Quakes sell out luxury suites, start selling club seats

Even though the official groundbreaking has yet to occur, the San Jose Earthquakes announced today that they have sold out their entire allotment of luxury suites – 12 in all. In addition, the club announced that they are now selling club seats to the public. A total of 576 club seats will be made available, all at field level, just like the suites.

Club interior

There always was room for premium facilities to be built, so it makes sense that they’d wait to introduce club seats until other premium options such as suites were sold out. The key thing I noticed when looking at the renderings is the lack of walls. In last year’s big Lew Wolff interview, he mentioned how expensive it is to fully build out a space with air conditioning. The sold-out luxury suites are the only premium option that is fully built out. The club here won’t be behind walls of any kind and doesn’t appear to be air conditioned, which should reduce operating costs a good amount. The amenities don’t look any less plush than at other venues, and patrons will have in-seat service.

Four separate club areas consisting of four three-row sections apiece will be spread throughout. Two will be located near midfield, two towards the ends. Priced by the row, tickets will range from $90 to $125 per seat in season ticket packages, 20% more for single game purchases.

Patio suite exterior and interior

The Quakes are also selling patio suites, which are like the luxury suites except with no walls (or A/C). This option effectively splits the difference between the club seats and the luxury suites.

View from Patio Suite

I have a feeling that Lew and Keith Wolff are using Earthquakes Stadium as a testbed for future offerings at Cisco Field. If they can get the mix of hardcore Quakes fans, general soccer fans, and casual fans right, there are numerous lessons that are applicable to the construction and deployment of similar amenities at Cisco Field. For now, the stated capacity remains 18,000, though as we can see in this case, market conditions can change quickly.

San Jose 2/22/12 Planning Commission Meeting Liveblog

9:15 PM – Appeal denied, Planning Commission approves permit 6-0, Chair Hope Cahan not present. Vice Chair Bit-Badai urges Earthquakes to continue working with residents.

9:07 PM – In a follow-up to an issue brought up earlier, City staff indicates that FAA audit will likely not be successful, and would have little financial impact. Commissioner Kamkar wants to approve project. 

9:03 PM – Commissioners have been speaking, trying to define scope of what they are discussing. Commissioner Platten emphasizes that the soccer stadium is not a harbinger of what will happen for the ballpark. The issues are: 1) Adequacy of noise study, 2) Proper communication with other governing bodies, 3) Proper communication with community. Platten urges permit to be passed and appeal denied.

8:52 PM – Newhall resident asks for SoundPLAN study in order to be thorough. Asks for the gap between the rim of the seating bowl and the roof to be closed. Re-emphasizes that residents are not against Quakes or stadium in general.

8:48 PM – Lew Wolff implores commission to make a decision and not delay things any further. Planning commissioner Kamkar asks about a 31-foot sound wall that was in the original EIR that is not in the new stadium concept, and the use of aluminum risers. Keith Wolff says that the design of the stadium blocks the noise so the sound wall won’t be needed, and that as long as the aluminum risers are constructed without gaps they should not leak noise.

8:44 PM – Keith Wolff is taking his five minutes, Lew Wolff at his side. Keith Wolff mentions that the City came to the Quakes with the site, not the other way around. Talks about concessions made (no concerts, distributed sound, meetings with residents four times a year).

8:43 PM – Last two speakers are in favor, after Marc Morris (S/HNPA) also implores more study. Planning commissions should have questions for the applicant next, followed by the vote.

8:29 PM – Quick point – SJC Airport noise contours are set to expand for 2017 and 2027. The Newhall neighborhood would fall within the 60 dB noise contour. That’s a good deal greater than the “comfortable” 55 dB ambient noise, though not double (+10 dB = double). 

8:15 PM – A group of Newhall Neighborhood Association residents have put together a presentation about the neighborhood. They appear to be sequenced to complete the preso. Apparently soccer has impacted quality of life in their “quiet” neighborhood. Planning commissioner asks what “quiet” means, considering the location near trains and planes. Speaker says he is referring to loud bursts of noise (crowd cheer, drums). Another speaker says that ambient noise is <50 dbA, 90% of the time. Noise with stadium would go up 862% (disturbing peak events of >58 dbA) with stadium. Use of aluminum risers as opposed to concrete (at Home Depot Center) may increase noise. Newhall residents are arguing that the stadium approved via the EIR are not what the Quakes are presenting, and that time should be taken to reflect that change.

8:09 PM – Someone from MLS in New York flew out to speak. Big surprise there. Mentions that this is the first time he’s spoken for a stadium project in which he wasn’t asking for public money.

8:08 PM – Supporter quote of the night: “I’m married to a Brazilian and I would appreciate it if you could work to keep our marriage together.” 

7:54 PM – More supporters have spoken. Balandra is part of the Shasta Hanchett Park Neighborhood Association, as are Jonathan Martinez and Helen Chapman. Sounds like at least a few individuals are practicing their arguments for the next round. As Chapman speaks, several fans hold up “BUILD IT NOW” signs. S/HNPA’s argument is that the neighborhoods and the process should be respected, and that their arguments are not against soccer or the Quakes in general. I get the feeling that the fans don’t want to hear anymore about process.

7:40 PM – Terri Balandra, citing her own question of Lew Wolff at the Rotary Club luncheon, asks Wolff to “go overboard” to mitigate light and noise. Also mentions an FAA audit which may show that the City misused federal funds on Airport West in that the funds were supposed to go towards potential airport expansion and eventually did not. Those funds may have to be returned, and if that’s the case Balandra asks if the land deal could fall through. My instant response to that is that the City did evaluate using the land for expansion, but the project was too costly and not cost-effective. Because of this they’ve chosen to sell the land to Wolff. If someone wants to extract blood from that turnip, they might as well try to build a time machine to send everyone back to 2007, before the economic crash. Then they’d might get something out of it. 

7:36 PM – Chris Wondolowski‘s aunt is speaking in favor. How often do you get a player’s relative speaking in favor of a stadium? I haven’t seen it before.

