Chase Center non-preview

Arenas are utilitarian. There aren’t huge tomes written about the history of arenas as there are for ballparks or football stadia. Arenas are designed to efficiently house a crowd of 15-20,000 for roughly 2.5 hours, the length of a basketball or hockey game or the headliner portion of a concert. Then you’re just as efficiently whisked out of the shiny building and sent on your way. That’s why Chase Center, like most modern arenas, provides no public tours. The Warriors admit this quite plainly in their Visitor Info page:

Tours

Does Chase Center offer building tours?

Because of the number of events that Chase Center hosts each year, there are no public fan tours offered at this time.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Staples Center and SAP Center do this. It’s hard to know what areas are okay for touring when whole sections are closed off for maintenance or prep. Arenas are the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife or a utility man in baseball. Only on rare occasions do arenas get the kind of poetic treatment often given to ballparks, and that’s usually when they live long enough to earn it. Most of the time, arenas are remembered for two things: the number of banners hanging in the rafters, and the memorable concerts that played there in the past. The Oakland Arena checks both boxes, thanks to the Warriors’ championships in four NBA seasons, and the venue’s place as a Bill Graham’s large indoor venue of choice in the 70’s and 80’s.

Main entrance to Chase Center. Photo: Gregory Varnum (via Wikipedia)

Is that much different from American Airlines Arena, which opened in 1999?

Photo: John O’Neill (via Wikipedia)

Or what about Staples, which also opened in 1999?

Photo: Prayitno (via Wikipedia)

Golden 1 Center in Sacramento has a series of garage doors that open up to a plaza, so that’s an innovation of sorts. Nevertheless, there’s a recipe here:

  1. large glass-walled cathedral-style entrance
  2. prominent signage
  3. metal exterior surfaces
  4. slightly different roof and wall angles to hide the fact that the edifice is a large toilet bowl oval

Don’t get me wrong. I love arenas nearly as much as I love ballparks. Before the Oakland Coliseum Arena was closed and gutted, I once received a media pass and came to a Dubs game early to full explore the building before opening tip. I hiked to the top of the upper bowl and gazed out at the Nimitz Freeway through the west windows, experiencing some slight vertigo along the way. I understand, however, that I’m a rare bird. Given the lack of books about arenas, it stands to reason that not many would wax romantic about the subject. The Coliseum Arena’s gracefully undulating arc of the upper bowl was replaced by the blocky new bowl that killed the views while adding 5,000 seats. It helped the team compete, and not many people missed the views the way A’s fans still bemoan the loss of Leona Quarry because of Mt. Davis. Basketball and hockey are fixed stage sports with set dimensions. Baseball is more pastoral and lends itself to a wandering eye because of its pacing and rhythms, as well as the sport’s lack of standardized outfield dimensions.

In Inglewood, Steve Ballmer unveiled renderings of a new home for the Clippers, just blocks south of both The Forum and the new football stadium at Hollywood Park. I applaud the attempt to minimize height and make the whole thing more human-scaled, though I suspect that, like the football stadium next door, it will resemble a translucent hill. Now take in the presence of a new basketball-specific arena for the Clippers, the old Forum converted to a premier concert venue up the road, and an enormous football dome between them. Add to that the two MLB parks, two MLS stadia, the LA Memorial Coliseum, Rose Bowl, and other smaller venues in the region, and it’s easy to see how LA won the 2028 Summer Olympics. A new light rail extension is being built nearby, including a downtown Inglewood station a mile or so north of the three venues. From there a people mover-style tram will run from the new station to all three of the venues. That is, if funding can be found for it. If not, there will probably be shuttle buses. Or people can always walk.

From: City of Inglewood

Chase Center is getting an expanded light rail station, similar to how VTA did the same for the Great America light rail station before Levi’s Stadium opened. Rides on the Muni are included with each event ticket, which is sort of a necessity when little parking was built for the arena. The events scheduled for the first few weeks act as a dry run for everything from transit to the arena’s air conditioning and concessions. Warriors and A’s fans familiar with the dread dual-event scenario already ran into that once this month thanks to the proximity of Oracle Park.

