Manfred strengthens case for Oakland

As has become customary over the years, reporters asked the Commissioner about the state of new venue pursuits for the A’s and Rays. Since Rob Manfred took the mantle from Bud Selig, Manfred has taken a slightly more hopeful and defined stance than his predecessor. Taking that a step further, Manfred today said that he remains committed to Oakland, seemingly indefinitely.

From the AP:

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And another Manfred comment from the Chronicle’s John Shea:

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Hear that? The commissioner is bullish on Oakland! That can’t be said for any other time since the A’s have been in the Town. Baseball was more concerned about Charlie Finley than Oakland in 1968. Throughout the Finley, Haas, Schott, and Wolff tenures, no one inside or outside baseball talked glowingly about Oakland’s economic prospects. Now Manfred is, and for good reason. By the numbers, Oakland is exploding in terms of real estate values and rents. It’s attracting tech companies and their employees. For the Lodge, Oakland has finally become more than a centrally-located fanbase, it is a healthy market unto itself. What’s more, Manfred likes Oakland’s prospects into the near future. If you’re wondering what took so long, consider the economic prospects of Oakland in 2009.

Manfred continued to push the notion that the A’s should pursue the stadium plan regardless of what happens with the Raiders. He hasn’t gone so far as to set a deadline or mention consequences (for either the A’s or Oakland), but if you’re paying attention, you know that this fall is the time for MLB to make hay with Lew Wolff and John Fisher.

The current CBA calls for the A’s to get off the revenue sharing dole once a new stadium opens. So far, Wolff has pledged to pay for the stadium without requiring Oakland to issue any new debt or raise taxes. But if Wolff and Fisher are going to pay full freight on the stadium, they’re going to need some relief from that debt service. The best arrangement within baseball would be to allow the A’s for the possibility to receive revenue sharing if they hit a shortfall. That shouldn’t be an issue for the first few “honeymoon period” years after the ballpark opens. There are some potentially lean years in the future, so allowing the A’s to stay within the revenue sharing pool could be an effective safety net, especially if the A’s start entertaining larger payrolls normally shouldered by a new stadium.

One other interesting quote came from Manfred:

Baseball is the best economic investment for a city because of the number of home dates it drives.

Unless you’re a Raider die-hard economic denier type (they exist), this is a basic truism – at least relative to football. However, buried in there is the term best economic investment for a city. That could mean infrastructure, or public funding, or a quasi-governmental agency like the JPA to get bonds or loans, or free land, any number of things. That’s an indicator that for Manfred’s belief in and protection of Oakland, he’s going to want Oakland to make its own investment. To what extent is unclear. Rest assured that Manfred will play the bulldog at some point in the future, and he won’t be a pushover. Look at how he’s treating the “threat” of a minimum wage or overtime vs. the economics of minor league baseball.

Wonder out loud threateningly about the future of the minors, an institution where no team pays its players? That’s the lawyer we all know and fear.

The A’s are NOT an obstacle to the Raiders

In the 2014 A’s Coliseum lease, the process for the A’s to vacate in compliance with a new Raiders stadium project was quite clear. Here’s how the stadium project was defined:

‘Raiders Construction Plan’ means a bona fide plan for construction of a new football stadium for the Oakland Raiders on current Complex property, adjacent to the current Complex property, or otherwise located sufficiently near to the Stadium such that it will materially impact Licensee’s operations, which bona fide plan must include, as pertains to such stadium project, a fully executed development agreement with a third-party developer and the Licensor for development of a new Raiders stadium, supported by a non-refundable deposit from the developer and received by the Licensor of at least Twenty Ten Million Dollars ($10,000,000.00).

And the terms for the A’s to leave:

Licensor may terminate this License upon written notice of intent to terminate to Licensee, such termination to take effect sixty (60) days after the conclusion of the second (2d) Baseball Season that commences after such notice. (By way of example, if Licensor provides Licensee with such termination notice on June 15, 2016, this License will terminate sixty (60) days after the conclusion of the 2018 Baseball Season.)

