Contraction Comes To The Minors

Change is a-coming. Maybe.

The above map shows the 42 cities MLB is considering to wipe off the face of the earth. That is, if the face of the earth constituted of affliated minor league baseball teams. (Go ahead, take a few minutes to expand the map and study it.) Some people call this a restructuring of the minors. Others call it contraction. I come from the tech world. We call this downsizing.

Read about what’s being proposed:

I’ve been thinking about this for much of the weekend. My initial reaction is to try to preserve professional baseball in all cities and towns that have it regardless of size or affiliation. I do recognize that, historically, baseball has undergone numerous transformations regarding its relationship with its farm system(s) for decades. If you look at the map, you’ll see that California is mostly safe from this downsizing, with the exception of the high-A Lancaster JetHawks, whose current stadium opened in 1996. But if you scratch the surface, you’ll see that the California League has itself undergone a great deal of restructuring, losing teams and changing affiliations at a rapid rate recently. (Remember how the A’s used to have two Cal League affiliates?) The new trends of vertical ownership (MLB teams owning choice affiliates) and minimizing lower level team affiliations is foreboding for cities in the Pioneer and Appalachian Leagues, where the cities are literally several hours from the nearest MLB stadium and long bus rides from each other. Dropping teams is a surefire way to kill baseball fandom in those places, by making it much less accessible to the average fan or family.

The thing is, I see the point of the ruthless efficiency at work here. I live in Scottsdale, within walking distance of the Giants’ Cactus League stadium and training facility. I’m 15 minutes from the A’s in Mesa. I’m practically down the road from Phoenix Muni, where the A’s used to play and ASU’s baseball program now plays its home games after the A’s left for Mesa. I can see baseball for cheap or free nine months a year, without having to pay escalating MLB prices. That is a tremendous gift to me, and an enormous convenience for the 15 teams that have Cactus League facilities. They can do regular spring training, extended spring training, summer league, fall league, and rehab all in one place. Bus rides are mercifully short. Living costs are manageable. That doesn’t mean that minor league ball is obsolete. In fact, MiLB drew over 41 million fans last season, and there continue to be new venues popping up all over the country. Prospects still need to prove themselves at different levels. Yet there is an argument for some sort of consolidation.

That said, looming over all of this is potential backlash. If MLB chooses to cut ties with dozens of cities, good luck trying to get the next smallish municipality to buy into the baseball-as-boon concept. There’s talk of lawsuits. Surely there would be many of those, though MLB’s antitrust protection only extends to major league games and the cities that host MLB teams. It’s not surprising that the idea may have originated with the already-on-the-hot-seat Houston Astros organization. Whether this is merely a trial balloon or the start of a major reform effort, minor league baseball has major issues to address, such as paying a living wage.

As much as I am a fan of an analytically driven approach to baseball, there are limits. Baseball is still a game played by human beings, in communities, not entirely on spreadsheets. Not everything about the sport should be boiled down to being a revenue or cost center, or an investment with an ROI. As we saw during the World Series, there has to be room for drama and feeling. That’s what loving baseball – or any spectator sport – is about. If you suffocate the communities, you kill the game. I hope that the Lodge, in its infinite wisdom, doesn’t forget how important that is.

City of Oakland gets Temporary Restraining Order against A’s-Coliseum sale

Original Coliseum pamphlet provided by Peerless Coffee’s George Vukasin, Jr.

Do you remember the name Egbert Perry?

No?

Perry was the money-partner with Ronnie Lott for a short-lived 2016 offer to buy the Coliseum complex, including both the stadium and arena, plus the additional parcels purchased extending to Hegenberger. Then just like that, the City of Oakland nixed the offer. Vegas interests and the Nevada continued to work with the Raiders on site plans for the football franchise’s move, and the Raiders have been running out the clock in Oakland ever since.

The A’s weren’t part of the Lott-Perry plan, which may have spurred the City’s decision. The offer was for $167.3 million and was made prior to a reappraisal of the complex, completed later in 2016. It was that appraisal that provides the basis for the A’s offer on the Coliseum property, a half-interest (Alameda County) for $85 million. Do the math to buy out the City’s share, and you have $170 million, remarkably close to the old appraisal. A mere two weeks after the offer was made, the offer was retracted and Perry was out after a purported double-cross.