Is Chase Center better than the Oakland Arena? In many ways, yes. It has 1,500 fewer seats and a better distribution of suites. The roof is lower to approximate the noise level of the old home. That’s a tall task, largely because like Levi’s Stadium, much of the crowd will be in the clubs or in bunker suites throughout every concert or game, places where their noise will be muffled. Plus the optics of empty-but-paid-for seats, like those in Santa Clara, loom large. Will the Dubs hire seat fillers like an awards show?

It’s tragicomic how Oakland Arena evolved from a ho-hum arena and nice piece of modern architecture to a ho-hum renovation that housed one of the fiercest home crowds in sports. Next year, it will be home to six home games for the Oakland Panthers, the new Indoor Football League franchise co-owned by Roy Choi and Marshawn Lynch. Like most arenas, it will become obsolete and steadily decay, while the Warriors compete for more banners across the bay. I sincerely hope that the Panthers and the IFL can stick it out for the long haul. Arena football doesn’t have a reputation as one of the more stable sports out there.

Meanwhile, Seattle, which lost its basketball team a decade ago, failed to get a replacement NBA team due in part to a lack of a new arena. Instead, the old Seattle Center Coliseum/KeyArena is being renovated a second time in order to host an expansion NHL team in 2021. Funny how life works.

Patience, Grasshoppers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret T. Hance Park (Phoenix) looking west

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

Specific and Incomplete

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something’s missing here

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

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

Activity areas loosely defined

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

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

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

Here’s another tidbit from the DOSP:

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

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

Planning for an emptier nest

The Raiders played their final and only preseason home game at the Coliseum last week. Thanks to the Winnipeg debacle last week and the Raiders’ London trip in October, the Coliseum field will have two months of unmolested bliss before the baseball season ends. Come November, the Raiders and their backloaded home schedule takes over, and when 2019 turns the page to 2020, Mark Davis won’t have to deal with those real pricks in Oakland anymore. anymore.

Over the last month, the Warriors packed their own moving trucks to leave Oakland Arena. Curious, I asked if anyone knew what happened to the Warriors team store at the club level entrance. I quickly got an answer.

That spot, mere feet from the A’s Executive Offices at the arena, seems like a good location for a year-round A’s team store. The sharing relationship for the regular stores at the C and D gates has long been uncomfortable, as the A’s usually had to clear out the stores to make way for the Raiders in the fall, while the Raiders had a more permanent storefront on the other side of 880. The Raiders would have to vacate the C/D gate team stores in the winter. This time it will be permanent.

The departure of the Dubs and Raiders gives the JPA and the A’s quite a bit of additional freedom to operate. The A’s could negotiate a multi-year lease to have a permanent team store location in the space vacated by the Dubs. Alternately, the A’s could install a pop-up store for use during the rest of the 2019 season. Either way would be a big improvement and would complement Championship Plaza, which has remarkably transformed into a feature attraction of its own.

The other scuttlebutt I’ve heard about the Coliseum is that the bullpens will be moved from their current home in foul territory to spaces in fair territory beyond the outfield walls. The details of this aren’t clear yet. Maybe they’ll replace the stairs with the pens. Perhaps the BBQ Terrace sections past the foul poles will have pens carved out of them. Or maybe there’s space in left and right center. Wherever they end up, the fences in front of the pens are expected to be replaced with plexiglas or chain link.

2012 Game 162

We as A’s fans have been conditioned to love the bullpens despite their inherent disadvantages. They take up a lot of space that could be used for other purposes. The bus stop-style sheltered benches encourage banter between the staffs and fans, though sometimes that goes too far. If the pens are moved, I have a hunch that those areas will be turned into field clubs/party boxes like Tropicana Field.