7:35 PM – I’m not keeping a tally of for vs. against speakers, but so far it is only two against, everyone else for.

7:29 PM – Jonathan Martinez asks the question(s) of the night: “Noise? In that neighborhood? Are you kidding me?”

7:25 PM – Belated stream link.

7:16 PM – At least two sponsors of the team have spoken in support, as well as a youth soccer coach and a worker for a community-based nonprofit.

7:14 PM – A speaker from Tracy mentions his brother, who recently passed away. He said that having the Quakes here helped him get through the tough times.

7:11 PM – The team’s official Twitter feed is livetweeting the event.

7:02 PM – A speaker says he is opposed to the sites for both the Quakes and A’s stadia. Would prefer the A’s to move to Airport West, while Quakes go to 237/Zanker.

6:59 PM – Soccer Silicon Valley’s Don Gagliardi is speaking. Asks fans to stand up. My guess is 95% of the crowd is Quakes fans. Claims that in 10 years the Quakes will be more important to San Jose than the A’s (if the A’s move).

Earthquakes fans standing in support

6:56 PM – 1906 Ultras (supporters club) are holding up scarves in unison as Kaval speaks.

Kaval notes design of stadium (turned towards airport) and lack of concerts as a form of noise mitigation. Mentions that Quakes have not gotten a noise complaint in last two years at Buck Shaw Stadium.

6:53 PM – Lew Wolff is speaking in support and thanks. Considers soccer a “community asset”. Claims that even if the number of games were doubled, the actual impact on the area would be only 170 hours per year. Introduces David Kaval. Applause from crowd. Crowd admonished for applause.

6:48 PM – A representative for the appellant (who is not present?) is at the podium. Notes a petition that has been signed by 210 people. Asks to uphold appeal, deny the application, and reopen the EIR on the grounds that the noise analysis is flawed. 

  • No computer simulation noise analysis for conceptual stadium design or proposed stadium design
  • Diridon Analysis with SoundPLAN would should noise would be 3-5 dbA higher for baseball games and 5-7 dbA higher for concerts – than in the approved EIR noise study.

This could be important for a future ballpark fight, as we can expect the same issue to be brought up.

6:45 PM – City staff is going over new/amended noise analysis, the idea that the stadium’s design and use should mitigate noise, and the restrictions on noisemakers that should further make the stadium “a good neighbor”.

6:42 PM – Planning commission is going over rules and consent items. Item 3F, the Quakes stadium proposal, has been moved to go first.

6:24 PM – Council Chambers is filling up quickly. Lew and Keith Wolff, and David Kaval are present, doing brief interviews with local media.

Quakes fans message for the night

Read the KQED interview with Earthquakes president David Kaval that Nina Thorsen posted. About any linkage between the Quakes’ project and a future A’s ballpark, Kaval says this:

We’re really run as our own entity.  This process is really a stand-alone process.  Since our ownership is basically the same as the A’s, any learning from this, best practices, and how to work with communities, can be helpful to them.  But they’re not linked in the way that some people might assume.  The financing is completely separate, and obviously it’s a different sport, different league, different location.

Coincidentally, 95.7 The Game is doing one of their Lucky Break radio gig auditions tonight at 4th Street Pizza, which happens to be across the street from San Jose City Hall. Lucky Break will happen at the same time as the planning commission meeting, so you’ll have to choose which one to attend.

Quakes stadium faces final Planning Commission vote

On Wednesday I’ll be at the San Jose Planning Commission hearing at City Hall at 6:30. From all indications, so will numerous Earthquakes fans who have been patiently waiting for a final “yes” vote for construction to begin on the 18,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium near Mineta Airport.

Low profile stadium with roof, lights, and "controversial" gap

At the end of 2011, a resident from the nearby Newhall neighborhood appealed the granting of a building permit on the grounds that environmental issues such as noise and light pollution were not adequately addressed. That forced the project to go under another (hopefully final) review to determine if the design of the stadium, including the shape of the bowl and roof, would properly protect the residents of Newhall.

Newhall is actually split in two by Caltrain. The bulk of it lies southwest of the tracks and extends to The Alameda and Park Avenue, close to Santa Clara University. The resident who filed the appeal appears to be from the area across the tracks, where multiple high density developments have been built in the last decade or so. The smaller part of Newhall is hemmed in by the heavily used railroad tracks to the west, I-880 to the east, and the airport to the north, That area is an odd place for any kind of neighborhood. It’s right next to the landing approach to the airport. It’s zoned Heavy Industrial and for decades was right next to the FMC plant, which was closed and bought by the City before it was resold (an option at least) to Lew Wolff and partners for a stadium/commercial development. The neighborhood is so small that when looking at it from an aerial photo, it appears that it could fit inside the Lowe’s store that opened nearby a couple years ago.

Getting back to the appeal, here’s what City staff wrote was the gist (warning – 9 MB PDF):

The Appellant states “The applicant has not met the burden of proof that the design complies with the EIR, because the noise and light impacts of the proposed stadium have not been properly simulated” and requests additional analysis. The Appellant specifically identifies a “large open-air gap between the top of the stands and the roof structure” as a change to the stadium design that was not adequately analyzed and requests that the stadium design be changed to enclose this area. The Appellant also requests that the Permit prohibit artificial noisemakers, such as vuvuzelas and other horns, within the stadium and in stadium parking areas, and also prohibit distribution of such devices by the operator. An updated Noise Report (attached) has been provided in response to the issues raised in the Appeal.

And the response:

The updated Noise Report clarifies that the currently proposed stadium design would not generate noise levels greater than those studied and disclosed in the project EIR because: 1) the current proposal has an amount of open area comparable to the stadium which was used as the basis for analysis in the EIR (the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles); 2) minor proposed changes to the stadium design are either comparable or beneficial in terms of the stadium’s overall potential for noise generation; and 3) the proposed stadium would only have 2/3 of the seating capacity of the analyzed stadium, thereby reducing the potential for noise generated by people attending the soccer games. As part of this discussion, the Report clarifies that changes to the stadium design include the overall reduction in size and height, due to the decreased capacity, reorientation of the open end of the stadium away from the residential neighborhood, and the addition of a small roof structure above the stadium seating area. The updated Report concludes that as a result of these changes the current stadium design would have the potential to generate noise impacts consistent with or less than those analyzed in the project EIR.

