AB 734 signed by Governor Brown

I figured that with the sheer number of bills waiting to be passed or vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, he might take the entire month to sign AB 734 (D-Bonta) into law.

On that count I was right. There was not much worry about a veto for this and similar bills, because the issues are so local that they weren’t likely to encounter broad opposition. It is somewhat interesting, however, that the Clippers’ CEQA streamlining bill, AB 987, had former US Senator Barbara Boxer lobbying against it. At the end, both AB 734 (A’s, Howard Terminal) and AB 987 (Clippers, Inglewood) were both signed before tonight’s midnight deadline. AB 987 happens to have a signing statement from Brown, which should equally apply to AB 734 and Howard Terminal. From Gov. Brown:

While most fans and HT proponents have focused on issues such as the distance from BART and the dearth of parking and other traffic infrastructure immediately available at HT, it should be made clear that a ballpark project will have to pass certain (CEQA) standards to be approved and certified – before a shovel hits in the ground. Although the Warriors and Kings had the benefit of their own CEQA streamlining bills, legal challenges still delayed the eventual groundbreaking for Chase Center for at least a year. On the other hand, the ballpark is projected to have a much smaller capacity than the current Coliseum at 30-35,000 seats. That and smart design should help the project meet some environmental standards. As for the usual arguments about gentrification and displacement (mostly of industry) that will likely come up, I’ll just say that I’m glad this discussion is finally taking place.

Tidelands Trust map of Howard Terminal and Jack London Square area

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.

Dolich thinks A’s have secret plan

Now that the A’s have the not-heavy-lifting passage of AB 734 completed, we can focus on next steps.

That means the financial part of the deal. Besides picking the site (Howard Terminal or the Coliseum), the A’s have to arrange a deal to either lease or purchase the land. Andy Dolich thinks that the A’s will make a play for both, using one to offset the cost of the other.

When the green and gold can’t access enough infrastructure gold from the city, county and Port of Oakland, they might introduce their Hidden Ball Trick.

It goes something like this: You (public entities) pay for Howard’s infrastructure with this ball over here, and we (the A’s) and a DTBNL (Developer to Be Named Later) will pick up your debt load of $137 million on the Coliseum. Of course, you’ll have to make us the exclusive owner of that site.

Any guesses as to whether or not that’s an even trade? When the community activists start to speak out, we’ll soon find out the answer.

Oakland to proceed with lawsuit against Raiders

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Matier and Ross have the details.

 

A’s look to the future, keep HOK ballpark architect Schrock as consultant

This is what I’ve wanting to hear.

The quote of the week comes from A’s President Dave Kaval, courtesy of Don Muret, the former venue reporter for Sports Business Journal who last year went to VenuesNow. To wit:

“It’s a good pairing,” Kaval said. “We’re intent on developing a truly game-changing ballpark. There have been so many derivations of Camden Yards, we feel it’s time for a new direction.” 

Kaval was referring to the partnership of BIG and Gensler, as we discussed last week when the big announcement was made. Yet as I pointed out last week, BIG hasn’t architected a baseball stadium. Ever. There appeared to be a missing piece in the ballpark equation. Muret revealed the answer:

The hiring of BIG and Gensler does not sever the relationship between the A’s and HOK, specifically Brad Schrock, a principal with the firm and a veteran sports architect. Schrock has been working on a ballpark project for the A’s over the past 15 years, first with 360 Architecture and later HOK. He remains involved as a design consultant for the privately-financed facility, team officials said.

Schrock previously worked on Safeco Field when he was a principal in Heinlein Schrock, the firm that eventually became 360 and then HOK’s sports practice after Populous split off on their own. For more on Schrock, check out the post I wrote in 2014, which featured former SVBJ writer Nate Donato-Weinstein’s interview with Schrock.

The partnership of BIG, Gensler, and HOK (Schrock) should bring in a diverse range of concepts, though I imagine that each will be responsible for specific pieces. For instance, BIG might plan the entire development, while Gensler does the interiors, and Schrock provides the baseball expertise.

Ideas are swimming in my head. Before I get to those, let’s see what happens tomorrow in Sacramento, where the scramble is on to pass AB 734, the ballpark village bill for the A’s. Tomorrow is the deadline for the bill, which was amended to focus mostly on Howard Terminal. This was, as I mentioned earlier, because Howard Terminal needs the attention and focus. The Coliseum, as unsavory as it is to some, is already entitled for a stadium and has CEQA certification for the very kind of mixed use development the A’s are seeking.

It’s shaping up to be a very laborious Labor Day weekend.

A’s bring in architectural rockstar Bjarke Ingels to helm ballpark village project

There’s a scene in the Netflix documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design, where the subject of the episode, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, describes one of this first projects. The site is in the Copenhagen docklands and was previously used for painting ship hulls. The original plan was to remediate the site by removing polluted topsoil. Sound familiar, Howard Terminal fans? The problem was that it would’ve cost a third of the allocated budget to clean and remove the soil. Ingels submitted a solution: build over the top of the site with a wooden skin, so that the soil doesn’t endanger anyone.