Previously, Floyd Kephart’s New City group offered $116 million in 2015. That also didn’t get far. Which makes the news that the City is suing the County over the sale of the County’s half-interest of the Coliseum land not surprising in the least. Let’s be honest about this. Modern politics in Oakland has been shaped – for the worse – by frequent, almost constant litigation. It’s practically the only way the City knows how to operate. As reported by the Chronicle’s Phil Matier:

The suit took on added significance Tuesday when Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch issued a temporary restraining order on the sale and set a Nov. 14 hearing on the lawsuit.

“We were very close. This will put a chilling effect on us being able to close the deal,” Kaval said following the judge’s order.

A’s CEO Dave Kaval expressed shock at the lawsuit. In his professional and personal time in the Bay Area, he surely learned some local political history, especially about Oakland and California as a whole. Kaval is the last person that should be surprised by this. Kaval (and John Fisher) were shocked by the Peralta blowback. You’d think they would’ve braced themselves for City-County political tensions. After all, Oakland and Alameda County spent the better part of the last 40 years mired in tensions. Everything you see, from the original Coliseum to Mount Davis, is a product of those tensions, along with the truly unquenchable thirst for pro sports that keeps being displayed.

Now that the A’s (and MLB) have Oakland to themselves, they can start squeezing. So it was on the day of the AL Wild Card game that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred started the squeeze. I opined at the time that I didn’t expect him to start this early. Manfred, via the Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:

“I made it clear that it’s time for the city of Oakland to show concrete progress on the stadium effort,” Manfred said. “It’s gone on too long, and things need to fall into place to get a new stadium here. The fans here, as demonstrated by the 55,000 here tonight, are great fans and deserve a major-league quality facility.”

We’ve seen this movie before. If the City folds on the lawsuit, Manfred will back sometime in February to praise City leaders for “coming to their senses.” If the City keeps on, we’ll start hearing louder murmurs about Portland. Or Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas, or maybe Salt Lake City or Sacramento. Probably not San Jose, as that ship has sailed. But don’t put it past Manfred to tighten the squeeze on Oakland, even if MLB’s apparent leverage is debatable. I wouldn’t discount the concept of Manfred taking over negotiations from Kaval and Fisher, using a team of negotiators to do the dirty work. Or Manfred could go the same route as he did with the Rays. In that case he started by granting the ability for the Rays to look at the City of Tampa/Hillsborough County. That resulted in the Ybor City domed ballpark plan, unveiled in June 2018 and dead by the end of the year. That was followed by the announcement of a potential split season situation, half in St. Petersburg and the other half in Montreal. Montreal backer Stephen Bronfman even showed up in Oakland last night, the better to get the Tampa denizens thinking.

Here’s the tough part. Oakland has barely stepped onto the legal battlefield. The EIR is supposed to be released before the end of this month, and that will bring its own lawsuit. Whether it’s from port operators, transportation companies, or Schnitzer Steel – or all three – it’s almost guaranteed to tie things up. Fortunately, the exemption the A’s lobbied for in Sacramento limits lawsuits to 270 days prior to certification. From the perspective of the A’s, it makes sense for them to prepare for that particular legal onslaught.

But the City getting on the same page with the County? They probably figured they had that in the bag. In May 2018, I saw a lot of remarks about how so many key figures were in the same room singing praises of the A’s plans.

The problems, as I pointed out back then, relate to the complexity of the projects. That’s right, projects – plural. As you know by now, there is the Howard Terminal part, the actual ballpark, located on the waterfront near Jack London Square. Then there’s the Coliseum, which will keep its arena (if anyone can afford to run it) and an amphitheater where the old stadium currently stands. Around that redone complex are a sizable urban park, commercial and residential development, plus some additional community facilities. It’s a way to throw a bone to East Oakland for leaving.

The plans also provide for some amount of affordable housing to be built and either or both locations. Just how much is the big topic of negotiation, as City Council President Rebecca Kaplan cited the state’s Surplus Lands Act in trying to put the kibosh on the sale. The main issue is the percentage and number of affordable housing units to be built:

…if the disposed land will be used for residential development, at least 25% of the total number of units in the development must have rents or sale prices that are affordable for persons and families of low- or moderate-income.

