The big reveal was Busch’s belief that former Giants owner Bob Lurie was never going to ship the team to Florida. Selling the team was, as Busch recounted, merely a ruse to motivate a local buyer for the franchise, which eventually happened when Peter Magowan stepped up. That’s not to discount the tremendous amount of drama at the end of Lurie’s ownership tenure, which involved St. Petersburg and dalliances with San Jose and Santa Clara. Exploration of the South Bay included A’s owner Walter Haas agreeing to cede Santa Clara County to the Giants, which was previously an unassigned territory for MLB’s purposes. The South Bay is now and forever San Francisco Giants territory, even though they will probably never play a game there.
Busch also went out of his way to defend the Coliseum, decrying A’s ownership’s desire for a downtown ballpark – and only a downtown ballpark – at Howard Terminal.
Busch determined the Coliseum site was viable in 2014 on Selig’s blue-ribbon committee to explore ballpark options. He still attests the A’s can build the ballpark village of their dreams around the site. MLB and the A’s declared this month that the Coliseum site “not viable” as a location for a new park.
“The notion that the Coliseum, if properly developed in its totality, is not acceptable is kind of silly. It’s nonsense,” Busch said. “I know for a fact there are people in the commissioner’s office who know the Coliseum site is a good site.”
Right now the Coliseum is not in the conversation due to the stubbornness of ownership. At some point it will re-enter the picture, unless everything from this point forward falls in line for Howard Terminal. For all their posturing, the A’s still continue to attempt to buy the City’s half of the Coliseum. And even though Dave Kaval announced the A’s were on “parallel tracks” with Oakland and Las Vegas (I thought there was no “Plan B”?), it’s not hard to see a third path, one that brings them back home.
Oakland’s City Council has a non-binding vote scheduled for July 20 on the Howard Terminal project. If the majority of the council votes Yes, the project continues, including the tangled negotiations for community benefits, transportation, and mitigation for the Port stakeholders. HT proponents, who are mostly a ragtag bunch of volunteers at this point, are pushing the pro message.
But what happens if Howard Terminal gets voted down?
That’s a subject that hasn’t been broached much by local or national media. Honestly, who wants to spend much time gazing beyond the edge of a cliff? Given A’s ownership’s recent Vegas trip, Sin City would appear the be in the lead as a candidate for relocation. A’s President Dave Kaval even nixed a planned trip to Portland, desiring to explore Vegas further.
So Vegas is the ace in hand, while Portland is the ace in the hole. Except they’re not. They’re both bluffs at this point. Kaval’s trip to Vegas was exploratory in nature, with no definitive sites or organized funding instruments at hand. Kaval tweeted from a Golden Knights playoff game, which created blowback from fans. There were meetings with Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, representatives from Henderson (where the Raiders training facility is located), and Summerlin (where the A’s AAA affiliate Aviators play). The three options provided are far from ideal. Let’s break them down.
Mayor Goodman wants to redevelop the old Cashman Field/Cashman Center complex to include a domed stadium just as her husband did. As the site is within city limits and not in unincorporated Clark County like the Strip, that makes sense. However, going north past Downtown (Old Las Vegas), past a freeway, and to the Cashman site, is its own cliff in a sense. I visited Cashman a few years ago, before the stadium was converted for soccer use, and well, it’s the same dump the A’s played in 25 years ago while the Coliseum was refurbished for the Raiders, except that it has aged. The concept for now is to level both the ballpark and the small convention space next door and build a domed stadium on the spot. Kaval weighed in with the Las Vegas Review Journal on the subject, including one foul tasting nugget:
Henderson doesn’t have a specific site to offer up to the A’s yet. Summerlin’s plan would presumably be to build the dome over the curiously named Las Vegas Ballpark. Both Henderson and Summerlin are 10 miles from the Strip, in nicer neighborhoods than Cashman. As I considered the options, the A’s and MLB’s likely strategy became clearer to me. It all comes down to Vegas’s previous successes with the NHL (Golden Knights) and NHL (Raiders). Though we haven’t heard about it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the recently vacated Sam Boyd Stadium enter the picture. It’s also 10 miles away (east) of the Strip.
Think of this way: NHL got a new arena on the Strip. NFL got a new domed stadium just off the Strip. The Vegas area is offering ballpark sites in suburbs and a depressed area near downtown. Why would MLB and the A’s bite? Shouldn’t MLB want to be near the Strip too?
