Howard Terminal and… Oakland’s Outer Harbor?

Yes, Howard Terminal is high on the list for the A’s. Eastshore Empire looked the last week’s Port Commissioners’ meeting agenda and found something interesting:

That type of language comes up a lot for the Coliseum JPA’s board meetings, especially when the JPA and its tenants are negotiating leases. It’s great to hear that the A’s are having talks about land use and potential acquisitions or leases with the Port. That shows that they’re willing and able to move on multiple sites without waiting for the Raiders to clean up their own mess. Having Berths 20-24 (?) on there is a different matter altogether.

I chimed in with the following:

Berths 20-24 are better known as the former PAOHT (Ports America) site. Due to an ongoing dispute with the Port over their own lease and slow business, PAOHT declared bankruptcy last year, abandoning their 50-year lease in the process. I wrote about the potential of the site last year, though I framed it as more of a replacement site for the Raiders should the A’s take over the Coliseum. Because of the site’s lack of transit availability (BART runs nearby but can’t stop there) but massive size for a future parking lot, it could work as a NFL stadium site. For baseball it makes little sense at all. It’s two miles from West Oakland BART, three from Howard Terminal, and three from downtown Oakland. There’s nothing around it and the wind there makes Candlestick feel like a light tropical breeze. And because a ballpark can’t face west, fans would never benefit from the incredible view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco.

The site may function as parking for a Howard Terminal, which might work better in terms of planning and maintaining Port operations. However, as mentioned before, the site is a three mile bus ride from HT. That’s the same distance along Broadway from the Embarcadero to 51st Street. Having dozens of shuttles running such a lengthy distance on regular Oakland surface streets during peak hours sounds like a recipe for disaster. It belies the urban ballpark concept that Oakland and the A’s are seeking. Still, parking is rather scarce at JLS/HT, and maybe the shuttles can be routed to stop by West Oakland BART to pick up fans.

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David Kaval reaffirmed that the A’s will announce their site choice, plan, and timeline this year. While the communication lines are open to fans for suggestions, the decision-making process isn’t exactly open. That was a major mistake made under Lew Wolff, and I hope that the team at the very least provides more insight into the factors driving the decision (cost, transit, land availability, development potential, etc.). A’s fans deserve at least that much.

Davis messes with bull, gets horns

Fan Fest at JLS a rousing success

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As I arrived at the Jack London Square Amtrak station around 9:30 AM on Saturday, I looked around. No fog. Thin cirrus clouds. The sun was warming the air. This was, for once, going to be a good Fan Fest. Which it was. The A’s had a permit for 7,500, and if it rained as it had over the past several weeks and during most recent Fan Fests, they were expecting a modest 3,000 to show up. They were even considering putting up a tent at the Ferry Lawn, if only to provide more cover for fans. Instead, they got a reported 15,000 fans to show. And according to Sean Doolittle, the crowd actually measured 1.5 million in attendance. Frankly, I’m all for #alternativefacts when it comes to A’s attendance.

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Fans took over Jack London Square: waiting in line for autographs, sampling free food from several food trucks, watching player interviews, or taking in kids’ activities. Some came out because of the great weather, others wanted to check out nearby Howard Terminal. I’ll have an expansive post on that later this week. For now I’ll give you some initial thoughts.

 

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15,000 is an impressive crowd for Fan Fest, and Jack London Square makes for a pretty decent already-built ballpark village, doesn’t it? That’s only half the size of a good new ballpark crowd, and it’s on Saturday morning, not a traditional heavy traffic window as you would see most weeknights. Still, things seemed to go without incident. There could have been plenty, though. Counting the train on which I arrived, there were five trains rumbling through Jack London Square in a roughly 40 minute span coming from both east and west, including a long freight train. I also saw a near accident:

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Pedestrian bridge at Yoshi’s between Washington and Clay

The driver of the black Tesla was confused about where he could turn, thanks to the barricades at the Washington Street entrance to JLS. He stopped on the tracks before making a U-turn. Thankfully there was no train in the area. This is the same intersection where, only two weeks ago, two members of seminal Oakland jazz group Tower of Power were tragically hit by an oncoming Amtrak train. I know I sound like an obsessed worrywart about this train safety aspect. I can’t emphasize it enough, not just because safety is paramount, but also because the whole area needs to be safe for the companies that operate trains in the area.