Of course, over the post-recession period, the Bay Area has been plagued by an inability to build affordable housing. Call it a perfect storm of rising construction costs, the ridiculous never-ending seller’s market, and the loss of decades-long affordable housing subsidies when former governor Jerry Brown killed redevelopment. There are perfectly reasonable arguments to be made on both sides of the debate. From the City’s angle, surplus land is an extremely limited resource that shouldn’t be handed out without a competitive bidding process. For developers including the A’s, having to bake in an allowance to accommodate a greater amount of affordable housing will undoubtedly cut into the profitability of the project. In the A’s case, it could impact the feasibility of both projects, though the A’s launched their own PR offensive to counter such notions.

Thing is, the A’s haven’t done a very good job of explaining how the two projects aren’t connected. They did a media tour of Howard Terminal a couple weeks to reaffirm their stance. From reading the Community Engagement document available at the A’s Ballpark site, the two efforts appear to be directly related, if not joined at the hip. That’s a tough position to be in, because once you decouple the two projects, it’s easier to argue that one doesn’t need the other.

The explanation is not that difficult. If the A’s are approved to build at Howard Terminal, they plan to build the ballpark in the first phase, hoping for a 2023 Opening Day. The ancillary development at Howard Terminal, whatever form it takes, will take place after the ballpark opens and will take perhaps decades to complete. That makes the A’s ballpark village next to Jack London Square part of the long tail. Meanwhile, the Coliseum is already approved for some 3,000 housing units right now. That makes the Coliseum a sort of bridge financing for the ballpark. Fisher and Lew Wolff employed this to success at the separate Avaya Stadium and iStar developments in San Jose, the latter helping the finance the former. What’s being attempted in Oakland is the same thing on steroids, except for one big difference. iStar, located in South San Jose near where IBM built the first disc drive, was largely undeveloped in its previous form. To date, Avaya Stadium is in its fourth year of operation near SJC Airport after breaking ground in 2012. Some commercial and residential development has been done at the iStar site, though we’re coming to the end of 2019 and not one single-family home has been completed. In San Jose, they built a stadium and a separate subdivision on separate parcels miles apart. In Oakland, they want to do something similar, except that they’ll move the sports-related jobs from the Coliseum to Howard Terminal in the process.

The sales pitch for the Avaya Stadium/iStar package didn’t arouse much debate in San Jose. The stadium was set to replace a former military vehicle manufacturing plant. San Jose’s historic sprawl had plenty of room for 25 acres of new housing, especially after the recession brought construction to a halt. Ten years later, the housing crunch is far more acute, reaching every part of the Bay Area. Collectively, local governments did a poor job of planning to add to the housing stock, including forecasting and accommodating affordable housing. If Oakland officials want to take nearly 200 acres in two high-profile locations and hand it to the A’s to finish the job, they and the A’s should prepare themselves for the lengthy debate to follow. Manfred, who played the nice guy until Wednesday, now gets to play the heavy.

P.S. – Please don’t tell me how no developers want any part of East Oakland. Besides the A’s interest, the JPA had two unsolicited bids for the land in 2018, Tesla and a group trying to build a soccer complex and stadium at the complex. What developers want is Bay Area land for relatively cheap. Interest from previous developers for Coliseum City, the 2018 bids, and the eventual exclusive negotiating agreements for the A’s shows how much people want to take advantage of the Coliseum. It doesn’t hurt that the land has freeways and a transit hub right next to it. East Oakland has no potential? Perhaps if you’re stuck with a 1968 mindset.

P.P.S. – Read J.K. Dineen’s piece in the Chronicle for an extensive description of one property owner’s CEQA-related shakedown and how it affected both San Francisco and Oakland. Then take a look at that Community Engagement document and try to understand what kinds of partnerships are being forged, and what remains to make a similar one with the City. Keeping any sports team in Oakland is/was going to cost something. The City is thankfully over direct subsidies, but the ambitious nature of these two projects has me thinking that the final price tag will approach eleven figures including cleanup, community commitments, and new infrastructure. That might be what it takes. No one is publicly talking about costs yet. That’s what truly concerns me.

