Official: Peralta/Laney Ballpark is Dead

Wash: “It’s incredibly hard.”
Beane: “Hey, anything worth doing is.”

About six months ago I wrote the tweet below, not knowing yet which ballpark site the A’s were choosing:

Reality is here, and it is a bitch.

Feeling pressure from faculty and students alike, the board for the Peralta Colleges abruptly ended ongoing discussions with the A’s about building a ballpark at the current district headquarters next to Laney College. There was to be a Board vote next week to decide whether or not the district would enter formal negotiations with the A’s. Not anymore. With tepid support from Oakland City Hall, the A’s were facing an uphill battle for approval even at this lowest level. They didn’t even get to the first switchback on the trail.

The decision was followed by a series of reactions from relevant parties, including the A’s using 280 characters instead of a screenshot:

This doesn’t require much analysis, and with the whole process being cut short after three months it doesn’t merit recriminations. The A’s underestimated the potential opponents, and the City was hands-off with no support. That’s often a quick recipe for failure, even as I hoped the parties to get through at least to next week. So much for that.

So what happens next?

Well, we’re in the holidays, so for now, nothing. Early in 2018 we should hear more, especially as the A’s will have to regroup leading up to FanFest, whenever that is. And unlike 2017 FanFest, when many fans interpreted the site as the A’s leaning towards Howard Terminal, maybe next year’s choice will reveal more about the A’s plans with Peralta fading away. The A’s led by Dave Kaval have shown that they’re willing to accelerate their process if they see an opportunity. Despite the missed opportunity at Peralta, I’ll be encouraged if the team shows the same urgency in 2018.

As for sites, they don’t suddenly change in value or potential now that Peralta has dropped off. Let’s look at them, December 2017 edition.

Howard Terminal

People are asking about this, naturally. I remain skeptical of the site because of the cost of infrastructure (transportation and parking), the cleanup costs that the site would incur, and the need for enhanced rail safety for cars and pedestrians. Oakland and HT proponents could salve the A’s wounds by offering a package of improvements that address the A’s concerns. Not so sure about any way to mitigate winds and temperatures at HT, which for the A’s were a few degrees cooler than at Peralta. (I informally saw this from looking at wunderground.com maps while watching late season games.)

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

There are several approaches that can be taken at the Coli. The most popular has the A’s playing there until a new ballpark is built nearby within the Complex. That’s clearly the least disruptive path. It doesn’t resolve who pays for the stadium’s or arena’s outstanding debt. Development of the remaining 100+ acres is already entitled thanks to the failed Coliseum City plan, but those entitlement can start to have developers attached to them with a revised plan and cleared land.

Kauffman Stadium

BANG’s Dieter Kurtenbach, who lives close to the Peralta site, suggests that the A’s renovate the Coliseum. While that could be the cheapest option, it would also appear to be the cheapest option, which MLB doesn’t want. Then again, Kauffman Stadium was brilliantly renovated, though it was originally built as a ballpark, not as a multi-purpose cookie cutter with a gazillion unfortunate compromises.

I can see the A’s reign in their approach at the Coliseum, given the comparably limited economic potential there. Instead I suspect they’ll focus on the old Malibu/HomeBase lots along Hegenberger, which are somewhat separate from the original Coliseum complex in terms of access and ownership. The A’s may proclaim that there’s no “Plan B” – a classic Lew Wolff tactic – but they’ve always had the Coliseum plans in the desk drawer ready to quickly revise and present at a moment’s notice. Why? They’ve talked with the JPA about the Malibu/HomeBase site on-and-off since 2003, before the City even bought the land.

Malibu (triangle) and HomeBase (rectangle) lots at south end of Coliseum

Lest you forget, there were other sites under consideration!

Somehow part of the Oakland Army Base near the Bay Bridge was rumored. If Howard Terminal was too windy, OAB has to be disqualified just for the wind alone. There were no other serious contenders.

And whatever happened to San Jose? In normal Silicon Valley fashion, Google is about to swallow much of Downtown SJ whole, as it is planning with San Jose a sprawling, 240-acre campus by the Shark Tank that could bring in 20,000 additional employees to Downtown everyday. Google and its real estate partner have already bought a bunch of the land previous set aside for the ballpark, including the old AT&T facility on Montgomery. Amazing what happens when you just wave a bunch of cash in an landowner’s face.

Even Scott Ostler put a new (old) site in the hat, Victory Court! He even wondered how it didn’t work, I “chronicled” it for you Scott. Or in one two words: Redevelopment Died.

It’s been a long journey, and it’s far from over.

Peralta Board Meeting and Discussion

Tonight’s Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees meeting went as I would expect for a typical Bay Area stadium forum. It was frontloaded with a dozens of pro-stadium speakers including building trades and union supporters. That was followed by residents of Chinatown and Eastlake, most of whom were opponents of the park. That was followed by faculty and students of Laney College, largely against the park as well. Most of the grievances that were aired in previous reports are repeated tonight, with no new information revealed.