Basically, the Coliseum Authority has to give the A’s at least two full MLB seasons notice, so that they can plan for their next home. To build a stadium, the Raiders and their chosen developer partner would also have to provide a real plan, not just a couple drawings and some empty promises for studies. The point is to ensure that the Raiders and the developer are committed to the project, instead of wavering while pushing harder for alternatives outside the market (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, etc.).

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That’s it. The A’s don’t have any rights or right-of-refusal to develop the Coliseum land, to dispose of the Coliseum debt, or anything else besides playing baseball games at the Coliseum. It is not up to the A’s to determine what land the Raiders can or should use. If the Raiders want to submit a plan to develop the entire complex, part of the complex, or even tear down and rebuild the Coliseum only, nothing is stopping them, especially their co-tenants the A’s. Anyone who say otherwise is lying.

Today, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf took steps to correct a report by Matier and Ross from the weekend. Here’s her statement:

‘Today’s San Francisco Chronicle contains inaccurate information I need to clarify. On May 23, I proactively contacted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to update him generally on what we’ve felt have been productive conversations with Raiders’ negotiator Larry MacNeil.’

‘Having learned from what I believe was a past mistake of awarding an exclusive negotiating agreement to a developer not approved by the Raiders, I wanted to assure the Commissioner of my commitment to keeping the Raiders and NFL at the center of our efforts.’

‘I did express to the Commissioner my interest in continuing discussions with the Ronnie Lott/Rodney Peete group and asked how the Commissioner would view my taking more meetings with them.’

‘The Commissioner encouraged me to explore all avenues for partnership that might result in a successful project for Oakland, the Raiders and the NFL, assuming we not give away any rights without clear Raiders’ support. That is my intention in resuming discussions with them.’

‘I continue to believe the Raiders can develop a new stadium in Oakland that is responsible to the team, its fans, the NFL and the taxpayers of Oakland. Oakland has worked hard to contribute the entitlements, development opportunities and infrastructure funding to our shared vision of a stadium-centered development at the Oakland Coliseum. I’m committed to continuing to work hard to realize this vision.’

Smart move by Schaaf not only to get ahead of the story, but to also control the messaging. This statement doesn’t waver from any previous public statements made by Schaaf since the demise of Coliseum City. Certainly there are other talks happening in private. The City and County still haven’t finished the the buyout plan for the Mt. Davis debt. She knocked down the characterizations in the M&R piece, instead positioning the talks as part of an ongoing process instead of a chess match.

A Raiders stadium is not going to proceed on a ridiculously fast track as we’ve seen in Cobb County for the Braves or in Vegas for the UNLV-Raiders stadium. There are too many details, too much complexity. That’s why the whole Raiders are stuck because of the A’s lease reeks of an exercise in blame assignment. It’s going to take a while. The process of untangling all of the agreements and leases while minimizing impact on current tenants will be messy. Besides, Davis doesn’t have the coin to accelerate a project the way the Yorks did in Santa Clara. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a good thing. We have seen what happens when a project is improperly rushed.

Rangers and Arlington Working On Third Ballpark

Third? You ask. The Ballpark in Arlington was the first true ballpark in Texas. Arlington Stadium was an overstuffed minor league park not worthy of full MLB bonafides, right?

Arlington Stadium was an overstuffed minor league park, true. But it held up for 22 years in an era where ballparks were not as obscenely specced as they are today. Arlington Stadium was redone during the time of the cookie cutter stadia. It was a round bowl. A bare bones facility. It had no roof. There were no cantilevered decks, and the press box attracted the North Texas winds like a vacuum. It was odd and disproportional, yet I had a slight affinity for it when I saw the A’s play road games there. Perhaps that’s because I never had a chance watch a summer game there.