If MLB considers Vegas a small market from a population and TV audience size perspective, any relocation or expansion-to-Vegas strategy will have to include a plan to capture as many tourist fans as possible. In the past that was somewhat controversial for the potential competition between pro sports and other forms of entertainment, but now, it’s all fair game and can be somewhat synergistic depending on whatever events are happening during baseball season. That makes the location of the ballpark key, as a 30-minute ride away from the Strip is not conducive to capturing much of that tourist base.
Last year, Caesars put the off-Strip Rio Hotel and Casino up for sale. There were rumors that the site would make a good landing spot for a MLB team, with space for a domed stadium and a mega-development. Alas, a real estate firm gobbled up the property and is rebranding it a Hyatt Regency among other things. Given how the stakes for teams were raised by Commissioner Rob Manfred recently, it’s worth asking whether The Strip or an off-Strip site is the only location in Southern Nevada that makes sense. If we’re going by the standard of placing a ballpark in the middle of a downtown or central business district, Henderson and Summerlin don’t make the cut the same way Fremont or anywhere on the I-680 corridor wouldn’t work in the East Bay. Never mind that the ballparks for the Braves and Rangers violate the “downtown” standard.
Beyond Las Vegas’s stalking horse status, let’s consider next steps. For Vegas to work for three-quarters of baseball owners to approve a move, there needs to be a clear economic advantage in moving a team there. Southern Nevada had the benefit of a Stanley Cup Finals-bound team in its inaugural year, truly an enviable feat. There’s plenty of earned goodwill to keep attendance strong there for years to come, plus the Golden Knights get the spoils of being the pioneer in the market. Despite the pandemic-marred 2020 regular season, Raiders attendance should be strong thanks to its large migratory fanbase. MLB is different in that so much of a team’s revenue is generated locally from ticket/suite sales and local television rights.
Sportico reports that the A’s pulled in $220 million in revenue for the 2019 season, the last full regular season on record. 2019 also happened to be the last year the A’s received a revenue sharing receipt (25% share), which showed when the team stripped costs to the bone in 2020 by laying off front office employees, minor leaguers, even scouts. The teams in the middle of the revenue pack, Minnesota and Milwaukee, had figures of $289 million and $286 million in 2019. That makes the gulf between the A’s and other small market teams that opened new ballparks recently around $70 million, inclusive of all media and sponsorship deals but without revenue sharing thanks to the A’s big market status. If the A’s move to a smaller market, they will immediately become a revenue sharing recipient simply because they won’t be able to compete with the big markets. Despite the top-heavy big-market focus of MLB franchises, baseball realizes that it needs all 30 teams to compete at least once in a while. If Tampa Bay moves to Montreal or a Southern city there won’t be a revenue sharing change.
The A’s remain a unique case because of its place as the economically inferior team in a two-team market. The traditional markets, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, don’t have strange revenue carveouts or oddly gerrymandered territories. The A’s are a sort of enclave (think Piedmont or Newark) within Northern California, which is dominated by the Giants. The O’s and Nats’ relationship is defined mostly by the O’s owning the sports network that broadcasts both teams.
“Howard Terminal or Bust” is effectively the admission that the A’s can no longer function as a big market team under the current operating situation. They must move to a newer (albeit not bigger) stadium where they can maximize revenue. The A’s are only starting to rebuild their radio presence after a controversial online effort. The A’s TV revenue is in the middle of the pack among MLB teams, which is fine for now and helps to stabilize the franchise. Altogether, the A’s exploration of other markets is ostensibly the search for a replacement level market. If the A’s can get that extra $70 million annually through Howard Terminal, the team can stay in the East Bay. If they can’t get that $70 million, they might as well find out if that money can come elsewhere. Personally, I think they’re going to find out that’s a much tougher task than it seems. Local TV revenue is transforming thanks to streaming threatening to make many RSNs obsolete. Radio is a wounded animal, a necessary annoyance. Ballparks are getting smaller while trying to cater a more exclusive clientele. If the A’s and Oakland are going to prove they can hang with the big boys, Howard Terminal is the way to do it.
That’s what they want you to believe, anyway. I’ll have more to say on that later.
P.S. – Henderson, NV, was in MLB’s sights two years ago, when the Arizona Diamondbacks used a trip to Henderson to help pressure Maricopa County to help fund improvements to Chase Field. A ticket tax was approved earlier this month, though the team is being coy about whether they’ll use it. Henderson played its role well that time.
