoed most vociferously by former Seahawk and Cal Bear running back Justin Forsett, who said:

The last Raiders game planned at the Coliseum on December 15, followed by the intense construction period that has marked the last two winters in which baseball or fan-related improvements are installed within the stadium bowl. There isn’t much need to change the field, though the rumor of moving the bullpens is still out there. A Monster Jam event will be held in mid-February, followed by the ritual of resodding of the grass at the Coli.

The Coliseum uses stadium technology that mostly dates back to the 60’s and it shows. Whether we’re talking about the low overhangs, the lack of functioning elevators or escalators, or the notches in the lower seating bowl, the Coliseum stands as a mid-century marvel, though it clear isn’t fetishized like an Eichler. The field remains below sea level, plagued by a poor drainage situation (a game during the last homestead was delayed at the start due to standing water). It’s not a field designed to wick away a foot of rain in an hour. It is, at its essence, playable in ideal conditions. And it has held up despite being replaced twice a year, trampled by 300-pound men and construction equipment, even families on fireworks nights or the occasional concert crowd.

Newer stadia with grass fields have done a better job of obscuring the dirt infield with temporary sod. Artificial turf looks more like real grass with each passing generation. Innovation will continue to leave the Coliseum in the dust, and whether the A’s move to Howard Terminal or a new stadium next door, there’s little reason to consider revamping the grass field when it’s doing fine with routine maintenance. It should do even better without the frequent football changeovers, harkening back to the pre-1995 Haas era of baseball prominence.

From behind the backstop earlier this season

In hindsight, it makes me wonder about the role of the multi-purpose stadium in American sports history. Goldberger devotes two chapters to the phenomenon, starting with Cleveland Stadium in the 30’s and taking the reader through the cookie cutter era and the last purpose-built multi-purpose stadium, SkyDome/Rogers Centre. Was it a necessary step to accommodate a growing pro sports industry and economy? How much did suburbanization and car culture impact stadium development? Most of these stadia got the wrecking ball and with it were relegated to the dustbin of history. Yet while the old cookie cutters were around, how truly bad were they? The most favorable thing often said about these venues was that they were serviceable. Cities tried to concentrate all of the major sports activity in one place or complex. Kansas City, South Philly, and the Coliseum remain examples. But Kansas City recognized the benefit of separate stadia long ago, after the A’s left for Oakland. Philly decided to ditch the old Vet and build separate football and baseball stadia in the same complex. Pittsburgh followed the same path with Three Rivers, as did Cincinnati with Riverfront.

Yes, there is an impressive list of ballparks built during the 20-year HOK era that are shining examples of bringing baseball back downtown: Camden Yards, Progressive Field, Coors Field, T-Mobile Park, Oracle Park, PNC Park, and Petco Park. Oakland remains thirsty for its own urban transformation, while Kansas City continues to flirt with moving the Royals downtown. Bringing a team downtown is no magic bullet, as the Pirates remain woefully small market and the Reds’ Great American Ball Park is ho-hum at best.

The recent trend of building more ballparks in urban areas was followed by a mini shift towards revisiting suburbanization, as practiced in Arlington and Miami. On that trend’s heels is the neighborhood-ization of the ballpark, which the A’s dabbled in a decade ago. This approach tries to create a great sense of place around a ballpark, while providing a large palette of different types of ancillary development to help pay for the venue itself. Globe Life Field (successor to Globe Life Park) will have an adjacent village. The Angels continue to negotiate development rights to the area surrounding their home in Anaheim. The days of a stadium surrounded by a sea of parking are waning, though this is more prevalent in baseball as opposed to football. Cubs ownership owns much of the real estate surrounding Wrigley Field, and the Giants are soon to start their commercial development on the parking lots to the south of Oracle Park.

While the Rangers will move to a similarly named ballpark next door in a few months, the “old” Globe Life Park will remain a functioning venue. An XFL franchise will start play there next spring. GLP will be reconfigured to house football as such:

XFL configuration at Globe Life Park

Remember that pro sports in Arlington started with an expanded Texas League park named Turnpike Stadium over 50 years ago. Once expanded, Arlington Stadium barely qualified as sufficient for the major leagues. When George W. Bush became Rangers owner in the early 90’s, he helped engineer the deal that resulted in GLP. The City of Arlington’s extremely sports- and business-friendly environment eventually attracted Jerry Jones, who abandoned Texas Stadium in Irving for JerryWorld, within spitting distance of the ballpark. Now that Globe Life Field will open in 2020, there will be three venues mere walking distance from each other, two with retractable roofs (one huge, one medium-sized), the third without a roof but okay for hosting events outside of the summer months. That isn’t so much a complex as series of purpose-built venues built near each other to take advantage of available parking.

