Kaval Call Part IV: Coliseum redevelopment

Imagine the mid-60’s. You’re driving on Highway 17. There’s a flurry of construction near Hegenberger. Terminal 1 at Oakland Airport opened. The tumult (and the joy that comes with six world championships) of the 70’s was still in the distance. Oakland was hitting the big time!

Starting tomorrow the Coliseum may only have one tenant, the A’s. That lone team announced its intention to leave last month. What will be left of the Coliseum complex?

Coliseum originally under construction

In the picture above you can clearly see all of the notches in the lower bowl. The Coliseum started out with the Raiders as its first tenant. Seating risers mounted on steel plates could be moved around to suit football or baseball, which came in 1968. There were actually two different configurations for football: one for the overlapping baseball and football months where the gridiron ran from home plate to center field, and the “permanent” first base-third base configuration. The notches allowed the football field to fit the bowl, and are still in use today.

Knowing that the notches are part of the charm of the Coliseum, it’s curious that the A’s and BIG released the following rendering of a mostly deconstructed stadium.

Coliseum reimagined as amphitheater

The distinctive corner notches that would normally exist in the regular football configuration are gone. The notches at the foul poles remain along with a redone backstop notch, making this ampthitheater-Coliseum in some ways more of a true ballpark than the Coliseum ever was.

Closeup of redone Coliseum baseball configuration with arena in background

So… what happened to championship plaza? In this vision, the plaza is gone along with the plaza and upper decks, replaced by a grove of trees. It hardly makes sense for a city that’s about the spend significant effort to preserve its football history and tradition to simply cast that history aside. Now I get that these sketches are very preliminary, but they show a certain blindness to Oakland sports history. Even though the Raiders are leaving and no replacement is in sight, it doesn’t make sense to keep this baseball configuration when the A’s aren’t going to play many (one per year? any?) games there while so many fans also want football. Or if they can’t have football, they’d like a reminder of what once was. If this is the future of the Coliseum, it should reflect the venue’s rich history: football, baseball, concerts, monster truck shows, all of it.

Looks like a park, feels like a cemetery

Look at the outline of the Coliseum field above. There’s the plentiful foul territory and the backstop notch. I was surprised to find that also intact is the misshapen outfield wall, once euphemistically called the “Jagged Edge.” It’s the last remnant of a to-be demolished Mount Davis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that the concrete east stands are gone, but the outfield wall was never an architectural highlight. I suppose that it too is an important part of history, so perhaps it should remain. Unlike my previous argument for the notches, the jagged edge was a by-product of design choices made with the 1995 renovation. If anything, bring back the Bash Brothers-era outfield fence and dimensions.

Around the amphitheater are a lot of nice amenities. As Oakland doesn’t have a large urban park, and maybe this could work despite its distance from downtown. Yet check out the nomenclature. Meadow. Lawn. Soccer. The Hills. Youth Sports Academy. Job Training. Soccer (again). No “football” to be found. A few tennis and basketball courts. The term Community bumps up against the Nimitz Freeway. It all speaks to a sort of whitewashing/greenwashing of sports in Oakland. Toss in some “affordable housing” and facilities that should help East Oakland residents, and Bob’s yer uncle.

I remember back to Frank Deford’s write-up of the Coliseum complex in Sports Illustrated, marveling at how things have (or haven’t) changed in the years since. Consider this pearl of wisdom:

The teams all have come so fast that, among other things, Oakland has neglected to support them. People in Oakland tend to gloss this over.

In 1968 there was a bonanza in the East Bay. In 2018 the teams are in a hurry to leave.

A narrative has emerged recently in which Raiders fans looking to place blame for the Raiders’ departure say it’s the A’s fault for “squatting” at the Coliseum.  The argument is not based on any facts or real evidence. All the A’s asked for in their lease extension was for 2 years to make plans for their own eviction if the Raiders put together a bona fide stadium plan of their own. That never happened. And if we’re being honest, Mark Davis would’ve been a fool to turn down $750 million in stadium subsidies from Nevada. Such a gift was not awaiting him in Oakland ever.

