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.

Kaval Call Part II – “Waterfront” setting

Take a look at a piece of the rendering below.

View southeast from behind home plate

Pretty cool, right? You can see the three decks (four if you count the green roof deck). There are the trees lining the roof. And the awesome shipping cranes in the background. Do you know what you won’t see?

The Estuary.

The shortest “splash hit” to reach McCovey Cove at AT&T Park went a distance of 367 feet. According to Google Earth, a ball only needs to be hit 362 feet to be a true splash hit without first bouncing on the promenade. How long do you think a ball would have to be hit to reach the water at Howard Terminal?

Based on my calculations, at least 700 feet down the right field line.

And you know what? That’s okay. Because of the somewhat enclosed nature of the outfield, a slugger would have to both hit a ball 700 feet long and more than 100 feet high to clear the grandstand. It probably would have to be rising as it leaves the ballpark – unless a dinger could somehow travel through the empty spaces in the outfield, not hit any fans or employees working on the concourses, and avoid trees and food trucks in the right field plaza.

You should be able to see the water from the upper deck. Maybe the second deck as well. But splash hits are a silly way to measure the worthiness of a ballpark. The concept of a splash hit is barely 20 years old! If the A’s are able to overcome all of the numerous obstacles to get this thing built, splash hits won’t be a big deal in the slightest.

There are plenty of good things about the location and setting as situated. Thanks to the orientation of the field and the placement of the stadium, there will be that large landing beyond the stadium in right.

The plaza you see above is every bit as much a blank canvas as the actual ballpark. I project it to cover a half-acre. Not a half-Mark Acre, 20-25,000 square feet. That’s a lot of space for food trucks, a Rickey Henderson park for kids, and monuments to other A’s greats. The possibilities are endless.

As ballyhooed as the hire of Bjarke Ingels Group was, the key player for this plaza is a lesser known but still important landscape architecture firm, James Corner Field Operations. They worked on the High Line in New York, Navy Pier in Chicago, and Seattle’s Central Waterfront. Field Operations’ portfolio is global and striking. Their expertise could be the key to make Howard Terminal a true destination of its own, not just a wharf adjacent to Jack London Square. Not to diminish BIG’s talents, but Field Operations will make everything fans interface with at the ground level.

According to Dave Kaval, that ground level will be raised 3.5 feet to deal with sea level rise. That’s forward thinking. But Kristina Hill, associate professor of environmental design at Cal, isn’t convinced. From former A’s beat writer John Hickey’s article, Hill says:

There is legacy contamination in the areas where they will be building, That’s been capped, but generally those doing the capping haven’t lined it from below. And that means when the groundwater comes up, those contaminants can be remobilized.

I asked Kaval about this. He said that the San Jose Airport West site, on which Avaya Stadium was built, underwent extensive cleanup and had groundwater monitoring wells installed. So far, so good. But there is one major difference between Airport West, which used to be a factory for defense contractor FMC, and Howard Terminal. The San Jose site isn’t on the water, and is 9 miles upstream from the bay. As you all know by now, Howard Terminal is directly on the bay. How to deal with it? At least BIG has some experience. Hill:

They (BIG) know about coastal design, but they have mostly worked in Europe and they may not have had to work with this kind of issue. Europe hasn’t done as much as the U.S. to monitor water quality. It has done more in isolating and removing contaminated soils. So European firms may not have had to think as much about how rising groundwater could remobilize wastes.

These concerns about Howard Terminal have been well-known and well-documented for years. As much as I admire BIG’s work, they’re not magicians.

Remember, the Port of Oakland entered a use covenant regarding Howard Terminal. It stated:

Based on the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment, the Department concluded that use of the Property as residence, hospital, school or day care center would entail an unacceptable cancer risk. The Department concluded that the Property, as remediated in accordance with the approved Removal Action Workplan, and subject to the restrictions of the Covenant, does not present an unacceptable threat to human safety or environment, if limited to current terminal use.