Rendering of a Ghost Town

When Coliseum City was unveiled in 2015, I opined that the vision was too ambitious in trying to accommodate the Raiders at the expense of the other tenants. Apparently that wasn’t Raider-friendly enough for Mark Davis, who was unwilling to give up parking acreage for a neighboring ballpark or ancillary development. The Dubs were already looking across the Bay, while the A’s had to regroup after being rejected on San Jose. Still, this concept of a mega-development with three venues and increased year-round activity was sold as the savior, the panacea for Oakland. The Coliseum complex, as shown in the rendering above from last year, has a mostly deconstructed stadium and an arena with a tenant for six weeks per year and limited opportunities to pay to keep the lights on.

Of course, Oakland is not like Arlington in many respects, so it would be foolish to attempt to take the North Texas sports economics model and transplant it into the East Bay. Now the new panacea, as it’s being pitched, is a model that utilizes an industrial site next to a commercial site (Howard Terminal and Jack London Square, respectively) and use the Coliseum to help fund the ballpark. Parts of the Coliseum would be filled in by a mix of uses, effectively throwing East Oakland a bone. Alameda County negotiated with the A’a a buyout of their share of the complex, while the City of Oakland remains a holdout.

There are few remaining sports complexes in use. The Coliseum is one though it only has one tenant left once the Raiders leave. The 50’s and 60’s were the time for the baby boom, suburban expansion, the Interstate highway system, the socioeconomic ills all of that would cause in later decades, and sports complexes. Some examples:

  • South Philadelphia Sports Complex (1926) – Anchored at first by Philadelphia Municipal (later JFK) Stadium, which briefly hosted the Eagles, AFL Quakers,  and WFL Bell, along with numerous festival concerts. The Eagles moved to Franklin Field on the UPenn campus, then back to the complex for Veterans Stadium (1971) and Lincoln Financial Field (2003). The Phillies moved to the Vet in 1971 after calling Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium home, then moved back to the complex for Citizens Bank Park (2004). The 76ers and Flyers were housemates at the Spectrum (1967) for its entire life, before moving to its replacement in 1996. Ancillary development included a now-demolished aquarium and a Comcast-developed retail-entertainment district. Future plans include an e-sports arena.
  • NRG Park (1965) – Anchored by the Astrodome and Astroarena (1971). The Dome hosted the Oilers and Astros until the Oilers left for Tennessee and the Astros went downtown. The Arena was considered too small for major indoor sports. A convention center continues to operate. The Dome still stands, unused, with an uncertain future.
  • Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (1966) – Currently houses the A’s (through at least 2023) and Raiders (through 2019). Previously hosted the Warriors, Golden Skates, Rhinos, and Oaks.
  • Truman Sports Complex (1972) – Separate venues built for the Royals and Chiefs after the A’s left KC. Both charter tenants remain.

Later versions:

  • Meadowlands Sports Complex (1976) – Originally hosted the football Giants only. New venue MetLife Stadium hosts both the Giants and Jets. Purpose-built arena on premises abandoned by Nets and Devils, who moved to Brooklyn and Newark, respectively.
  • Jacksonville Sports Complex (1995) – Home of the Gator Bowl (1927), which was razed and rebuilt as the home of the expansion Jaguars. An arena and a minor league ballpark also exist nearby.
  • Dignity Health Sports Park (2003) – Soccer stadium for the LA Galaxy, part of a public-private partnership between Cal State-Dominguez Hills and venue operator AEG. The stadium temporarily hosts the Chargers while they wait for their new Inglewood stadium to be completed. There is also a velodrome and the park will host multiple events as part of the 2028 Summer Olympics.