These days attention is turning to having Howard Terminal become the centerpiece for another civic revitalization effort, while the A’s, being the last team standing in Oakland, negotiating control over the Coliseum land and reaping the benefits. When I first heard that was the plan I was incredulous. It’s hard enough to build one big development in the Bay Area. Now Oakland wants to hand the keys for two of them to the A’s? The East Bay Times’ recent editorial captured this sentiment well, a sentiment that will undoubtedly grow in the coming months.

Comparison of new large real estate developments

The A’s don’t plan to build out the Coliseum per the Coliseum City plans. It would be nice to have for future development. Even if there’s no new stadium, or even if the old one becomes the Oakland Mausoleum. Just think of it. The A’s could have control of 170 acres, entitlements to 8,000 homes and some 4 million square feet of commercial square footage – in two separate, high-profile locations. To the victor loser goes the spoils, I guess. For the A’s, the spoils are being able to have the East Bay all to themselves. They can dictate what kinds of development can occur at the Coliseum complex, including another football stadium.

I asked A’s President Dave Kaval about the A’s plans for the Coliseum. He ruled out building a ballpark there. Kaval’s response:

We’re still following the entitlements for the Coliseum that were approved for Coliseum City. We have to build up the areas at the Coliseum to deal with sea-level rise.

That led to the obvious follow-up question: Is there a Plan B?

You know we’re the Oakland A’s, we’re all about Plan A. We think we’ve done a lot of community outreach and we’ll do a lot more.

After the backlash suffered with the Peralta plan, I don’t blame the A’s for trying to cover all of the bases this time. I have to wonder if the world – nay, the Bay Area – is moving too fast for them.

Goodbye Oakland Raiders, Hello… SF Raiders?

The Raiders are scheduled to play perhaps their last game ever in Oakland vs. the Broncos on Monday night. Already, Denver local news is sounding the alarm about the dangers that await Orange Crush in the Black Hole.

Stories about rough and lawless crowds for Raiders games at the Coliseum are the stuff of legend. Like most legends they tend to be either fictional or largely embellished. There have been incidents in the past, though, and for the final game in Oakland Raiders history, the Coli is likely to be quite lathered up for the occasion. I don’t blame fans if they do, save for violence.

“Ballpark” is the new “multi-purpose stadium”

To add insult to injury, the Raiders have started talks with the Giants to play the 2019 season at AT&T Park. It would only be a temporary stop as the Raiders await their palace under construction in Vegas. Still, the Raiders playing in SF has to be insulting for at least some Raider fans. Is it possible, though?

We’ve exhaustively covered MLB’s territorial rights here on this blog. Not so much coverage of the NFL’s T-rights. And yes, they do exist. There haven’t been many instances where NFL T-rights had to be defended, though the LA situation could have been trickier had only one team been there for an extended period when the other moved in. Historically, the NFL has been more prone to teams moving than expansion, with teams generally moving to new markets. That would make the NFL’s general by-laws about T-rights pretty straightforward:

“Home Territory” with respect to any club means the city in which such club is located and for which it holds a franchise and plays its home games and includes the surrounding territory to the extent of 75 miles in every direction from the exterior corporate limits of the city, except as follows:

I smell a catch coming…

(A) Whenever any two member clubs, other than the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, are located and hold franchises for different cities within 100 miles of each other measured from the exterior corporate limits of the city, then the territorial rights of each of such clubs only extend to and include an area of one-half the distance between such cities.

and…

In respect to the San Francisco and Oakland franchises the following provisions shall apply:

The home club in each city shall have the exclusive right to exhibit professional football games played by teams in the League in its city, and neither the San Francisco nor the Oakland club shall have any right to play professional football in the city of the other without the consent of the other club.

In respect to the area included in the home territory of both clubs, but located outside the city limits of both cities, both clubs shall have joint rights of exclusivity, and both of said clubs may play games with other clubs in the League within such area without the consent of the other club also operating in the same home territory or any part thereof.

No other two-team market is codified this way. In fact, the only other two-team NFL markets (NY and LA) either have a shared stadium or are building one. So it would appear that the Raiders need express permission from the 49ers to play in SF. That’s despite the fact that the 49ers don’t play their home games within SF city limits. The Bay Area is weird that way.

Whether the Raiders play at China Basin, East Oakland, or Timbuktu next year, the lawsuit filed by the City of Oakland against the NFL and the Raiders is likely to continue. To that, I look at it as every pile after a tackle – nobody knows where everyone’s hands have been.

