Ballpark Sites Aplenty: A Map

Some fans have been trying to chronicle the sordid history of A’s ballpark proposals. That’s why this blog exists! I wrote a post summarizing the journey just before Thanksgiving 2010 during a bout of post-recession malaise. Note the amount of outdated information despite the fact that the post less than seven years old. The amount of upheaval the Bay Area underwent since the recession was and remains simply remarkable.

Here’s the map of all explored ballpark sites. Refer back to the original post for explanations. Note: The A’s choice Peralta site is not on this map. It would be located below the blue “D” in Oakland.

Here’s your drone’s eye view from Peralta

About a month ago ABC7 producer extraordinaire Casey Pratt asked for a few estimates of heights for a potential ballpark at the Peralta site. I told him he should aim for three different heights: 40-50 feet above grade for the rim of the second deck, 70-80′ for the upper deck, and 100′ for the top of the stadium. He had his drone videographer check out the site. Some clips of the drone footage ended up in sports anchor Larry Beil’s comment about the Coliseum and the Raiders. No matter. We got a vista, and it’s the right vista.

Peralta site view north towards downtown and Lake Merritt. (Click to view larger)

Not only is this the right view, it’s angled almost exactly north and situated approximately where I envisioned home plate in my mockup. The banner at top left blocks some of the skyline, but you already know what that looks like. You can see Lake Merritt in the center and Laney’s ballfield in the foreground. That brings to mind this observation – has there ever been a non-spring training MLB park that has another baseball field in the background? I can’t think of one. Now imagine all the buildings in the foreground replaced by some grandstands and as Barbara Manning once coined Seals Stadium, one perfect green blanket.

To confirm my projections, A’s COO Chris Giles answered some questions as part of an all-day Q&A on Twitter, including this one about the park’s orientation:

Folks, if this thing is built you’ll be using that Panorama mode on your camera a ton.

As part of the A’s rollout of Peralta, they released a video, narrated by team President David Kaval, with numerous clips of the city and soundbites from locals, including pols such as Mayor Libby Schaaf and Cprominent developer and unofficial “Mayor of Oakland Chinatown” Carl Chan.

Chan wants to build housing to revitalize Chinatown. The neighborhood is quite fragile, though, and has vocal activists working constantly against the threat of gentrification, which has visibly touch several Oakland neighborhoods in the last several years.  Finding a balance there is going to be difficult, and it seems strange that the A’s ballpark could be in the middle of any plans. Considering the rather large scope of the A’s initial plans, the A’s may be biting off more than they can chew, even though the ultimate goal is merely a ballpark on 13 acres. That deserves a much lengthier post, so for now let’s look at the broad timeline Kaval released today.

Assuming that everything goes well, a 2023 opening is reasonable. If the A’s can’t get local stakeholders on the same page, the one year will elapse and the team will likely fall back to the Coliseum. The two years of permitting and environmental review is right, as long as the team gets legislation enacted to limit legal challenges to the EIR, the same kind the Warriors and 49ers received. That would put clearing the site in late 2020 and groundbreaking in the spring of 2021. If Peralta doesn’t get support, the A’s could shift to the Coliseum and move forward without requiring an EIR since the complex is already entitled for a stadium. In full Lew Wolff tradition, the team is not talking about a backup plan. For now it’s Peralta or bust.

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P.S. – Thanks Casey for getting the drone footage!

Second Deck Club Sandwich

Travis Sawchik’s piece at Fangraphs two weeks ago got to the heart of the issue plaguing the new era of neo-classical ballparks: a lack of intimacy. Sure, most of these parks reduced foul territory and improved sightlines to improve fan experience, which is wonderful as long as you’re sitting in the lower bowl or field level seats. In most newer parks there are 15-20,000 seats in foul territory from pole to pole.

