Kaval Call Part II – “Waterfront” setting

Take a look at a piece of the rendering below.

View southeast from behind home plate

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

The Estuary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CEQA: California Environmental Quality Act

BCDC: Bay Conservation and Development Commission

DTSC: Department of Toxic Substances Control

BAAQMD: Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Tidelands Trust

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

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

Community Meeting on Howard Terminal to be held Sunday 10/7

A notice from the A’s and the City of Oakland:

NEW BALLPARK COMMUNITY MEETING

Councilmember Lynette McElhanney and the Oakland Athletics invite you to attend a meeting with representative from the A’s to discuss the proposed new ballpark site at Howard Terminal in West Oakland.
Sunday, October 7, 2018

1 PM to 3 PM

7th West Restaurant  1255 7th St. Oakland, CA 94706

Complimentary food and refreshments will be served.

For more information contact:

externalaffairs@athletics.com

7th West happens to be only a few blocks east of the West Oakland BART station, and about nine blocks northwest of Howard Terminal. You’ll notice some railroad tracks running right past 7th West, as the Amtrak maintenance facility and a major Union Pacific rail yard are on the other side of 880.

If you’re planning to go, take notes and report back. Thanks.

AB 734 signed by Governor Brown

I figured that with the sheer number of bills waiting to be passed or vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, he might take the entire month to sign AB 734 (D-Bonta) into law.

On that count I was right. There was not much worry about a veto for this and similar bills, because the issues are so local that they weren’t likely to encounter broad opposition. It is somewhat interesting, however, that the Clippers’ CEQA streamlining bill, AB 987, had former US Senator Barbara Boxer lobbying against it. At the end, both AB 734 (A’s, Howard Terminal) and AB 987 (Clippers, Inglewood) were both signed before tonight’s midnight deadline. AB 987 happens to have a signing statement from Brown, which should equally apply to AB 734 and Howard Terminal. From Gov. Brown:

While most fans and HT proponents have focused on issues such as the distance from BART and the dearth of parking and other traffic infrastructure immediately available at HT, it should be made clear that a ballpark project will have to pass certain (CEQA) standards to be approved and certified – before a shovel hits in the ground. Although the Warriors and Kings had the benefit of their own CEQA streamlining bills, legal challenges still delayed the eventual groundbreaking for Chase Center for at least a year. On the other hand, the ballpark is projected to have a much smaller capacity than the current Coliseum at 30-35,000 seats. That and smart design should help the project meet some environmental standards. As for the usual arguments about gentrification and displacement (mostly of industry) that will likely come up, I’ll just say that I’m glad this discussion is finally taking place.

Tidelands Trust map of Howard Terminal and Jack London Square area

Dolich thinks A’s have secret plan

Now that the A’s have the not-heavy-lifting passage of AB 734 completed, we can focus on next steps.

That means the financial part of the deal. Besides picking the site (Howard Terminal or the Coliseum), the A’s have to arrange a deal to either lease or purchase the land. Andy Dolich thinks that the A’s will make a play for both, using one to offset the cost of the other.

When the green and gold can’t access enough infrastructure gold from the city, county and Port of Oakland, they might introduce their Hidden Ball Trick.

It goes something like this: You (public entities) pay for Howard’s infrastructure with this ball over here, and we (the A’s) and a DTBNL (Developer to Be Named Later) will pick up your debt load of $137 million on the Coliseum. Of course, you’ll have to make us the exclusive owner of that site.

Any guesses as to whether or not that’s an even trade? When the community activists start to speak out, we’ll soon find out the answer.

A’s look to the future, keep HOK ballpark architect Schrock as consultant

This is what I’ve wanting to hear.

The quote of the week comes from A’s President Dave Kaval, courtesy of Don Muret, the former venue reporter for Sports Business Journal who last year went to VenuesNow. To wit:

“It’s a good pairing,” Kaval said. “We’re intent on developing a truly game-changing ballpark. There have been so many derivations of Camden Yards, we feel it’s time for a new direction.” 