Arlington Stadium (photo by Mike Fitzpatrick)

In 1994 the Stadium was replaced by The Ballpark in Arlington (review), an early entrant in the new era of retro-classical ballparks. TBiA (now Globe Life Park) was built to hold 50,000 fans, a bunch of offices in center field, and the new standard of club seats and suites. What TBiA lacked was any kind of roof with an air conditioning system. A fixed roof was not really in the cards, and the only retractable roof at the time was at the hulking SkyDome, far too expensive for the $191 million budget. So to compensate, the Rangers built ultra large covered concourses with an open facade. It felt airy, and felt pretty good in April and sometimes September. July and August were punishingly brutal thanks to the humidity. George W. Bush, who was looking for a trophy to propel his burgeoning political career, didn’t have six years to wait until the retractable technology evolved to the point of affordability, as it did for the Astros. So TBiA was built, Dubya became governor, and the Rangers stayed in Arlington.

Recently, Rangers ownership, now changed twice, started looking for a more technologically modern home, citing the need for a retractable dome thanks to the heat and humidity problems. A dome over the top of TBiA was considered problematic because of the lack of a support structure (and infrastructure) to carry the roof’s load. Prominent Dallas interests quietly started talking up a ballpark within the city, perhaps close to American Airlines Center. Arlington pulled the rug out from Dallas by working with the Rangers on an eventual replacement for TBiA, even though eight years remained on the lease.

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What will be the price tag for improved climate control? A cool $1 billion, half of it charged to the citizens of Arlington via extensions of existing sales/hotel/car rental tax hikes. Arlington pols feel confident about the plan because they may pay off the debt at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium 10 years early. Sure, they’ll outfit the park with more restaurants, bars, club levels, different types of suite boxes, and custom bat/bear/doohickey booths. And there will be a huge fan plaza with retail and a hotel, finally giving the immediate area something else walkable from the park. That mini ballpark village will be called Texas Live!, located kitty corner from the current ballpark to the southwest.

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There are a few sobering takeaways from this whole exercise.

  • Public money makes a stadium project move faster. Once those coffers are open, stakeholders are willing to move heaven and earth to make these projects happen. This is the #1 reason why no stadium is happening in Oakland right now, why San Jose’s ballpark fizzled, and why the Earthquakes’ stadium was delayed. Owners and leagues want municipalities to have skin in the game or a pound of flesh, whatever you want to call it.
  • There is little virtue in paying off a stadium early. Just as AT&T Stadium is projected to be paid off early, Phoenix’s Chase Field had its debt retired early. For Phoenix, all that meant was that the Diamondbacks asked for a new ballpark earlier than planned. Same goes for the Rangers in Arlington. Considering how so many sports venues don’t pay for themselves, such moves take a lot of chutzpah.
  • The next wave of ballparks is here. Cobb County’s park for the Braves will open next year. The Rangers are shooting for 2021. Arizona is asking for their own smaller, more intimate park. Arte Moreno has been saber rattling Anaheim for years. Other teams will call for extensive renovation plans. This new era may not have the same wholesale turnover of venues as it did during the Selig era, but whatever happens promises to be very expensive, and for most teams, largely unnecessary.

Sometimes it feels like the world is passing the A’s by. This is no more clearly evident than in the stadium game. At least the Rays are here to keep us company.

O.co tells it goodbye

After a five year run, internet retailer Overstock.com and the JPA are calling it quits on their naming rights deal at the Coliseum. The deal apparently was not terribly lucrative for either side. The JPA realized $2 million a year, making at best a slight dent in ongoing debt and operations costs. For Overstock, which more or less stopped using O.co in the US, the name was more a source of confusion and mild derision than revenue growth. Here’s how confusing the name situation was and still is:

Why is Overstock.com known as O.co internationally?

Over the last few years, Overstock.com has expanded to countries all over the world. However, we discovered that “overstock” doesn’t always translate well. To minimize the confusion created by translating the word “overstock” into other languages, we decided to use O.co for our international sites.

So many welps. At least Overstock has found some success partnering with the A’s, so their partnership will continue. As for the stadium, I and most everyone I knew called it the Coliseum. Just as we didn’t call it the Network Associates Coliseum or McAfee Coliseum (or even UMAX Coliseum), we didn’t use O.co and probably won’t use any future name either. I can’t blame the JPA for trying to get some revenue out of this, but they can’t blame the fans for holding on to the edifice’s rightful, classical name. Even the downright bureaucratic sounding “Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum” has its own air, or at least Chris Berman thinks so.