View south of Peralta HQ lot

The Board made it clearer that no decisions were going to be made tonight. Sharon Cornu, who is acting as a consultant for Peralta as the district explores the project, gave a presentation on the history of the site. An overview of the unique environmental aspects and the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood wrapped up the presentation, leading into the aforementioned speakers. Those speakers, by the way, didn’t include any representatives from the A’s. That’s not unusual since there is no formal project submitted to the district to support.

A lot of FUD was spread tonight, including plenty of talk about about the unholy alliance of “labor and financial capital.” Many students and local residents fully believe that this is the first step to the A’s taking over all of Laney, shuttering it in the process. Perhaps that’s the usual slippery slope argument, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. Peralta is not exactly rolling in dough, and the district is looking towards the future, when it has to deal with increased upkeep and maintenance costs. Laney has trouble paying its instructors, so the district has to start looking at other ways to deal with these problems. Yet there’s still a charter at Laney where the mission remains education, so however well or poorly that is going, it’s still going to be the most important thing for the district, not cashing out for a quick payday.

The A’s have to thread the needle on this project. They are aiming at developing the Laney College parking lot across the channel from the Peralta HQ site. To what extent? Cornu’s specialty is affordable housing. The A’s want to build their own village around the ballpark, and that lot may or may not be the extent of that. The A’s may end up kicking some parking revenue to Laney. They could build something 4-6 stories tall there, or 8-12 stories including a hotel. They have to build as much as they can to pay for the ballpark and satisfy whatever is called for in a future community benefits agreement. Yet the growing wish list of items needed to complete the agreement may well render the whole project unprofitable. The A’s are making a lot of claims about what they can do for Oakland. Those claims may end up forcing the A’s bite off more they can chew. I like how the sister-team Earthquakes started which a much less ambitious project and added features as they went.

View west across Lake Merritt Channel

Chinatown developer Carl Chan also spoke. I’m curious about his delineation of “good” traffic from “bad” traffic. “Good” traffic brings visitors to restaurants and shops housed in his properties. “Bad” traffic doesn’t do that. I have to think there will be a good amount of both if a ballpark opens nearby.

Many of the residents of Chinatown and Eastlake have been there for multiple generations. The two neighborhoods have been hit less by Oakland’s encroaching gentrification than others, and the g-word is their chief concern, making up a large part of their opposition. I tend to think, though, that gentrification can only be somewhat mitigated, not avoided completely. A 2017 report on the state of housing stock showed that only 6% of housing under construction is considered affordable. That’s despite goals of 20-28% in past years. Affordable housing has taken a hit since redevelopment ended and local pools of property taxes for such housing dried up. That affordable housing is going to be built in these places, and then all the way east down International Boulevard and San Leandro Street (some is already near the Coliseum and Fruitvale stations). What creativity could be worked into the deal to pay for the affordable housing “subsidy?”

The recent news that a plume of pollution has been sitting and spreading underneath the Peralta land could provide an impetus to act. The cost to cleanup the land is unknown and requires study. If the cost runs into the millions Peralta won’t be able to do nothing, including turning off monitoring of groundwater underneath. If high cleanup costs forces the district into a deal, the A’s as developer indicated that they’d cover it. If this scenario sounds familiar, it was one of the main worries about the Howard Terminal site. The pollution is bad enough that, according to BANG’s David DeBolt, there are actually two plumes. The second is coincidentally enough underneath Laney College’s baseball field. Would the A’s be willing to pay for that as well?

It can be scary to listen to the comments, go through the laundry list, and figure out the project costs. I’ll try to get into that more next year as the project solidifies. Until then, understand that mitigation means compromise. It’s gonna take some work, and some negotiation.

Ballpark Sites Aplenty: A Map

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

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

Here’s your drone’s eye view from Peralta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-=-=-

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

Peralta Chancellor cozies up to A’s ballpark proposal

When I went to the fireworks game two Saturdays ago, I noticed that one of the concessions stands in the upper deck was operated by one of those charity groups that probably provided free labor in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. Seems like everyone does it these days. So a light went off when I saw Tuesday ‘s Chronicle article about how the Jowel Laguerre, Chancellor of the Peralta Community College District (Laney, Merritt, etc.) has become a great supporter of the project to displace his own office with a future A’s ballpark.

Peralta ballpark site

Scribe Kimberly Veklerov honed in on the opportunity in front of Laguerre:

Some of Laguerre’s ideas: culinary students could intern with stadium concessions, multimedia students with the scoreboard graphics team, police academy students with ballpark security, and design students with the merchandise team.

Assuming the A’s play ball with Peralta as part of an extensive community benefits agreement, it could be a win-win scenario for both parties. Local college has a way to directly funnel students into high-profile employer next door, and team finds a nice source for cheap, vetted labor. Of course, there are limits to how extensively this could go, since you need to have experience in many positions – even food service – but there aren’t too many downsides except for existing Coliseum employees whose positions could be converted into internships.

Except for part of the Haas ownership era, the A’s nearly 50 years in Oakland have been run on a shoestring budget on and off the field. Former 49ers employee Chris Giles will become the A’s new COO, another step towards the eventual ballpark site choice and construction. More sales and marketing hires are to follow as Dave Kaval’s team attempts to sell the hell out of the A’s and the stadium.