20+ years later, the process remains the same

I was going through some reading material as any good stadium geek does occasionally, when I came upon one of my favorite chapters in Sports, Jobs & Taxes, the Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist book that set the tone for future stadium discussions along with Neil deMause’s Field of Schemes. I then remembered that I wrote a post about this years ago. And then I noticed something else while I was rereading the chapter: a flowchart.

Well then, how does one go about making it work as the Giants did in China Basin? Thankfully, some very smart economists – John M. QuigleyEugene Smolensky, and Stephen J. Agostini – have gone to the trouble of diagramming the process.  The flowchart below comes from a paper titled Stickball in San Francisco. It’s better known as the San Francisco Giants’ case study in the book Sports, Jobs, and Taxes by noted sports economists Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist. Ready? Here’s the secret recipe:

stickball

Step-by-step instructions on how to follow the Giants’ plan. (click for larger version)

Back in 2012, I made parallels between the process China Basin went through and Victory Court, one of the last great ballpark concepts that went nowhere. I was amazed at how, 20+ years after the Giants navigated the political process and broke ground, how similar the process looks for Howard Terminal. While AB 734 sits on the governor’s desk waiting for his signature, the only procedural change it makes for the A’s is limiting the length of CEQA-related lawsuits to 270 days. So I’m presenting the flowchart again, to show you the path Howard Terminal must take to breaking ground. There are some differences, mainly the lack of Caltrans involvement in the land deal and the fact that Oakland doesn’t have a Board of Supervisors like the City and County of San Francisco (Oakland has a City Council instead), but most everything else is quite similar.

The A’s and their architects apparently have a trip planned to visit several urban ballparks towards the end of the regular season. I wonder if the junket will also include a visit to the next BCDC Commission meeting.

Do not be surprised when teams withhold rent as part of lease talks

The Merc reports that the 49ers have withheld more than $5 million in rent from the City of Santa Clara.

Yawn.

The team is due a rent “reset” that could eventually lower its annual payments from $24.5 million, a figure that includes operating costs. The 49ers like to claim that it’s the highest rent in pro sports, though most leases don’t include operating costs, usually an eight-figure item on their own. Even with those costs removed, it’s still a pretty high rent payment. That doesn’t mean anyone should be sympathetic to the Yorks. Forbes had the team’s revenue and operating income for the 2014 season at $427 million and $123.7 million, respectively.

levis_stadium-36-view_midfield

The 49ers believe the rent on this place is “too damn high”

That said, the system, and the very nature of these lease agreements puts teams in a negotiating advantage from jump. If a lease is about to expire, or if there’s a clause that allows for renegotiation, chances are the team is going to take advantage of it. Let history be a guide.

  • A year ago the Raiders withheld rent as they talked 2015 lease with the Coliseum JPA. The lease ended up being for only one year.
  • The A’s famously had a lengthy brouhaha with the GPA over shorted parking revenue that eventually spilled over into lease talks. After Oakland played hardball with the A’s, then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig pulled the move threat card and Oakland backed down.
  • During the Chris Cohan era, the JPA sued the Warriors three times over breach of contract, ending in settlement.
  • The Giants owned the AT&T Park structure, so their lease with SF was for land, a nominal fee. That didn’t stop the Giants from arguing over property taxes, eventually going to court over the matter.

All of that happened since the turn of the millennium.

In a more charitable world, teams and their incredibly wealthy owners would hold to their contracts, instead not even waiting for the ink to dry. That’s not the world we live in. So we can grouse more about certain owners we disdain as opposed to others we hold in higher regard. It doesn’t matter. This is how teams operate. Since these facilities have such huge mortgages and most of them are publicly owned, it’s the municipalities that get the worst of it. Exactly what can the cities do, anyway? Evict the teams? Cities can and should fight for what they can, but remember that in the end, they’re not supposed to be the winners. The teams are. The deck is stacked against the public.

