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 A mere two weeks after the offer was made, the offer was retracted and Perry was out after a purported double-cross.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.

Patience, Grasshoppers

Two bills supporting the Howard Terminal ballpark project are now on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk, thanks to their safe passage through the state legislature. You haven’t heard much static during this part of the process, which is unique to California. CEQA regulations make it tough for big projects like stadia to get to the groundbreaking stage, which has created a new environment where CEQA exemptions are allowed to shorten that process. Despite those efforts, the process remains largely the same.

We’re where those four arrows point on the right, 1/3 of the way up (I added the green arrow)

A lot of the process happens in parallel, especially the items on the left side of the cart. There is a draft version of the EIR that’s scheduled to be released sometime in October. A’s President Dave Kaval gave select media members a tour of the Howard Terminal site earlier in the week where he walked them through much of the rest of the process. The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson documented some of those next steps well, so you should take a look at it. If you can’t see that, I’ll sum it up.

  • October: Draft EIR published
  • March 2020: City Council vote
  • December 2020: Groundbreaking?

Of course, there are numerous important steps between fall of this year and spring of next year, or spring and winter of next year. As you all know from reading this blog, the devil’s in the details. I didn’t hear much about lobbying efforts from the shipping industry, though they kept up their occasional media assault on the project. I imagine the shippers are lining up their arrows for the draft EIR, which should create its own sort of postseason fireworks. The legislation stuff is the easy part.

About that legislation, Governor Newsom has until October 13 to sign it. That shouldn’t be a big deal, with the only real complication being the presence of other more important bills for Newsom to sign. You see, the biggest achievement was already earned when area legislators chose to write these bills to create exemptions for Howard Terminal. It’s hard to find vocal opposition these days, especially now that the bulk of stadium projects in California are privately financed, which means there are no direct subsidies or tax measures involved in the venues’ construction. If you’re a legislator, are you going to say no to a private business looking to invest and you don’t have to put up anything yourself? Or be the c*ckblocker for some other city?

Well, about that. There will undoubtedly be debate about the infrastructure part of the plan, which is still mostly unsettled and requires fleshing out. For instance, Mayor Libbby Schaaf indicated that she’d be willing to put up to $200 million of the City’s money towards this infrastructure. Some of that will go towards new sidewalks in a part of town that doesn’t have many of those, or new pedestrian or vehicular bridges to go over the train tracks that run next to the site. How much will go towards dealing with the demands of the shipping and trucking companies in West Oakland? And how much of the beautification aspects of the project will be confined to Howard Terminal itself, as opposed to the nearby areas?

Take the picture below. It depicts the ground level of Margaret T. Hance Park, an urban park in Phoenix.

Margaret T. Hance Park (Phoenix) looking west

What you don’t see is that underneath it is Interstate 10, which runs right through central Phoenix from east to west. The park itself was built atop a series of bridges and decks to connect downtown Phoenix to midtown and points north over the freeway, which in this area was once called the Deck Park Tunnel. Hard to tell from the photo, right? The park is 32.5 acres in size and is flanked by new apartments and condos, an arts district, and a library. Some of you are probably thinking that this is the approach that should be taken with the tracks along the Embarcadero, or I-980 if/when it’s decommissioned as a freeway. If that happens, it’s many, many steps down the road and will cost billions, so I wouldn’t get too excited about the prospects of either. Still, it’s nice to consider the possibilities.

Specific and Incomplete

While most A’s fans were spending most of the weekend wondering how exactly the A’s could survive the rest of the regular season and postseason despite a patchwork bullpen, I started digging into new documents released by the City of Oakland. We’re talking about the Downtown Oakland Specific Plan, EIR, and EIR appendices, light reading totaling over 1,600 pages. For those who have some experienced reading such docs, that size shouldn’t be a surprise.

1,600 pages allows for over 100 mentions of Howard Terminal. However, for the purposes of the Specific Plan, Howard Terminal is not considered part of Downtown. It remains part of West Oakland.

Howard Terminal as “Future Potential Development Site” (see legend)

Howard Terminal is literally next to what’s defined as downtown and will have major effects on Downtown. A comment by Vivian Kahn of Oakland planning firm Dyett & Bhatia lays out the issue accordingly:

The proposed Howard Terminal project will obviously have a significant impact on the Specific Plan area and, in particular, the Jack London District. While the previous drafts of planning docs for the Specific Plan went on at length about the potential benefits the stadium and associated development would bring to the Jack London District, this version states that Howard Terminal is “outside the plan boundary.”

So “Downtown” per the Specific Plan looks like this:

Something’s missing here

You’d think that, given the amount of time the City and the Port have used the mull the idea of a ballpark at Howard Terminal, they would at least include the parcel in their study. Rather, the documents are evidence of the City trying to have its cake and it eat it too. The idea is that if a ballpark is approved, it would create spillover development in nearby blocks. The implication is that with a ballpark Howard Terminal would be annexed into Downtown at a later point. If a ballpark isn’t built, Howard Terminal remains part of West Oakland as if no speculation nor ancillary activity will happen. To me, that sounds foolhardy at best. Are the only alternatives at HT the ballpark or the lower-impact maritime use the Port utilizes currently? Some creativity is in order. The quotes below acknowledge how impactful the ballpark project will be.

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Howard Terminal is undergoing its own CEQA process and the City will put out a draft EIR shortly. Changes approved by the Port, City, and BCDC should influence downstream changes in Downtown Oakland Specific Plan, the West Oakland Specific Plan (last updated 2014), and the Estuary Policy Plan (1999). 20 years is an eternity in Bay Area planning, so all of these documents merit serious updates.

