New Howard Terminal renderings released, Port Board Approves Tentative Agreement

We’ve got some new renderings. Seven, in fact.

First, the approach. The “picket fence” exterior treatment helps define the stadium better than previous renderings.

Walk inside the gate and down the approach, which like FanFest should be full of tents and booths. For now, it’s not. I remember the nearly religious experience I had walking to Target Field. This would be Seventh Heaven.

I haven’t seen this before, so I should bring it up: the next rendering is what it would look like as you stepped off the ferry dock coming from Alameda, San Francisco, or elsewhere in the Bay.

Next is a night view. Field of Schemes’ Neil de Mause noted how there are more cranes present on the property. That is despite the notion that the cranes would be more-or-less ornamental. There’s a touch of irony to that, given the opposition to the ballpark project coming from the shipping industry.

Nevertheless, the Port’s Board voted 7-0 last week to approve a tentative plan for the ballpark and ancillary development. The Port snuck in an amendment calling for the shipping interests and the A’s put together a working agreement to prevent the baseball games from interfering with Port operations. Both sides are digging in for the fight. The preliminary term sheet calls for the A’s to take four years to complete the EIR, all negotiations and site plans.

Some fans are irked by news outlets not updating file photos to reflect the A’s ever-evolving plans. As a stadium geek, I appreciate that thirst. But honestly, that’s missing the forest for the trees. The ballpark is now on its third revision and will undoubtedly undergo more before a shovel is in the ground. What’s important now is that the ballpark stays in the news. So far it’s doing fine in that regard. What personally irks me is that from the beginning, the renderings have generally eschewed basic safety requirements. The rendering above doesn’t have the fences in the outfield or padded walls along foul territory. The next rendering has no railings.

I recognize that simple things like railings and fences tend to be aesthetically annoying clutter. Yet they’re going to be in there if it gets built. It’s the law. There’s no getting around it. So show us what it’s really supposed to look like instead of the fancy marketing push. I’m sure it’s just a layer in the drawing, folks. Just turn it on. By the way, the previous image is the best one yet by far.

One thing that slightly bothers me about the new renderings is that the shrinking of Howard Terminal to accommodate the widened turning basin is not incorporated. Not only does the transformation take away a chunk of the land, it changes the skyline and reduces the amount of available open space. If the shipping industry accepts the wider basin in exchange for ceasing their resistance to the ballpark (no guarantee there), the waterfront would itself undergo some serious changes. The ballpark would effectively sit on a small peninsula jutting out into the Estuary, which frankly is pretty cool even if there likely won’t be splash hits.

The other thing that makes me concerned for the lack of completeness in these renderings is the missing infrastructure. You can see it in the site plans, whether we’re talking about a new ramp to the Adeline overpass or the new bridge to extend MLK Jr. Way over the tracks one block from the ballpark. As fans, we should see what those pieces of infrastructure will look like and how they will affect vehicular traffic flow, pedestrian circulation, and trains running through the area. We don’t even see the gondola on these, even though an animation has already been created. If the team doesn’t put the infrastructure in there, it’s harder to estimate the cost.

I’m aware that much of what I’m requesting will eventually be revealed in the Draft EIR, whether that comes out in the summer or later. Regardless, it’s up to fans and the media to keep pushing for answers. Stadiums appear to be becoming more disposable with each generation, but we should still look for something that lasts, like the 52+ years (51 for the A’s) on the decrepit yet still standing Oakland Coliseum.

Intransigence

As part of the expanded in-house audio coverage of the A’s, the team launched a new podcast covering ballpark matters. The first installment of The Build features A’s President Dave Kaval being interviewed by Chris Townsend. Included in the discussion is the following Kaval quote:

It’s just really important that people understand that we’re going to be responsible about environmental cleanup. That we’re going to take an industrial area and repurpose it just like San Francisco with AT&T Park or Oracle Park.

I’m sure this has been communicated to the various community groups the A’s are corresponding with. I hadn’t heard it quite so publicly stated until now.

I just wonder how effective this strategy will be.

Every time the A’s start on a new ballpark project, they encounter some sort of resistance. And without fail, that resistance tends to be minimized, only to eventually derail the A’s efforts. Or as Ken Arneson recently tweeted:

The script should be rather familiar by now. The A’s release news of a new site they’re interested in. Then someone mentions a process-related NIMBY issue in an article. The team says everything’s fine and everyone’s being heard, all while opposition mounts. Eventually the team moves on to the next dream site, sometimes scaling back the vision, sometimes expanding it. This happened at the Coliseum North site, then at Fremont, followed by San Jose, and finally the Peralta/Laney site. It’s practically like clockwork.