Frankly, when you go through so many names, it’s probably time for a new ballpark.

 

Raiders ink 1-year lease with options, hire former 49ers CFO MacNeil

The Raiders agreed in principle to a one-year lease at the Coliseum, with the potential for extensions in 2017 and 2018. Specific terms were not revealed at today’s press conference, but the main reveals are that the Raiders will pay more in rent than they had in the most recent lease, and that Larry MacNeil, former 49ers CFO, was hired to work with the City/County/JPA on a new stadium deal. Davis touted MacNeil’s experience in developing Levi’s Stadium.

Towards the end of the press conference, Davis challenged A’s ownership to “commit to Oakland”:

Right now there’s 120 acres. There’s parking, there’s an arena. We like the gameday experience of tailgating on that parking lot. We don’t want to give that up. Now, there’s two teams that play in that Coliseum. One’s the Oakland A’s, one’s the Oakland Raiders. People have not listened when I said I do not mind if there are two stadiums on that site. The A’s stadium would take about 12 acres, the Raiders’ stadium would take about 15-17 acres. That’s fine with me, but I do not want to give up the parking.

If, in fact, the A’s do want to stay in the Coliseum site, they need to commit A.S.A.P. so that we can go ahead and design and take down the Coliseum, provide all the infrastructure necessary to build two new stadiums in Oakland, and two teams will then come back in and play in two new stadiums. What I do not want to do is build a football stadium in the corner of the parking lot while the Coliseum is still standing, and then once we have a brand new stadium we begin to tear down – or build a new baseball stadium – and then tear down the Coliseum, disrupting the ingress, egress, and parking, tailgating experience for Raider fans on gameday. What it’s going to take is for the A’s to make a commitment to Oakland and tell the people what they want to do.”

You mean something like this, Mark?

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

Two new venues on a slightly larger footprint than the original

The A’s response did not waver from their ongoing evaluation process:

Let’s, for a moment, follow Davis’s argument all the way through to its hypothetical end. He is right that he’s been consistent about this. For nearly two years he has wanted the Coliseum torn down immediately, to be replaced by either a football stadium on the original footprint, or two venues next to each other. As you can see from my drawing above, it can be done while taking up only slightly more land than the original Coliseum did. There would even be some advantages in that a grand plaza could be built between the two stadia, leading to the arena.

But is it realistic? Let’s consider how this would progress. Assuming that Lew Wolff and John Fisher could be convinced to go along with this plan, the Coliseum would be torn down and the site graded shortly after the end of the Raiders’ 2017 season – let’s call it a year from now, February 2017. From that point new infrastructure would have to be put in place, followed by actual construction. If they started by the summer, the A’s couldn’t move into their new home until the 2020 season because of a very compressed schedule for an early 2019 opening. The Raiders could potentially open in 2019, but consider that 2019 is the projected opening for the Rams’ stadium in Inglewood – and that site is ready to go, demo already completed. For all intents and purposes, both the Raiders and A’s would be out of Oakland for three years – the A’s probably to AT&T Park, the Raiders to Levi’s or somewhere else. Throughout all of this, Davis would have final say on any development on the 120-acre Coliseum site.