P.P.P.S. – None of the oft-mentioned relocation candidates deserve more than a cursory look unless they approve or start building a major league-ready ballpark. These days that might mean 30,000 seats or less. It probably also means those 30,000 seats will be quite swanky with pricing and amenities to match. The new AAA parks in Las Vegas and Nashville are exactly as advertised – nice AAA parks. They’re not meant to handle MLB crowds temporarily given the greater requirements these days. If someone wants to ink a deal with Henderson, Nevada for a billion-dollar domed ballpark 10 miles from the Strip, good luck.

Chase Center non-preview

Arenas are utilitarian. There aren’t huge tomes written about the history of arenas as there are for ballparks or football stadia. Arenas are designed to efficiently house a crowd of 15-20,000 for roughly 2.5 hours, the length of a basketball or hockey game or the headliner portion of a concert. Then you’re just as efficiently whisked out of the shiny building and sent on your way. That’s why Chase Center, like most modern arenas, provides no public tours. The Warriors admit this quite plainly in their Visitor Info page:

Tours

Does Chase Center offer building tours?

Because of the number of events that Chase Center hosts each year, there are no public fan tours offered at this time.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Staples Center and SAP Center do this. It’s hard to know what areas are okay for touring when whole sections are closed off for maintenance or prep. Arenas are the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife or a utility man in baseball. Only on rare occasions do arenas get the kind of poetic treatment often given to ballparks, and that’s usually when they live long enough to earn it. Most of the time, arenas are remembered for two things: the number of banners hanging in the rafters, and the memorable concerts that played there in the past. The Oakland Arena checks both boxes, thanks to the Warriors’ championships in four NBA seasons, and the venue’s place as a Bill Graham’s large indoor venue of choice in the 70’s and 80’s.

Main entrance to Chase Center. Photo: Gregory Varnum (via Wikipedia)

Is that much different from American Airlines Arena, which opened in 1999?

Photo: John O’Neill (via Wikipedia)

Or what about Staples, which also opened in 1999?

Photo: Prayitno (via Wikipedia)

Golden 1 Center in Sacramento has a series of garage doors that open up to a plaza, so that’s an innovation of sorts. Nevertheless, there’s a recipe here:

  1. large glass-walled cathedral-style entrance
  2. prominent signage
  3. metal exterior surfaces
  4. slightly different roof and wall angles to hide the fact that the edifice is a large toilet bowl oval

Don’t get me wrong. I love arenas nearly as much as I love ballparks. Before the Oakland Coliseum Arena was closed and gutted, I once received a media pass and came to a Dubs game early to full explore the building before opening tip. I hiked to the top of the upper bowl and gazed out at the Nimitz Freeway through the west windows, experiencing some slight vertigo along the way. I understand, however, that I’m a rare bird. Given the lack of books about arenas, it stands to reason that not many would wax romantic about the subject. The Coliseum Arena’s gracefully undulating arc of the upper bowl was replaced by the blocky new bowl that killed the views while adding 5,000 seats. It helped the team compete, and not many people missed the views the way A’s fans still bemoan the loss of Leona Quarry because of Mt. Davis. Basketball and hockey are fixed stage sports with set dimensions. Baseball is more pastoral and lends itself to a wandering eye because of its pacing and rhythms, as well as the sport’s lack of standardized outfield dimensions.

In Inglewood, Steve Ballmer unveiled renderings of a new home for the Clippers, just blocks south of both The Forum and the new football stadium at Hollywood Park. I applaud the attempt to minimize height and make the whole thing more human-scaled, though I suspect that, like the football stadium next door, it will resemble a translucent hill. Now take in the presence of a new basketball-specific arena for the Clippers, the old Forum converted to a premier concert venue up the road, and an enormous football dome between them. Add to that the two MLB parks, two MLS stadia, the LA Memorial Coliseum, Rose Bowl, and other smaller venues in the region, and it’s easy to see how LA won the 2028 Summer Olympics. A new light rail extension is being built nearby, including a downtown Inglewood station a mile or so north of the three venues. From there a people mover-style tram will run from the new station to all three of the venues. That is, if funding can be found for it. If not, there will probably be shuttle buses. Or people can always walk.

