Dolich thinks A’s have secret plan

Now that the A’s have the not-heavy-lifting passage of AB 734 completed, we can focus on next steps.

That means the financial part of the deal. Besides picking the site (Howard Terminal or the Coliseum), the A’s have to arrange a deal to either lease or purchase the land. Andy Dolich thinks that the A’s will make a play for both, using one to offset the cost of the other.

When the green and gold can’t access enough infrastructure gold from the city, county and Port of Oakland, they might introduce their Hidden Ball Trick.

It goes something like this: You (public entities) pay for Howard’s infrastructure with this ball over here, and we (the A’s) and a DTBNL (Developer to Be Named Later) will pick up your debt load of $137 million on the Coliseum. Of course, you’ll have to make us the exclusive owner of that site.

Any guesses as to whether or not that’s an even trade? When the community activists start to speak out, we’ll soon find out the answer.

A’s look to the future, keep HOK ballpark architect Schrock as consultant

This is what I’ve wanting to hear.

The quote of the week comes from A’s President Dave Kaval, courtesy of Don Muret, the former venue reporter for Sports Business Journal who last year went to VenuesNow. To wit:

“It’s a good pairing,” Kaval said. “We’re intent on developing a truly game-changing ballpark. There have been so many derivations of Camden Yards, we feel it’s time for a new direction.” 

Kaval was referring to the partnership of BIG and Gensler, as we discussed last week when the big announcement was made. Yet as I pointed out last week, BIG hasn’t architected a baseball stadium. Ever. There appeared to be a missing piece in the ballpark equation. Muret revealed the answer:

The hiring of BIG and Gensler does not sever the relationship between the A’s and HOK, specifically Brad Schrock, a principal with the firm and a veteran sports architect. Schrock has been working on a ballpark project for the A’s over the past 15 years, first with 360 Architecture and later HOK. He remains involved as a design consultant for the privately-financed facility, team officials said.

Schrock previously worked on Safeco Field when he was a principal in Heinlein Schrock, the firm that eventually became 360 and then HOK’s sports practice after Populous split off on their own. For more on Schrock, check out the post I wrote in 2014, which featured former SVBJ writer Nate Donato-Weinstein’s interview with Schrock.

The partnership of BIG, Gensler, and HOK (Schrock) should bring in a diverse range of concepts, though I imagine that each will be responsible for specific pieces. For instance, BIG might plan the entire development, while Gensler does the interiors, and Schrock provides the baseball expertise.

Ideas are swimming in my head. Before I get to those, let’s see what happens tomorrow in Sacramento, where the scramble is on to pass AB 734, the ballpark village bill for the A’s. Tomorrow is the deadline for the bill, which was amended to focus mostly on Howard Terminal. This was, as I mentioned earlier, because Howard Terminal needs the attention and focus. The Coliseum, as unsavory as it is to some, is already entitled for a stadium and has CEQA certification for the very kind of mixed use development the A’s are seeking.

It’s shaping up to be a very laborious Labor Day weekend.

2019 Travel Grid now available

Okay, so here it is. The 2019 MLB Travel Grid is available via the following links if you’re interested:

Ah, but there’s a change! If you look at any of the above three files you’ll notice I used each team’s nickname in the grid itself. The column headers remain the team abbreviations. This time I didn’t do an alphabetically sorted grid as I didn’t see people downloading and using it. In its place are “short” versions with the abbreviations carried throughout the entirety of the grid. The short versions are below:

If you miss the alphabetical grid or have other notes, drop a line in the comments or via Twitter or email. Or you could remix the Excel version.

As part of my stroke recovery, I keep having to remind myself not to take on too many projects and to take time with them. I usually allot a couple of days to work on the Travel Grid, including one late work night. After a flurry of posts in the spring, I’ve been content to post sparingly and simply enjoy the A’s season. I’m extremely pleased to have completed this process in a day, even though there were a few quirks in the process.

Tomorrow I’ll have more notes on the A’s schedule, which is unexpectedly magnificent for road trips. I’ll have observations on other non-A’s road trips as well.

A’s bring in architectural rockstar Bjarke Ingels to helm ballpark village project

There’s a scene in the Netflix documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design, where the subject of the episode, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, describes one of this first projects. The site is in the Copenhagen docklands and was previously used for painting ship hulls. The original plan was to remediate the site by removing polluted topsoil. Sound familiar, Howard Terminal fans? The problem was that it would’ve cost a third of the allocated budget to clean and remove the soil. Ingels submitted a solution: build over the top of the site with a wooden skin, so that the soil doesn’t endanger anyone.

Maritime Youth House in Copenhagen

The result was a facility that serves dual purposes: a storage area/workshop for boats, and a playground/boardwalk area for children and families. I imagine that example, and some of Ingels’ more provocative work as part of BIG, Ingels’ architectural firm, helped attract A’s owner John Fisher and his staff.

Now, I do have some doubts about how scalable the methods used at the Maritime Youth House are. Both Howard Terminal and the Coliseum are on dangerous liquefaction zones, so some measures would have to be taken to anchor and strengthen whatever is built on top of them. I mean, no one in their right mind is going to build a massive stadium on wooden stilts.