The Appeal raises the concern that a “gap” between the stadium seating and roof structure, which did not existing in the prior design, would result in potential light impacts upon the residential neighborhood. As noted above, the stadium design analyzed in the EIR did not include a roof structure. The addition of this roof and the reduction of the overall stadium height should help to reduce potential noise and light levels emanating form the stadium. All of the proposed stadium lights would be oriented downward toward the playing field and located either underneath the roof structure, or, at the open end of the field furthest from the residential neighborhood, on a free-standing pole that would not be taller than the stadium structure. Therefore, given for the proposed stadium design the distance of separation to the residential neighborhood, the height of the stadium lights, and the shielding of those lights by the stadium structure, the stadium lights would not have an impact upon the residential neighborhood. Other structures to be built on the adjoining and intervening properties, including facilities related to the BART (and possibly the high-speed rail) projects, would further screen the stadium from the residential neighborhood.

In short, the City is arguing that noise pollution would be the same as or less than those studied at Home Depot Center, especially because the planned stadium is smaller. In doing so, noise levels would be deemed acceptable, allowing the project to move forward. The Appellant argued that the gap between the roof would cause noise to leak out of the stadium and into the surrounding neighborhood. The stadium’s horseshoe shape was designed to channel crowd and PA noise out of the open end, the northeast side closest to the airport. The roof, which is tight to the rim of the stadium, is supposed to assist with this. The lights are tucked under the roof, which should limit light leakage.

All things considered, I think the Earthquakes and 360 architecture have made great pains to conceive a stadium that would have minimal impact on area residents (though it should be mentioned that the CEQA process is about much more than impacting residents). The project should be approved. The issues identified by the appeal aren’t unique to the situation. Measures being taken to restrict noisemaking devices such as horns or vuvuzelas will help a ton. Beyond that there isn’t much more the team can do. If noise really does leak out of the gap, the team could easily wrap the gap in long vinyl panels. I’d prefer they didn’t do this as the gap helps airflow during the summer. The time has come to stop studying and start building. Let’s get the Quakes the home they’ve deserved for so long.

P.S. – If you read the staff report, including the chronology of events, you’ll notice that the process looks somewhat similar to how the Diridon ballpark EIR was approved. When a complete San Jose ballpark concept is submitted by the A’s, you can expect similar treatment, except in the A’s case the stakes are far higher and the impacts potentially greater.

Earthquakes to play at AT&T Park in March

Here’s a curious nugget: the San Jose Earthquakes have changed the date and venue of their March 18 home game against the hated Houston Dynamo to March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day) at AT&T Park. The match will be the undercard of a tuneup match between the Mexico and Senegal under-23 (Olympic) national teams. Previously the Quakes had doubleheader arrangement when Mexico and Iceland played at the Coliseum in 2008. Presumably the Quakes have the first game so that there won’t be the lingering image of Mexican fans leaving the stadium during the MLS match. That day pulled in 45,000 in attendance, over four times the capacity of Buck Shaw Stadium.

In the somewhat distant past such a game would be held at the Coliseum, but it’ll be played across the bay instead. Considering the Giants and A’s generally do nothing together other than appear at the compulsory media day before the baseball season begins, it’s a move out of nowhere. AT&T Park doesn’t have 45,000 seats and at least a thousand or more have terrible sightlines for soccer (LF corner upper deck), so it’s not as if they’ll outsell a game in Oakland. However, the tickets could be priced higher and find a very willing audience at a nicer venue. I don’t know what the revenue split is for a date like this with so many stakeholders, but I figure the Giants should be able to clear $200,000 just for hosting if they get $5 a ticket, plus probably all of the concessions revenue. With two weeks between the event and the Bay Bridge Series, that’s plenty of time to get the field in good condition.

According to the Stanford University sports calendar, there are no events that could conflict with the staging of a game at Stanford Stadium. The Stanford women’s basketball team is a powerhouse as usual, so they can be expected to host the first and second round of the women’s NCAA tournament at Maples Pavilion that weekend. The Quakes are playing a match against the L.A. Galaxy at Stanford on June 30, and I’ll be sure to attend then. Why not have the Dynamo/Mexico-Senegal event at Stanford? Maybe the NCAA tournament rules. Maybe the university and City of Palo Alto didn’t want an overly rowdy St. Paddy’s day crowd.

Does this event mean a thawing in the relationship between A’s ownership and Giants ownership? Hard to say. The ballpark business unit of the Giants could say it’s working independently from the team and in conjunction with the Quakes, who are also an autonomous unit within the Wolff/Fisher group. It’s been over 20 years since the last trade between the A’s and Giants (Darren Lewis for Ernest Riles, not counting the Adam Pettyjohn “deal”). At the very least it’s a sign that the two ownership groups can work together on something business-related. That can’t be a bad thing.

(Hat tip to Dan for pointing out the scheduling change.)

News for 12/14/11

A boatload of news has been piling up.