News for the week: Tommy Boy Edition (1/16/16)

While Mark Davis drowns his sorrows with some beer and wings, pondering his next move, we should consider what else has been happening this week. After all, unless either the Chargers decide to stay in San Diego, Davis is more-or-less stuck in Oakland. He could conceivably apply to move to a vacated San Diego or San Antonio, but that require going through this rigmarole again with a much smaller payoff. So we’ll let whole football thing settle down for a few weeks. If you want to understand what Oakland is getting ready to offer the Raiders, read my post from November.

Matier and Ross reported earlier this week that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is pushing Howard Terminal hard for a new ballpark, which is no secret. Included was this nugget:

The city would probably also have to come up with at least $90 million in infrastructure improvements, including funding for a car and foot bridge connecting Howard Terminal to Market Street east of the railroad tracks.

That $90 million figure is no accident. Schaaf is offering the Raiders the same amount for infrastructure at the Coliseum. She’s trying not to play favorites with either team. Of course, there is the danger of spiraling costs, and Oakland is putting itself in the position to carry the debt burden all by itself, since it’s nearing a deal to buy out Alameda County. As costs rise, the question will linger over how much Schaaf is willing to support before the projects become untenable. At least her staff has acknowledged the need for an overpass at Market Street, which was a major issue for me. Frankly, I think they need two overpasses because of Market Street’s location well away from Jack London Square. If you want to get reacquainted with Howard Terminal, read my various posts about the site.

Other news:

  • The City of St. Petersburg’s City Council approved by a 5-3 vote to allow the Rays to explore other stadium sites outside the city limits. That includes all of Pinellas County (St. Pete is the county seat), and neighboring Tampa and Hillsborough County. It’s too early to tell whether this will ultimately lead to the end of the Rays’ tenure in St. Pete, but proponents are at the outset painting this as the team’s best chance to stay in the 4.3 million-strong Tampa Bay Area, which has proved poor for attendance and excellent for TV ratings. As always, the biggest issue is figuring out how to pay for it. Head over to Noah Pransky’s Shadow of the Stadium for complete coverage.
  • The Warriors are pushing back the opening of their arena to 2019 to accommodate the legal challenge by the anti-arena Mission Bay Alliance. MBA also sued UCSF’s Chancellor and now has two lawsuits against the arena project in different jurisdictions. It’s a legal Hail Mary that will largely depend on whether the arena will be afforded an expedited legal review. (SFGate, LA Daily News)
  • The new arena near the The Strip in Las Vegas has a $6 million per year naming rights deal with wireless carrier T-Mobile. (Las Vegas Review Journal)
  • Hartford’s downtown ballpark is delayed and has $10 million, for which no one has figured out how to pay. Thanks to the delays, the AA (Eastern League) Yard Goats will be forced to play on the road for the first six weeks of the season. (Hartford Courant)
  • Walmart announced a slew of store closures, including a store in south San Jose and the Oakland store on Hegenberger near the Coliseum. The store will close Sunday, which led @fanpledge to wonder if it could work as an A’s ballpark site.

Most importantly, the In-N-Out in the northeast corner can stay intact. I’ll cover this site in greater depth later.

Swingin’ A’s Podcast Interview

Sometimes it’s easier to ramble on a podcast than to write and edit a couple thousand words on a topic. Actually it’s a lot easier. If you’re wondering how all the stadium business with the A’s and Raiders is going to work out, head over to today’s Swingin’ A’s Podcast at Hardly Serious. I talked for nearly an hour with host Tony Frye about the fallout from the SCOTUS decision, how the Raiders are holding everything up, and what I think is going to happen over the next few months. I even explain how a ballpark deal could get done. Take a listen, and try not to focus on how many times I pause while delivering an answer. It’s a podcast, I’m allowed.

The eternal struggle between sightlines and safety, Part 1: Nets

Part of the view from Section 119 is "obstructed" by the backstop net

Part of the view from Section 119 is obstructed by the backstop net

During today’s A’s broadcast, the between-pitch conversation turned to netting and foul balls. New part-time color commentator Eric Chavez provided an anecdote from during his career. He was hitting batting practice at Boston’s Fenway Park, when a ball he hit went into the stands, hitting a child. Chavy found out that the child had subsequently needed five eye surgeries.

Boston became a focal point of safety when parts of Brett Lawrie’s broken bat ended up in the third base stands, hitting a fan in the head. Tonya Carpenter suffered life threatening injuries, but was eventually released from the hospital. Another fan who was hit by a ball while in the usually glass-protected EMC Club decided to sue the Red Sox last week. The glass had been removed for renovations.