Is there anything in Davis’s history or actions that makes anyone believe Davis is the person to make this happen? He has no experience in development or in the kinds of complex legal and business arrangement requires. His sudden ability to rattle off catchphrases like “opportunity cost” like he just rolled out of a basic microeconomics class isn’t impressing anyone. MacNeil is a good hire, but his presence alone isn’t going to convince investors to subsidize a stadium. And Davis’s desire to stick with ingress/egress/parking as his most important issues in Oakland is downright bizarre. Preserving parking has some nobility to it and is a good way to pander to Raiders fans, especially when compared to the mess that is Levi’s Stadium parking. That argument can’t possibly impress the other 31 owners, who have demonstrated repeatedly that they want deals that improve revenue for teams and for the league as a whole. Parking is worth maybe $4 million a year in revenue. Davis has somehow neglected to talk about revenue as a rationale as every other owner seeking a new stadium has done. Raiders ticket prices will be frozen again for 2016, keeping prices and local revenues essentially flat for the several years since he took the reins. And Mt. Davis will remained tarped to boot. If the Raiders’ revenue position is going to improve, the Raiders will have to charge much higher prices at the new stadium, and in the intervening years they’ll have to test out those higher prices on fans at the Coliseum, the same way the Warriors are doing now in preparation for their new arena. Without a major revenue boost, there isn’t even a business case for building a new stadium, even a small one. The $500 million (+$100 million gift) Davis frequently talks about comes from stadium revenues. If he can’t hit the targets in those loan programs he’ll have hell to pay from the other teams’ owners and his own investment group, in large part because he’ll end up bleeding his golden goose (the NFL’s TV contracts) to pay everything off. And we still don’t know how the $300 million funding gap would be filled.

Historically, none of the old multipurpose stadia have been redeveloped in the manner Davis is suggesting. There generally was a sequence with one tenant staying in the old building while another was built next door, then the old one was demolished and replaced. That was a successful model in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia. While the Bay Area has the luxury of high quality venues that could host the two Oakland teams in a pinch, you’re also allowing them to take both feet out the door for three years. Either team (or both) could back out of any stadium deal at any time (really, please try to force a team to build a stadium when the city is providing no money for it). The only leverage Oakland has is that the Coliseum still exists and remains functional, allowing MLB and the NFL to maintain its inertia regarding both teams. Without the Coliseum, Oakland is practically a non-entity for pro sports. I’m not sure if the politicians gathered around Davis at the presser believe in Davis’s vision. The presser certainly wasn’t the venue to argue against Davis. The theme of the event was unity, even though all they were talking about was a short lease extension. Well, unless we start to see hard numbers and actual advantages for the A’s and Raiders besides preserving parking, we’re a long way from actual unity.

P.S. – Davis is trying to play some sort of PR game by claiming that the Raiders are “hamstrung” by the A’s lease. That’s only true if the only way to build a stadium is to do it Davis’s way. Otherwise the A’s lease can be terminated with two years’ notice. That’s it. It’s not unreasonable for the A’s to ask for some time to get their affairs in order. Unless you’re Tommy Boy, I guess.

Raiders – Coliseum JPA Press Conference today at 3

I assume this is about a short-term lease extension, not a new stadium deal, but stranger things have happened. Press release:

Oakland-Alameda County

Coliseum Authority

 

For Immediate Release
February 11, 2015

News Conference

Oakland Alameda County Coliseum Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to Make Important Announcement on the Future of the Oakland Raiders

3pm, Thursday, February 11, 2016 in the Oracle Arena Club

Oakland, CA – Selected members of the Joint Powers Authority and the Executive Director of the JPA will meet the media to discuss developments with the Oakland Raiders and the team’s 2016 football season (and beyond).

Media are invited to attend.
This is neither a public event nor an official meeting of the JPA

Who:             JPA Chair and Oakland City Councilmember Larry Reid

Oakland Raiders Owner Mark Davis

JPA Vice-chair and Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley

JPA member Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty

JPA Executive Director, Scott McKibben

What:            Announcement of important development

When:           3pm, Thursday, 11 February, 2016

Where:          Oracle Arena, Arena Club, Entryway adjacent to ticket booth

If Howard Terminal ballpark happens, so should a new BART station for it

My last article with Howard Terminal as the main subject (and not as an aside) was posted on November 15, 2014. That was nearly 15 months ago. Since then, few things have changed in the immediate area. The site remains without a tenant, short or long-term. While relationships with shipping companies SSA Marine and Matson solidified, the same can’t be said for rival Ports America, which pulled out of Oakland completely.

