The Caldecott Derby

Folks, today we’re gonna talk about something I’m sure (only) some of you are interested in: minor league soccer.

In an interview with the SF Business Times’ Ron Leuty, East Bay developer Mark Hall made a full throated pitch to add not one, but up to two USL soccer franchises in the East Bay. One would be in Concord, the other in Oakland at the Coliseum.

The strategy is smart in that it has a built-in hedge. Perhaps Hall, who was granted both franchises, is only able to execute on one. So be it. If Hall can get two sites in the highly competitive Bay Area and get the support needed to fill both sets of stands, bully for him. He’s also bidding for the Coliseum arena, where futsal, the indoor soccer variant played on a court the size of a basketball court, could be a winner.

Hall could prove his teams’ worth now. The problem is all his talk so far is speculative. There is no USL team actively playing in Oakland or Concord, no futsal or lacrosse clubs. Hall doesn’t say if the clubs would start up right away or wait until their venues are built, whenever that is. Beyond that, these teams are decidedly peripheral or minor league. USL is the second tier pro soccer league in the US, and it is already experiencing growing pains given what’s happening in Cincinnati and Phoenix. There are success stories, such as Seattle and Portland. Even so, FC Cincinnati, Phoenix, and Sacramento have their eyes on a higher prize, an MLS expansion franchise, and roadblocks have been put up to stop them. FCC plays in the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium. Phoenix Rising and Sacramento Republic play in pop-up stadiums. All three franchises’ move to MLS (Major League Soccer) are pending the completion of new, permanent venues.

Does Hall endeavor to have a MLS team in the East Bay? Or stick with one or two teams that average 7k fans per game. The community cluster plan that Hall espouses has been done for decades – but not in American soccer. It’s the domain of high school football. That’s America’s community grown, grass roots sport. I admire the soccer crowd for trying to advance a community-based version of their sport, but it shouldn’t aim for 18-20,000-seat stadiums like Avaya Stadium or what Hall wants in Oakland. Manchester United just announced the 2018 pre-season tour, which will include a match and San Jose. At Levi’s. Which, when you think about, is the only stadium whose size and amenities could properly hold the match.

And with this soccer-related interest in the Coliseum site, there is interest from Tesla, which already has the 310 acres of the NUMMI plant in South Fremont. They want to expand, but they can’t make enough Model 3 cars to fend off their furious cash bonfire. What about the two groups who want to launch new pro football leagues, the reborn Vince McMahon-led XFL and the Alliance of American Football? Should Oakland and Alameda County keep options open for the Oakland Invaders? The AAFL will try to launch in 2019 after they pick their first eight franchise cities.

A Personal Update

Hello everyone. Your friendly regional blog runner here. A lot of you have wondered where I’ve been and what/how I’m doing.

It starts like this. I’ve been dealing with high blood pressure for some time though I haven’t done much about it. It finally caught up to me January 21, when I fell after having a stroke and multiple seizures. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have the healthiest lifestyle out there, with all the bad foods and drinking. I was taken to the local emergency room and eventually transferred among three hospitals in the Dignity Health system in Phoenix. At the time I was 42 years old.

My twin brother Caesar, who is an occupational therapist at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, has been watching me like an eagle the whole way through, including the part when I was placed in a medically-induced coma for a month, and my eventual ongoing recovery. I’ve been making good progress on the recovery, as my mind has taking leaps and bounds. My body is taking longer, as I’m too weak to walk long distances and I’m mostly wheelchair and walker-bound. It should all come back as my core recovers (not that I habitually work my core out). I’m getting discharged from the hospital today, and I’ll be staying at my brother’s place for a couple months-plus while I get the walking part down. During that time, you may see me more active on the blog and on Twitter as I’ve been this week. I’ll be doing that until I’m cleared to work again.

When I emerged from the coma, my body had atrophied so much I had a hard time moving in my bed. For the first week, I thought I was in better condition than I actually was, leading me to have a couple of accidents in my hospital room, one involving me kissing the business end of a commode when I tried to stand up. I eventually was restrained until I calmed down and was transferred to Barrow, the Neuro Rehab side of this sprawling complex. There I got some religion and have been nice, compliant patient ever since.