Rays’ bullpen party area is a tribute to a different Game 162

If this were to happen, how would you like to see this executed? I’ll insert a poll question below shortly.

Oakland Coliseum, Population: 1

This morning I went into the wayback machine to find out how many times I had written about Scott McKibben. The answer: 4, all in 2014 and 2015. McKibben previously was the head of the Rose Bowl and would, presumably, provide some professionalism to the Coliseum JPA, which had no one in the executive director role for six years. He was hired in early 2015. He abruptly resigned last week after reports indicated that he negotiated an additional $50,000 finder’s fee from the three-year, $3 million naming rights deal with RingCentral.

We’ll see if the other shoe drops and the City and County decide to get litigious. For now, let’s consider what’s happened on Scott McKibben’s watch.

  • Warriors announced move to SF’s Mission Bay site in 2014, after initially announcing a move to Piers 30-32 in 2012
  • Raiders announced move to Vegas in early 2017
  • A’s announce intent to move to Howard Terminal in 2018

Throughout all of this, McKibben was being paid upwards of $250,000 per year. What was he getting paid for again? Prior to the McKibben hire, AEG was brought in to replace SMG as the complex operator. AEG has been to the key to more bookings on the calendar for both the arena and the stadium. McKibben doesn’t deserve blame for the Warriors and Raiders moves, as those decisions were way over his head. Yet there is precious little to replace 8+ NFL games and 41+ NBA games. Plus, as Chase Center establishes itself as the Bay Area’s premier arena for concerts (13 during the opening month of September, 30 through the rest of the year), the JPA and AEG are scrambling to fill dates at the renamed Oakland Arena. Speaking of the name, that also unceremoniously traveled across the bay to the ballpark at China Basin. Thankfully, an arbitrator ruled that the Warriors have to pay the remaining $40 million of debt on the Oakland Arena, though the Raiders settled a much more favorable outcome on their behalf. I would feel bad for McKibben, but he’s the same guy who in 2017 tried to jump ship to the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, only for the JPA to give him a raise to lure him back. The raise was $50,000. That’s a totally “professional” move if I ever heard one. Regardless, he’ll land on his feet.

Since the Warriors and Raiders announced their exodus, no teams have been brought in to fill their enormous gaps they will leave behind. The closest the JPA got is some talk at the beginning of this year about an Indoor Football League franchise. The new Oakland franchise would be owned by Roy Choi (not that one), who also owns IFL franchises in San Diego and Cedar Rapids. San Diego’s team didn’t do great on the field or at the gate this year, pulling in only 300 fans for its season finale a couple months ago. The sordid history of of indoor football deserves a proper book treatment, maybe even a TV show or film. I’ve heard many colorful stories. I’d still like to know the full story of why the Fry brothers chose not to move forward with the San Jose Sabercats even after they won their fourth championship. Other than Oakland’s arena football dalliance, there has been no talk about fielding other team sports. No WNBA team despite Rebecca Kaplan’s cheerleading for it.. No G-League team as the Dubs chose Santa Cruz instead. No other fringe team sports like roller hockey, indoor lacrosse, or team tennis. At the Coliseum last year there was a bid by an East Bay group to convert the entire shooting match into a soccer complex flanked by the existing arena and a new ballpark. That went nowhere fast.

AEG may not be blameless for this situation. The company makes its money by filling dates and selling concessions, and for a venue operator fringe sports don’t make a lot of money to piggyback from. There is a line where it might make more sense to leave dates empty instead of actively trying to fill the arena to only 5,000 or so. For an outdoor stadium that requirement scales much larger due to the minimum staffing needs for given events.