Maritime Youth House in Copenhagen

The result was a facility that serves dual purposes: a storage area/workshop for boats, and a playground/boardwalk area for children and families. I imagine that example, and some of Ingels’ more provocative work as part of BIG, Ingels’ architectural firm, helped attract A’s owner John Fisher and his staff.

Now, I do have some doubts about how scalable the methods used at the Maritime Youth House are. Both Howard Terminal and the Coliseum are on dangerous liquefaction zones, so some measures would have to be taken to anchor and strengthen whatever is built on top of them. I mean, no one in their right mind is going to build a massive stadium on wooden stilts.

The profiles of BIG and Ingels have grown exponentially over the past decade, with BIG winning numerous design competitions and the firm’s work featured all over the globe. However, there is a notable missing piece from the BIG’s portfolio. A young firm with designs on the world, it hasn’t yet completed any sports architecture work. That’s right, Fisher went with a rockstar architect with no stadium or arena experience. Maybe that will come with the to-be-located replacement stadium for FedEx Field in the DC area. Austin may finally being getting the Columbus Crew MLS franchise (tough week, C-bus), but apparently BIG’s design for a stadium at East Austin’s rodeo grounds isn’t in the cards. Mind you, I don’t mind hearing new voices in the sports architecture world. Given how Populous has dominated American sports for decades, Americans could use some fresh thinking.

It’s less clear when the new Washington football stadium will be built. The exterior of the stadium is funky, with a mesh skin and a moat that could serve as an ice rink in the winter. Inside it looks, well, like an updated version of Arrowhead Stadium. Which brings me to a greater point: I suggest not judging whatever BIG delivers until they present it in terms of renderings or sketches. Right now there’s a huge debate in social media over retro-vs.-modern design that BIG is “definitely” going to provide even though we haven’t seen slide 1 of their presentation. While it’s true that BIG’s work leans futuristic, that doesn’t mean that a futuristic ballpark is in the works. Since BIG is the master planner for the whole site, their idea may be to make the ballpark less of a centerpiece and more in service to the rest of the development. Open air ballparks aren’t all that tall or garish, anyway. And since I suspect Fisher will have a tight rein over the budget, a grand architectural gesture may be too rich for even Fisher. One thing I think is for certain: another retro design with manual scoreboards and bric-a-brac like lighting cues or a frieze probably aren’t happening.

You’ve probably heard of the other firm in the announcement: Gensler. They’ve done a lot of work for the GAP over the years, so you have to figure Fisher (known in the media as “Baby GAP”) knows them well. They were also tapped to provide design services for the A’s ballpark village in Fremont. You remember Fremont, right? Right near where there was a fire at the Tesla factory earlier today. Gensler also oversaw the refresh of the A’s spring training facilities in Mesa, so they know something about baseball.

I look forward to seeing what kind of innovation BIG puts forward. Because if we know anything about Howard Terminal, it needs a lot of innovation to make it work.

 

Oakland’s thirst for football runs into a hArd limit

As construction on the Raiders’ new Vegas palace continues, Oakland keeps trying to get some kind of football team to take the Raiders’ place at the Coliseum. Thankfully, on Thursday the Coliseum JPA ended their pursuit of a new XFL franchise for the 2020 season. The XFL, the once and future brainchild of WWE head Vince McMahon, previously played during the winter and spring of 2001, with a franchise at what was then named Pacific Bell Park (now AT&T Park). The next iteration of the XFL is supposed to launch a 10-week season around the time of the 2020 NFL playoffs.

The A’s ended up being a big factor in the decision, as the grounds crew takes much of each winter to get the field ready for baseball, which starts every April. To be fair to the JPA, the XFL appears to be ones who tried to push the issue, knowing how well the league did with the SF Demons last time around. But despite the Coliseum’s multipurpose nature, it’s still hampered by some old decisions – some 20 years old, some 50 – that make conversions expensive while compromising the playing surface quality for either sport. It’s smart for the JPA to pass on this.

Hesitance on the JPA’s part caused the XFL to look north, to Berkeley and Memorial Stadium. That entreaty was also refused, leaving the XFL with no obvious alternatives. Why didn’t the XFL hit up the Giants to use China Basin again? After all, AT&T Park recently hosted the Rugby World Cup Sevens successfully. Perhaps like the A’s, the Giants wanted to keep the field pristine during their offseason. Can’t blame them for that.

Hey, where’d the infield go?

Another option that won’t be available for Oakland is the other startup football league, the Alliance of American Football. That league, whose franchises are mostly placed in the South, has set a 2019 launch date.

The Coliseum may not be the best baseball stadium in creation, but at least we can rest assured that the JPA is paying more attention to preserving the Coli as at least a half-decent place to play. The Raiders have every incentive to get their new digs ready for fall 2020, which would benefit the A’s even more as they determine where the future ballpark will be built.