P.P.S. – The City of Oakland is urging the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to fork over a matching share of funds from the EIFDs (Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts) proposed for the Howard Terminal project. One of the EIFDs is for the 55-acres of Howard Terminal. The other is for a large swath of Jack London Square and the surrounding neighborhood, which got me thinking:
To sum up this week in #Athletics ballpark drama: 1. MLB/A’s make relocation threat to Oakland 2. Mayor claims to support A’s & Howard Terminal 3. Splinter City Council group asks MLB questions about Coliseum viability, no HT mention 4. City Council schedules vote for 7/20#CYA
I’ll preface the following (from KRON) by pointing out that the three signatories to the letter are the most ardent skeptics of Howard Terminal. Read what you will into the letter.
In 2015 the City of Oakland released a Coliseum Area Specific Plan. Amazingly, it had real estimates for various types of required infrastructure. Imagine what could happen if the A’s let Howard Terminal goes through a full, proper planning process instead of rushing it.
Ongoing talks over whether the City will sell its half of the Coliseum complex to the A’s are scheduled for May 20. I had a response to that as well:
The other day I was looking at the comments Union Pacific sent in regarding Howard Terminal. UPRR’s comments are bundled with comments from RailPros, a rail services consultancy that would probably engineer any modifications to the Embarcadero corridor that is used by UPRR and Amtrak. As you might expect, both sets of comments deem the HT transportation study and the mitigations identified as insufficient. UPRR calls for full grade separation if the ballpark is built, a consistent stance from the beginning. Given what’s at stake from a safety standpoint, I agree. Unfortunately, the A’s continue not to address this issue to the fullest. Robert Bylsma, UPRR’s Senior Environmental Counsel, ends his comments by quoting the Draft EIR and providing a response.
“Provision of a grade-separated crossing prior to commencement of Project construction was deemed infeasible given the length of time it would take to design, get approval for, and construct a new grade-separated crossing and the stated Project objective to complete construction of the new ballpark, together with any infrastructure required within a desirable timeframe and to maintain the Oakland Athletics’ competitive position within MLB.”
So, apparently it was the Oakland A’s who made the decision to reject grade separation — the only safe and effective means of protecting Oakland A’s fans, as well as families residing in the Project area and other Oakland citizens, using Project facilities — as infeasible because of the “length of time it would take” to design and build, and would affect negatively “the Oakland Athletics’ competitive position within MLB.” However, the DEIR’s evaluation of this alternative is deficient because it does not indicate how long it would take to permit and build the needed grade separation, and whether the A’s decision to “maintain [its] competitive position within MLB” in exchange for the lives and well-being of those who will use Project amenities, truly makes grade separation “infeasible” as a matter of law.
Perhaps rail safety isn’t deemed a showstopper for the A’s. What can’t be argued is that this is a bad look. It reeks of potential negligence from the A’s in search of a quick buck. If the A’s truly want this to work, they’re gonna need to step up. Not stepping up because it will jeopardize the ability to “maintain the Oakland Athletics’ competitive position within MLB” is a pretty lame excuse. If you’re going to build something as transformative as a $12 Billion neighborhood-cum-ballpark, you need buy-in from all your neighbors. This ain’t it.
After the A’s played a doubleheader on Tuesday, some of us had our own doubleheader on Wednesday with the getaway day game leading into Oakland’s Planning Commission hearing, in which Howard Terminal was the key agenda item.
The comment period was initially supposed to last 45 days after the release on the Draft EIR in February, but community groups lobbied for deadline to be extended twice. The deadline is now Tuesday, April 27, at 4 PM. Get your comments in now while you can.
I watched the hearing on Zoom as the ballgame extended into extra innings.
Mostly, I wanted to get the temperature of the public as commenters chimed in. Naturally, hearings like this tend to have a certain bias towards people with grievances, that’s the nature of the game. However, I was surprised at how few supporters for the project were present. To be fair, supporters are at a distinct disadvantage in forums like this. They aren’t armed with all of the plans the developers and city are working on. Because of that, a lot of what they can offer is hope and platitudes. As an A’s fan you know how well hope works as a strategy. Then again, sometimes it does.
I tweeted out some observations from the open comment period. I did not get all of the commenters’ names. Otherwise, enjoy.
(I may have transcribed that wrong, “bike shop” may have been “bus stop”)
On the last point, I’m not clear on whether the Draft EIR can be recirculated. Perhaps it’s possible if the City feels enough pressure. Apparently the comment deadline won’t be extended further. Will there be yet another legal challenge?