What concerns me is that the word you rarely hear in these public talks is the one word needed to forge a deal: compromise. It’s almost as if the strategy is that local government or a court will step in and rule for the A’s. There’s rarely any talk about how it could affect entrenched parties. I’ve heard a lot comments to the tune of, It’s hard but was it as hard as X? At this point, whether it’s harder than “X” is largely academic. If it’s hard enough to kill the project, that’s enough, and try as we might deign to understand the process, we can still have a very difficult time with those implications if we maintain blind spots. The one real effort to compromise with the Port pledged by the A’s so far is their willingness to remove several acres of land at Howard Terminal in order to expand the turning basin in the Inner Harbor. I’m surprised at how little press this has received so far, since it could significantly transform the shoreline along the Estuary and maritime uses. Schnitzer Steel could be affected as well, though how much isn’t clear.

Port interests have been upfront that redevelopment of Howard Terminal threatens their operations and livelihood. Perhaps that’s an overreaction, especially if the Port itself isn’t running at capacity. However, there is an argument that giving up shoreline from a purely commercial (real estate) interest is short-sighted.

About Kaval’s comment, I mentioned redevelopment last June when a fire at Schnitzer Steel broke out:

AT&T Park was made possible by the closure and decommissioning of the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco after Loma Prieta, which allowed the city to remake the entire waterfront from Mission Bay to Broadway.

The A’s aren’t asking to reform the Oakland waterfront the way the SF waterfront was redone after the earthquake. But if port interests feel threatened by even the hint of a transformation, you have to understand the history of the Port. The Oakland waterfront became a thriving industrial area thanks in part to San Francisco giving up industry on its inner bayside shoreline. Accessible shoreline for large ships and boats doesn’t grow on trees. Short-term concerns, such as impacts on heavy truck and rail traffic, have gotten vague suggestions for accommodation so far. Meanwhile, the Port continues to expand its operations thanks to its takeover and cleanup of the old Oakland Army Base.

Click to enlarge

In the map above, you’ll see that the Oakland shoreline is mostly divided into three zones. The maritime area, where traditional port operations take place, is in West Oakland. The commercial sector covers the Acorn neighborhood south of the 880-980 split through Jack London Square and out to Brooklyn Basin and Jingletown and East Oakland. The airport is its own economic engine. What we’re really talking about, then, is a sort of zoning turf war, with the commercial sector encroaching upon the maritime operations even as the maritime area itself expanded over the last twenty years.

That is the struggle the Port commissioners are dealing with. It may come to a head in the next few weeks, according to Port Commission President Ces Butner:

“It will be up to us to make a decision, both on the financial impact and on whether the ballpark fits in with the port,” Butner said. “We are not going to cause the terminals any financial hardships. We are not going to step on our own throat.”

Butner said a decision will be made hopefully by the end of April.

“Unlike politicians, we will not be kicking the can down the road,” he said.

Butner, who a couple years ago saved Speakeasy Brewing after the company shut down, could help determine the fate of another treasured Bay Area institution.

Howard Terminal Site Plan: First Look

In case you’ve been unable (unwilling?) to peruse the presentation given to the BCDC on Howard Terminal last week, go get it. Now.

While you’re waiting for that to download, I’ll go through some of the important slides. First, let’s look at how the ballpark is situated on the 55-acre site.

Site: Ballpark only

That’s a lot of space to the west, right? While there won’t be splash hits, it looks pretty snug in the Southwest corner there. From the looks of things, BIG may have placed it as far southeast as possible while maintaining the orientation and the preferred street grid.

Street grid, you ask? There’s one of those, too.

Site Plan: Full buildout

All the blank space is filled in, with streets and potential heights for ancillary buildings. Most are up to 200 feet tall, some are 300 feet tall, and one is listed at 400 feet tall. What would that look like if you were standing on the shoreline? The next slide should give you a sense of it.

Cutaway for building and stadium scale

This will be the one of many red flags for a lot of people. Nothing in the Jack London Square approaches that scale. Even the ballpark, which by itself would be the tallest building in the neighborhood, is absolutely dwarfed by the condos and suites to the west. Like what happened with Brooklyn Basin, location is everything. And this location is on the shore.

History of Howard Terminal shoreline

In the image above you can see how much the shoreline has changed, from the 1877-surveyed shoreline in green to the extended beach and wharf area, completed over 20 years ago. The sticky part is that the orange areas were built for port commercial purposes, not for housing, parkland, or office buildings.

Overlay of site history and ballpark site

I overlaid the ballpark site to get a sense of where it would fit in a historical context. The problem here is that the ballpark will be on bay fill. Will the BCDC and the State approve a completely different purpose for the land? We have two historical cases of this. At China Basin it worked out for the Giants. At Piers 30-32 the Warriors faced resistance and moved their concept a mile south.