After teams left the Astrodome, Kingdome, Metrodome, and the cookie cutters for purpose-built facilities, the few multi-purpose stadia left were iconic of an era that time passed by. Some of the goals were ambitious: large capacities and even larger adjacent parking lots, downtown locations in many cases, and updated technology such as electronic scoreboards and luxury suites. Time marches on, though. Even as 50,000-plus fill the Coliseum on Wednesday evening, there will be constant reminders of how past its prime the venue is. Is there room for a multi-purpose stadium in the future? Well, sort of. There is a coming glut of ultradomes, NFL stadia designed to host a rotating college football playoff or bowl game, the Super Bowl, a college basketball tournament regional or final, and perhaps a premier soccer exhibition or boxing/wrestling every so often. What was once a 50/50 football/baseball split is now closer to 90/10. Bowl game? Sure. No housemates that play baseball, though. Or basketball or hockey. Fans want venues right-sized for their sports teams. Or at least the team owners want those venues, no sharing.

All in all, the Coliseum complex saw over 50 years of use and 10 world championships during that time. While it’s not yet time to send in the demolition crews, it’s not a bad moment to assess the complex’s impact on Oakland, the East Bay, and the Bay Area as a whole. More than anything, the Coliseum served its purpose. It did so a little brash with some bash. It put Oakland on the map. It’s still mostly efficient to visit, convenient, and centrally located. It is not by any means sexy. The Coliseum attracted, but did not keep, several pro sports franchises. Better to have loved and lost, I suppose.

2020 Travel Grid

As promised yesterday, here is the latest Travel Grid. The usual conventions are in place, such as sending the northeastern teams to the Sun Belt during the first weeks of the season to avoid rainouts, or the stuffing of the summer months with trips from the West Coast teams to the East Coast. The aforementioned international games (April 28-30 in Puerto Rico, June 13-14 in England) are italicized in the PDF versions. Without further ado, here are the links:

  • PDF (poster one-sheet)
  • PDF (multi-page)
  • XLSX (Excel 2016)
  • CSV (comma-delimited)

In the past I’ve tried to consolidate all of the schedules from Spring Training and the minor leagues to create an extra special “All Baseball” schedule. Why? I’d like to see if I could catch a game in every professionally affiliated ballpark in the span of six or seven months. The release dates of the minors tends to fluctuate as we head towards the fall. If I get leads on those I’ll give it a shot.

P.S. – Coincidentally, the NBA released its 2019-20 schedule yesterday as well. That could open a new world of possibilities.

 

First glimpse of 2020 MLB schedule

It’s that time of the year again. Back to School sales have started, we’re getting close to the Little League World Series, and MLB provided its first taste of the 2020 schedule. The downloadable schedule isn’t available yet, so I’ll either scrape the new schedule or wait for the download to be released. While we’re all waiting for that and for the 2020 Travel Grid, I compiled some notes about the schedule.

Opening Day is Thursday, March 26. I’m still not a big fan of the “Opening Weekend” realignment of the schedules put in place years ago, but it’s more necessary now to fit in the required off days and travel days, so I’ll begrudgingly accept it. Besides the second edition of the London Series (Cubs-Cardinals, June 13-14), there’s also Mets-Marlins in Puerto Rico, April 28-30 in San Juan. There’s no series in Japan or elsewhere in Asia or the Western Pacific this time. The Rangers are opening Globe Life Field (not Globe Life Park, that’s the current one) next year, and the A’s hit the road to battle both the Rangers and Astros in both late April and late May.

The road trip to circle on next year’s calendar is a three-city venture in August to visit the Bronx, the nation’s Capitol, and Beantown (August 6-16). That includes a day off and ample time to take in plenty of other sights and attractions on the Eastern seaboard. That day off, August 13, also happens to be planned date at Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA. The Field of Dreams game will be played at a 8,000-seat makeshift stadium featuring the Yankees and White Sox.

That month of August looks grueling, since the three-city, ten-day road trip will be followed by a short weeklong homestand and then another road trip for the A’s to visit Atlanta and then Toronto. That month will make or break the A’s.

More notes and the Travel Grid to come.

You Are The Experiment

As some of you may have heard, I took a trip from the scorching desert to the relatively cool Bay Area, partly to catch the last two games of the Rangers series. After Thursday’s and Friday’s episodes showcased lackluster performances, it was wonderful to watch the A’s kick it into gear and finish with a split. On the way, I met with old and new friends, which only enhanced the experience.

I attended Saturday’s game on whim after I visited a friend I hadn’t seen in person in 20 years. The biggest impact for me, now that I’ve been away from the Bay regularly for a few years, is how vast and difficult this area is to navigate. Unless I prefer being in transit for half a day, it’s best to pick an neighborhood where I’m likely to hang out and visit friends, then stick to that area. Of course, since I have friends I’d like to visit in all four official “parts” of the Bay plus Santa Cruz, I usually have to pick and choose my battles. Otherwise I’m doomed to be stuck in transit. My friend works at Stanford, so we spent time walking around the campus.