What do you have when all the kids are leaving you with an empty nest? The only thing that’s worth anything these days is land. There’s plenty of it off Hegenberger, 110-155 acres depending on who you ask, 800 total when you include the land stretching across the Nimitz toward the airport.. There are also sweet, sweet entitlements to cash in if anyone’s interested. That’s why the A’s are sticking around at the Coliseum through 2023. As long as they are a tenant, they could exercise the right to build 3,000+ homes and 4 million square feet of commercial and office space. If that sounds like Coliseum City, that’s because it is. The A’s heard the questions about the confusion over the need to develop both Howard Terminal and the Coliseum. At a social media influencers forum last week, they said that the Coliseum isn’t needed, that the two projects are separate. There’s a timing problem with that position, since the only entitlements available right now are at the Coliseum. The only thing that can generate the cash the A’s are seeking to fund the ballpark is at the Coliseum. Ancillary development at HT is undergoing the approval process. It’s part of the long tail. Scratch that, l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g tail.

From the Coliseum Final Specific Plan, 2015

Now the awkwardness begins. The A’s plan to leave the Coliseum just like the other teams are doing, only they get to cash in on those sweet, sweet entitlements. Personally, I agree that they don’t need them. They have 40-55 acres at HT they can leverage if everything goes to plan. A redevelopment plan at the Coliseum is already approved. It’ll take time to bring in reopen the bidding process and bring the right uses in. That’s exactly what should happen. No shortcuts.

If everything doesn’t go to plan, the Coliseum remains a good backup plan. As we’ve used this joke ad nauseam, we’re talking about the A’s. There is no Plan B. It’s the best dad joke I’ve ever heard.

2020 Travel Grid

As promised yesterday, here is the latest Travel Grid. The usual conventions are in place, such as sending the northeastern teams to the Sun Belt during the first weeks of the season to avoid rainouts, or the stuffing of the summer months with trips from the West Coast teams to the East Coast. The aforementioned international games (April 28-30 in Puerto Rico, June 13-14 in England) are italicized in the PDF versions. Without further ado, here are the links:

  • PDF (poster one-sheet)
  • PDF (multi-page)
  • XLSX (Excel 2016)
  • CSV (comma-delimited)

In the past I’ve tried to consolidate all of the schedules from Spring Training and the minor leagues to create an extra special “All Baseball” schedule. Why? I’d like to see if I could catch a game in every professionally affiliated ballpark in the span of six or seven months. The release dates of the minors tends to fluctuate as we head towards the fall. If I get leads on those I’ll give it a shot.

P.S. – Coincidentally, the NBA released its 2019-20 schedule yesterday as well. That could open a new world of possibilities.

 

First glimpse of 2020 MLB schedule

It’s that time of the year again. Back to School sales have started, we’re getting close to the Little League World Series, and MLB provided its first taste of the 2020 schedule. The downloadable schedule isn’t available yet, so I’ll either scrape the new schedule or wait for the download to be released. While we’re all waiting for that and for the 2020 Travel Grid, I compiled some notes about the schedule.

Opening Day is Thursday, March 26. I’m still not a big fan of the “Opening Weekend” realignment of the schedules put in place years ago, but it’s more necessary now to fit in the required off days and travel days, so I’ll begrudgingly accept it. Besides the second edition of the London Series (Cubs-Cardinals, June 13-14), there’s also Mets-Marlins in Puerto Rico, April 28-30 in San Juan. There’s no series in Japan or elsewhere in Asia or the Western Pacific this time. The Rangers are opening Globe Life Field (not Globe Life Park, that’s the current one) next year, and the A’s hit the road to battle both the Rangers and Astros in both late April and late May.

The road trip to circle on next year’s calendar is a three-city venture in August to visit the Bronx, the nation’s Capitol, and Beantown (August 6-16). That includes a day off and ample time to take in plenty of other sights and attractions on the Eastern seaboard. That day off, August 13, also happens to be planned date at Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA. The Field of Dreams game will be played at a 8,000-seat makeshift stadium featuring the Yankees and White Sox.

That month of August looks grueling, since the three-city, ten-day road trip will be followed by a short weeklong homestand and then another road trip for the A’s to visit Atlanta and then Toronto. That month will make or break the A’s.

More notes and the Travel Grid to come.