Kaval Call Part II – “Waterfront” setting

Take a look at a piece of the rendering below.

View southeast from behind home plate

Pretty cool, right? You can see the three decks (four if you count the green roof deck). There are the trees lining the roof. And the awesome shipping cranes in the background. Do you know what you won’t see?

The Estuary.

The shortest “splash hit” to reach McCovey Cove at AT&T Park went a distance of 367 feet. According to Google Earth, a ball only needs to be hit 362 feet to be a true splash hit without first bouncing on the promenade. How long do you think a ball would have to be hit to reach the water at Howard Terminal?

Based on my calculations, at least 700 feet down the right field line.

And you know what? That’s okay. Because of the somewhat enclosed nature of the outfield, a slugger would have to both hit a ball 700 feet long and more than 100 feet high to clear the grandstand. It probably would have to be rising as it leaves the ballpark – unless a dinger could somehow travel through the empty spaces in the outfield, not hit any fans or employees working on the concourses, and avoid trees and food trucks in the right field plaza.

You should be able to see the water from the upper deck. Maybe the second deck as well. But splash hits are a silly way to measure the worthiness of a ballpark. The concept of a splash hit is barely 20 years old! If the A’s are able to overcome all of the numerous obstacles to get this thing built, splash hits won’t be a big deal in the slightest.

There are plenty of good things about the location and setting as situated. Thanks to the orientation of the field and the placement of the stadium, there will be that large landing beyond the stadium in right.

The plaza you see above is every bit as much a blank canvas as the actual ballpark. I project it to cover a half-acre. Not a half-Mark Acre, 20-25,000 square feet. That’s a lot of space for food trucks, a Rickey Henderson park for kids, and monuments to other A’s greats. The possibilities are endless.

As ballyhooed as the hire of Bjarke Ingels Group was, the key player for this plaza is a lesser known but still important landscape architecture firm, James Corner Field Operations. They worked on the High Line in New York, Navy Pier in Chicago, and Seattle’s Central Waterfront. Field Operations’ portfolio is global and striking. Their expertise could be the key to make Howard Terminal a true destination of its own, not just a wharf adjacent to Jack London Square. Not to diminish BIG’s talents, but Field Operations will make everything fans interface with at the ground level.

According to Dave Kaval, that ground level will be raised 3.5 feet to deal with sea level rise. That’s forward thinking. But Kristina Hill, associate professor of environmental design at Cal, isn’t convinced. From former A’s beat writer John Hickey’s article, Hill says:

There is legacy contamination in the areas where they will be building, That’s been capped, but generally those doing the capping haven’t lined it from below. And that means when the groundwater comes up, those contaminants can be remobilized.

I asked Kaval about this. He said that the San Jose Airport West site, on which Avaya Stadium was built, underwent extensive cleanup and had groundwater monitoring wells installed. So far, so good. But there is one major difference between Airport West, which used to be a factory for defense contractor FMC, and Howard Terminal. The San Jose site isn’t on the water, and is 9 miles upstream from the bay. As you all know by now, Howard Terminal is directly on the bay. How to deal with it? At least BIG has some experience. Hill:

They (BIG) know about coastal design, but they have mostly worked in Europe and they may not have had to work with this kind of issue. Europe hasn’t done as much as the U.S. to monitor water quality. It has done more in isolating and removing contaminated soils. So European firms may not have had to think as much about how rising groundwater could remobilize wastes.

These concerns about Howard Terminal have been well-known and well-documented for years. As much as I admire BIG’s work, they’re not magicians.

Remember, the Port of Oakland entered a use covenant regarding Howard Terminal. It stated:

Based on the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment, the Department concluded that use of the Property as residence, hospital, school or day care center would entail an unacceptable cancer risk. The Department concluded that the Property, as remediated in accordance with the approved Removal Action Workplan, and subject to the restrictions of the Covenant, does not present an unacceptable threat to human safety or environment, if limited to current terminal use.

Now that there’s no long-term terminal operator at Howard Terminal, the Port and City of Oakland are freed up to pursue this ballpark development. The risks, however, still remain. And as we’ve been made fully aware, groundwater isn’t the only potential problem. Schnitzer Steel’s toxics can fill the air. Look at that rendering above on a beautiful sunny spring or summer game day. Now imagine a plume of smoke rising from Schnitzer Steel to the west. Will the first giveaway item be dust masks? Or water filters?