Back to Saturday’s game. It was a fireworks night with a Pixar theme, so I was prepared for a big crowd. The announced attendance was 36,468, and from the packed concourses and the patterns of seats filled I observed in the park, the number looked accurate. I had a field reserved seat in 127, which I gave up late in the game to watch the finish from the upper deck. (I stopped sitting in the bleachers years ago, especially when the upper deck reopened in limited form and then completely.) Overall, it was a fairly typical Coliseum experience.

Sunday’s game was different. Before the game I took the early Capitol Corridor train from Santa Clara to Jack London Square. It took 13 minutes to walk from the Amtrak platform to the approximate east plaza of Howard Terminal at Clay and Water Streets. Google Maps estimates the walk to take only 9 minutes, but I intentionally took the pedestrian bridge over the tracks, as fans would be encouraged to do on game idea. The bridge, which takes riders some three stories over the tracks to meet Federal Rail Administration height requirements, was responsible for the extra 4 minutes. And in case people start thinking they can chance a crossing of an active rail line, I bring to your attention A’s COO Chris Giles’ recent video of his attempting to leave the A’s corporate offices at JLS, only the be delayed by not one, but TWO, trains.

Fencing, which already exists at the station to prevent pedestrian crossings, will be required at Howard Terminal, though trying to get 25,000 fans to do the right thing and take the more time-consuming bridge will be a task. 4 minutes shouldn’t matter, but you can’t discount someone being in a hurry, drunk, or both.

My buddy, educator and theater writer David Chavez, was kind enough to offer me one of his club seats with the A’s Access benefits that provides. It was also Root Beer Float Day, which for me meant I could enter the park early like other fans. As usual, the East Side Club (split into the branded Treehouse and Stomping Ground areas) was packed, reminiscent of FanFest. I’m not an autograph hound, so I went to the various media tables to get float refills (pro-tip) after I paid $5 for a commemorative mug. Shortly before first pitch I surveyed the crowd. Later I found out the announced attendance was 18,906. It seemed like that entire crowd was crammed into the East Side Club before the game. Situations like that make me wonder how expansive similar facilities will be at the next ballpark. Would everything be housed in a club, or a regular concourse, or even the outfield plaza the A’s are planning? The ESC is 40,000 square feet, which sounds large at first glance. It’s roughly the size of half a football field.

Belly full of diet root beer and vanilla ice cream, I didn’t think much of using the $10 concessions/merchandise credit on my ticket, despite David’s cajoling. Late in the game I felt somewhat hungry, so I went into the club. The fancy brick oven pizza stand was closed. It was already the bottom of the 7th, so beer was pretty much ruled out (I don’t drink much these days). I ended up getting a nachos helmet, of which I only finished half. The $10 credit wasn’t going to be enough for the food except David swooped in to claim the 50% All Access Pass discount. Along with a bottled water I paid nothing. While I appreciated the discounts, the program felt a bit over complicated as I wasn’t clear if my ticket or Dave’s pass had to be scanned first. I didn’t think it was a big deal to save a few bucks. It would’ve meant more to me if I were attending 20+ times a season.

Monday, the A’s announced that they are tweaking the Access plan to make it easier to exchange tickets and bring in guests. So far it looks like this (click graphic to expand):

10 game plan

24 game plan

Full Season plan

The big immediate take away is that the Plaza Club sections (212-214) have been folded into the Plaza Infield area. The transformation of the old Plaza Outfield sections into the Treehouse (LF) and the Stomping Ground (RF) and additional amenities have created the kinds of affordable adult and family hangout areas the Coliseum has been missing since Mount Davis was built. The changes also reduced much of the Coliseum’s reserved seat inventory, which is important as the team attempts to create an inventory similar to their new ballpark plan. Keep in mind that in the above diagrams there are effectively no reserved outfield seats. That may seem a bit schizophrenic as the A’s were trying to sell only 35,000 reserved seats during the Wolff era and only last year ballooned up to 48,000. During this current Kaval/Giles pricing experiment, the upper deck is for sale mostly as a stand-in for the roof deck planned for the new ballpark. The Giants series will see the tarps on the Mount Davis upper deck removed and seats sold as overflow. Instead of the harsh cuts taken in the past, A’s management is being more sensitive to fan needs and preferences.