Baseball is unique among all major professional sports in that it is the only sport in which the object of play (ball) routinely travels into the seating area. Most are balls hit into foul territory, with some going out in fair territory as home runs or ground rule doubles, or sometimes the occasional errant throw. For many fans, the souvenir ball is a treasure, a real achievement. For others, the foul ball is a source of potential danger. Bats present an even more perilous, albeit less frequent, hazard.

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These accidents and their often horrific severity have caused MLB to consider changes to ballparks to increase safety, counter to the so-called “Baseball Rule.” The Baseball Rule stipulates that stadium operators can’t be held responsible for injuries caused by stray balls or bats. Over time lawsuits have whittled away at the rule’s strength, to the point that teams have to be much more cognizant of the risk than ever before. Yet little has changed to protect fans. Right now backstop nets generally cover about sixty feet behind home plate and little else. At the Coliseum, the net is full height at the back of the notch, with additional netting angling down towards the front of the notch. The dugouts and field boxes are completely exposed. Only seats at dugout level (sunken below the field) and dugouts at new ballparks tend to be protected. Everything else is typically exposed.

The threat to baseball became more pointed when Gail Payne, an A’s season ticket holder, filed a class action lawsuit against MLB over the threat to fan safety. Never mind that a winged fruit bat has more chance of reaching Payne’s seats than one of Lawrie’s maple bats, there are still plenty of safety issues that MLB has neglected for far too long. A ball coming off the bat can reach the first row behind the dugout in every ML ballpark in one second. 1,750 fans are hit every year, the vast majority in foul territory. The lawsuit asks for new protective netting to be installed from foul pole to foul pole, covering all of the front row seats in foul territory.

chase4_section_s

A foul line drive could reach these seats in less than two seconds

MLB is certain to fight that as much as it can, reasserting its Rule to some extent. To do so would severely impact views for the high-paying fans next to the field. At the same time, they have to be ready for a compromise solution. One that has been discussed recently is an extension of netting to the far edge of each dugout. That should cut down on a number of injuries, though there would still be concerns about fans farther down the lines.

Considering that Lawrie’s bat brought all of this to a head, it’s worth mentioning maple’s role in all of this. Maple bats have long been known for their greater power thanks to the wood being harder than ash. The downside of the maple bat is its tendency to shatter, creating wood shards that fly around like shrapnel, hitting fans and players alike. If it came down to banning maple bats or extending nets, MLB would most likely choose the latter, since the loss of maple bats could have a negative effect on offense.

The increasing role of technology is also a concern, particularly the use of smartphones and tablets during the game. As I sat in the seat pictured above for the A’s-Dbacks game last weekend, I constantly reminded myself to pay more attention to the game. That was a complete failure as I routinely looked down at my Twitter app, putting the phone away only when I was eating (another type of distraction). Going to the other end of the spectrum, it wouldn’t hurt to have a glove on in case something happens. Then again, if the A’s defense is having trouble fielding balls, how much can we expect of fans?

College and amateur facilities have taken the safety net a bit further than the pros have gone, covering some of their small ballparks in nets. Tony Gwynn Stadium at San Diego State University has nets that extend several feet above the railing along the front row.

sdsu_gwynn

Is this a bad view because of the net?

Other parks have a small extended railing, maybe a foot high, above the dugout. The fact is that there’s no proper standard. Factors other than safety can also come into play. The Yankees had difficulty opening the new Yankee Stadium when they had to balance the safety concern with the visual effect of the backstop net on the home plate camera during Yankees broadcasts on the YES Network.

MLB has plenty of data on injuries to institute new standards at current and future ballparks. They’ll have a couple chances to effect change at their two offseason owners meetings, where the safety issue should be a hot topic. Several teams are ready to extend the nets, provided that MLB enacts new standards. The cost should be minimal, in the low five-figures per ballpark. If MLB truly cares, they’ll act quickly by extending the nets instead of creating a task force to study potential changes. Some foul balls will go away, along with the combination of danger and excitement that being exposed entails. It’s worth the sacrifice to reduce the number of injuries.

P.S. – Part 2 will cover railings and their associated risk.