Above that lower level, anything’s possible. Legacy parks like Fenway and Wrigley took different approaches. Wrigley’s second deck was constructed fairly early in the park’s life. Fenway built more lower deck (grandstand) and small decks of premium seats above the lower level, plus the press box. In my eyes, Wrigley is the true classic two-deck ballpark, because it didn’t stray much from its pre-war design and character. Fenway is essentially a single-deck ballpark, at least as far as seating is concerned.

Think of all new parks as a lower deck, and upper deck, and a three-story hotel or office building sandwiched between them.

These days the difference between most ballparks is the approach to the second deck. The old cookie cutter stadia often had a mezzanine level with a level of suites underneath the traditional third deck. The Coliseum was built this way, as was Angels Stadium and many of the “octorads” out east. Several of early new parks followed this arrangement, including Camden Yards, AT&T Park, and Minute Maid Park. Newer parks differed by offering swanky club concourses, or additional suites behind the plate (or in football, along the sidelines). As more parks were developed, other cities chose to distinguish themselves with different features, sometimes favoring more suites over club seats.

Coors Field cross section

Think of all new parks as a lower deck, and upper deck, and a three-story hotel or office building sandwiched between them. The club seat area accounts for two stories, the upper suite level the third. The key disadvantage of this is that the upper deck is pushed skyward and its seats have to be steeply pitched or raked to better see the field. The worst example of this is the White Sox’ Guaranteed Rate Field, whose upper deck was so undesirable that the top eight rows were lopped off. The premium second deck was constituted as suite-club-suite, a stadium club sandwich. Progressive Field in Cleveland is not that much better, with its three-level wall of suites down the third base line and club seat deck along the first base line.

 

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We end up with several variants of the same theme. In nearly all of them the upper levels are pushed back from the lower seats for minimal cantilever and no columns. The older 60’s-70’s parks that received significant upgrades, Angel Stadium and Kauffman Stadium, took out the huge chuck of the lower seats behind the plate to accommodate four or five levels of suites, indoor clubs, and press. Other newer parks like Busch and Miller have their first suite level below the second deck club.

When Lew Wolff was heading the ballpark project, he hinted at ballpark features that would buck this trend and introduce greater intimacy. First was this screen grab from a presentation for a Fremont park, which compared the A’s vision with AT&T Park (note column, apologies for the poor quality):

Here’s an updated version that would’ve been used for the San Jose park:

Here the column is located at approximately row 30 of the lower deck. Another eight rows of seats are behind that column. This would bring the upper deck’s first row as close as row 17 of the lower deck, 10 rows closer than the Coliseum and 8 rows closer than AT&T Park. I don’t know how much of this has evolved in the last seven years, but it’s safe to say that it has to some extent. There’s no super-exclusive premium seating at the field level with its own concourse and a moat (though they could be introduced at some point). David Kaval has said that the A’s will use lessons learned from building and running the Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium. He and the A’s have already been quite resourceful in using the limited available area at the Coliseum, so I expect changes that will turn this tide and make other owners jealous of the A’s ballpark’s intimacy.

There are some that have advocated for something like Shibe Park or Tiger Stadium. While some aspects of those parks are admirable inspirations, they aren’t how we should build a ballpark in this era. Construction technology has improved, ballparks have been much larger out of necessity, and we want backdrops more than bandboxes. When those parks were built there was no thought given to families, casual fans, or corporations. If the A’s want to hit 3 million fans every year they’ll need those constituencies. Compromises will be made to find a proper balance between making hella skrilla and building a ballpark for the baseball purist. I have confidence that Kaval and team can do it.

The tarps are dead (upper deck)! Long live the tarps (Mount Davis)!

Tuesday off-days, rare during the baseball season, are pretty good days to make announcements. Dave Kaval made a big announcement this morning that can only win over fans. The failed scarcity experiment and objects of scorn known as the upper deck tarps are no more.

While the compression of the seating inventory helped make the venue more intimate at times, the optics of 12,000 seats of upper deck being tarped and cordoned off were embarrassing and could not be escaped. The policy was put into effect for the 2006, not long after Lew Wolff and John Fisher bought the team from Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann. That makes the tarps the one enduring visual symbol of the Wolff era, which officially ended last November.