  • Matier and Ross “reveal” that the real party behind the Stand for San Jose lawsuit is, in fact, the San Francisco Giants. Glad to know that Larry Baer and company are so concerned with traffic in downtown San Jose. (SFGate)
  • The San Jose Earthquakes have gotten their development permit, so they are one step closer to breaking ground. (SBNation/Quake, Rattle and Roll)
  • VTA approved $772 million for the BART-to-Silicon Valley project. This funding is contingent on federal matching funds, for which a decision is due in February. Incentives in the bidding could allow the first phase, which ends at the Berryessa/Flea Market site in North San Jose, to be opened as much as 18 months ahead of schedule in 2016. Berryessa is three miles from Diridon and there is no light rail transfer from there, so unless there is a special bus or existing routes are realigned, the best bet may be to transfer to light rail at the Great Mall. A post dedicated to this subject is due in the future. (Gary Richards, Merc)
  • Santa Clara’s City Council approved $850 million in loans for its Stadium Authority to take out for the 49ers stadium. The money won’t actually be raised unless the NFL chips in with its $150 million share.
  • The Merc’s Tim Kawakami tweets that the 49ers “might land a naming-rights deal with a green technology company…” Okay.
  • Now that Tesla is gearing up for production at the old NUMMI plant and Union Pacific decided not to use land there for a big train/intermodal yard, Fremont is looking deep into ways to redevelop the land, the same way Oakland is looking at the Coliseum area. The 850 acres in question could be developed in a mixed use manner with up to 3,000 homes. Unlike Oakland, Fremont’s tendency to think small may keep things rather humble in nature, though that could change if some sort of anchor element were part of the planning. Like, oh, a stadium. (Matt Artz, Argus. Note: Good luck to Matt on his switch to the never boring Oakland city beat.)
  • MLB may be getting ready to seize control of the Mets because the team is losing money like crazy. Let’s see, maybe a little after the Dodgers are sold in April/May? (John Harper, NY Daily News)
  • Ever wonder where money from concerts and non-game events goes? This article tries to figure it out. (Tom Lyden, FOX 9 Twin Cities)
  • Marlins ballpark news: There may be a scandal about shotty welds and falsified inspections on the retractable roof (Andres Viglucci, Miami Herald); See pictures inside and outside the stadium (Joe Capozzi, Palm Beach Post; Juan Gonzalez, Stadium Page); the Marlins are getting rid of their sideshow dance troupes of skinny girls and fat guys (Juan C. Rodriguez, Sun Sentinel)
  • Robert Bobb is back in DC after two years as the Detroit Public Schools financial czar. What’s he doing? Consulting, of course.
  • Qualcomm is changing the name of Qualcomm Stadium to “Snapdragon Stadium” for 11 days to give a marketing boost for its mobile chipset. (Terry Lefton, Sports Business Journal)
  • The NFL announced extensions of its TV deals through 2022. Changes include an expanded Thursday night package on NFL Network and NBC getting rights to the Thanksgiving night game. Combined value of all TV deals is $4.3 billion a year, enough to take care of every team’s annual payroll without ever selling a ticket. (NFL Communications, Variety)

That’s it for now.

Quakes introduce suites at SJ stadium

When the San Jose Earthquakes announced their plans for a stadium near SJC, observers noted the capacity (15,000), shape (horseshoe), and the seeming lack of luxury suites. Now the team has remedied that last flaw, unveiling a package of luxury suites to be located on both the field level and the rim of the stadium.

The stadium’s original design had a very short first deck and a large second deck, which made it easy for the Quakes to add suites if the economy was friendly enough to do so. In going this route, some other premium seating will be displaced, but the 12 field suites alone should boost the team’s bottom line significantly.

View from behind a suite at field level

What may be more interesting is how the suites are being pitched to potential buyers. The suites have NanaWall-esque moving glass walls instead of a typical door-and-fixed window setup. It’s expected that a number of high school and college events will be held there, which is a smart move given the lack of modern facilities in the South Bay. Concerts are not in the sales brochure, which indicates how sensitive the Quakes are about noise and the venue’s potential as competition for HP Pavilion. Field level suites are $350,000 for a 5-year contract.

Suite seating arrangement. Note non-suite seats to the right.

You might remember how the Fremont ballpark concept would’ve had a level of suites only 10-15 rows from the field. It looks like that amenity will go to the soccer stadium instead, with the ballpark getting the traditional level of suites cantilevered over the lower deck.

Just as the ballpark may grow in capacity as a late game tweak, changes such as the addition of luxury suites can be made for the Quakes’ stadium. We can look forward to more such changes as these projects move from paper to concrete.

News for 11/09/11

Tomorrow morning I’ll be in SF to check out oral arguments for the State vs. Redevelopment case. If I can liveblog it, I will.

The regular media (SFGate, Merc, MLB.com, KGO) covered yesterday’s proceedings fairly well, though I’m surprised there wasn’t a bigger mention of the discussion about the referendum requirement. No matter, the San Jose City Council formalized the requirement by amending the motion just before passing it. Still, I don’t think this is the last of the referendum discussion.

There’s other news on the ballpark/stadium front:

  • The Royals may or may not have agreement in place to sell the naming rights to venerable Kauffman Stadium.
  • Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is undergoing $12 million in renovations, including a major revamp of the area behind centerfield. Changes will include relocation of the suboptimally located visitor’s bullpen, the addition of an indoor club and several concession stands.
  • The University of Washington’s Husky Stadium just started a massive $250 million renovation project. The track will be removed, the field dropped four feet, and more seats will be added close to the field, similar to the changes at the LA Memorial Coliseum. In addition, new locker room and training facilities will be added, as well as premium seating options. Like the $321 million Cal Memorial Stadium renovations, these will be largely dependent on donations for funding. The Huskies will play next season at CenturyLink Field (formerly Qwest Field).
  • The Populous architect overseeing the 2022 Qatar World Cup project believes that the venues will not need air conditioning. The goal is to make the venues carbon neutral, something that made the winning Qatar bid attractive. A company called Arup Associates has a demo of the technology in place at a 500-seat stadium, though you could naturally be skeptical about the ability of the tech to scale to a venue with 100 times the spectators.
  • The Sacramento Bee’s Marcos Breton wonders what the ongoing NBA lockout means for the local arena effort.
  • A report on NPR’s Morning Edition goes over the economic impact of the lockout.
  • A’s naming rights sponsor Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) beat the Street today, which may signal an upswing for the networking giant. The stock was down during the regular session but up in after hours trading.

That’s all for now.