The hope appears to be that Schnitzer will “wise up” and sell, then relocate. That strategy didn’t work for the A’s at Coliseum North. It didn’t work at either Fremont site. And it didn’t work in San Jose.

For future use, here’s a brief lexicon of terms that will be used when discussing Howard Terminal going forward.

CEQA: California Environmental Quality Act

BCDC: Bay Conservation and Development Commission

DTSC: Department of Toxic Substances Control

BAAQMD: Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Tidelands Trust

This is gonna take a while. Get started by reading the CEQA Notice of Preparation filed by the A’s last Friday. Or read about the AB 734, the CEQA streamlining that passed earlier this year. Head in the clouds, feet on the ground.

P.S. – That 700-foot home run distance is something, right? Remember when the Warriors were going to build their waterfront arena on Piers 30-32 in San Francisco? Well, they ended up moving to the site where Chase Center is being built. How long do you think a Steph Curry three-pointer from the shoreline is? About 600 feet.

Kaval Call: Part I – Howard Terminal Ballpark

When I spoke to A’s President Dave Kaval yesterday, he admitted that he had some 60 interviews recently about the just unveiled ballpark project. I wanted to talk with him sooner, but my rehab schedule is quite full these days, leaving only Friday afternoon available for me personally. Kaval called me on the dot at 1:30, and after some pleasantries I fired off a bunch of questions.

Howard Terminal at night (click for larger image)

I started off talking about lessons learned from the Peralta, er, debacle. Kaval said that the A’s have spent a year involved in community engagement, including 24 workshops and salons. This plan is “bigger than baseball” to borrow a phrase from the Sacramento Kings. It absolutely is much, much bigger. Check out the rendering above. To the left are I-880 heading towards downtown. Then there are some massive condo or apartment buildings to the west of the ballpark. Howard Terminal and the ballpark are in the middle. Then more new buildings, and finally Jack London Square, which is completely dwarfed by the scale of the new construction. To be fair, that would be the case even if the ballpark was by itself with no ancillary development due to the low-slung nature of the JLS buildings. However, this view really puts that comparison into perspective. A big key for Oakland citizens’ acceptance of this vision of the future is whether they want a big playground at this location.

View east towards centerfield from home plate (click for larger image)

The view from down low is dynamic, if not breathtaking. That’s partly because unlike most of the retro-modern ballparks built in the recent area, the outfield is semi-closed. The ballpark is oriented so that a line running from home plate to centerfield runs close to true east, or 90 degrees if you’re looking at a compass. The Coliseum’s orientation is 55 degrees, while AT&T Park is 85 degrees. And for those who prefer a splash landing-friendly orientation, Globe Life Park is angled to the southeast at 135 degrees.

Always eye-catching are the shipping cranes beyond the right field alley. Which, if Matt Olson had his way, might be reachable via his beautiful left-handed swing. Dead center has the requisite big scoreboard, but where is the batter’s eye? According to Kaval, the A’s intend to put a retractable batter’s eye in place. I asked if it would act like a pull-down projector screen. He said that it would operate more like an airplane hangar door. The tree-lined roof deck slopes down from either foul pole. Kaval confirmed that those slopes will be navigable via walkways. I could make out the paths on the inside facing the field, but not the outer perimeter. The rooftop deck will carry a lot of standing room admissions. How much is to be determined. I suppose if the A’s could get the proper fire and seismic clearances, the rooftop could hold 10,000 on its own. The A’s advertise the ballpark as having a capacity of 34,000 seated and standing, so I imagine there’s room to play around with the mix of seating types and standing areas.

Looming in left field is large ziggurat-style building. Incorporated within that structure or adjacent to it is expected to be a reconfigured power “plant,” which may end up becoming a massive “battery” or energy storage for the City. PG&E is working on a deal to make that happen by 2022. Shutting down the production side of the plant would allow more space on the other side of the tracks for parking or a green buffer zone. The ziggurat itself looks to have more condos, which if you haven’t noticed, is shaping up to be a major funding source for the ballpark.

Zoomed in view of right field sloping roof deck with “hobbit holes”

The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub had the tweet of the week/month/year when he compared the vision to Lord of the Rings.