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At Fan Fest itself, new team president David Kaval reaffirmed the A’s commitment to Oakland. The new marketing slogan is “Rooted in Oakland.” The Shibe Park Tavern rebranding of the West Side Club space at the Coliseum is to make it more baseball-leaning and fan-friendly. Kaval’s chief desire during this planning stage is to have a very intimate ballpark experience with “neighborhoods.” Anyone who has been following this story back through the Wolff years knows that those last items aren’t new. They’re not location-specific. As for those locations, they remain the Coliseum, Howard Terminal, and two “in and around Lake Merritt.” Those two are the Laney College and Peralta CCD sites. Kaval was quick to praise the Howard Terminal locale especially with the perfect weather at the time. He also mentioned that the team will need help from fans in terms of community support and lobbying at the city, county, and even state levels. Citing his experience in bringing Avaya Stadium to completion, Kaval emphasized the need to deal with the special regulations unique to Howard Terminal, including the Tidelands Trust. Kaval’s language has been careful to not favor one site over another, no matter what fans want to read into tweets and news quotes.

The thing Kaval didn’t provide was an announcement regarding the site choice. That’s still in progress, though Kaval promised a timeline along with renderings and the usual things that come with such an announcement. The simple fact is that we don’t know if any of these sites will be available when the time comes, so hedging by studying four sites (down from twelve) is the most prudent move the A’s and Kaval can make for now. So we’ll have to wait for some months to come before that major event. Until then, enjoy the food trucks!

What happens to the would-be lame duck Oakland Raiders?

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The Raiders unceremoniously filed for relocation to Las Vegas last week, a move as predictable as expecting the sun to rise tomorrow. Raiders owner Mark Davis has stayed steadfast in his opinions of Sin City since last year’s Carson stadium plan was rejected. Many questions still exist regarding the plan regarding the financing, potential attendance, and whether the franchise will actually make significantly more money there as opposed to Oakland. While I remain skeptical about the Raiders’ prospects in Vegas, I’ve come around to thinking that ultimately it won’t matter. If the Raiders move, they’ll get a massive subsidy from Clark County. If they come up short, they’ll somehow finagle their way to get another subsidy on top of that. The team can always cook the books in some way to make it look like they’re losing money even if they aren’t, which would start the cycle of getting more public money all over again.

Oakland and Alameda County limited their contributions to cheap land and subsidized infrastructure, and naturally, the NFL is not impressed by this. Yet the NFL has given the city/county several years to come up with some sort of plan that fits within the NFL’s typical stadium-building business model. At this point it’s simply unreasonable to expect the two sides to come to an agreement that is mutually satisfactory, let alone beneficial, within the next two months. While this isn’t a zero-sum game, there is always a winner, and it’s usually the NFL. When the public statements boil down to Oakland saying it has a plan and the NFL saying Oakland doesn’t, there isn’t much common ground.

Should Davis get the necessary 24 owner votes to move, he still plans to play out the next two lease option years at the Coliseum while the Vegas stadium starts construction (which may not happen until 2018). The lease allows for this, a huge mistake on the part of the City/County. Two lame duck years may be propped up by a more competitive Raiders team. They will suffer severe backlash from long-time Oakland Raiders fans. How much? Well, it won’t help that for the first time in twelve years, the Raiders are raising season ticket prices.