The lengthy hospital stay is likely to incur massive bills, so I’m going to refer you to the YouCaring Page that was set up on my behalf to help defray the costs. Hopefully existing insurance and ACA will help with some of that as well. I was working for a small startup business when the accident occurred, and they decided to let me go last week as it was getting too expensive and the timeline for my return was still unknown. (Arizona is an “at will” employment state.)

I expect to come back the Bay Area for an A’s series or two in the summer. I hope to meet many of you (again in many cases) when I do. You may notice that I have stopped drinking, as I need to do that on doctor’s orders, to prevent any adverse drug interactions, and because, frankly, it’s time for me to do so. I’m also considered a mild Type 2 diabetic, so I have to watch that, although my treatment for that isn’t nearly as invasive as you might think.

If you have already contributed, thank you very much. To those who are going to do so, thank you all for your support. If you questions about what I went through, comment below.

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P.S. – Thanks to the great team at Barrow, Select, St. Joe’s, and Scottsdale-Osborn for your patience and professionalism. I’ll be back sometime, hopefully walking in and joking around.

P.P.S – Additional thanks to my family, including both of my brothers who have been kicking my ass during recovering, my sister-in-law Andrea who has witnessed some of my rehab up close (and is expecting in a few months), and my various cousins and other relatives who have been sending support from afar.

Mayor Schaaf to approve ENA’s for A’s on both Coliseum and Howard Terminal sites

During a joint announcement with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf today, Dave Kaval made this rather pointed statement about how he envisions the future home of the A’s:

Having just a destination ballpark with a sea of parking — that’s not a suitable sports complex for the 21st Century for millennials, for fans.

Based on ENA discussions with Schaaf, that could be at Howard Terminal or the Coliseum. Howard Terminal remains a sort of mirage: beautiful in pictures but a sort of illusion up close. The Coliseum is the practical albeit thoroughly unsexy choice. We all know that the A’s are lukewarm at best on HT. It’s Schaaf’s jewel on the waterfront. Whether the A’s will truly continue to fully evaluate or keep it on the board to placate Schaaf is unclear.

Let’s break down some of the key pros and cons of both sites:

The difference between the two sites is the HT is still essentially a series of drawings without a framework for execution, whereas the Coliseum has a framework but few cool concepts (renderings). To that effect, I expect the A’s architecture firm HOK to release something by the end of the regular season. The previous drawings envisioning a Raiders stadium as the anchor with the A’s ballpark in the periphery can be thrown in the trash. What we can expect next will be A’s-focused with no trace of football in sight. (I hope the team of HOK + Snohetta + T-Square are retained as they could create something truly eclectic and local-focused.)


 

If the A’s are going to use all 120-130 acres, I’d love to see the creation of an Athleticsland, a multipurpose, multi-venue complex that retains the arena for concerts, wrestling, and drone races with a street plan that ties it together with the ballpark. I’ve been to a few of these concepts that have failed in the execution (Atlanta), and the A’s can do better. As long as they focus on turning out future generations of fans and not just the currently well-heeled gentry in Rodeo or Pleasanton, they’ll be on the right track.

How much is the Coliseum complex worth?

Is the basis the debt? The buildings that exist on the land? the land and its potential?

M&R: A’s to talk buying Coliseum this week

UPDATE: The A’s are offering $135 million for the whole shebang.

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Matier and Ross are reporting this week that A’s brass are going to enter discussions about buying the Coliseum complex.

The 130-acre complex, which now includes peripheral lots to the south thanks to a swath of acquisitions, has the Coliseum and Arena currently residing there, both with sizable but dwindling debt (the city and county will pay both off over the next several years).

The new talks about the Coliseum come as the team discussed the Howard Terminal site with waterfront neighbor Schnitzer Steel. Schnitzer runs its recycling operation 24/7, and would likely create massive noise during night game. The logistics problem in terms of getting people to HT/Jack London Square from existing BART stations remains, and will probably remain a low priority when compared to larger regional transit problems.

