Oakland Coliseum, Population: 1

This morning I went into the wayback machine to find out how many times I had written about Scott McKibben. The answer: 4, all in 2014 and 2015. McKibben previously was the head of the Rose Bowl and would, presumably, provide some professionalism to the Coliseum JPA, which had no one in the executive director role for six years. He was hired in early 2015. He abruptly resigned last week after reports indicated that he negotiated an additional $50,000 finder’s fee from the three-year, $3 million naming rights deal with RingCentral.

We’ll see if the other shoe drops and the City and County decide to get litigious. For now, let’s consider what’s happened on Scott McKibben’s watch.

  • Warriors announced move to SF’s Mission Bay site in 2014, after initially announcing a move to Piers 30-32 in 2012
  • Raiders announced move to Vegas in early 2017
  • A’s announce intent to move to Howard Terminal in 2018

Throughout all of this, McKibben was being paid upwards of $250,000 per year. What was he getting paid for again? Prior to the McKibben hire, AEG was brought in to replace SMG as the complex operator. AEG has been to the key to more bookings on the calendar for both the arena and the stadium. McKibben doesn’t deserve blame for the Warriors and Raiders moves, as those decisions were way over his head. Yet there is precious little to replace 8+ NFL games and 41+ NBA games. Plus, as Chase Center establishes itself as the Bay Area’s premier arena for concerts (13 during the opening month of September, 30 through the rest of the year), the JPA and AEG are scrambling to fill dates at the renamed Oakland Arena. Speaking of the name, that also unceremoniously traveled across the bay to the ballpark at China Basin. Thankfully, an arbitrator ruled that the Warriors have to pay the remaining $40 million of debt on the Oakland Arena, though the Raiders settled a much more favorable outcome on their behalf. I would feel bad for McKibben, but he’s the same guy who in 2017 tried to jump ship to the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, only for the JPA to give him a raise to lure him back. The raise was $50,000. That’s a totally “professional” move if I ever heard one. Regardless, he’ll land on his feet.

Since the Warriors and Raiders announced their exodus, no teams have been brought in to fill their enormous gaps they will leave behind. The closest the JPA got is some talk at the beginning of this year about an Indoor Football League franchise. The new Oakland franchise would be owned by Roy Choi (not that one), who also owns IFL franchises in San Diego and Cedar Rapids. San Diego’s team didn’t do great on the field or at the gate this year, pulling in only 300 fans for its season finale a couple months ago. The sordid history of of indoor football deserves a proper book treatment, maybe even a TV show or film. I’ve heard many colorful stories. I’d still like to know the full story of why the Fry brothers chose not to move forward with the San Jose Sabercats even after they won their fourth championship. Other than Oakland’s arena football dalliance, there has been no talk about fielding other team sports. No WNBA team despite Rebecca Kaplan’s cheerleading for it.. No G-League team as the Dubs chose Santa Cruz instead. No other fringe team sports like roller hockey, indoor lacrosse, or team tennis. At the Coliseum last year there was a bid by an East Bay group to convert the entire shooting match into a soccer complex flanked by the existing arena and a new ballpark. That went nowhere fast.

AEG may not be blameless for this situation. The company makes its money by filling dates and selling concessions, and for a venue operator fringe sports don’t make a lot of money to piggyback from. There is a line where it might make more sense to leave dates empty instead of actively trying to fill the arena to only 5,000 or so. For an outdoor stadium that requirement scales much larger due to the minimum staffing needs for given events.

What do you have when all the kids are leaving you with an empty nest? The only thing that’s worth anything these days is land. There’s plenty of it off Hegenberger, 110-155 acres depending on who you ask, 800 total when you include the land stretching across the Nimitz toward the airport.. There are also sweet, sweet entitlements to cash in if anyone’s interested. That’s why the A’s are sticking around at the Coliseum through 2023. As long as they are a tenant, they could exercise the right to build 3,000+ homes and 4 million square feet of commercial and office space. If that sounds like Coliseum City, that’s because it is. The A’s heard the questions about the confusion over the need to develop both Howard Terminal and the Coliseum. At a social media influencers forum last week, they said that the Coliseum isn’t needed, that the two projects are separate. There’s a timing problem with that position, since the only entitlements available right now are at the Coliseum. The only thing that can generate the cash the A’s are seeking to fund the ballpark is at the Coliseum. Ancillary development at HT is undergoing the approval process. It’s part of the long tail. Scratch that, l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g tail.