The profiles of BIG and Ingels have grown exponentially over the past decade, with BIG winning numerous design competitions and the firm’s work featured all over the globe. However, there is a notable missing piece from the BIG’s portfolio. A young firm with designs on the world, it hasn’t yet completed any sports architecture work. That’s right, Fisher went with a rockstar architect with no stadium or arena experience. Maybe that will come with the to-be-located replacement stadium for FedEx Field in the DC area. Austin may finally being getting the Columbus Crew MLS franchise (tough week, C-bus), but apparently BIG’s design for a stadium at East Austin’s rodeo grounds isn’t in the cards. Mind you, I don’t mind hearing new voices in the sports architecture world. Given how Populous has dominated American sports for decades, Americans could use some fresh thinking.

It’s less clear when the new Washington football stadium will be built. The exterior of the stadium is funky, with a mesh skin and a moat that could serve as an ice rink in the winter. Inside it looks, well, like an updated version of Arrowhead Stadium. Which brings me to a greater point: I suggest not judging whatever BIG delivers until they present it in terms of renderings or sketches. Right now there’s a huge debate in social media over retro-vs.-modern design that BIG is “definitely” going to provide even though we haven’t seen slide 1 of their presentation. While it’s true that BIG’s work leans futuristic, that doesn’t mean that a futuristic ballpark is in the works. Since BIG is the master planner for the whole site, their idea may be to make the ballpark less of a centerpiece and more in service to the rest of the development. Open air ballparks aren’t all that tall or garish, anyway. And since I suspect Fisher will have a tight rein over the budget, a grand architectural gesture may be too rich for even Fisher. One thing I think is for certain: another retro design with manual scoreboards and bric-a-brac like lighting cues or a frieze probably aren’t happening.

You’ve probably heard of the other firm in the announcement: Gensler. They’ve done a lot of work for the GAP over the years, so you have to figure Fisher (known in the media as “Baby GAP”) knows them well. They were also tapped to provide design services for the A’s ballpark village in Fremont. You remember Fremont, right? Right near where there was a fire at the Tesla factory earlier today. Gensler also oversaw the refresh of the A’s spring training facilities in Mesa, so they know something about baseball.

I look forward to seeing what kind of innovation BIG puts forward. Because if we know anything about Howard Terminal, it needs a lot of innovation to make it work.

 

A’s to drop season tickets for more flexible subscription model

Even as the A’s await a new ballpark, they’re not afraid to try new business concepts that one would expect them to deploy at a new ballpark. To that end, A’s COO Chris Giles announced today that the team is doing away with the traditional season ticket, instead replacing it with a membership plan that offers greater flexibility for all buyers.

The idea here, as foreseen by many in the industry, is that fans want the ability to go to every game, but don’t want to be tied a season ticket plan that could cost upwards of $2,000 for a whole season. Like the Treehouse plans introduced before this season, the new A’s Access plans will provide general admission to all 81 games, plus reserved seating for 10, 24, half-season or full-season of games if you choose. Included will be digital seat upgrades and a number of subscriber perks. Prices start at $240.

The highlights:

  • All plans include admission to every home game including reserved seats (View level)
  • Seat upgrades via the Ballpark app are available on a per game basis
  • Better seating locations are available in advance as well (before the season begins)
  • $10 parking available; Gold and Platinum members can get parking passes included
  • Half-price concessions, such as $3 hot dogs and $4 20-ounce beers
  • 25% off merchandise at A’s team stores
  • Monthly subscription fee option
  • Guaranteed promotional giveaway items

To me this is the culmination of the initiatives laid out by MLB AM a few years ago and executed on a phased basis by the A’s and other teams since. If I still lived in the Bay Area I’d jump all over this. Maybe I’d get a plan if I only make it back occasionally. Who knows, maybe I’ll move back?

56,310

As part of the 1989 World Series anniversary celebration last night, the A’s chose to open up the top of Mount Davis (heretofore covered in tarps) to paying fans. Tickets were put on sale for $10, with some concessions offered for only $2. Nevermind that Mount Davis was only a mere twinkle in Oakland politicians’ eyes in 1989, the A’s decided to extend their goodwill even further by giving fans a chance to check out the views from WAY UP TOP.

During last night’s rather bizarre game I received a few questions about temporary seating and celebratory events. The general rule is that the capacity should stay the same for an entire season, with no temporary seating or platforms to abruptly add or subtract seats, or especially, to change the outfield dimensions. This was challenged by Charlie Finley when the A’s were in Kansas City. Finley chose to put in a short porch in right field at Municipal Stadium of only 295 feet with additional seats, the better to copy the old Yankee Stadium. The seats could be added or removed on a whim if Finley chose. MLB was not onboard with the idea, so they chose to nix it. That started Finley’s grumbling about Kansas City in general, which ended up in, well, you know the rest.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the two currently pressing stadium issues during All Star week, the A’s and Rays. Both are status quo while permanent solutions are worked out. Prior to the start of the season Rays president Brian Auld presented a concept in which the team’s new home would played in a new roofed stadium in Ybor City, a trendy neighborhood of Tampa. It’s not yet determined if the roof will be fixed (like the current one) or retractable (like Safeco Field or Marlins Park). The planned capacity is only 28,216 seats, with an additional 2,600 standing or berm/beach admissions available. At 30,816 all told, the new park would be by far the smallest in baseball. We haven’t heard yet about capacities for either Howard Terminal or the new ballpark at the Coliseum site, but it’s safe to assume that either will be less that 40k.