From: City of Inglewood

Chase Center is getting an expanded light rail station, similar to how VTA did the same for the Great America light rail station before Levi’s Stadium opened. Rides on the Muni are included with each event ticket, which is sort of a necessity when little parking was built for the arena. The events scheduled for the first few weeks act as a dry run for everything from transit to the arena’s air conditioning and concessions. Warriors and A’s fans familiar with the dread dual-event scenario already ran into that once this month thanks to the proximity of Oracle Park.

Is Chase Center better than the Oakland Arena? In many ways, yes. It has 1,500 fewer seats and a better distribution of suites. The roof is lower to approximate the noise level of the old home. That’s a tall task, largely because like Levi’s Stadium, much of the crowd will be in the clubs or in bunker suites throughout every concert or game, places where their noise will be muffled. Plus the optics of empty-but-paid-for seats, like those in Santa Clara, loom large. Will the Dubs hire seat fillers like an awards show?

It’s tragicomic how Oakland Arena evolved from a ho-hum arena and nice piece of modern architecture to a ho-hum renovation that housed one of the fiercest home crowds in sports. Next year, it will be home to six home games for the Oakland Panthers, the new Indoor Football League franchise co-owned by Roy Choi and Marshawn Lynch. Like most arenas, it will become obsolete and steadily decay, while the Warriors compete for more banners across the bay. I sincerely hope that the Panthers and the IFL can stick it out for the long haul. Arena football doesn’t have a reputation as one of the more stable sports out there.

Meanwhile, Seattle, which lost its basketball team a decade ago, failed to get a replacement NBA team due in part to a lack of a new arena. Instead, the old Seattle Center Coliseum/KeyArena is being renovated a second time in order to host an expansion NHL team in 2021. Funny how life works.

Oakland Coliseum, Population: 1

This morning I went into the wayback machine to find out how many times I had written about Scott McKibben. The answer: 4, all in 2014 and 2015. McKibben previously was the head of the Rose Bowl and would, presumably, provide some professionalism to the Coliseum JPA, which had no one in the executive director role for six years. He was hired in early 2015. He abruptly resigned last week after reports indicated that he negotiated an additional $50,000 finder’s fee from the three-year, $3 million naming rights deal with RingCentral.

We’ll see if the other shoe drops and the City and County decide to get litigious. For now, let’s consider what’s happened on Scott McKibben’s watch.

  • Warriors announced move to SF’s Mission Bay site in 2014, after initially announcing a move to Piers 30-32 in 2012
  • Raiders announced move to Vegas in early 2017
  • A’s announce intent to move to Howard Terminal in 2018

Throughout all of this, McKibben was being paid upwards of $250,000 per year. What was he getting paid for again? Prior to the McKibben hire, AEG was brought in to replace SMG as the complex operator. AEG has been to the key to more bookings on the calendar for both the arena and the stadium. McKibben doesn’t deserve blame for the Warriors and Raiders moves, as those decisions were way over his head. Yet there is precious little to replace 8+ NFL games and 41+ NBA games. Plus, as Chase Center establishes itself as the Bay Area’s premier arena for concerts (13 during the opening month of September, 30 through the rest of the year), the JPA and AEG are scrambling to fill dates at the renamed Oakland Arena. Speaking of the name, that also unceremoniously traveled across the bay to the ballpark at China Basin. Thankfully, an arbitrator ruled that the Warriors have to pay the remaining $40 million of debt on the Oakland Arena, though the Raiders settled a much more favorable outcome on their behalf. I would feel bad for McKibben, but he’s the same guy who in 2017 tried to jump ship to the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, only for the JPA to give him a raise to lure him back. The raise was $50,000. That’s a totally “professional” move if I ever heard one. Regardless, he’ll land on his feet.

Since the Warriors and Raiders announced their exodus, no teams have been brought in to fill their enormous gaps they will leave behind. The closest the JPA got is some talk at the beginning of this year about an Indoor Football League franchise. The new Oakland franchise would be owned by Roy Choi (not that one), who also owns IFL franchises in San Diego and Cedar Rapids. San Diego’s team didn’t do great on the field or at the gate this year, pulling in only 300 fans for its season finale a couple months ago. The sordid history of of indoor football deserves a proper book treatment, maybe even a TV show or film. I’ve heard many colorful stories. I’d still like to know the full story of why the Fry brothers chose not to move forward with the San Jose Sabercats even after they won their fourth championship. Other than Oakland’s arena football dalliance, there has been no talk about fielding other team sports. No WNBA team despite Rebecca Kaplan’s cheerleading for it.. No G-League team as the Dubs chose Santa Cruz instead. No other fringe team sports like roller hockey, indoor lacrosse, or team tennis. At the Coliseum last year there was a bid by an East Bay group to convert the entire shooting match into a soccer complex flanked by the existing arena and a new ballpark. That went nowhere fast.