Kaval was referring to the partnership of BIG and Gensler, as we discussed last week when the big announcement was made. Yet as I pointed out last week, BIG hasn’t architected a baseball stadium. Ever. There appeared to be a missing piece in the ballpark equation. Muret revealed the answer:

The hiring of BIG and Gensler does not sever the relationship between the A’s and HOK, specifically Brad Schrock, a principal with the firm and a veteran sports architect. Schrock has been working on a ballpark project for the A’s over the past 15 years, first with 360 Architecture and later HOK. He remains involved as a design consultant for the privately-financed facility, team officials said.

Schrock previously worked on Safeco Field when he was a principal in Heinlein Schrock, the firm that eventually became 360 and then HOK’s sports practice after Populous split off on their own. For more on Schrock, check out the post I wrote in 2014, which featured former SVBJ writer Nate Donato-Weinstein’s interview with Schrock.

The partnership of BIG, Gensler, and HOK (Schrock) should bring in a diverse range of concepts, though I imagine that each will be responsible for specific pieces. For instance, BIG might plan the entire development, while Gensler does the interiors, and Schrock provides the baseball expertise.

Ideas are swimming in my head. Before I get to those, let’s see what happens tomorrow in Sacramento, where the scramble is on to pass AB 734, the ballpark village bill for the A’s. Tomorrow is the deadline for the bill, which was amended to focus mostly on Howard Terminal. This was, as I mentioned earlier, because Howard Terminal needs the attention and focus. The Coliseum, as unsavory as it is to some, is already entitled for a stadium and has CEQA certification for the very kind of mixed use development the A’s are seeking.

It’s shaping up to be a very laborious Labor Day weekend.

56,310

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AB 734 works its way through legislature

While the A’s have a team of people working on future concepts for a new ballpark…

… legislation to blunt the impact of potential legal challenges continues to progress through the California legislative calendar.

Here are the simple facts you need to know about what’s happening.

  • The two items above are only tangentially related for now. As mentioned in the previous post, the Coliseum site is already entitled, in that a new stadium is already approved there once everyone figures out what to do with the old stadium and the rest of the land. Howard Terminal has a ways to go before it’s entitled; that’s why the legislation is being considered – to limit the ability of those seeking to create roadblocks. Planning for the actual ballpark structure and its features is a different discussion and will take months to years regardless of site.
  • The legislative calendar is on a pretty tight schedule. You may have heard that AB 734 made it through two committees so far, the Finance and Judicial committees. The bill has been referred to the Appropriations committee next. The idea here is that by having the bill sponsored and through to this point, the heavy lifting for it has already been completed. There shouldn’t be any showstoppers from here, though that doesn’t mean the A’s could start clearing either site once the season ends. If you want to keep track, here are the key dates for the bill:
    • July 6 (last week): Legislature went into a monthlong recess
    • August 6: Legislature goes back into session
    • August 31: Last day for legislature to pass bills
    • September 30: Last day to get governor’s approval for any bill

    There are a few more rules to this, but I’d rather keep focused on the key dates and not burden you with a bunch of legislative mumbo-jumbo. If you need more details, please ask.

White line is the extent of the complex for potential sale

One other thing I wanted to point out. The Coliseum land being considered for possible sale to the A’s is only the original Coliseum parcels which include the stadium and arena, assuming the arena’s own financial responsibilities are settled. The land doesn’t include the Malibu or HomeBase lots near Hegenberger Road, which were long assumed to be part of planning for the aborted Coliseum City project.

Last thing to mention is that in AB 734, the bill specifies LEED Gold certification by the National Green Building Council as part of the package. To me this is exciting and could make the A’s a sort of trailblazer, because most baseball stadia built over the last few decades have been certified Silver, not Gold or Platinum. Getting to Gold or Platinum often requires greater conservation efforts, though I sometimes wonder about the scoring on that. For example, Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta was certified Platinum last year, though it is a heavily air-conditioned domed stadium that employs artificial turf. Outdoor grass baseball parks haven’t been able to reach that standard.