I’m not an Access member, so I can’t speak to the fan experience other than the aforementioned anecdote. What the A’s are doing is every bit as disruptive (Silicon Valley term) as Moneyball was for player evaluation. So far it’s worked out well, resulting in an increase from 4,800 to 9,535 Access plans. It shows that fans are adjusting to the new subscription model, which Giles has at times called “Baseball as a Service” (Silicon Valley-esque term). The model provides less friction for fans to attend, and it seems to have created plenty of word-of-mouth sales opportunities. There is a downside, though, in that while there’s less friction to attend, there’s also intrinsically less to get people to show up, or “stickiness.” A 2016 USA Today article reported that two-thirds of those with gym memberships go unused. In the past the A’s were aiming for 75-80% of season ticket holders to show up for every game. Baseball, and the world around it, are changing. There will undoubtedly be more tweaks to come in the next couple of years until the new ballpark deal is sealed. Until then, you guys are all beta customers. File those bug reports and expect more.

P.S. – Remember when the A’s announced they were removing the General Admission designation on the bleachers and turning them into reserved seats? I did, and I recall proposing a split of the Plaza Outfield sections into something quite similar to the Treehouse/Stomping Ground remake. Someone once said that good artists copy, great artists steal. No charge for this one, guys.

P.P.S

A Confluence of Events

Today we’re gonna have a little history lesson. Ready?

The date was October 17, 1989.

Remember that? It was the date of the Bay Area’s most unforgettable recent tragedy. The Loma Prieta earthquake struck at 5:04 PM, shortly before the scheduled first pitch of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series. The world’s eyes were trained on the Bay Area. After the temblor, nothing would be the same.

Houses fell and caught fire in San Francisco’s Marina district. The Cypress structure (880) in Oakland collapsed, as did a segment of the Bay Bridge and much of Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, which was close to the epicenter. When the quake struck I was a 13 year-old in my parents’ bedroom, watching the pregame on a 13-inch Goldstar (later LG) television. I didn’t have a table to hide under. I didn’t seek out a doorway to protect me. Instead I backed away from items that could fall, switched off the TV, and kneeled like I was praying the Novena at my local Catholic Church. The house was a classic single-story, postwar tract home that sustained no damage. After the shaking ended, I went outside and gathered with the neighbors. Power was out and would remain that way for two days. There was a rotten egg smell wafting in the air. Bewildered, we all took stock. There were no injuries on our block, no medical emergencies to further tax the public safety department.

Officials all over the Bay had much more damage to assess after the rescue efforts. The Marina would be rebuilt, as would the east span of the Bay Bridge. The Cypress structure’s replacement was eventually rerouted around, not through, the residential areas of West Oakland. The old structure was torn down to make room for a boulevard called Mandela Parkway. When I visited downtown Santa Cruz as a college freshman, much of Pacific Avenue was not yet rebuilt and would take years to be completed as the region dealt with the recession.

Loma Prieta triggered a series of planning decisions that would change the Bay Area in major ways. Besides what happened in West Oakland, the closure of the Oakland Army Base allowed the City and Port of Oakland to start planning for an expansion of the Port. The quake gave SF the excuse to tear down the unsightly Embarcadero Freeway and shelve forever any plans to complete the network of freeways through the city. That provided the impetus for SF to beautify the inner waterfront area, turning the Embarcadero into its own tourist and commercial attraction. Development creeping southward into SoMa finally resulted in a winning ballpark site proposal at China Basin, on the waterfront near the Caltrain terminus. Out of tragedy came rebirth and triumph.

As part of the Embarcadero rebuild, SF essentially ceded much of its shipping industry capacity to Oakland and Richmond, who were only happy to take up the slack. Miltary cutbacks included facility closures (OAB, Alameda NAS, Mare Island, Moffett Field NAS, etc.), prompting those cities to accommodate workforce transitions however they could. Since then, the BCDC has been careful to balance out the various needs of industry, residents, and civic services on the Bay’s navigable waterways. To that end, there is precious little residential development right on the water. Even the Brooklyn Basin project, which went through its own form of development hell for more than a decade and won’t be fully completed until 2038, was only approved with a mandated open space buffer for public use. Those same principles guide the development of Howard Terminal.