From the Coliseum Final Specific Plan, 2015

Now the awkwardness begins. The A’s plan to leave the Coliseum just like the other teams are doing, only they get to cash in on those sweet, sweet entitlements. Personally, I agree that they don’t need them. They have 40-55 acres at HT they can leverage if everything goes to plan. A redevelopment plan at the Coliseum is already approved. It’ll take time to bring in reopen the bidding process and bring the right uses in. That’s exactly what should happen. No shortcuts.

If everything doesn’t go to plan, the Coliseum remains a good backup plan. As we’ve used this joke ad nauseam, we’re talking about the A’s. There is no Plan B. It’s the best dad joke I’ve ever heard.

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. Military 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.

Howard Terminal: Notes on a work in progress

Assembled some observations on the City of Oakland staff report on Howard Terminal’s progress:

On the cost of infrastructure:

Q: What is the cost of public infrastructure (for the Howard Terminal project) and does SB 293 define that cost or provide a procedure for defining what that cost is before commitments are made to fund the infrastructure? Will an IFD commit all property tax revenue within the district boundary?

A: Costs of infrastructure for the Howard Terminal project are not yet fully known. In order to form an IFD for Howard Terminal or any other district, the City Council would be required to create and approve an Infrastructure Financing Plan before funding any infrastructure.

There’s a chicken-and-egg story here. Think about it this way: Do you know what happened to the gondola? Well, it gets one paragraph in this 123-page report.

Gondola
A gondola connecting Jack London Square to approximately Washington and 10th Streets is being studied as a variant in the EIR. The gondola would carry 6,000 passengers per hour. As the gondola is a variant, and not a part of the Project, staff efforts are focused on ensuring that the transportation plan operates with or without the gondola.

A “variant” isn’t much of a selling point for a big project. Instead most of the focus is on shuttle buses, ride sharing (TNC), and walking. But it’s not all bad.

In addition to transit-only lanes, staff is currently working with the Oakland A’s to locate and scope a transit hub to serve the Project and the greater Jack London Square community. The hub is envisioned as an attractive experience where game day crowds and daily commuters may easily and comfortably wait for buses, access bike share, valet bike parking, scooters, and other types of mobility.

One of the potential locations being considered for this transit hub is a two-block stretch under the Nimitz. Which would be a good way to utilize that area instead of simply turning it into regular parking lot.

Pricing: In order to effectively shift Project patrons from driving and TNCs (primarily Uber and Lyft) to transit, it may be necessary to make transit more economical. Both AC Transit and BART have expressed interest in working with the City and the Oakland A’s to establish a game day transit fare, similar to the arrangement currently being piloted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency at Chase Center.

If you recall, I ran some numbers on the gondola (capital + operations) and figured it would cost $12 per rider round trip if it were unsubsidized. The gondola would cost $123 million to build. For reference, the project to lengthen the Mission Bay Muni platform is more than $51 million. And that’s peanuts compared to new Transbay Terminal.

Rail Safety
In the rail industry, grade separation is considered the “gold standard” for safety. Used in combination with other strategies to accommodate rail crossings as safely as possible, new grade-separated crossings would aid in mitigating the following existing conditions in the Project vicinity:

    • The Jack London Square segment experiences some of the highest collision rates in Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor network
    • Proximity to the Port results in occasional very long train dwell times (15-20 minutes) as freight trains maneuver on tracks

The Project sponsor has also studied vehicular grade-separated crossings (overpass and underpass) at Market Street and deemed these grade separations infeasible. City staff are still reviewing this study and have reached no conclusions with regard to feasibility and potential design exceptions. Generally speaking, an underpass would be preferred as an urban form. In the absence of a grade-separated vehicular crossing, emergency vehicle access and site flushing in the event of an emergency are of particular concern, and options for emergency ingress and egress are being evaluated in conjunction with the development of an emergency management plan for the ballpark.

I find this downright inexcusable. The A’s, at the project sponsor, don’t have the final say on what’s feasible at Howard Terminal. An alphabet soup of regional, state, and federal agencies will. Look, I’ve talked about this enough in the past. In the future, I’ll just refer to this snippet of the report if anyone has questions about how serious the rail safety problem is. Jeez.