One other thing to consider is the lack of public space. The second image in the post, titled Open Space & Public Access, shows which areas would be available. The concept for this goes back all the way to the original Fremont concept in 2006. I’m guessing there are 12-15 acres available, plus the roof deck, which I calculate to be 1.5-2 acres on its own. For reference, Brooklyn Basin is 64 acres, of which 30 acres is set aside as open space. I don’t see how the amount of open space identified for Howard Terminal will pass muster, unless everyone decides that the overriding necessity is the new housing over everything else, enough to indirectly subsidize the ballpark.

Site Plan for Howard Terminal released

I’m assembling a bunch of thoughts about the new renderings unveiled at the BCDC session earlier this week. For now I picked out one snippet which I’ll share here.

You can see the rooftop park above the ballpark to the right. A potentially 300-foot tall building is to the left. What’s that on the top?

More seats! Would those count as part of the park’s daily attendance figures, or are they they suites for the ultra-wealthy? Take a guess.

What’s really interesting is that the 300′ building isn’t alone. Behind home plate, there will be another building, 400 feet tall. I figured it would be worth showing what that might look like.

If it matters, the current tallest building in Oakland is the Ordway Building, home of Kaiser Permanente, and near Kaiser Center and the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

More thoughts over the weekend.

Public Meeting Schedule for Ballpark at Howard Terminal

The A’s will be one of the subjects of a slew of public meetings in the coming weeks. Apologies for being late to post this (for those who might attend tonight’s BCDC session). There will be another. Follow this link for more information. Port of Oakland meetings are held in Jack London Square. BCDC meetings are held at 530 Water Street in San Francisco.

  • March 11 – BCDC Design Review
  • March 14 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners
  • March 28 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners
  • April 11 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners
  • April 18 – BCDC Design Review
  • April 25 – Port of Oakland Board Commissioners

If you can’t make it to any meetings, at least read Bill Shaikin’ LA Times piece on the A’s plans.

There is a façade after all

The A’s put out some updated renderings of their vision at Howard Terminal. You can see some of the images at the A’s Oakland Ballpark site. I’m going to do a bit of a deep dive, so stick around for that.

First up, a glimpse of that retractable batter’s eye (click on each picture for a larger version).

I imagine the final color will be forest green or black, and covered with flat paint or non-reflective vinyl. There’s also a chance it could be used as signage, so it may be best to stick with a more neutral color. In the end, it is the batter’s eye, so the vision of batters will come first.

The other thing I immediately noticed from this image: light standards! These will supplement the main lights which will be tucked under the rim of the roof deck. The LED lights will be angled down towards the field, and I suppose the outfield light standards will as well, though it is those light standards that will arouse complaints from the Bar Pilots. The most similar lighting design from a true outdoor stadium (no retractable roof) I can think of is at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ.

A few notes on the above picture: You can see the lights beneath the roof deck rim. They are arranged in squares, which might look something like this. The intriguing aspect of the above pic is the presence of red pyramids. I have to assume that they’re tents, but what if they were something else? Monuments? Obelisks? Whatever the case, I can tell you what’s gone: hobbit holes. Perhaps the A’s brass got sick of all the LOTR references (*raises hand*) and while I can’t blame them if they did, surely they know by now that we talked about hobbit holes mostly out of love and only partly in jest, the same way we would talk about second breakfast. The hobbit holes have been replaced by larger openings. And I can’t forget the big statue of Rickey beyond the scoreboard.

Perhaps the big takeaway is that the ballpark itself has transformed from a “jewel box” squarish shape to a circular one reminiscent of the Coliseum. The seating bowl maintains its minimal foul territory and angles at the foul poles. The roof deck looks like a big green “O”, which should look great via an overhead blimp or helicopter shot. The roof deck should also easier to navigate if it becomes a public space such as a park. In the image below, you can also see the descent from the corners to centerfield, which has a series of little platforms facing the field at different elevations. There’s also a big statue of an elephant on the first base side.

My initial take on the architecture was some surprise at the seeming lack of exterior treatment. The new version has a façade made of concrete, steel, or wood that gives the whole exterior a vertical blind effect. Glass curtainwall is played out, so this is a refreshing change.

You can also see the circulation inside through the facade. I personally loved how that was visible in the old Oakland Coliseum Arena. Here fans could go directly to the roof deck via the sloped sections or take escalators or stairs on the main concourses.

As for the bullpens – there’s space for them, though not necessarily the space you prefer. I consider it in flux.

Six of One, Half Dozen of Hohokam

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

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

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

Partial schedule. Bold indicates games I’ll be attending

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