The tarps atop Mount Davis will stay as the seats at the summit won’t be sold. When football season begins there will be a humdrum exercise in rotating between the A’s and Raiders tarps, covering seats that the Raiders wanted in 1995 but haven’t sold since 2013. The new baseball seating capacity will be 47,170 plus a thousand potential standing room admission tickets available for big crowd event games (Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, fireworks).

Tickets for the newly reopened sections (300-315, 319-334) will be $15 everywhere with half the proceeds for the upcoming 10-game homestead going to Oakland Promise, a charity and mentoring program that aims to have every Oakland high school student graduate with the necessary skills needed to finish college.

Say goodbye to the old seating chart:

Hello to the new (old) seating chart, whose URL is um, interesting:

Finally, we can’t bring back the Coliseum upper deck without that one incident (NSFW)…

During that first homestand with the upper deck reopened, the A’s will play the M’s on 4/20. It’s a night game. You know what to do. Note: the tickets do have seating assignments, so any thoughts that the upper deck is now some massive general admission section are at best unspoken and informal.

As for what the A’s should do with the tarps, I thought up some options. Vote on one. Now that I’m thinking about it, whatever happened to the tarps that covered 316-318?

On this Opening Day, let us thank the Giants

Eleven years ago I wrote a small item on this blog titled “One Coliseum, Two Teams.” It mentioned how the Raiders had recently patched up their relationship with Oakland and Alameda County after signing a renewed lease at the venue. The A’s unveiled a proposal to build north of 66th Avenue which went nowhere. A scaled down vision of building at the Malibu and HomeBase lots near Hegenberger suffered a similar fate.

All this time, politicians and civic leaders have been trying to pitch plans in which both teams could happily co-exist within the complex, if not in the same stadium. Nevermind the concerns form the teams about parking, or construction-related upheaval, or how everything would be scheduled – who would get first dibs. This was, in East Bay fantasyland, the perfect solution despite the teams’ misgivings. And yes, the teams would have the finance these stadia themselves, or with third parties who had little-to-no relationship with City, County, or the teams, and little actual experience with projects like these.

Do you see how preposterous that reads? It was completely delusional. And no one truly believed in it, which is why Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf sent a couple letters to the NFL saying We Tried as the owners approved the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. Eventually something had to break up the inertia.

Both the NFL and MLB have been eyeing the Coliseum complex for some time. While it’s not a glamorous location, the Coliseum has just about everything else a team and league could want: lots of parking, great transportation links, excellent proximity to the fan base, and potential as a development site. The leagues carried a sort of gentleman’s agreement about it. They didn’t assail each other or the teams while quietly competing for the space through their franchises. Once the NFL gave up and allowed Davis to leave Oakland, the NFL was quick to blame the A’s for the Raiders’ departure.

How do the Giants come into this? They have control over building a stadium in most of the Bay except the East Bay and most of the North Bay. The A’s have exclusive rights to the East Bay. The A’s tried to argue that since the Giants didn’t build in the South Bay (despite being granted permission by the A’s to do so), the A’s should be granted those rights if they built in San Jose. That was tabled by MLB and lost in court when San Jose sued MLB and the Giants sued San Jose. It was the Giants’ continued intransigence that forced the A’s back to Oakland, renewing the competition for the one known viable stadium site in the East Bay (nothing else has been fully studied).

We saw this happen before in San Francisco, no less. The Giants built their jewel at China Basin with a modest amount of public support, mostly infrastructure. The ballpark’s popularity took off immediately and there’s been no looking back. Debt was retired earlier this year, 20 years after groundbreaking. The 49ers got limited public funding and lukewarm support from the City and then-mayor Gavin Newsom, greasing the skids for their move to Santa Clara.