I got a high-res rendering to investigate this further, and frankly, the image above the tweet looks like Hobbiton – replete with hobbits – to me. It makes perfect sense. After all, the Eye of Sauron showed up a few weeks ago across the bay. Kidding aside, the rendering shows that the ballpark will have three seating levels and five different concourse levels including the undulating roof deck. Break out your smartwatches and pedometers, folks, because we’re going on a hike at the ballpark! To Mordor!

Triple-decker, you ask? I asked Kaval about this directly. He confirmed that the second and third decks will be fairly small, the upper deck having only nine rows.    A level of suites hangs underneath the second deck.

Bottom to top: field level, suites, second deck, upper deck, roof deck

Now for the big architectural reveal. You’re probably looking at these renderings, wondering what’s on the outside? Brick? Glass? Stone? Metal? The answer is…

Nothing.

At least for now it is. The goal here is for fans to be able to have a great view of the field and the ballpark’s surroundings if they turn around. It’s still an outdoor park so it doesn’t need big windows like a retractable dome stadium would. And like I’ve indicated in the past, the architectural firm, Bjarke Ingels Group, isn’t likely to do a throwback design in terms of form. So open it is. The buildings to the west are meant to help protect against the onshore winds. Kaval mentioned that some wind tunnel testing was completed. That also explains the field orientation and semi-closed ballpark structure, even if there are few exterior walls. The corners of the square will have walls for the normal functions: security, concessions, and circulation. If you’re standing at a random location on any of the concourses, you should have a 360° view.

There is that single scoreboard in center and dual ribbon boards around three-quarters of the interior rim. Obviously there’s a lot of space available for other scoreboard panels, fixed signage, player tributes, and other message boards. Some of those items will be governed by economics. Since the Coliseum’s existing scoreboards are only a few years old, I can see them being reused at the new venue. At least there won’t be tarps. On the other hand, there’s isn’t likely to be much homemade signage on display. The place is being called the “jewel box.” It’s not a corner convenience store. Or the Coliseum for that matter.

I let Kaval know that in Bay Area history there another venue which tried to be marketed as a jewel box.

Oakland Coliseum Arena, the original “jewel box” of the Bay Area

I’m not going to rehash the history of the arena as this post has already run 1,100 words. Maybe another day.

Update 11:34 AM – After posting, I realized I forgot about the lighting design. It’s best viewed using the rendering looking west from beyond the outfield towards home plate. The designers call the roof deck the “eyebrow” of the stadium.

Lights shown as a ribbon attached to roof deck

A while back I saw some social media threads discussing ways to use existing shipping cranes or even making fake ones to use as light standards. I shook my head when I saw that as I knew that those old lighting conventions are at this point visual affectations. Light standards are a relic of the 20th century. It’s 2018. We can use LED lighting for our sports fields. It’s more power efficient than the old metal halide lamps of yesteryear. LEDs don’t require much time to warm up, are solid state, and are already in use everywhere from scoreboards to replacements for incandescent lamps to smartphones. Folks, we have the technology.


Tomorrow we’ll go into the ballpark’s setting on the waterfront, and what that entails. And if you haven’t noticed, the theme of my posts is to start with the ballpark and extend outward in my analysis.

Sneak Peak at the Coming Week

Besides monitoring Twitter and reading every article I could find, I made time to talk to A’s President Dave Kaval earlier this afternoon about the Howard Terminal and Coliseum announcement. Unlike the Wolff interview series a few years ago, this was over the phone and won’t be transcribed. Instead I’ll describe what I’ve seen so far and intersperse it with relevant quotes from Kaval.

In lieu of any assembled thoughts on the subject, I’ll lay out my plans for the coming days. Expect Part I of the Kaval Call series to come out tomorrow, with the subsequent installments coming in the next few days. I’m still jotting down my thoughts, so if you have any questions drop them in the comments and I’ll try to include my responses in the posts. Yes, there will be some comments about The Shire.

Kaval Call: Part I – Howard Terminal Ballpark

  • Shape and Style
  • Triple-Decker
  • Roof Deck and Path
  • Outfield and Views
  • Scoreboards and Technology

Kaval Call: Part II – Waterfront Setting

Kaval Call: Part III – Gondolas not BART

Kaval Call: Part IV – Coliseum Redevelopment

Huge thanks to A’s VP of Communications Catherine Aker, who asked me a couple months ago if I would be interested in interviewing Kaval. At the time I declined, telling her to let me know when the A’s were ready to announce something. As a pro would, she got back to me this week.