News for 10/24/11

We’re still three weeks from the winter meetings, at which the A’s situation is not guaranteed to be resolved. Until then we wait and stay informed.

Features to come after I finish a few things.

The Big Lew Wolff Interview, Part 3

[Ed. – Before I start again I have to mention that there are some blogs out there who are cutting and pasting huge chunks of this interview for further commentary. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with the fact that I haven’t received a single request to use this interview for any kind of reuse of large chunks of it. I mean, really, it’s not like I’ve spent a lot of time on this. It’s not like people care about professionalism or common courtesy anymore. How about a heads up? Maybe a link to the original interview? It’s the least you can do. The very least. We may not agree on much, but we can at least show courtesy and respect others’ work. That’s all.]

Part 3 of 5 (Part 1, Part 2)

ML: You’ve frequently said here and everywhere that it’s all about keeping the A’s in the Bay Area, in this market –

For our ownership.

ML: Right. Recently, Giants president Larry Baer has hinted that while he supports the A’s looking in their territory – Alameda and Contra Costa counties – but if they can’t they’re welcome to try somewhere else such as Sacramento. How do you respond to that “hint” by Baer and the Giants?

If tomorrow you had the only McDonald’s in San Francisco, and fourteen miles away there was another location in Oakland. And your SF McDonald’s is worth $10 million and the Oakland McDonald’s is worth $100,000. That was fine for you (SF). Now the Oakland location says they’re closing up and they’re moving outside of the territory. What happens to the only McDonald’s then? Larry and the Giants would benefit hugely, I guess, in their minds. They dominate the market now, they may want to dominate it totally. Their market value might jump a huge amount.

However, I don’t get it. I don’t get why they’re so adamant about this. It’s just a difference of opinion.

ML: Do you think the Giants have a motive for protecting their territorial rights other than what they’ve stated publicly? Which is – they just want to pay off the ballpark.

I’ll have to say that going back to – forget that it’s Oakland or San Jose – there are four two-team markets. [Ed.: Note exclusion of DC-Baltimore] Three already have the same boundaries. I think this one should too. I think we would have a great rivalry with them. Why shouldn’t we have a beautiful ballpark? In fact, one of the backers and instigators is my partner and his family, the Fishers. I think if you actually went to a lot of the passive investors in the Giants – these are people who want to support the Bay Area, not just one team. What is it gonna hurt? In fact I think it’s gonna be better for them too. Everybody has their own views.

ML: There’s been some talk from fans and media about challenging baseball’s antitrust exemption. Knowing what you know, being in what they call “The Lodge”, is there anything realistic about that?

Well, today we live in a litigious society. If you want to sue over this chair you’re sitting on you can sue the manufacturer because you’re not feeling well. We are not of that ilk. We are a partner. Maybe this is an odd view, but I believe that we’ve entered a partnership. This is what the commissioner chose. As I said before, we’re not even thinking about it (suing). It’s not right based on being part of a partnership. Therefore it’s not a lever for us, it might be for someone else. If the reverse is true, maybe a smart attorney running a baseball team might say, “We can do this, we can do that.” [Ed.: I chuckled] We’re not going to do it, that’s all there is to it. It’s just not right.

ML: This seems to be something very consistent that you’ve said, even going back a couple of years ago. The partnership idea that all of the owners are in one boat and they’re all supposed to be rowing in the same direction.

I know I’m a little naïve when it comes to that, in the world that we live it, but that’s how I’m gonna run it.

ML: Okay. When it comes to making a decision, is it really all up to the commissioner?

Yep. Well – that’s a good question – he would need a vote of the owners [Ed.: 3/4 of owners]. Since I’ve been there, there haven’t been a lot of votes. Maybe the Giants wouldn’t vote for it or a couple of teams. Again, it’s a collaborative thing. With all the work that’s gone into this, whatever the decision is, it’ll have a lot of backing. I think if he decides to let us move to San Jose that he’ll get a lot of votes. I don’t think the voting will be an issue. He even has the power to go beyond that if it’s for the good of baseball. I really don’t sit there and analyze this from a legal point of view. If the decision is “you can’t” or “you can” the support will be to follow the commissioner’s lead.

ML: And that’s really all you’re looking for. Yes or no.


ML: You mentioned the Dodgers and Mets offhand. Are they on the front burner and the A’s on the back burner, or does it not work like that?

You’d have to ask the commissioner. No, I don’t think we’re on the back burner. I really think the Mets and the Dodgers are two different situations. But they’re both important (teams), important markets, important to us. The Mets aren’t suing baseball. They’re just trying to survive – and maybe they made some errors with this Madoff thing – I don’t know that much about it. The Dodgers are attacking, they put their team in bankruptcy. If they follow the constitution of baseball that’s cause for taking over the team. I’ve got my own stuff I worry about every day. We need those markets to have ownerships that are committed and capable of not getting into these issues.

ML: Commissioner Selig, when asked about what’s happening with the A’s a couple of times this year has said, “We’re working on it,” in nice, vague terms. Are they really still working on it? Seriously.

[laughs] I think what he’s working on – and I don’t know – is unless Oakland knows something that I don’t know. I answer is I think he’s contemplative. Way beyond where I am. We talk several times a week, not on this issue but on others I’m involved in. I’m having a – I enjoy the commissioner. We’ve known each other a very long time, longer than I’ve known my wife – and we’ve been married 54 years. I think he’s got enough information to make a decision. He may be trying to figure out a good way that the Giants are happy and we’re happy. He tends to do that. And right now, what choice do I have? Last night we won a game. That’s more fun than worrying about this crap.

ML: I agree, I agree. Now let’s talk a little about the Coliseum. I’m sure you’re aware that attendance is up this year as opposed to last year, and over 2009 as well. 

When Russia went from communism to capitalism they had a huge jump in economics, but that’s from a very low base. [laughs] When I talk to the commish he’ll say to me, “You know, you’re up 4.5%.” The one thing he follows is attendance. Now I follow paid attendance, I’m not sure that he does.