Oakland’s version of this tale has a major twist in that the Raiders saw the writing on the wall. Schaaf wasn’t going to budge on public funding, and had already talked more favorably about preserving the A’s than the Raiders. The Raiders never signed up to partner on Coliseum City and similar plans, choosing instead to speak minimally about Oakland while fully chasing Carson and Las Vegas. With Vegas approved, the Raiders chose to leave first instead of waiting for the A’s to build first. The ending for both Oakland and SF is the same: neither has a NFL franchise playing within their respective city limits in the long run, and fans heartily blame the teams and politicians for the state of affairs.

It wasn’t that long ago that Larry Baer was happy with the A’s leaving for somewhere else further away – as long as it was Contra Costa County or Sacramento, not San Jose. Now the A’s are firmly entrenched in Oakland. The indirect consequence of the football teams moving away was unintended. The future for the Giants is more intense competition from the A’s and closer competition from the incoming Warriors. The Giants’ hegemony over the Bay Area isn’t threatened. But it isn’t quite the Giants-focused as intended. The Giants are now just like any other rich team to hate.

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P.S. – The two local Comcast Sportsnet regional sports networks have been rebranded NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California. Hooray, corporate synergy.

Raiders exodus is about will not blame

Listening to radio and read the internets today, it was no surprise by mid-afternoon the recriminations came in full force. Denial and pain set in quickly, thanks to advance reports of the pending NFL owners’ approval of the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. So when it came time to start the anger and bargaining stage (3), no stone was left unturned, no name forgotten. Here’s a partial list of the people to blame for the Raiders’ departure:

  • Mark Davis
  • Libby Schaaf
  • Roger Goodell
  • Jean Quan
  • Floyd Kephart
  • Lew Wolff
  • Al Davis
  • Ron Dellums
  • Larry Reid
  • Scott Haggerty
  • Fazza (Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum), The Crown Prince of Dubai
  • Sheldon Adelson

Every player in this Coliseum saga wanted out of something. The pols wanted the albatross of Coliseum debt off their necks without giving away valuable Coliseum land or forcing any of the teams out. The A’s, Raiders, and Warriors wanted their own venues, preferably nowhere near one another. All were willing to leave Oakland to get that venue. The placed the City of Oakland and Alameda County in a delicate dance with three lukewarm dance partners. The team with the most freedom, the Warriors, announced their departure as soon as they could. The A’s tried to take a more circuitous route via the back rooms of The Lodge and then the court, failing to overturn the Giants’ territorial rights to the South Bay. The Raiders, whose owner had the least money and leverage, tied itself to city after city before going it alone in Vegas. Patience and persistence prevailed for Davis, as he somehow finagled gap funding from Bank of America, consequently earning the NFL owners’ trust in the process (31-1 vote).

Let’s go back to fall 2013. The A’s were focused on the postseason, while the Raiders were rolling out another bad run under Dennis Allen. In September, Davis came out of nowhere and suggested that his new stadium be built where the existing Coliseum stands. Had the JPA taken that proposal seriously, the plan would have been to demolish the Coliseum and construct a new Raiders stadium in its place, with the potential for a new ballpark down the road. The Raiders would play at Levi’s Stadium for two years. The A’s could play at AT&T Park for some length of time, probably longer than two years. Davis later rationalized the idea as needed to avoid all the construction-related upheaval and the related parking shortage.

The next spring, in 2014, Lew Wolff started lease extension talks with the JPA. Chastened by the legal loss over San Jose and MLB’s desire to get something going in Oakland, Wolff asked for a lengthy term keeping the A’s at the Coliseum until 2024. He also asked for a special set of conditions clearly related to Davis’s own concept: a process to vacate the Coliseum if the Raiders put together a Coliseum redevelopment proposal. Wolff’s notion was that the A’s needed some time to get a ballpark proposal started and wanted to minimize the chance of playing at a temporary venue (remember Cashman Stadium?). So he got language to give the A’s two full baseball seasons before they would be evicted. By this time Wolff was also working on improvements for the team’s new spring training facility, Hohokam Stadium/Fitch Park. The plans included new scoreboards for Hohokam and the Coliseum (buy in bulk!).