AEG may not be blameless for this situation. The company makes its money by filling dates and selling concessions, and for a venue operator fringe sports don’t make a lot of money to piggyback from. There is a line where it might make more sense to leave dates empty instead of actively trying to fill the arena to only 5,000 or so. For an outdoor stadium that requirement scales much larger due to the minimum staffing needs for given events.

What do you have when all the kids are leaving you with an empty nest? The only thing that’s worth anything these days is land. There’s plenty of it off Hegenberger, 110-155 acres depending on who you ask, 800 total when you include the land stretching across the Nimitz toward the airport.. There are also sweet, sweet entitlements to cash in if anyone’s interested. That’s why the A’s are sticking around at the Coliseum through 2023. As long as they are a tenant, they could exercise the right to build 3,000+ homes and 4 million square feet of commercial and office space. If that sounds like Coliseum City, that’s because it is. The A’s heard the questions about the confusion over the need to develop both Howard Terminal and the Coliseum. At a social media influencers forum last week, they said that the Coliseum isn’t needed, that the two projects are separate. There’s a timing problem with that position, since the only entitlements available right now are at the Coliseum. The only thing that can generate the cash the A’s are seeking to fund the ballpark is at the Coliseum. Ancillary development at HT is undergoing the approval process. It’s part of the long tail. Scratch that, l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g tail.

From the Coliseum Final Specific Plan, 2015

Now the awkwardness begins. The A’s plan to leave the Coliseum just like the other teams are doing, only they get to cash in on those sweet, sweet entitlements. Personally, I agree that they don’t need them. They have 40-55 acres at HT they can leverage if everything goes to plan. A redevelopment plan at the Coliseum is already approved. It’ll take time to bring in reopen the bidding process and bring the right uses in. That’s exactly what should happen. No shortcuts.

If everything doesn’t go to plan, the Coliseum remains a good backup plan. As we’ve used this joke ad nauseam, we’re talking about the A’s. There is no Plan B. It’s the best dad joke I’ve ever heard.

Howard Terminal: Notes on a work in progress

Assembled some observations on the City of Oakland staff report on Howard Terminal’s progress:

On the cost of infrastructure:

Q: What is the cost of public infrastructure (for the Howard Terminal project) and does SB 293 define that cost or provide a procedure for defining what that cost is before commitments are made to fund the infrastructure? Will an IFD commit all property tax revenue within the district boundary?

A: Costs of infrastructure for the Howard Terminal project are not yet fully known. In order to form an IFD for Howard Terminal or any other district, the City Council would be required to create and approve an Infrastructure Financing Plan before funding any infrastructure.

There’s a chicken-and-egg story here. Think about it this way: Do you know what happened to the gondola? Well, it gets one paragraph in this 123-page report.

Gondola
A gondola connecting Jack London Square to approximately Washington and 10th Streets is being studied as a variant in the EIR. The gondola would carry 6,000 passengers per hour. As the gondola is a variant, and not a part of the Project, staff efforts are focused on ensuring that the transportation plan operates with or without the gondola.

A “variant” isn’t much of a selling point for a big project. Instead most of the focus is on shuttle buses, ride sharing (TNC), and walking. But it’s not all bad.

In addition to transit-only lanes, staff is currently working with the Oakland A’s to locate and scope a transit hub to serve the Project and the greater Jack London Square community. The hub is envisioned as an attractive experience where game day crowds and daily commuters may easily and comfortably wait for buses, access bike share, valet bike parking, scooters, and other types of mobility.

One of the potential locations being considered for this transit hub is a two-block stretch under the Nimitz. Which would be a good way to utilize that area instead of simply turning it into regular parking lot.