There has been a clearly evident trend of “rightsizing” ballparks since I started this blog 13 years ago. Back then, anyone talking about 35,000 seats like Lew Wolff was considered anathema. Nowadays there is much less argument in favor of the big stadium, because the more you build the more expensive and less intimate the park becomes. The 30k Ybor City park is projected to cost $892 million, with less opportunity to fleece the public as the Marlins did in Miami. A’s president Dave Kaval is aware of this, as he has said repeatedly that the A’s park will be privately financed. Thanks to the A’s recently eclipsing the $1 billion mark in franchise valuation I believe Kaval, though I wonder about MLB’s debt rule and its impact on the A’s.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Tampa Bay Times article linked earlier:

A smaller park means less spending on maintenance but not necessarily less revenue, said Mark Conrad, a professor and director of the Sports Business Concentration at Fordham University.

“The days of getting 50,000 or more people with the exceptions of major games are pretty much very limited,” Conrad said. “You don’t really need that many seats to be profitable if you utilize the seating you have based on different pricing structures, views and standing areas.”

Don’t get used to seeing the tarps off Mount Davis.

Assemblyman introduces CEQA-streamlining bill for future A’s ballpark village

Now we know something is happening.

Sort of.

Yesterday, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) submitted an amendment to AB 734, a bill working its way through the Assembly. Its purpose is to limit the number and length of potential legal challenges to an A’s ballpark and ancillary development. The language allows for the ballpark to be built at either the Coliseum or Howard Terminal sites.

(c) The city has identified two viable sites for the new baseball park, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum site principally owned by the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda, and the Howard Terminal site owned by the Port of Oakland. The city seeks to capitalize on the development of a new baseball park to maximize the economic benefit of the team and its facilities for the city, county, and port, including critical transit and transportation infrastructure, affordable housing, open space, and job creation. Essential to the success and feasibility of the new baseball park is the development of complementary adjacent mixed-use residential, commercial, and retail uses that will support the baseball park and further the city’s and region’s goals for sustainable transit-oriented development, including an increase in supply of housing, including affordable housing.

Bonta’s district includes most of Oakland including West and East, Alameda, and San Leandro, so he can’t be accused of playing favorites among the sites. Though it’s somewhat curious that Peralta isn’t mentioned. That indicates that all parties have moved on.

Elsewhere in the text is the definition of the project (for CEQA purposes), which the A’s haven’t yet publicly presented:

(3) “Oakland Sports and Mixed-Use Project” or “project” means the following components of a sports center and mixed-use project located at the Howard Terminal site in the City of Oakland or the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum site in the City of Oakland, from demolition and site preparation through operation:
(A) A baseball park that will become the new home to the Oakland Athletics and adjacent residential, retail, commercial, cultural, entertainment, or recreational uses developed by the Oakland Athletics, and that meets all of the following:
(i) The baseball park and each new mixed-use building achieves at least LEED Silver certification or its equivalent for new construction after completion or the project achieves at least LEED Neighborhood Design Silver rating or its equivalent.
(ii) The uses are subject to a comprehensive transportation demand management plan to reduce single-occupancy vehicles and prioritize other modes of transportation, such as public transit, waterborne transportation, ride-share, bicycles, and pedestrians.
(iii) The project is located within a priority development area identified in the sustainable communities strategy Plan Bay Area 2040 adopted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The particulars are designed to ensure that the stadium project would qualify for CEQA streamlining. The implicit deadline for opponents to challenge the project is July 1, 2019, slightly more than one year from today.

A previous version of the law, AB 900, allowed for a few major sports facilities to be built, including the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center and the upcoming Chase Center. It also tracked with three failed SoCal football stadium projects: Farmers Field, the City of Industry Stadium, and the revamped Qualcomm Stadium.

Should the A’s end up starting a project (one should hope so), they should be prepared for resistance from all manner of environmental and community groups, as they saw with Peralta. The worry there may be diminished with the Coliseum, which already went through this process when Coliseum City was approved. Howard Terminal doesn’t have that yet, and may never get to that point. It’s expected that A’s brass will pick the site by the end of the year, kickstarting the CEQA review in the process. But could they try both sites simultaneously?

The All Bay Collective, a group of policy planners and environmentalists, started looking at areas in the Bay that could use strengthening against sea-level rise. Their plan for the Coliseum/Airport area, renamed Estuary Commons, is fascinating.

ABC’s Estuary Commons (Coliseum/Airport area)

Among the changes being considered are tidal ponds in the Coliseum parking area and a rerouting/tunneling of I-880 near Hegenberger Road and San Leandro Street. As far as I know these ideas are not being offered officially by the City of Oakland. Still, it’s interesting to consider the possibility of the Bay reclaiming part of the Eastshore as it’s doing with parts of the South Bay.