Now that there’s no long-term terminal operator at Howard Terminal, the Port and City of Oakland are freed up to pursue this ballpark development. The risks, however, still remain. And as we’ve been made fully aware, groundwater isn’t the only potential problem. Schnitzer Steel’s toxics can fill the air. Look at that rendering above on a beautiful sunny spring or summer game day. Now imagine a plume of smoke rising from Schnitzer Steel to the west. Will the first giveaway item be dust masks? Or water filters?

The hope appears to be that Schnitzer will “wise up” and sell, then relocate. That strategy didn’t work for the A’s at Coliseum North. It didn’t work at either Fremont site. And it didn’t work in San Jose.

For future use, here’s a brief lexicon of terms that will be used when discussing Howard Terminal going forward.

CEQA: California Environmental Quality Act

BCDC: Bay Conservation and Development Commission

DTSC: Department of Toxic Substances Control

BAAQMD: Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Tidelands Trust

This is gonna take a while. Get started by reading the CEQA Notice of Preparation filed by the A’s last Friday. Or read about the AB 734, the CEQA streamlining that passed earlier this year. Head in the clouds, feet on the ground.

P.S. – That 700-foot home run distance is something, right? Remember when the Warriors were going to build their waterfront arena on Piers 30-32 in San Francisco? Well, they ended up moving to the site where Chase Center is being built. How long do you think a Steph Curry three-pointer from the shoreline is? About 600 feet.

Time again for AAA Musical Chairs

It’s September in an even-numbered year, so you (should) know what that means: The biennial ritual of matching AAA franchises to new cities has begun. According to the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, that includes the A’s affiliate, the Nashville Sounds, who are discontinuing their player development contract (PDC) with the parent club.

In this new era of improved regional consolidation, the pairing of a Central time zone-based AAA club with a Pacific time-zone based parent was never going to be the most convenient of situations. While the Sounds were reasonably competitive under the A’s stewardship, the transient nature of player movement makes it more likely for fans to root for the front of the jerseys than the names on the back.

Las Vegas Ballpark planned for Summerlin, NV

The Sounds could hook up with the Washington Nationals. The Nats will no longer be the parent of the Syracuse Chiefs as the Chiefs were bought by the New York Mets. In turn, the Mets are ditching the Las Vegas 51s, a team undergoing its own transformation. Additionally, the Round Rock Express are expected to switch back from an affiliation with the Texas Rangers to the Houston Astros. As a result the Fresno Grizzlies’ affiliation would be up for grabs. So it would appear that the A’s have Las Vegas and Fresno as potential affiliate candidates. The Rangers could also switch to Nashville or San Antonio.

For potential west coast affiliates, air travel is easier coming in and out of Las Vegas than Fresno, so Sin City has a distinct advantage based on logistics. Fresno’s airport is small compared to other major cities and doesn’t have the kind of demand that teams can use to their advantage for pricing. Fresno is closer to Oakland than Vegas, only a four-hour drive (six on Amtrak) from Fresno to the Coliseum. If Reno extends with the Dbacks, another candidate in the Pacific time zone goes away.

Las Vegas and Nashville have one thing in common. HOK was the architect for First Tennessee Park in Nashville, which opened in 2015 in time for the A’s. HOK is also working on the new ballpark in Summerlin, which will replace Cashman Field starting in 2019. HOK also has previous experience working the A’s, as the firm designed Avaya Stadium for the Quakes. And don’t forget, the A’s retained HOK’s Brad Schrock as a consultant on their new ballpark project in Oakland. Synergies abound!

P.S. – If you’re wondering if the new ballpark in Summerlin could host the A’s or another MLB club, take a look at the rendering in this post. Then get back to me on how you’d add 20,000 seats and a roof.

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.

A’s to drop season tickets for more flexible subscription model

Even as the A’s await a new ballpark, they’re not afraid to try new business concepts that one would expect them to deploy at a new ballpark. To that end, A’s COO Chris Giles announced today that the team is doing away with the traditional season ticket, instead replacing it with a membership plan that offers greater flexibility for all buyers.