The A’s are positioning this as a sort of defensive move to keep the Coliseum land away from encroaching developers, including the kinds that previously pitched a Raiders’ stadium. Now that’s gone by the wayside, some of those same devs could look at the Coliseum as a sort of land grab.

We don’t know yet what the A’s are offering, but it’s likely to be at best a slight premium above the remaining debt on the Coliseum/Arena. Oakland and Alameda County might have entertained such a deal 10 years ago, but it shouldn’t now. I worry that the A’s will run into a similar situation as San Jose, where they lowballed a land offer of the Diridon South land, only the be blown away when Google decided to buy the whole neighborhood including the ballpark site years later.

If anything, the A’s should focus on acquiring only the Coliseum South/Malibu site, which only comprises 20 of the 130 acres. Let the City/County figure out the rest.

50th Anniversary Game, A’s New JLS Offices

Tomorrow (January 10), the A’s will start selling free tickets for the regular season game on April 17 vs. the Chicago White Sox. That date is better known as the A’s 50th Anniversary game in Oakland. Tickets will become available at this page starting at 8 AM. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to spend tax day than to go to a free ballgame.

The A’s showed off their new corporate offices to the media at Jack London Square today.

It has a lot of A’s history in it. It’ll be a much better place for doing business, interfacing with the public during non game days, and maybe even for players during the offseason if they decide to stay in town. It’s something they A’s brass were working on for at least a year, long before their announcement last fall.

It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Earthquakes’ set up at Avaya Stadium, where a separate administration building connected to the stadium also houses the locker room. It also reminds me somewhat of similar facilities at spring training ballparks.

While I suspect some sponsor events will be held at the building on 55 Harrison during Fan Fest, I hope that fans get a chance to look at some part of the building.

Speaking of FanFest, there’s another opportunity to check out Howard Terminal. I’ll probably be available for a “tour” and a drink at Plank if anyone’s interested. Pray that the weather is as excellent as 2017’s edition.

 

 

 

Looking backward to 2018

Square one.

That’s what we’re talking about. We don’t know what the A’s next steps are on the ballpark front. We may get a glimpse of it on Saturday, January 27, when the team will again host FanFest at Jack London Square. At FanFest 2017, Dave Kaval was coy about site choice, insisting that the A’s were still in the midst of studying site options. The Peralta site hadn’t been rumored yet, let alone publicized. Momentum built little by little throughout the spring, followed by the crash after the announcement.

The team has been licking its wounds since Peralta stopped talks with the A’s. Kaval has said nothing about next steps. Like last FanFest, visitors next month will be tantalized by visuals of Howard Terminal in the background. The Coliseum lingers in the background, though what can you say about a neighborhood that lost a Pak ‘n Save and a Walmart in the last ten years? Fans will be asking the A’s brass about both options, so I think this is an opportunity for the A’s to backers of both sites to start making their own efforts.

Howard Terminal, Coliseum JPA?

Let’s start bidding on the A’s. You want them? Really, really want them? Then show your hand. Present what you’re willing to offer. By that I don’t mean contributing cash for stadium construction. We already know that since the beginning the A’s have pledged to make the stadium part a privately financed affair. That leaves infrastructure, in terms of parking, improved roads, and enhanced transit options. Howard Terminal still has no estimate for what anything will cost to make it viable. The Coliseum still hasn’t figured out its ownership and debt situations, choosing to put those on the back burner. Any bids have to include those plans, respectively. Both plans effectively have to start with the City, because Oakland has to initiate the purchase of the half of the Coliseum land from Alameda County (the county would loan money to the city), or Oakland has the start the process of rezoning Howard Terminal to non-industrial port (or city) land.

Most of the details of any negotiations would be held in closed door sessions, as most municipalities do with real estate. But we can at least get some kind of framework to get started on either side. And that would give fans something to work with that’s more than a skin-deep debate over a pretty, impractical site vs. a cheap, dumpy one. A competitive approach is likely to yield better results than another one of Oakland’s aimlesss task forces.

The one wildcard to look at in 2018 is The Lodge. Commissioner Rob Manfred has stayed patient so far, preferring not to criticize Oakland while the A’s completed their search. Now that Phase One has ended with a thud, I’ll be curious to see if Manfred’s patience starts to simmer.