—-

6) Financial Issues:
The Oakland A’s have indicated that they wish to enter into a Development Agreement with the City governing development of the proposed Project. Development Agreement negotiations and supporting financial analysis have not yet begun. The City and Port are working through
jurisdictional City Charter issues and the City and Port are aligned in applying the zoning code to the project site and delegating that authority to the City; however, the legal mechanism for accomplishing such an approach is pending. While Development Agreement negotiations have not begun, the Oakland A’s have committed to the City and in a variety of forums that the ballpark itself will be privately financed. In addition, the Oakland A’s have also indicated that they are looking for a public private partnership on infrastructure. Staff understands and shares the City Council’s concern that the City consider the full project – costs and benefits – before making any financial commitments of any nature to this Project.

In other words: We’re working out the details. They’ll have until the end of September to wrap up many of those details in a pretty little bow.

27,000

While the A’s enjoy a well-deserved off-day after a most grueling road trip, let me bring your attention to a special event happening on the way back from Tampa Bay.

MLB is hosting a game in Omaha.

Yes, Omaha.

TD Ameritrade Park, well known as the home of the College World Series championship rounds, will host a Tigers-Royals game tonight on ESPN.

The game is considered a sort of warm-up for the CWS, whose championship starts this weekend at TDAP. There’s even talk about potentially scheduling the MLB draft concurrently with the CWS to give the draft a better profile both for baseball fans and draftees. While the path from the draft to the majors isn’t as clearcut as in basketball or football, baseball has been working to make the draft a higher profile event. What better way to do that than to dovetail with the premier annual amateur baseball competition? To be honest, I don’t know why they haven’t done it yet.

As for tonight’s matchup, I bring it to your attention because of the venue, naturally. I wrote about TDAP when it opened in 2011, thinking that I would see a game there eventually, maybe the CWS. The weeknight scheduling of the Tigers-Royals game made flying in problematic, so it’ll have to be some other time. Tonight the weather is good for a not-quite-summer ballgame.

TDAP was built primarily to host the CWS, and has done so capably after replacing venerated Rosenblatt Stadium. (Read my writeup from 8 years ago if you want the details on its development.) The park holds 24,505 seats, which curiously is close to the 27,000 advertised by BIG for the Howard Terminal ballpark. No, that doesn’t mean MLB is on its way to Omaha for more than this brief stop anytime soon, but it should start a proper conversation about how much stadium the A’s need now and into the future.

Inside TD Ameritrade Park Omaha Photo by Collinulness

Above is a picture of a building that holds 24,000-plus. The A’s are planning a structure that is similarly-sized, with the addition of a magnificent roof deck that could hold 10,000 more. When I compared the two visions, I came to the conclusion that Howard Terminal is essentially TDAP with fancier accommodations and a fancier roof above. The A’s have been careful not to say how much the park will cost, only that it’s privately financed. Where the financing will come from is still a bit of a mystery, but like with Fremont, it’s likely to come from real estate sales and leases.

And that aspect of it – the upzoning and turnover of a bunch of real estate – makes it just as important to know how much the construction bill will be. Because in the end, folks, A’s fans will be paying for the tickets, suites, and concession items. The real estate aspect is an indirect subsidy. Granted, that’s not as bad as having a bond issue backed by tax revenues. But it’s still a subsidy, and it’s worth asking if everyone from the City and Port to the A’s and A’s fans are getting a good deal on this. Whatever the A’s are planning, it can’t possibly be a better deal than $131 million spent on TDAP. Even if you double that budget to add MLB facilities and that roof deck and account for inflation, the total cost is probably less than $400 million. That’s a lot less than the numbers I’m hearing now. Especially once you add in the gondola.

The A’s had an economic impact report released recently. Yesterday they were scolded by Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan for repeatedly holding rallies outside of key votes in Oakland and Sacramento. The Council approved the motions on the two bills, with a clear message that they aren’t going to be rushed into rubber stamping Howard Terminal.

The saga continues.

P.S. – During my hospital stay in Phoenix, I encountered a number of alums from Creighton University, which has the fortune of playing their home schedule at TDAP. Creighton’s building a branch of their medical school right next to that hospital. For the Creighton baseball team back in Omaha, it’s not a bad place to call home.

More new Howard Terminal renderings

An alert reader pointed me over to the Bjarke Ingels Group’s website, where the page for the A’s project was recently updated. Many of the images are the same as what you’ve seen here and in the traditional media. There are a few new ones that I found interesting, so I grabbed them for discussion here.

First, a new view. This is is a reverse angle from what you’ve seen previously, elevated and facing east. Note that the entire Howard Terminal pier remains intact, which means the bite hasn’t been taken out of it for the turning basin.

Next is an image you’ve seen before from the ferry pier, only it’s shrouded in fog.