The grade separation problem won’t be solved by placing a single pedestrian bridge at Clay Street and fences along The Embarcadero. The whole area is geared towards dispersing fans from numerous exits onto different streets heading north and east. Vehicular traffic remains an unresolved issue.
All told, there were five comments in support of the project, dozens more against. After a while I stopped logging them until I heard something unique in the arguments. The comments ran the gamut, touching on transportation worries, affordable housing concerns, even general planning. If the A’s want to garner better public support in forums like this, they have to do better than to merely trot out the usual suspects with the regular #BiggerThanBaseball talking points. The opponents have their talking points as well. For the supporters it’s akin to taking a knife to a gunfight.
I’ll do a quick ranking of topics based on what I heard in terms of perceived importance:
Rail safety, specifically grade separation
Need to recirculate EIR or extend comment period
Support of the project as long as the issues can be worked out
Distrust of the DTSC and property owners/developers
Port businesses pulling out of Oakland entirely if a ballpark is built at HT
After the open comment period ended, the individual commissioners spoke. Clark Manus, who is Vice-Chair and an architect, ended the proceeding with a telling note:
As I mentioned in March, Transportation is the most important chapter. If they can’t crack that nut, there’s no deal. It’s that simple. As there’s an active rail line right outside Howard Terminal, it’s not realistic to expect major changes to the rails itself, whether you’re talking about running them in a cut (submerged) or on a viaduct (elevated). If the trains run in the street, the area becomes ripe for dangerous pedestrian/train interactions.
Howard Terminal supporters, if you want this thing to happen you’re gonna have to do more than be dismissive of the critics or attack them for being plants or astroturfers. They’re coming strong with their arguments. You need to have a response. The project is in search of real practical solutions. That’s the hard truth.
The Transportation-oriented post will come later this week. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed (by the post, at least).
For now, I’m afraid we have to feed the beast. You see friends, when a team releases renderings or the rare instances when a city releases an EIR, there’s always a surge of new info. Included in that dump are always new renderings. So let’s take a quick look at these and see what’s changed.
The first look is the one that’s probably getting the most attention. Unlike the previous renderings, the two-sided centerfield scoreboard is now gone, placed under the roof in the left field corner and apparently expanded. The roof slopes down from both left (long) and right (short) to a plaza in right field, which should allow for the installation of a normal batter’s eye instead of the “garage door” vision in center. Most of the other stadium details are the same. The transformation effectively takes the roof deck and rotates it 30 degrees clockwise while the second and field levels remain intact. As this is 40-55 acres we’re talking about, the park dimensions should remain fairly normal and shouldn’t be hemmed in by lot constraints. The club/press box area behind the plate stays where it is, creating an asymmetry when viewed from inside the bowl.
I imagine that some of the feedback was from fans who didn’t want to be sequestered in the upper deck if they had a low-cost ticket or pass. Moving the plaza to right field provides a new viewing area with a mild amount of terracing made necessary by dealing with sea level rise. It’s a good compromise, though the idea of a bustling area running from centerfield to Jack London Square is no longer a given thanks to the modified fan traffic flow. Naturally, there aren’t many seats in right field anymore. It’s unclear where the RF bleacher crew would be relocated. Keep in mind that this ballpark will have 15-20,000 fewer seats than the Coliseum, so relocations are inevitable.
I can’t tell what those smaller disc-shaped things are on the roof deck. Concession stands? Cabanas?
While RF is reduced, LF is expanded. Will lower LF be a premium section as seen in most new ballparks? Or a traditional general admission bleacher-type section? Perhaps RF is the bone thrown to the cheap seat fans: Yes, you can sit or stand here with your flags, but you will be further away from the action. Cost of doing business, sorry.
There’s still a bunch of high-rise buildings behind (to the west) of the stadium. The A’s remain committed to creating a buffer between that residential/commercial district and Schnitzer Steel, which recently went through its own drama. I still think of a hypothetical sales pitch in one of the high rises:
SALES GUY: So you’d like to check out one of our units?
PROSPECTIVE BUYER/TENANT: Yes, one with a view of the ballpark.
SG: Oh, sorry, those were all reserved in the first phase. Would you like to look at a unit on the other side facing west? It has great views of Alameda and San Francisco
PB/T: Doesn’t that face the scrap metal recycling facility?
SG: It sure does. Just pick a unit high up and don’t look down from the balcony. But if you do, there’s a nice grove of trees to act as a buffer.
PB/T: A buffer from what?
SG: Oh, nothing.