Activity areas loosely defined

It doesn’t take much work to see Market Street gentrifying in much the same way Broadway has, with Howard Terminal as its southern anchor. I’ve heard two types of responses to this. Some fans welcome the expansion of Downtown to Howard Terminal and the bonanza it would bring. Others are decidedly more wary of gentrification. One fan even tried to educate me on where Howard Terminal was.

Of course, I had to correct that missed assessment. Look, I get that the ballpark could be huge for Oakland. It’s why John Fisher has the whole A’s staff in line behind Howard Terminal. But let’s be honest about what we’re dealing with here. Howard Terminal, combined with the Coliseum redevelopment, looks like a massive land grab. The A’s have tried to disassociate the two projects. The problem with trying to say they’re not connected is that only the Coliseum is approved for development now. The staging of Howard Terminal has the ballpark coming in first, followed by development surrounding the ballpark that could stretch out perhaps decades and has many steps before plans are approved. The Coliseum is the financial bridge to get there. That’s fine if that’s the intent, just be honest with everyone about it, and not use A’s fans to communicate it out through the community.

When Danny Glover spoke at Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland on Saturday, he mentioned gentrification a lot. He said that West Oakland could be transformed into San Francisco East. That sounds a lot like what happened to Brooklyn or what’s in progress in Long Island City in Queens. Gentrification has a creeping effect. In some cases there’s an argument that it’s needed to clean up neighborhoods or make them more livable. There is a flip side to that coin, in that those very same neighborhoods can become less livable for some because they’re less affordable. Glover was recently in two films that covered the current era of technology and gentrification: Boots Riley’s 2018 film Sorry to Bother You (set in Oakland) and Joe Talbot’s/Jimmie Fails’ 2019 film The Last Black Man in San Francisco (set in SF’s Fillmore and Hunters Point).

Here’s another tidbit from the DOSP:

Bottom line: If you think gentrification is not a factor in all of this, you are in willful, total denial. Be prepared for the backlash.

P.S. – San Jose took steps to annex the Diridon site as part of its Greater Downtown initiative in 2011. Nearly a decade later, Google is set to swallow all of the newly annexed area (save for the arena) whole. That’s gentrification for you.

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.

New Howard Terminal renderings released, Port Board Approves Tentative Agreement

We’ve got some new renderings. Seven, in fact.

First, the approach. The “picket fence” exterior treatment helps define the stadium better than previous renderings.

Walk inside the gate and down the approach, which like FanFest should be full of tents and booths. For now, it’s not. I remember the nearly religious experience I had walking to Target Field. This would be Seventh Heaven.

I haven’t seen this before, so I should bring it up: the next rendering is what it would look like as you stepped off the ferry dock coming from Alameda, San Francisco, or elsewhere in the Bay.

Next is a night view. Field of Schemes’ Neil de Mause noted how there are more cranes present on the property. That is despite the notion that the cranes would be more-or-less ornamental. There’s a touch of irony to that, given the opposition to the ballpark project coming from the shipping industry.

Nevertheless, the Port’s Board voted 7-0 last week to approve a tentative plan for the ballpark and ancillary development. The Port snuck in an amendment calling for the shipping interests and the A’s put together a working agreement to prevent the baseball games from interfering with Port operations. Both sides are digging in for the fight. The preliminary term sheet calls for the A’s to take four years to complete the EIR, all negotiations and site plans.

Some fans are irked by news outlets not updating file photos to reflect the A’s ever-evolving plans. As a stadium geek, I appreciate that thirst. But honestly, that’s missing the forest for the trees. The ballpark is now on its third revision and will undoubtedly undergo more before a shovel is in the ground. What’s important now is that the ballpark stays in the news. So far it’s doing fine in that regard. What personally irks me is that from the beginning, the renderings have generally eschewed basic safety requirements. The rendering above doesn’t have the fences in the outfield or padded walls along foul territory. The next rendering has no railings.

I recognize that simple things like railings and fences tend to be aesthetically annoying clutter. Yet they’re going to be in there if it gets built. It’s the law. There’s no getting around it. So show us what it’s really supposed to look like instead of the fancy marketing push. I’m sure it’s just a layer in the drawing, folks. Just turn it on. By the way, the previous image is the best one yet by far.

One thing that slightly bothers me about the new renderings is that the shrinking of Howard Terminal to accommodate the widened turning basin is not incorporated. Not only does the transformation take away a chunk of the land, it changes the skyline and reduces the amount of available open space. If the shipping industry accepts the wider basin in exchange for ceasing their resistance to the ballpark (no guarantee there), the waterfront would itself undergo some serious changes. The ballpark would effectively sit on a small peninsula jutting out into the Estuary, which frankly is pretty cool even if there likely won’t be splash hits.

The other thing that makes me concerned for the lack of completeness in these renderings is the missing infrastructure. You can see it in the site plans, whether we’re talking about a new ramp to the Adeline overpass or the new bridge to extend MLK Jr. Way over the tracks one block from the ballpark. As fans, we should see what those pieces of infrastructure will look like and how they will affect vehicular traffic flow, pedestrian circulation, and trains running through the area. We don’t even see the gondola on these, even though an animation has already been created. If the team doesn’t put the infrastructure in there, it’s harder to estimate the cost.

I’m aware that much of what I’m requesting will eventually be revealed in the Draft EIR, whether that comes out in the summer or later. Regardless, it’s up to fans and the media to keep pushing for answers. Stadiums appear to be becoming more disposable with each generation, but we should still look for something that lasts, like the 52+ years (51 for the A’s) on the decrepit yet still standing Oakland Coliseum.