The camera gets pulled back for this one, with the new rounder shape. Strangely, from this angle it appears that the bowl is better suited for a baseball field to be oriented to the west.

The close-up of the facade is cool. I like the way it undulates. As this is envisioned to be part of a “ballpark within a park” I can appreciate this kind of openness. Pulling that off in practice is another matter.

What we have here is the party deck in the left field corner. I like the wood details and the Oakland logo, though I think it might look better if it was burned in instead of painted.

Lastly, we have the incline in left going up to the roof deck. It’s not known exactly how tall the roof will be. The A’s are asking for up to 150 feet building height for the ballpark, so that may provide a hint. The way to think of it is this: It should be at least as tall as the front row of the Mt. Davis upper deck.

One more thing. The description slide says that the ballpark will have 27,000 seats plus 10,000 standing room. Most of the SRO admissions will be on that roof deck. I did the party pass SRO admission at a Dallas Cowboys game a couple years ago, and I can say that once you get past three deep you have no view at all (especially for us vertically challenged folks). Same could be the case at this park, especially because the roof deck in foul territory won’t have an incline or risers. Maybe they’ll allow people to climb trees.

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.

To make Howard Terminal work it may have to shrink

You may not be aware that the year-long ENA (Exclusive Negotiating Agreement) started by the A’s and the Port of Oakland expired last week with little notice or fanfare. The pressure was on to get something out to the public, and so the Port did in the form of a preliminary term sheet for the A’s to occupy the dormant Howard Terminal. The Port’s Board is expected to vote on the term sheet on May 13.

We’ll get into business details in the coming week. For now, I’d like to focus on a single drawing of the revised site plan. In the plan, some additional areas are defined. It basically looks like someone took a bite out of the site.

Click to enlarge

According to the term sheet, the bite (southwest corner defined by the purple lines) amounts to six acres. That’s what’s being offered by the A’s and the Port in order to foster cooperation from the ILWU and shipping interests. Once the A’s give up the acreage, the Estuary’s turning basin inside the Inner Harbor could be expanded to help attract container mega-ships.

Matier and Ross pointed out the A’s offer today. The idea could in theory bring the shipping interests and associated labor on board. Their stance is that they’re threatened by encroaching development. The argument against them is that Howard Terminal itself remains dormant, outdated, and not equipped to handle the new generation of container ships, which the Port badly wants. At the same time, the shippers that would be best positioned to handle the enormous mega-ships the Port covets are situated along the inner harbor, west of Howard Terminal.

If the Port anticipates this new wave of container ships, it might behoove them to facilitate a deal to expand the turning basin outside of Howard Terminal to accommodate those new ships. That could be a vital piece to getting the Matson and SSA on board. However, that’s only part of the story. This kind of change would effectively consolidate the seaport operations along the waterfront, which might make it seem like the Port loses valuable waterfront while it gains greater efficiency for the existing shippers in the process.

Turning basin

Questions remain about how the Port and City would handle the traffic for both vehicles and trains coming through the area. The EIR should answer much of that. Yet one other party to all of this Estuary action has been silent through all the hubbub last week. Schnitzer Steel has the one privately owned parcel, right next to Howard Terminal. And if you look at how it’s laid out, it stands to reason that it too would have to be reduced or reconfigured to allow for the wider turning basin.

Schnitzer Steel with Howard Terminal to the east

Schnitzer actually wanted part of Howard Terminal when the terminal parcel became available. The Port wasn’t interested in parting out Howard Terminal, so that bid went nowhere. Schnitzer has a dock with a conveyor arm extending out separately from the shore. What if Schnitzer doesn’t want to reconfigure their facility, especially if a bunch of housing is going to be built a few hundred feet away? The solution would appear to be some sort of land swap, in which Schnitzer sells its property to the Port and gets relocated somewhere else on Port property that also has waterfront access.

Outer Harbor Berths 33 & 34 provide 16 acres

It just so happens there is such a property along the outer harbor, Berths 33 & 34, where such a swap could conceivably take place. Berths 33 & 34 are available for lease. Whether such a swap is practical or feasible is something for the EIR process to figure out, though Schnitzer holds the cards and they could charge a great deal for the hassle. The track record of the A’s paying top dollar to help neighbors vacate is not great to say the least. If all these things line up – changing the Port designation, legislation for the land swap, moving costs for Schnitzer, and the infrastructure changes needed to make it all work – then the A’s have a shot. Rest assured that next week’s vote isn’t the first step. That step was taken years ago.

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.