PB/T: Where do I sign?
Do you know of luxury housing that’s a deep fly ball away from a recycling plant? Because I would love to know about it.
There’s more to discuss in the coming days. Besides transportation, I’ll cover the façade, the theater component, and site cleanup.
Until then, watch Brodie Brazil’s “tour” of the renderings.
Yesterday, the Merc’s A’s beat scribe Shayna Rubin reported on some important legal news: Judge Noel Wise of Alameda County Superior Court threw out the case levied by a coalition of shipping and trucking interests and Schnitzer Steel against the Howard Terminal project. Judge Wise opined:
“…It would be a perverse outcome if the Howard Terminal Project could not advance pursuant to a valid and operable statute because that statute includes a reference to the potential application of the guidelines for another statute that is no longer in effect.”
The judge hinted she might rule in this direction towards last month, and the ruling follows suit. Judge Wise effectively said that because Howard Terminal was passed under the auspices of AB 734, it was not subject to the deadline specified by AB 900, which expired at the end of 2019. Not meeting the deadline was the crux of the lawsuit.
So, full steam ahead, then? Not so fast.
The first step will be the release of the oft-delayed and long overdue EIR Draft, hopefully in the next few weeks. The point of AB 734 was to allow for fast tracking of the CEQA process, allowing approved projects to settle legal challenges in no more than 270 days. That period would be concurrent with the actual EIR approval process, which legally should take 45-60 days but in large project reality never does. Both the A’s and opponents are getting ready to file responses to the Draft, which will be long and likely tedious, albeit necessary.
A’s President Dave Kaval admitted that the A’s timeline for the project has slipped:
“How far it slipped, I can’t answer that. I don’t know yet. It depends on if the city can even get this to a vote this year. It depends on the other priorities the city council might have.”
It also depends on how the numbers work out for the A’s. The pandemic took the wind out of the economy in multiple ways. There’s a lot of uncertainty moving forward about how the commercial real estate aspects of the Howard Terminal plan pencil out. Who’s not hurting? The shipping industry, which has been going gangbusters since the pandemic unleashed this perverse economic transformation.
If their interest is in the status quo, it’s in the best interest of the shipping industry to use that entire 270 days. It’s my sincere hope that they don’t. I would rather all the parties hash out a working agreement like all businesses, government, and community groups can and do. Can the Port of Oakland force the opponents to the table? Or will the opponents continue to lawyer up and let the chips fall where they may?
Not to be lost in this is a $4.1 million settlement worked out last week by California’s DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances Control) and Schnitzer Steel. Schnitzer has been the proxy for the shipping interests all this time, though it was caught up in its own legal wrangling over the numerous fires that spewed toxic black smoke around West and Downtown Oakland. The settlement has a few knock-on effects. Does the settlement and the prescribed remedies help or shield Schnitzer in the A’s lawsuit against the DTSC? That might be for yet another court to decide. Do the A’s try to partner with Schnitzer to enhance the remedies? To me that would seem like the best case scenario, though it would also require an acknowledgment that both can co-exist as neighbors.
The A’s filed their initial development application for Howard Terminal in November 2018, after six months of lobbying and legislation paved the way for it. Kaval is right in that the City Council shouldn’t be expected to vote on this project in 2021 with far more pressing issues on the table. It would be nice to see, however.
Unlike early 2019, when there was an all-out PR and media assault to sell the project, there won’t be quite the same effort in early 2021. Any momentum for Howard Terminal has to be built up again over time with a more clear-eyed vision (and less confusion over the details). I know Kaval has the stomach for that battle.
Does John Fisher? 🧐
P.S. – In an addendum to Rubin’s original story, the port interests are – guess what? – lawyering up. See you in Appellate Court.
P.P.S. – Kaval celebrates Governor Newsom’s certification of the project streamlining, which is not the same as certifying the full EIR (that comes later).
Sometime before Thanksgiving, I reached out to Peterson Vollman, the City of Oakland’s planner overseeing the Howard Terminal ballpark project. I asked if there were any updates on the project. Vollman’s response:
We are anticipating publishing the DEIR in Q1 of 2021 pending AB734 Certification by the Governor.
Just so we’re clear, that’s thefirst quarter of 2021 for the Draft version of the document, pending the certification through AB734.
Anyway, those of you still on the HT bandwagon have the patience of saints.
Thankgiving also happened to be my birthday. Somehow I managed to get presents, including this:
I would like to carry this pint glass everywhere I go, thank you very much.