ML: Fair enough.

Attendance is up (league-wide) according to my last conversation. They’re up a little bit in the American League.

ML: Yeah, I think it turned around after the weather. 

Now I don’t know if it means in the ballpark. I look at Dodger Stadium and it looks almost empty sometimes.

ML: I believe that it’s paid attendance and it’s somehow withstood the drop for the Mets and Dodgers. 

What happens is that some people are afraid to give up their tickets. I was hesitant to give up my Laker tickets. But then I look back and ask how many games did I go to since my kids all moved out of L.A. Do I really need these tickets? And then a year later I decide to do one more year. I worry about the impact of that.

ML: I see.

I just wish the Dodger thing was settled and we could move on.

ML: In the past you’ve mentioned the Coliseum’s defects and its chronic state of decay. Could a ballpark be built alongside or replace the existing Coliseum? For now let’s put aside the financing – well no, we can’t put it aside.

No, let’s put it aside for the moment. First I looked at the Coliseum, because there was nothing downtown. We’re talking about the physical stadium. This is where I read the older (sports) writers, they’re living in the past. A lot has changed for Oakland since then. The last year the Haases owned the team they had the highest payroll in baseball and drew 1.2 million. You might want to check that out.

ML: They were. [Ed. – 1.2 million in the strike-shortened 1994 season, 1.1 million in each of the following two seasons.]

[Ed. – At this point Lew’s son-in-law, Dean Rossi, comes by with his son, Arthur. It’s mostly a personal conversation so I’ll leave this out. Lew will drop Arthur off at the Coliseum to run around the clubhouse – every kid’s dream – before heading up to City Hall to meet with Mayor Quan. Note: Two partners in Rossi’s law firm help run Baseball San Jose.]

So where were we? Coliseum.

ML: So is it possible?

Let’s talk about it. Aside from the market being – Oakland used to have several major corporations, doesn’t have them any longer. The whole thing with the Raider thing, Mt. Davis, we had nothing to do with that. You can never get sight lines that satisfy two sports in one venue anymore. Even inside it’s not good to have hockey and basketball. You can do it but, you know.

There are so many physical issues. Right now if we wanted to move the fans closer, I don’t know what to do. The field is 22 feet below sea level so there’s no way to move forward without tearing down all the seats. You’d understand that better than most.

ML: Yeah.

The field is great until football. The field is great because we have a great groundskeeper, Clay Wood. As soon as the Raiders come in – it’s just not good.

About the site. You can make all the drawings you want on that site. This is what really bothered me. The Coliseum wasn’t even the #1 site in the HOK study. Even Fremont was in the study. The Coliseum had a little line about some kind of utility thing. I asked if there was a title report ordered for the Coliseum. In my world that’s one of the first things you do. Nobody knew, the city didn’t know, it was just a bunch of bureaucratic nothing. So we ordered the title report, which is just about this thick [fingers spread an inch apart]. There is an easement.

[Ed. – The Coliseum Authority recently bought the land in question as part of its new Raiders stadium effort. Oakland Councilman Larry Reid envisions an ancillary development project similar to L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles, next to Staples Center. The Authority is also proposing $4 million in additional expenditures related to project study costs.]

ML: You mentioned this. It was the sewer interceptor.

It’s not an easement you can move. So any architect who wants to build over the freeway or whatever, needs to sit down and determine what easement does relative to placing a football stadium or arena. That kind of even minor detail, we could say, “oh we’ll do it” but never do it. None of that’s done. The average fan shouldn’t have to bother with that. But that site isn’t as simple as we thought.

One time I thought it would be a good idea to buy the triangle that heads out to Hegenberger (Malibu/HomeBase lots). I said, “Look, we don’t know if we’re gonna stay here, but we need that piece to do parking or mitigate, otherwise it’s chaos if you’re trying to develop that site.” All of a sudden another architect comes up with an idea for these multistory garages. Well, who’s gonna pay for those? And if you’re on the fifth floor of a garage for a baseball team, you might as well stay home. So it was just a hundred inhibitions.

Now, we recently had someone come up to me, a legitimate guy. I didn’t ask who it was as it came through someone else. He said, “Gee whiz, we think there’s a way to remain in Oakland and live with the Coliseum” and so on. Well, tell me what it is. “If you guys want to sell the team” and all that stuff. I’d like to know what you’re talking about before I would even contemplate that. Other owners haven’t been able to do anything in Oakland (build stadia) either. We’re not the only one. The Coliseum’s an over 40-year old facility. Dodger Stadium is too. Dodger Stadium, I believe, would take a minimum of $100 million to keep it going – and they keep it pretty well maintained. So you tell me what this would cost.

ML: I have no idea.

I don’t either. They (Coliseum Authority) don’t have any money. We’re constantly making repairs that are not our obligation.

ML: Really? Like what?

Leaks and things. The scoreboard. There are two of them because of football. I think they’re finally going to replace them, but if they don’t there are no more parts. If a light goes out we borrow it from another one. It’s aggravating. But they basically say they don’t have any money. They still have bonds to pay off. The place is old and this is not the time for cities to write a check for sports.

ML: Yet they’re going forward with a study for the Raiders.

All these studies. If I were an investigative reporter I’d like to know how much is spent. Supposedly that study is done. And that’s fine, they should, the Raiders are fine. Where are all these things? Who’s doing them? If it’s a six month study what happened to the first two months? We have heard nothing. And we’ve been more tolerant than the other two teams (as tenants). We’ve never affected our rights there. If we win (legally), what do we win if they don’t have any money? It was a baseball park once. I wasn’t around when any of that happened, but the amount put into that sure seems strange to me. That was before my time.

ML: The litigious part kind of speaks for itself at least for the other two teams.

Look, I’m just not litigious. I think our legal system is killing us, so much initiative. I’ve been in business almost 50 years. I’m a real estate developer. Most of my contemporaries are suing someone every three months. I’ve had two lawsuits my entire career. I think everything can be settled. But you can’t do it if someone’s not willing to cooperate.