Pricing: In order to effectively shift Project patrons from driving and TNCs (primarily Uber and Lyft) to transit, it may be necessary to make transit more economical. Both AC Transit and BART have expressed interest in working with the City and the Oakland A’s to establish a game day transit fare, similar to the arrangement currently being piloted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency at Chase Center.

If you recall, I ran some numbers on the gondola (capital + operations) and figured it would cost $12 per rider round trip if it were unsubsidized. The gondola would cost $123 million to build. For reference, the project to lengthen the Mission Bay Muni platform is more than $51 million. And that’s peanuts compared to new Transbay Terminal.

Rail Safety
In the rail industry, grade separation is considered the “gold standard” for safety. Used in combination with other strategies to accommodate rail crossings as safely as possible, new grade-separated crossings would aid in mitigating the following existing conditions in the Project vicinity:

    • The Jack London Square segment experiences some of the highest collision rates in Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor network
    • Proximity to the Port results in occasional very long train dwell times (15-20 minutes) as freight trains maneuver on tracks

The Project sponsor has also studied vehicular grade-separated crossings (overpass and underpass) at Market Street and deemed these grade separations infeasible. City staff are still reviewing this study and have reached no conclusions with regard to feasibility and potential design exceptions. Generally speaking, an underpass would be preferred as an urban form. In the absence of a grade-separated vehicular crossing, emergency vehicle access and site flushing in the event of an emergency are of particular concern, and options for emergency ingress and egress are being evaluated in conjunction with the development of an emergency management plan for the ballpark.

I find this downright inexcusable. The A’s, at the project sponsor, don’t have the final say on what’s feasible at Howard Terminal. An alphabet soup of regional, state, and federal agencies will. Look, I’ve talked about this enough in the past. In the future, I’ll just refer to this snippet of the report if anyone has questions about how serious the rail safety problem is. Jeez.

—-

6) Financial Issues:
The Oakland A’s have indicated that they wish to enter into a Development Agreement with the City governing development of the proposed Project. Development Agreement negotiations and supporting financial analysis have not yet begun. The City and Port are working through
jurisdictional City Charter issues and the City and Port are aligned in applying the zoning code to the project site and delegating that authority to the City; however, the legal mechanism for accomplishing such an approach is pending. While Development Agreement negotiations have not begun, the Oakland A’s have committed to the City and in a variety of forums that the ballpark itself will be privately financed. In addition, the Oakland A’s have also indicated that they are looking for a public private partnership on infrastructure. Staff understands and shares the City Council’s concern that the City consider the full project – costs and benefits – before making any financial commitments of any nature to this Project.

In other words: We’re working out the details. They’ll have until the end of September to wrap up many of those details in a pretty little bow.

27,000

While the A’s enjoy a well-deserved off-day after a most grueling road trip, let me bring your attention to a special event happening on the way back from Tampa Bay.

MLB is hosting a game in Omaha.

Yes, Omaha.

TD Ameritrade Park, well known as the home of the College World Series championship rounds, will host a Tigers-Royals game tonight on ESPN.

The game is considered a sort of warm-up for the CWS, whose championship starts this weekend at TDAP. There’s even talk about potentially scheduling the MLB draft concurrently with the CWS to give the draft a better profile both for baseball fans and draftees. While the path from the draft to the majors isn’t as clearcut as in basketball or football, baseball has been working to make the draft a higher profile event. What better way to do that than to dovetail with the premier annual amateur baseball competition? To be honest, I don’t know why they haven’t done it yet.

As for tonight’s matchup, I bring it to your attention because of the venue, naturally. I wrote about TDAP when it opened in 2011, thinking that I would see a game there eventually, maybe the CWS. The weeknight scheduling of the Tigers-Royals game made flying in problematic, so it’ll have to be some other time. Tonight the weather is good for a not-quite-summer ballgame.

TDAP was built primarily to host the CWS, and has done so capably after replacing venerated Rosenblatt Stadium. (Read my writeup from 8 years ago if you want the details on its development.) The park holds 24,505 seats, which curiously is close to the 27,000 advertised by BIG for the Howard Terminal ballpark. No, that doesn’t mean MLB is on its way to Omaha for more than this brief stop anytime soon, but it should start a proper conversation about how much stadium the A’s need now and into the future.