Could a ballpark be part of a grand bargain?

Last month the BCDC released an updated Seaport forecast, projected to run through 2050. The last Seaport plan is over 20 years old, so updates are welcome. The document was commissioned in January and completed by The Tioga Group, a freight shipping consultancy. An appendix dealing with the issue of Howard Terminal was tacked on at the end (page 177). Among the document’s observations include the following items:

About Bay Area Seaport growth and how Howard Terminal fits in:

  • Under moderate cargo growth assumptions the Bay Area will need more active terminal space, estimated at about 271 acres by 2050.
  • Under slow cargo growth assumptions the Bay Area will need about 36 acres more active terminal space by 2050.
  • Under strong growth across the three cargo types, the Bay Area will need substantially more seaport terminal space, about 646 more acres than is now active (and will need to activate additional berth space for larger container vessels).

As part of maintaining that delicate balance, it’s up to the BCDC, Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, and cities and counties to best determine how the extremely limited resource we’re discussing – waterfront land – will be allocated and used. Howard Terminal is not being used to anywhere near its capacity, that much is clear. However, does its current state foreclose opportunities for the future? The report indicates that it would be foolish to do so.

As the analysis of overall seaport acreage requirements shows (Exhibit 199), Bay Area seaports are expected to be at or near capacity by 2050 under moderate growth assumptions, and to require space beyond existing active container, ro-ro, and dry bulk terminals. Howard Terminal would be one option to supply part of that acreage. Howard Terminal cannot, obviously, serve all three cargo types. If Howard Terminal is used for container cargo, other sites must accommodate the need for ro-ro and dry bulk capacity. If Howard Terminal’s’ long-term ability to handle containers is compromised by a truncated berth, ro-ro or dry bulk cargo may be a more suitable use.

Is the best way to utilize a limited resource to give up on it completely? That is the real question here. Not only is there not enough existing capacity for future growth, Howard Terminal’s small size and capacity means it can address needs one way at a time. Keep in mind we got to this point thanks to a combination of back room deals. Port operators sued to get better terms, which led to one of port operators to claim bankruptcy and pull out of Oakland altogether. During the City Council session earlier this week, a representative of GSC Logistics hinted that there’s talk of that same kind of withdrawal occurring again if the Port/City proceeds to build the ballpark at Howard Terminal. If that seems like dirty pool, you’re right, it undoubtedly is. Problem is, what is the line between a negotiating tactic and a long-term strategy? Moreover, what is a proper compromise? The A’s are willing to give up 10 acres of Howard Terminal to get approval from the Port shipping interests in what clearly will be part of a much larger package of concessions. Even if a compromise is reached, it doesn’t address the overarching issue above.

The photo above imagines Howard Terminal with a Ro-Ro (rollon, rolloff) facility built on it, which would be used for transporting cars. The rail spur currently at the terminal would be improved as part of a package of improvements. It’s not stated as the preferred option, but it is an option, and it’s quite convenient that the Tesla plant in Fremont happens to be the closest car plant that could use a Ro-Ro like this.

There’s also a tidbit about Schnitzer Steel thrown in for good measure.

Scrap metal

The three export scrap metal terminals in the Bay Area are located at the ports of Oakland, Redwood City, and Richmond, and each have substantial material handling infrastructure that could not be readily moved or duplicated. Should existing terminals reach capacity, there are limited expansion opportunities within port complexes.

As a private terminal in Oakland, Schnitzer qualifies as one of those facilities that can’t be readily moved or duplicated. So much for my idea from a few months ago.

I didn’t bring up Loma Prieta as some wish for divine intervention to spur civic planning. But it’s becoming clearer everyday that something more than a back room deal will need to happen to will a Howard Terminal ballpark into existence. The shipping industry is particularly livid with their claims about not being heard by the Port/City. Something has to give, and it has to be something big. Getting all of these parties to co-exist peacefully was always going to be a difficult ask. The issues have come into sharper focus in the last several months.

Last week, Dutch shipping giant Maersk announced an initiative to get to zero carbon emissions in its operations. When I read that I immediately imagined Oakland as a completely green port, with supertankers running on biofuels, electric cranes and port equipment, and non-fossil fuel powered trucks transporting goods all over the country. There’s no telling how much it would cost for such a transformation, but there is no better time to figure it out than right now, while everyone’s figuring out how much infrastructure will cost at Howard Terminal. If something like that comes to fruition, it could solve all of the problems that plague this concept: infrastructure, pollution, and traffic. And if that is part of the grand bargain that comes with a ballpark at HT, so be it. Like everything associated with this project so far, there’s no shortage of feature creep.