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2017 Raiders Season Ticket Prices

Surely, some fans who are location-agnostic will continue to come to games. The Raiders have good information on this so they have to be preparing for the worst. Though honestly, I have no idea what to expect. I’ve had many fans tell they’ll never go again, some who’ve said they’ll appreciate the time they have left with the Raiders, some who won’t go because of the ticket price hikes, and others who’ll continue their traditions of tailgating only or watching on TV. Dean Spanos chose to have the Chargers play in a stadium that currently seats only 27,000 (at least it’s in Carson, right Dean?), smaller than capacities for some two dozen FBS programs (out of 128). The Raiders could face hundreds of weekly references on Empty Seats Galore. It’s a sad way to go out, and probably not what the NFL intended. That rant, and the NFL’s mismanagement of the LA situation, deserves a much longer treatise at a later date.

The A’s have stayed largely quiet on this, other than a bit of shade thrown the Raiders’ direction last year. They just want the NFL to get on with it, though they won’t say that publicly. Yes, the search for the best site in Oakland remains ongoing. Then there’s this.

Sometimes it’s best to simply not saying until it’s time to do so.

NFL-Oakland in 140 characters

I realize that the last post was 1,200+ words long, so at lunch today I tried to come up with a more succinct version. So here it is. Pardon my French.

You’re welcome.

Lott-Fortress Stadium Term Sheet Approved by Oakland and Alameda County

A long day and night of talking and grandstanding is over. Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors approved the Ronnie Lott-Fortress Investment Group stadium deal framework around lunchtime. It’s a term sheet, so it has some basic details worked out, but not some extremely important ones, such as the approval of the Raiders and owner Mark Davis. Oakland’s City Council approved the same term sheet late Tuesday night. For what it’s worth, the AlCo BoS vote was 3-1-1. City Council voted 7-0-1. The voted and the completion of the term sheet were needed this week in time for the NFL’s owners meetings, which are taking place in Irving, TX. Updates on stadium plans for the Raiders and Chargers are expected.

I figured I should set the table for my readers and followers, so I tweeted the following shortly after the Council vote:

There may be other votes, including an extension of the ENA if the Raiders are resistant to the proposal, or it changes in major or fundamental ways. As for the cryptic acronyms, drop them in the search box at the top right of this page. Then read.

Let’s take a look at how this framework works.

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Breakdown of funding sources

Lott-Fortress estimate the stadium’s cost to be $1.3 billion for a 55,000 open-air NFL-compliant stadium. The capacity is lower than the average NFL venue by design; it’s what Mark Davis requested. Fans seem to be comfortable with the capacity as well, as that’s nearly the same capacity as the Coliseum’s football configurations over the last several seasons. Curiously, there haven’t been many questions about how the cost ballooned from $700 million to $1.3 billion in a matter of a few years. Some of that can be explained by the new estimate’s inclusion of infrastructure spending, an item often omitted due to it being a table stakes requirement for cities to cover. Oakland and Alameda County are also throwing in the land via lease or sale. The land has an appraised value of $150 million. Combine that with the $200 million in infrastructure and the total public contribution is projected to be $350 million.

City and County are both touting the claim that the $2oo million in bonds that will have to be issued to cover the infrastructure piece won’t affect either party’s general fund. That’s possible because half of the infrastructure will be paid by taxes backing an EIFD (Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District) bond issue, the rest backed by private bonds. This is essentially the new, limited form of redevelopment that Governor Jerry Brown supported after he dismantled legacy redevelopment agencies in 2011. Restrictions include the inability to use the funds for anything other than actual infrastructure (roads, utilities), so cities can’t raise funds directly for stadium construction. Raised money is also restricted from affecting the general fund, though it’s unclear what would happen if an EIFD defaults on its bonds. It will take some education by pols to explain to constituents how Oakland will be kept safe, especially given the debacle that was Mount Davis.

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A previously released rendering that may or may not look like a future Oakland Raiders stadium

$81 million in debt remains on the stadium, draining city and county coffers every year. Another $100 million remains on Oracle Arena, which will need to be paid off even if/when the Warriors leave for San Francisco. City/County have not factored the debt into the term sheet, so they will continue to pay for it now and into the future. City has been negotiating assuming the debt from the County for years. The Lott-Fortress proposal shifted that a bit, so that the County remains half-ownership of the land but assumes no other risk.