The Big Lew Wolff Interview, Part 2

Be sure to check out Part 1 of this interview, posted yesterday. You can also get the full interview in PDF and e-reader formats by donating $5 via the PayPal link on the right.

Part 2

ML: As I understand it, you had met with Mayor Quan in Oakland recently.

I’m actually having lunch with her today. I have not met with her (yet). She has been very nice to make time to see me. There’s no agenda.

[Ed. – I have not heard anything from either camp about what was discussed during that meeting. Nothing to the regular media either, AFAIK.]

ML: Just a chat, really.

What I’m telling you is what I’ll tell her. There’s no magic bullet here. If there was it’s simple. MLB (the panel) would’ve come to me with Oakland and said, “Here’s a suggested financial plan”

ML: Comprehensive.

Remember that they’re the messenger. They’re just doing what they’ve been asked to do and I’m sure they’ve done it three times now. It sort of says to me that nothing has been produced that means anything, to my knowledge. There may be other reasons. The commissioner is contemplating whatever he wants to do. I think we’re getting there soon. I just don’t know.

ML: Okay.

The only thing missing is that I would’ve enjoyed the process of building the ballpark, financing it, and doing all these things. It looks like because of my age (I won’t be able to). So my son (Keith Wolff), who I think is as good or better at this than I am, and he’s a lot more calm than I am. I believe that development – public or private – can’t get done without a sense of urgency.

ML: It sure seems that way.

We have the resources and we have the people. It’s just that I final – I mean I can but I’m the commissioner’s age. I want to be very careful. None of us are going to live forever or be as active forever. I’m lucky, I think baseball’s keeping me active.

[Ed.: I have to point out that he ordered a frittata with fruit on the side, no starches, coffee with no cream. I ordered Eggs Benedict with potatoes, lots of cream with my coffee. Multiple cups.] 

ML: It seemed like that happened with the Marlins, where Jeff Loria fought for years, and when he finally got approval his son-in-law took over.

That’s also true in Minnesota. I’m sad that the owner (Carl Pohlad) didn’t get to see his ballpark. We’re very advanced in our opinion. Why go out and spend $20 million on working drawings if you don’t know you have a site?

So it’s just a matter of waiting for a decision. I’m not a patient person but I’ve become very patient. The thing that makes me most comfortable is that I have a lot of backup to get this done. That’s number one. On the hand this is affecting our whole organization. We’ve got great people – Billy’s been there for fifteen, sixteen years, twenty years for Mike Crowley. I’ve promised them a new, modern facility and I feel responsible.

There’s something I think you’ll like to know. When we bought the team (2005), six teams had payrolls above $100 million. Now it’s twelve or thirteen. While Billy and his guys are fantastic at doing what they do, there’s only so much they can do. We can go and lose $30 million a year like the Haas family was doing but we’re not gonna do that. So if anyone wants me to do that I’m gonna have to say that we won’t.

[Ed. – According to Forbes/Financial World numbers the A’s lost $6-10 million per year during the last years of the Haas era, which would be worth $9-15 million now. MLB’s stance historically has been to consider Forbes’ numbers inaccurate.] 

ML: That’s something I’ve been arguing for years.

And baseball doesn’t want us to do that. All these teams that have spent haphazardly without breaking even have gone and caused problems for themselves and baseball. Remember that baseball is a partnership. The rule of thumb for running a team before you get huge revenues is that if you can keep your MLB salary at 50% of your revenues you’ll probably be at the break even point or make a few dollars. It’s not an internal rate of return 20% or something like that. You shouldn’t be in this business if you want that.

The great thing about Billy and Mike and their people is that they’ve been able to keep us competitive until we get a new ballpark – I haven’t delivered. We’re in a total revenue issue. We just need more revenue and we can’t get it without a new ballpark. We need some scarcity. We can’t have 70,000 seats or people yelling about tarps.

ML: I’ll get into that later.

I don’t have a yacht [laughs] that we’re paying for out of secret proceeds from the ballpark.

ML: We’re talking about Oakland for a little bit. Has anyone presented you with other information about Victory Court, a sales pitch, or anything like that?

Absolutely not. However, gotta be fair. I think Oakland thinks, “We’re not dealing with Lew Wolff. We’re dealing with this committee.” If the committee has done that, I don’t know about it. I think what’s happened is that they’ve discovered what we’ve known. Through no fault of Oakland, the ability to build a new ballpark – well, you know that drawing a boundary around six blocks or ten blocks doesn’t make a ballpark. Is there a soil test? Will you do eminent domain, will you take people’s property? Do the off-ramps have to be replaced? Hundreds of items. And that kind of Socratic discipline – why should a fan in LF worry about that? Those rich owners over there are supposed to do it no matter what.

ML: Let’s move on to this freeway park. It was proposed by an Oakland architect, Bryan Grunwald, who occasionally posts on the blog. 980 Park is a concrete deck over a submerged section of freeway near downtown Oakland. You said that you consider it an A+ in planning and an F in implementation. Care to elaborate?

The problem with that is that talking to you is easy. Talking to guy looking for $2 ticket night on Wednesday is different. I can’t even imagine the cost on that. Forget about a ballpark. Say you’re putting up a hospital there or a park. I think we’re talking a billion – I have no idea. Air rights, we have them all over California. I haven’t seen too many places where they’re building over there – bridges and stuff. Let’s assume that we did that tomorrow. It would take a decade. I wouldn’t know where to start. First of all, we’d say to Oakland or somebody, “Give us the platform and we’ll build on it.” The platform itself has got to be overwhelming. I love those kind of ideas. They win architectural contests, a student gets a master’s degree for doing them, and we do have huge amounts of air rights all over the world. It just will not happen. If that’s the best we can do, might as well forget it.

ML: There are few places where air rights translate into anything. Those are places where the need is great, such as Manhattan.