Inside TD Ameritrade Park Omaha Photo by Collinulness

Above is a picture of a building that holds 24,000-plus. The A’s are planning a structure that is similarly-sized, with the addition of a magnificent roof deck that could hold 10,000 more. When I compared the two visions, I came to the conclusion that Howard Terminal is essentially TDAP with fancier accommodations and a fancier roof above. The A’s have been careful not to say how much the park will cost, only that it’s privately financed. Where the financing will come from is still a bit of a mystery, but like with Fremont, it’s likely to come from real estate sales and leases.

And that aspect of it – the upzoning and turnover of a bunch of real estate – makes it just as important to know how much the construction bill will be. Because in the end, folks, A’s fans will be paying for the tickets, suites, and concession items. The real estate aspect is an indirect subsidy. Granted, that’s not as bad as having a bond issue backed by tax revenues. But it’s still a subsidy, and it’s worth asking if everyone from the City and Port to the A’s and A’s fans are getting a good deal on this. Whatever the A’s are planning, it can’t possibly be a better deal than $131 million spent on TDAP. Even if you double that budget to add MLB facilities and that roof deck and account for inflation, the total cost is probably less than $400 million. That’s a lot less than the numbers I’m hearing now. Especially once you add in the gondola.

The A’s had an economic impact report released recently. Yesterday they were scolded by Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan for repeatedly holding rallies outside of key votes in Oakland and Sacramento. The Council approved the motions on the two bills, with a clear message that they aren’t going to be rushed into rubber stamping Howard Terminal.

The saga continues.

P.S. – During my hospital stay in Phoenix, I encountered a number of alums from Creighton University, which has the fortune of playing their home schedule at TDAP. Creighton’s building a branch of their medical school right next to that hospital. For the Creighton baseball team back in Omaha, it’s not a bad place to call home.

Howard Terminal Site Plan: First Look

In case you’ve been unable (unwilling?) to peruse the presentation given to the BCDC on Howard Terminal last week, go get it. Now.

While you’re waiting for that to download, I’ll go through some of the important slides. First, let’s look at how the ballpark is situated on the 55-acre site.

Site: Ballpark only

That’s a lot of space to the west, right? While there won’t be splash hits, it looks pretty snug in the Southwest corner there. From the looks of things, BIG may have placed it as far southeast as possible while maintaining the orientation and the preferred street grid.

Street grid, you ask? There’s one of those, too.

Site Plan: Full buildout

All the blank space is filled in, with streets and potential heights for ancillary buildings. Most are up to 200 feet tall, some are 300 feet tall, and one is listed at 400 feet tall. What would that look like if you were standing on the shoreline? The next slide should give you a sense of it.

Cutaway for building and stadium scale

This will be the one of many red flags for a lot of people. Nothing in the Jack London Square approaches that scale. Even the ballpark, which by itself would be the tallest building in the neighborhood, is absolutely dwarfed by the condos and suites to the west. Like what happened with Brooklyn Basin, location is everything. And this location is on the shore.

History of Howard Terminal shoreline

In the image above you can see how much the shoreline has changed, from the 1877-surveyed shoreline in green to the extended beach and wharf area, completed over 20 years ago. The sticky part is that the orange areas were built for port commercial purposes, not for housing, parkland, or office buildings.

Overlay of site history and ballpark site

I overlaid the ballpark site to get a sense of where it would fit in a historical context. The problem here is that the ballpark will be on bay fill. Will the BCDC and the State approve a completely different purpose for the land? We have two historical cases of this. At China Basin it worked out for the Giants. At Piers 30-32 the Warriors faced resistance and moved their concept a mile south.

One other thing to consider is the lack of public space. The second image in the post, titled Open Space & Public Access, shows which areas would be available. The concept for this goes back all the way to the original Fremont concept in 2006. I’m guessing there are 12-15 acres available, plus the roof deck, which I calculate to be 1.5-2 acres on its own. For reference, Brooklyn Basin is 64 acres, of which 30 acres is set aside as open space. I don’t see how the amount of open space identified for Howard Terminal will pass muster, unless everyone decides that the overriding necessity is the new housing over everything else, enough to indirectly subsidize the ballpark.