Even in 2014 Wolff and Davis were taking different approaches to the getting lease extensions (emphasis mine).

Wolff and Mark Davis are going at this stadium business in different ways. Wolff wants a lease extension, while taking that time to figure out the future either in San Jose or in Oakland. Davis is taking an opposite tack, declaring last year that it was time to stop delaying and get the stadium deal in place before any new lease. That puts the JPA in a very delicate spot. They’re already working with Davis, though he hasn’t been satisfied with the pace or the information he’s getting. Both owners, whether in league or not, are forcing Oakland to make a difficult decision between the two franchises. Both know that it’s incredibly hard to build one stadium, let alone two right next to each other. Public resources are increasingly scarce. Fred Blackwell’s leaving before he can get any blame for this. Smart move on his part.

Fred Blackwell. That guy is chilling at The San Francisco Foundation these days.

The A’s lease was stuck in deliberations for a couple months before approval. Raiders supporters decried it as something that would eventually force the football team out. The two-season exit, the demand for a bona fide football stadium plan and $10 million to secure it, and the length of the lease to 2024 hampered the Raiders’ flexibility. All those things would be reasonable arguments if not for the fact that Davis never formulated a proposal of his own beyond the aforementioned desire to build on the Coliseum’s existing footprint. Instead, he let Coliseum City complete its process without his signature, and the Lott/Fortress plan had virtually no input or involvement from Davis at all. Davis hired former 49ers exec Larry MacNeill as his representative at meetings. The NFL admonished both City proposals for no team or league direct involvement, yet the NFL reportedly never so much as inquired about the Coliseum land nor offered any alternatives.

Easy to blame Mark Davis there, and Lew Wolff if you’re so inclined. What this showed was that Davis’s will to build in Oakland was not strong. Schaaf held firm to her no-public-funds-for-construction stance, which can be interpreted as Schaaf not having the political will to get a stadium project going in Oakland. She’ll take that.

Since 2006, the Coliseum arrangement has been a series of short-term lease extensions for both the A’s and the Raiders, with no major fundamental changes. Oakland’s goal was to stay in the game with each extension, waiting for a great plan to materialize. Maybe they expected one team to change the game by seeking different terms. Turns out that happened in 2013, when Davis admitted he wanted to replace the Coliseum and evict everyone for a couple years. That started a chain of events which eventually brought us here, with Davis getting city he’s wanted since at least 1998.

The A’s get the Coliseum if they want it, and Schaaf may finally be the mayor that gets rid of the albatross. Dave Kaval, you’re up.

Raiders find their sugar daddy in BofA

Actually, Mark Davis was able to get Bank of America (BofA) to bridge the critical funding gap that was vacated weeks ago by both Sheldon Adelson and Goldman Sachs, leaving the Raiders scrambling and the stadium deal on the verge of collapse. No numbers were released, so we don’t know just how much BofA is putting up, but the reaction from around the league indicates that the Raiders got the job done.

Along with you, I’m scratching my head wondering exactly what convinced BofA to sign on with what is effectively a private stadium subsidy. Maybe the parties got extremely creative regarding the revenue streams. BofA already has a big presence in the NFL thanks to its naming rights deal at the Panthers’ stadium in Charlotte, the bank’s hometown.

As for Oakland, Mayor Schaaf’s response was the same old boilerplate, where Oakland’s not going to risk the general fund while claiming it’s “ready to compete.” And as with all previous such statements, they’re falling on deaf ears at the league office. Yes, Davis could blunder this all the way back to Oakland. It’s well within his capabilities. Davis’s work is now done. The decision is no longer in his hands. Yet you have to wonder – considering that he’s got the money lined up without giving up his controlling stake or involving the omnipresent gambling industry in the deal – if Davis has a little Verbal Kint in him.