I just don’t get it. It would be fun to have an architectural contest. But it’s like an iceberg, beautiful at the top, huge (beneath the surface). If that’s the best any of us can do, we have to forget it.

ML: Let’s shift over to San Jose now. You’ve had an ongoing dialogue with the City and Mayor about the Earthquakes stadium. How is that going?

The Earthquakes stadium also has to be privately financed. Certainly it’s a lot less expensive than a baseball park. I think – I don’t have the numbers exactly – they just opened a new soccer stadium in Kansas City. I think it was $150 million or something and I believe every penny of that was public money [Ed.: Cost was actually $200 million, all public]. We’ve worked very hard. What we want in a soccer stadium is a place you can go – we’re not looking to build Wembley Stadium – we’re in the 15-18,000 seat goal in this market. We’ve worked really hard to get the cost down to about $50 million, which everyone in soccer asks, “How can you do that?” Well, people can do it if it’s their own money, it’s not the government. There’s no soccer stadium that I know, except maybe Home Depot Center (that was not fully public).

ML: That was years ago. [Ed.: Columbus Crew Stadium was also privately financed by Lamar Hunt.]

Well they also had a good deal from CSU-Dominguez Hills. I’d like to move it faster but we’re doing it in stages. Right now we’re going through a planning process, not for a building permit but a use permit. We spent money to tear down the FMC building, but we haven’t pulled the string yet to build it because if you look at the economics of it you’re only using it for 19 games or 20 games. The ancillary use of these facilities, which I think is better than what my consultants think, concerts aren’t what they used to be, high school graduations. It’s Silicon Valley, I think you can have product introductions there. A lot of these things that you can’t predetermine. So what we’ve done is that if there are 10 steps to it we’re in step 7 or 8. We’ve spent money to do that but we haven’t pulled the string yet.

ML: On a related note, I went to the game at Stanford against the Red Bulls. I hate to belittle Buck Shaw, but it’s a small venue. Stanford, which was another example of something built with private funds, cost controlled by John Arrillaga. Many people came from down the Peninsula, there were plenty of the existing fan base, locals. For the fans it felt like it was overdue. Did the experience of that game – 40,000 people, the place was buzzing with excitement – change your thinking or reinforce it in terms of what the Quakes need to thrive?

No. Two reasons. One, One of the people at MLS called me and asked if it was it the game or the fireworks. The game was around the 4th of July. If you look at our fireworks games in Oakland –

ML: They’re consistently higher in attendance.

So I said to our guys, “Why don’t we just work out a deal to play at Stanford all the time?” Stanford doesn’t want that. I don’t want it. No, the depth of the market means that except for three cities, maybe, soccer is not profitable. The owners – Anchutz, my guy John Fisher, the Krafts – they love soccer and they’re gonna support it if it takes another decade to get it where it needs to be. We’re the same way. But the market is not for 40,000 people. We wish it was. If we have 15-18,000 fans and they’re really on top of the field – we’re not trying to have private boxes, soccer is a family sport – we couldn’t do Stanford every week in my opinion.

ML – One of the things I noticed from the renderings is that other than the fact that it’s three sides with one open, the design looks like a miniaturized version of White Hart Lane, where Tottenham Hotspur plays. Is there anything to that?

We’re close to them as you know. I don’t think so, except that when you think about a soccer stadium the dimensions of a field are the dimensions of a field. The only real difference to me is if there’s a track, which really screws it up. All we want to do is get noisy and close. I would say that 70 or 80% of them are like that.

ML – The NFL just completed its CBA negotiations after 3 month lockout. MLB has been, as I understand it, having some ongoing discussions with the players union about their new CBA, which is expected to be done by the end of the season – 

End of the year. Or sooner.

ML – Does what’s happening here with the stadium and the unknown that it is right now have any impact with the CBA?

No. However, I believe that, or I hope that we will have a non-confrontational negotiation, which has been ongoing. What you’ll have is, I don’t know the exact term, probably 3-5 years of what we call labor peace. We had that the last 5 years. I think some of the things that both sides are discussing – I don’t want to get into that information – will be beneficial to all of baseball and all of the union. I don’t think it’ll be the threatening kind of thing we’ve seen in basketball.

ML – There’s been almost no media coverage except for the occasional article from a national baseball writer.

I think it’ll get a little more coverage as we get closer to finalizing an agreement. It may not be controversial at all. This is the year to finish that agreement if possible. We’re working on it very hard. It isn’t like one side is screaming at the other.

ML – The players appear to be offering ideas that the owners may be interested in.

I follow it but I don’t want to get into it. The commissioner – you need to give him a lot of credit. His orders, and the head of the union, are we’re in this business together. Let’s work something out. I haven’t heard anything earthshaking.

ML – That’s good to hear.

Usually union negotiations get tougher close to the end. [laughs]

ML – What do you think about talk – and this is coming from national writers who are spitballing – about contraction of the A’s, Rays, or both?

We (the A’s) are against contraction. Nobody’s called us up and said, “We’re thinking about contracting you.” Contraction has a lot more issues to it than just shutting down a team and so on. They’d pay us the value (of the franchise). Then you’ve got minor leagues, places, cities all over the country with ballparks based on our activities, not just Tampa. We want to do the opposite.

ML – Do you think there’s pressure to get this done (a ballpark) so that nobody even has to consider that step?

That’s a very good question. I think getting it done has nothing to do with contraction. Baseball may have as many teams as they need. Some years it’ll be like we ought to contract. I do think that there’s so much going on with the Mets and the Dodgers, you can only address so many things. All of us are multitaskers. I don’t know that it’s so true in baseball. I don’t think it has to do with contraction. But sure, we and Tampa both need viable environments for our fans, or we won’t have any. It isn’t anything against any city.

ML – Do you and Stuart Sternberg (owner of the Rays) ever commiserate at the owner’s meetings about whose plight is worse? 

I’ve decided that mine is worse than his. He’s a good guy.

ML – He’s also a little younger.

He’s got more time. We don’t commiserate so much but we are both concerned. Very concerned.