That aside, there is some momentum with the Peralta site. There’s a champion in Laguerre, and the land deal aspect is simpler than Howard Terminal. Sure, the DDA will still be a thousand pages long, and there will be lots of students and Chinatown & Lake Merritt citizens who will vociferously protest whatever the deal it is. For more on that, check out Shawn Roberts’ Medium post on the focus group session he attended. (I originally planned to comment on the post, but I chose not to focus on a single set of observations.) Rest assured, the eventual choice will not come quietly.

The other sites have been in stasis since the baseball season started. Maybe there are super-secret talks that have resolved Howard Terminal’s myriad infrastructure issues or the Coliseum’s debt albatross. Maybe they still have a ways to go. I’m not so sure that an August announcement from the A’s is in order. Some of the media are sticking with that. Personally, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if they A’s unveil their choice in a few weeks. For me a few months feels more realistic.

-=-=-

P.S. – Check out Mark Purdy and Andy Dolich checking out the three sites from last week.

Bay Area Council releases Oakland Ballpark Economic Impact Report

This is not our first rodeo, folks.

What am I supposed to do with this? Yes, take with a grain of salt. Or a whole shaker full of salt. Reference Lyle Lanley, perhaps? That’s an homage. Maybe the original is more appropriate?

I do have some thoughts, such as Why were they so quick to tout ongoing spending by the team inside the stadium? Is it because it’s expected that the team will pay for it, instead of some sort of subsidy stream? Private enterprise is supposed to do that! Let’s not lower our standards because we’re used to sports franchises ripping municipalities off, or because a certain Oakland team continues to be subsidized even though they are leaving.

Or how about the construction spending? Could the Bay Area’s still white-hot real estate market throw that same money and resources into alternative projects such as housing or offices? Yes they could. The biggest hangup at this point is the approval process. Back in 2010 when Oakland was still struggling coming out of the recession, this argument might hold weight. Now it’s just noise.

That 2010 study even spent a couple slides talking about how assessed property values would explode thanks to a ballpark. Today that talking point is anathema. Property values is practically a four-letter word.

These documents are sales pitches, always prematurely staged and distributed. They don’t hold up under scrutiny, but they also don’t get much scrutiny. So it does the job. I’ll let you discuss the various inconsistencies, or question the methodology. To me these are pamphlets, no more, no less.

Don’t Worry About Las VegA’s

There’s no need to panic about Oakland losing the A’s to Sin City the way they are losing the Raiders.

Not for a few years, at least.

AAA (and former temporary A’s) home Cashman Field

I’m not going to rehash the market size/potential/franchise competition arguments. I did that 10 years before desperate Raiders fans were doing the same. The simple problem for Las Vegas is that the region, or Clark County in particular, shot their wad in bringing in the Raiders. The vehicle for funding numerous improvements around Clark County, the room tax, is currently 12-13% for most properties in the area. A 0.88% hike for stadium funding would bring the tax to around 14%, probably the most local hotels would be will to swallow, since taxes above that percentage start to become less competitive against other vacation/convention locales such as San Diego, Orlando, or Los Angeles.

Clark County hotel tax shares and hikes for the last 30+ years (Las Vegas Sun)

The “cap” also becomes important when considering how revenue shortfalls could be addressed at the stadium. The Raiders aren’t being charged rent at the stadium, but they will assume operations and with that, operating costs. If that becomes difficult to handle and the team cries poor, guess what the first source to tap will be? The same one that will provide some $50 million a year to start and is being collected as you read this.

In short, Vegas doesn’t have a funding source for a stadium. And as we saw with San Jose, just offering a site to the A’s on which they’d have to self-fund a stadium is not going to cut it. From a structural standpoint, it simply doesn’t work.

The Vegas talk was triggered by comments from Rob Manfred, who spoke last week on the topic. Manfred has opened to possibility of MLB expansion, which hasn’t been considered since the last round in 1998 (Tampa Bay and Arizona). Expansion can’t happen until the St. Petersburg (ironic) and Oakland (tragic) stadium problems are resolved. And if they aren’t resolved to Manfred’s and the Lodge’s satisfaction, Las Vegas and Montreal remain as relocation threats, no matter how hollow those threats are.

Manfred’s stated support for Oakland over the last couple years is not lip service. He’s giving John Fisher and Dave Kaval space to complete their work, and the City of Oakland time to get its shit together. He didn’t see Oakland A’s Forever!

“Until Tampa and Oakland are resolved, I don’t see us expanding as a practical matter. It could be an expansion or relocation site,” Manfred said. “I understand the demographics and it could work, based on the size of the city.”

Now that the Raiders have one foot out the door, everything can and should come together for a deal that should satisfy practically all in Oakland. If it doesn’t in five or ten years, the Commissioner can and will complain about the lack of progress. He or some heretofore unknown corporate henchman will talk down Oakland’s commitment, just as Eric Grubman did for the NFL and Roger Goodell. I riffed on this when I first heard about Manfred’s comments.

If all goes well, the only role we’ll see involves Manfred wearing a hard hat and holding a shovel. If not, well, you can’t say you didn’t see the plot twist coming.