The Future is Fake? version 4.2

My younger brother bought a house in Mesa several years ago. I stayed with him at that house when I moved to Arizona. While he owned it, he chose to rip up the concrete patio and put in an artificial turf surface, a popular thing to do with a desert backyard. While we rode out a particularly rough monsoon, I watched as the rain threatened to flood the remaining concrete areas, yet efficiently and efficiently drained at the artificial turf patch.

Since then I’ve had a chance to take tours of several stadiums. I walked on natural grass and artificial turf systems for baseball, football, and soccer. Mind you, I didn’t field ground balls or practice cutting on turf, so I can’t speak to how well it’s working. A great deal of R&D has gone into perfecting these turf systems over the past 50+ years, which you can see on display every weekend. So-called third-generation products like Field Turf have become the surface du jour for football and field hockey, while soccer and baseball players tend to be more skeptical. It’s gotten to the point where there are formulations for the specific sports based on how much contact the ball has with the surface. We’ve come a long way from the old Astroturf with its rock hard carpet that caused ridiculously high bounces and rug burns. The new stuff is designed to be better playing, better draining, and most importantly for fans, better looking.

It’s not perfect yet, but in three ballparks I visited over the past three years, it’s easy to see how the technology has progressed. I capped off the 2017 season with visits to Toronto and Tampa, where new turf systems developed by AstroTurf and Shaw Sports Turf. Here in Phoenix, the Diamondbacks decided to replace their grass at Chase Field with a newer version of Shaw’s turf. So now we have three different iterations of the product in three MLB domed stadia to judge.

The Blue Jays’ Rogers Centre was the first with the latest generation of turf in 2015. In conjunction with the new turf, a full dirt infield was implemented. This was possible because the stadium’s football and soccer tenants moved to their own venue, BMO Field. The turf is called AstroTurf 3D Extreme, and nearly four years in, it’s a huge improvement over the old stuff.

Rogers Centre upper deck

Rogers Centre field level from dugout

Rogers Centre surface closeup (note warning track)

Cosmetically, it still looks like carpet. At least it doesn’t have the strange sheen of the stuff at the Trop in St. Pete. This product is named TruHop.

Tropicana Field from upper deck

Tropicana Field club level view

Tropicana Field outfield view from lower deck

Over in Phoenix, a newer version of the Shaw product was installed before this season, called B1K. These products are subject to nearly constant iteration. The old versions of artificial turf would often have a multi-year life span. Right now the emphasis appears to be on getting as true a bounce as possible while reducing the amount of “splash” from the crumb rubber infill, so it’s likely that the composition of the turf or dirt could change from year to year.

Chase Field outfield view from LF corner

Yours truly on the Chase Field warning track

Sorry guys, when I saw this picture from the tour guide I recognized this shirt is WAY too big for me now.

Here’s the funny thing about these technologies. As turf becomes a more complex product to install and maintain, it requires more resources. It’s normal to water the turf, not because anything’s growing there, but rather to keep its plastic and rubber from compacting and drying up. Meanwhile, grass always seems like the more environmentally sound product due to it being organic, yet it requires lots of precious water and fertilizer has numerous chemicals.

Look, the next ballpark in Oakland is not likely to have an artificial surface. Baseball’s ancient pastoral feel is more than a field, it’s a milieu. Whether we’re talking about kids running the bases after games on Sundays, or the occasional fireworks or movie night on the grass, people want to experience it. It matters more in place that, unlike California, actually experiences all four seasons. Yet it still matters on the West Coast. It’s just nice to know that science is working the resolve many of the problems that plagued the older versions of turf. Chase Field may be replaced in the next 10 years. If it does the replacement will probably utilize turf. The next ballpark for the Rangers will be in a dome and will also use turf. MLB and the owners are looking at the turf experiments in Phoenix, St. Pete, and Toronto to guide their processes in the future. Who knows, ten years ago there were several improvements in grass (mostly by impregnating plastic) to make it more durable. Perhaps more innovation is due on the grass side. Whatever happens, it’s good to know that the gap is closing. Here’s to hoping the green we see out there is more than a color, it’s an attitude.