Paying the debt off early would allow Oakland to demolish the existing Coliseum, which sits on a key, central portion of the Coliseum complex.

I don’t know nearly enough about Fortress to comment on them, so I’ll refrain from doing that here. Lott and Fortress say they don’t need an ownership stake to be successful. I can’t see how they can get any kind of good return on a $400 million investment from mostly ancillary revenues. There are no charity cases in the NFL.

Does this move the needle for the league? Not according to stadium/relocation veep Eric Grubman, who threw a bucket of cold water on the proceedings today. Grubman even called the Lott-Fortress proposal a ‘carbon copy’ of last year’s failed Coliseum City plan, which was widely ridiculed in league circles.

Why would Grubman and owners think this way? Because, as I noted previously, what Oakland is offering is table stakes. They aren’t pledging any money towards the construction. They (nor Lott-Fortress) have convinced the Raiders to sign on, though that’s because Davis is committed to Las Vegas, at least until the relocation vote next January or March. Vegas aside, the NFL usually requires a much larger investment from interested cities. The limited risk and exposure that Oakland and Alameda touted in the term sheet is actually a negative for the NFL, whose position is that interested cities prove their worthiness by spending (How else would cities get into such bad stadium deals?). Pro football has kept Oakland in the game in hopes of the City showing the NFL more love. The combination of Oakland’s intransigence and Davis’s recalcitrance makes for a proposal that Grubman characterizes as not a deal at all.

If, as expected, the NFL laughs off the proposal, what will Oakland do next? Will Mayor Libby Schaaf bite the bullet and walk away from the table, or will she rally for Oakland to put together an improved plan that actually includes more public money? At least two Council members (Annie Campbell Washington and Abel Guillen) mentioned that they had many calls and emails asking them to oppose the deal. That sentiment will only grow if more public money is put on the line and the claims of insulation from the general fund become invalid. Vegas has plenty of issues of its own surrounding funding and the potential for Sheldon Adelson to become involved. Deal terms are stronger there thanks to a pledge of $750 million from Clark County.

The Oakland and San Diego questions are not just tests for the incumbent cities. They’re also tests of the NFL itself. In the league insatiable thirst for revenue, it has  demanded king’s ransoms from communities. How much is it willing to upset existing fanbases in Roger Goodell’s never ending quest for the almighty dollar? How much does the NFL value regular fans? If history is any guide, it doesn’t look good for them.

-=-=-

P.S. – The funniest and most surprising moment of the proceedings came during the County Board meeting, when noted Raiders ‘superfan’ Dr. Death spoke during the public comments period. After his plea for support, Supervisor Keith Carson asked Death if he was singling Carson out as a ‘No’ vote and spreading rumors. Death didn’t deny this, and Carson blew up at him, yelling that Death didn’t attempt to call Carson’s office and only assumed Carson was a No. Death left, his manhood squashed. He was right, though, Carson did provide the one No vote. Carson later apologized, perhaps after Death left to return to his home in the Sacramento area. If only I had video of the moment…

P.P.S. – There were no new renderings presented.

P.P.P.S. – From SBJ’s Daniel Kaplan:

Adjusting to life without revenue sharing

Revenue sharing is one of the bigger, yet less understood, items that comes up every time there are CBA negotiations. Since it’s mostly about how teams deal with one another, it’s not a particularly sexy topic. Yet it’s just as important as anything else, since the arguably biggest issue over the last 10-15 years has been how to address the economic disparity between small and large markets.

The A’s are in a gray area as far as how teams are defined. Oakland is considered a part of a large market, but the franchise is hampered by an outdated stadium that  hampers their ability to generate local revenue. Some have called the A’s a small market because of these conditions, others call the stadium an excuse to operate on the cheap. I prefer to call the A’s low revenue since it’s an acknowledgement of both the A’s current position and the potential for when a new ballpark occurs. How the A’s and MLB planned to address the franchise’s revenue position and how both failed to execute have led us to this point. That point, for all intents and purposes, is a reset.