The idea here, as foreseen by many in the industry, is that fans want the ability to go to every game, but don’t want to be tied a season ticket plan that could cost upwards of $2,000 for a whole season. Like the Treehouse plans introduced before this season, the new A’s Access plans will provide general admission to all 81 games, plus reserved seating for 10, 24, half-season or full-season of games if you choose. Included will be digital seat upgrades and a number of subscriber perks. Prices start at $240.

The highlights:

  • All plans include admission to every home game including reserved seats (View level)
  • Seat upgrades via the Ballpark app are available on a per game basis
  • Better seating locations are available in advance as well (before the season begins)
  • $10 parking available; Gold and Platinum members can get parking passes included
  • Half-price concessions, such as $3 hot dogs and $4 20-ounce beers
  • 25% off merchandise at A’s team stores
  • Monthly subscription fee option
  • Guaranteed promotional giveaway items

To me this is the culmination of the initiatives laid out by MLB AM a few years ago and executed on a phased basis by the A’s and other teams since. If I still lived in the Bay Area I’d jump all over this. Maybe I’d get a plan if I only make it back occasionally. Who knows, maybe I’ll move back?

56,310

As part of the 1989 World Series anniversary celebration last night, the A’s chose to open up the top of Mount Davis (heretofore covered in tarps) to paying fans. Tickets were put on sale for $10, with some concessions offered for only $2. Nevermind that Mount Davis was only a mere twinkle in Oakland politicians’ eyes in 1989, the A’s decided to extend their goodwill even further by giving fans a chance to check out the views from WAY UP TOP.

During last night’s rather bizarre game I received a few questions about temporary seating and celebratory events. The general rule is that the capacity should stay the same for an entire season, with no temporary seating or platforms to abruptly add or subtract seats, or especially, to change the outfield dimensions. This was challenged by Charlie Finley when the A’s were in Kansas City. Finley chose to put in a short porch in right field at Municipal Stadium of only 295 feet with additional seats, the better to copy the old Yankee Stadium. The seats could be added or removed on a whim if Finley chose. MLB was not onboard with the idea, so they chose to nix it. That started Finley’s grumbling about Kansas City in general, which ended up in, well, you know the rest.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the two currently pressing stadium issues during All Star week, the A’s and Rays. Both are status quo while permanent solutions are worked out. Prior to the start of the season Rays president Brian Auld presented a concept in which the team’s new home would played in a new roofed stadium in Ybor City, a trendy neighborhood of Tampa. It’s not yet determined if the roof will be fixed (like the current one) or retractable (like Safeco Field or Marlins Park). The planned capacity is only 28,216 seats, with an additional 2,600 standing or berm/beach admissions available. At 30,816 all told, the new park would be by far the smallest in baseball. We haven’t heard yet about capacities for either Howard Terminal or the new ballpark at the Coliseum site, but it’s safe to assume that either will be less that 40k.

There has been a clearly evident trend of “rightsizing” ballparks since I started this blog 13 years ago. Back then, anyone talking about 35,000 seats like Lew Wolff was considered anathema. Nowadays there is much less argument in favor of the big stadium, because the more you build the more expensive and less intimate the park becomes. The 30k Ybor City park is projected to cost $892 million, with less opportunity to fleece the public as the Marlins did in Miami. A’s president Dave Kaval is aware of this, as he has said repeatedly that the A’s park will be privately financed. Thanks to the A’s recently eclipsing the $1 billion mark in franchise valuation I believe Kaval, though I wonder about MLB’s debt rule and its impact on the A’s.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Tampa Bay Times article linked earlier:

A smaller park means less spending on maintenance but not necessarily less revenue, said Mark Conrad, a professor and director of the Sports Business Concentration at Fordham University.

“The days of getting 50,000 or more people with the exceptions of major games are pretty much very limited,” Conrad said. “You don’t really need that many seats to be profitable if you utilize the seating you have based on different pricing structures, views and standing areas.”

Don’t get used to seeing the tarps off Mount Davis.