No site studies were completed on Howard Terminal, so in the event the site become an official relocation site for the A’s in the future, it will again come time to figure out just how much it costs and how long it will take to get the site ready. Thankfully, in Mayor Schaaf’s recent push for HT, a preliminary figure has been floated for site prep and infrastructure: $90 million. To me that sounds conveniently low, especially because $90 million is also the figure to get the Coliseum ready for the Raiders – even though we don’t know how much can or would be developed there.

Fortunately, we know that the infrastructure budget would include at least one bridge extending Market Street over the Embarcadero and Union Pacific tracks to Howard Terminal. There’s also a good chance we’d see a small parking garage to serve the stadium, probably for players, management, and VIPs such as suite holders. The actual cleanup cost is still to be determined, since we don’t have a proper sense of the footprint and placement of the ballpark in relation to the waterfront, not to mention the fate of the rest of the 50 acres.

Oakland has embarked on updating its Downtown Specific Plan. As is often the case when such updates come around, the city has chosen to expand its definition of downtown, now including Howard Terminal as part of an expanded Jack London district. This is a good move if the purpose is to recast HT as Jack London Square’s commercial flank to the west, instead of HT’s legacy as a dirty, blue collar, West Oakland port facility.

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Howard Terminal and Ballpark at the far left of expanded Jack London District

The expansion makes the Jack London District quite large, extending 1.25 miles from west to east. That’s as long as a stroll from the marina all the way to 21st Street down Broadway. Or in walking distance, 25 minutes or so. To get a sense of distance and walkability, Oakland plotted out a series of maps showing rights-of-way, transit access, and walking distance from key points. Take this map, for instance:

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Radius of 5-minute walking distances from various points within Downtown Oakland

Based on where the the ballpark is located, it’s about 10 minutes from Jack London Square. It’s another 10 minutes to the nearest entrance for the 12th Street BART station. That’s going to require some sort transit option to bridge that distance, either via a more frequent Broadway Shuttle, the long-rumored Streetcar project, or another BART station in the vicinity of JLS. Because BART inclines from a tunnel to an elevated viaduct as it runs by 880, the most likely place for a station would be Market and 5th St. That’s a great location relative to Howard Terminal, only 1/4-mile away. There’s room and BART-owned land there for a new station. To accommodate BART’s up to 710-foot trains, the station would have to be located between Market and Brush Streets.

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Gray marker on Market St denotes location of BART infill station

BART aerial at 5th Street at Market Street

BART aerial at 5th Street and Market Street

The downside of BART at Market and 5th is that it’s 3/4-mile from Jack London Square, though at least it would be in the district (barely). A streetcar would conceivably serve more locals and non-ballpark users, but its route would run closest at JLS, again, 1/2-mile away. In a 2012 study, the streetcar’s estimated cost was $202 million. An infill aerial BART station would cost $70 million or more to construct. To me, if there’s a choice it’s a no brainer – build the BART station. But I’m not an Oakland resident, I’m an A’s fan who cares most about BART access. Citizens of Downtown Oakland who want a more comprehensive transit plan for their neighborhood may not find such an option satisfactory. The location is also not conducive to a big transit-oriented development plan, which makes it less attractive for grant funding, a possible necessity for construction.

Some may think that this infrastructure is unnecessary for the ballpark. They point to the numerous fans who walk from the Embarcardero BART station the long way along the waterfront to AT&T Park. Yes, people do that. They do it because it’s scenic. The walk from 12th Street to Howard Terminal is not scenic, whether you’re taking Broadway, Washington, or MLK. Forcing people to walk 20 minutes after taking in many cases a 15-25 minute BART ride is not convenient. It’s not up to the standards the public expects for transit availability. And it’s incredibly disrespectful to the needs of the disabled and seniors. You know what those people have in San Francisco? They have the ability to transfer to MUNI without leaving the station. Thousands of able-bodied fans do the same thing. They have the option to either walk or take transit directly to the park. That’s pretty close to ideal. Or if you want ideal access, there’s the Coliseum and the BART bridge. A’s staff are on hand at each end to help fans in wheelchairs. In upgrading ballparks, we shouldn’t downgrade access. We’re better than that.