To understand why that’s the case, it’s important to know what the climate was like going into the 2011 CBA negotiations. Like the 2006 talks, there was little drama and no major items to discuss. There were tweaks to the draft and compensation system, drug policy, and to revenue sharing as well. Thanks to teams’ expanding media deals and the continued construction of new ballparks, there were few disagreements between MLB and MLBPA as everyone was getting paid. Lew Wolff and John Fisher were well into their plans to move the A’s to San Jose, having released renderings and commencing talks with the City of San Jose more than a year prior. Bud Selig appeared to be working to arbitrate the territorial rights fight between the A’s and Giants. MLB and the owners, knowing about the A’s plans, tacitly approved them by writing into the CBA a schedule to ease the A’s off revenue sharing. I referenced it in the last post.

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Wolff’s San Jose plans stalled, then fell apart with a lawsuit launched by the City of San Jose failing to sway The Lodge, leaving the franchise to head back to Oakland with no other clear choices for a ballpark in their East Bay territory. The A’s three-year run of success coincided with the beginning of the CBA. The final two years were marked by a selloff of veterans and the recent tanking regime. Some looked at the recent years as little more than profit-taking by Wolff while the A’s on-field product languished. I’d rather look at it as the Beane tendency to sell early. However many teams resented the A’s (cough*Giants*cough) for supposedly pocketing the revenue sharing checks, it wasn’t enough to change how the A’s would be treated under the new CBA. The new disqualification system is the exact same formula as last time. What I was worried about was the A’s getting cut off cold turkey, which would’ve raised serious economic difficulties for the franchise going forward. It’s not so much about setting the budget, it’s about what would happen if the A’s had another magical season like 2012. If they wanted to get a rental, the ownership group would have to dig into their pockets as part of a cash call to pay for a trade. Unlike the high revenue teams with huge season ticket and corporate bases, the A’s don’t get $150-200 million up front every year to pay for everything. Even if revenue sharing continued indefinitely, the check comes when MLB completes its annual audit after the end of the season, so they couldn’t use it for in-season moves if they wanted to.

What happens now that the revenue sharing scheme from the last CBA has carried over into the new CBA? There’s talk of greater urgency to build in Oakland, a sentiment supported by A’s officials including new team president David Kaval. But if the disqualification schedule is the same as five years ago, why wasn’t there talk of urgency back then? Did people not consider the ramifications if nothing got built? Did some expect San Jose to happen with less resistance? I know I did. There is a great sense of renewed optimism in Oakland, and early indications are that Mayor Libby Schaaf will provide real material support for the A’s instead of the posturing of her predecessors. However, with the plan now limited to Oakland, the circumstances can now be considered a new ballpark in Oakland, or bust. The logic is quite simple: the A’s have no other options. I really hope the A’s get a deal done in the next two years, because I personally don’t feel any more secure about the A’s future than I have before. If the A’s encounter more difficulty and Oakland has trouble getting out of its own way, MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred will stop playing Mr. Nice Guy and they will ratchet up the pressure on the A’s and the City. Baseball is nearing peak TV-revenue, so they will look at other ways to grow the pie. Yes, that could mean moving the team to a different market. I still don’t think contraction (which would include the Rays) is in the cards given the optics of it, but I wouldn’t put it past Manfred, who was a lead negotiator for the 2001 CBA talks, the last time the threat of contraction loomed. Let’s all hope we never get to that fearsome point.

P.S. – Sometimes I wonder how much the A’s stature within the Lodge would’ve been improved if they didn’t trade Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes. If one of the problems with the A’s was their cheapskate tendencies, would simply having a larger payroll by retaining key veterans have changed the detractors’ views of the A’s? Or was it more about the fundamentals of the A’s not making progress of the stadium, even though many within the Lodge actively blocked the A’s efforts? It should be the latter, though the former came up frequently in news reports. 

P.P.S. – The A’s revenue sharing check is speculated to be some $34-35 million. The A’s gate revenue, as reported by Forbes last year, was $43 million. Kaval will have to work some magic to make up for the lost revenue sharing at the existing Coliseum.