How quickly can Mount Davis be demolished?

Sorry, there’s no magical charm to hide this beauty

Short answer: Not this year.

I get it, A’s fans. You’re excited, I’m excited, the A’s marketing crew is excited. We’re all champing at the bit right now. Unfortunately, I’m gonna have to slow everyone’s roll. In California we don’t build things quickly. We don’t even demolish things quickly. You’re not going to see a big viral video implosion of the Coliseum, ever. Keep in mind:

  • Candlestick Park’s demolition dragged on for months to protect residents living nearby from asbestos and other pollutants.
  • Site prep for Avaya Stadium took a year longer than expected because of previously unknown underground bunkers and other items to demolish and cleanup.

The Raiders have already exercised their option on the 2017 year, so they’re in come August. Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas isn’t outfitted with the updated locker rooms and security fencing that the NFL requires. Any upgrades couldn’t come until after the 2017 season ends. It’s that classic tale about the boy who leaves the girl yet needs to crash on her couch for a few months while his new fling upgrades from a studio to a junior one-bedroom apartment. You’ve seen it – Cameron Crowe or Richard Linklater?

As long as the Raiders are staying for hopefully only year, the A’s should be able to break out the wrecking ball come February 1, 2018, right?

Nope.

The problem is at that point there will still be some $75 million in debt remaining on the Coliseum. The City and County haven’t figured out who or what is paying for it. Until that gets resolved, the JPA can’t so much as pelt it with rocks. Beyond that, the demolition will have its own cost which someone will have to pay out of pocket. The infrastructure funding plan offered to the Raiders and the Lott-Fortress group had the demolition of the entire stadium budgeted in. I imagine that the same offer’s on the table for the A’s should they choose to build at the Coliseum. If they don’t, demolition’s yet another cost to add onto the debt resolution. If the JPA quickly came to a deal with the A’s, demolition would probably be accommodated depending on the Raiders’ departure and the phasing of the teardown.

Once the debt issue is resolved, I would expect that demolition would happen in two parts. Initially, the peak of Mount Davis, otherwise known as the upper deck, would be lopped off. That would be the easiest aspect of the plan since only the seats and risers would be removed, along with the columns and beams holding them up. The Washington football team removed more than 10,000 seats from the upper deck, replacing many of them with the wall-like platforms used at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. Once the upper deck of Mount Davis is removed, the Oakland hills and Leona Quarry would be visible from parts of the original Coliseum, namely the original upper deck. Aesthetically that would be a huge improvement, if not a complete solution.

Outside Mount Davis

Once the easy part is dealt with, dealing with the rest of hulking structure becomes a project unto itself. The East Side Club is a four-story section that stretches the length of the stand, with two upper levels of suites facing the field and a vaulted ceiling above the club. It’s more like demolishing a gigantic concrete pier than your average tilt-up office building.

Everything at or below the plaza concourse would have to stay intact while the A’s played in the venue. The BART plaza is at this level, so unless someone wanted to completely rebuild that even though future plans have the old BART bridge replaced, it’s all staying intact. In addition, the only vehicular access to the field is via the steep centerfield tunnel underneath Mt. Davis. That can’t be touched.

East Side Club, suites on upper levels

I don’t mean to crap on your dynamite-charged fantasies, folks. As long as the A’s have to continue using the Coliseum there’s only so far you can go in terms of dismantling it. Eventually the whole thing will come down. Chances are it will be piece-by-piece. Maybe the A’s can have some of the demo team dance to YMCA for old times’ sake.

Raiders exodus is about will not blame

Listening to radio and read the internets today, it was no surprise by mid-afternoon the recriminations came in full force. Denial and pain set in quickly, thanks to advance reports of the pending NFL owners’ approval of the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. So when it came time to start the anger and bargaining stage (3), no stone was left unturned, no name forgotten. Here’s a partial list of the people to blame for the Raiders’ departure:

  • Mark Davis
  • Libby Schaaf
  • Roger Goodell
  • Jean Quan
  • Floyd Kephart
  • Lew Wolff
  • Al Davis
  • Ron Dellums
  • Larry Reid
  • Scott Haggerty
  • Fazza (Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum), The Crown Prince of Dubai
  • Sheldon Adelson

Every player in this Coliseum saga wanted out of something. The pols wanted the albatross of Coliseum debt off their necks without giving away valuable Coliseum land or forcing any of the teams out. The A’s, Raiders, and Warriors wanted their own venues, preferably nowhere near one another. All were willing to leave Oakland to get that venue. The placed the City of Oakland and Alameda County in a delicate dance with three lukewarm dance partners. The team with the most freedom, the Warriors, announced their departure as soon as they could. The A’s tried to take a more circuitous route via the back rooms of The Lodge and then the court, failing to overturn the Giants’ territorial rights to the South Bay. The Raiders, whose owner had the least money and leverage, tied itself to city after city before going it alone in Vegas. Patience and persistence prevailed for Davis, as he somehow finagled gap funding from Bank of America, consequently earning the NFL owners’ trust in the process (31-1 vote).

Let’s go back to fall 2013. The A’s were focused on the postseason, while the Raiders were rolling out another bad run under Dennis Allen. In September, Davis came out of nowhere and suggested that his new stadium be built where the existing Coliseum stands. Had the JPA taken that proposal seriously, the plan would have been to demolish the Coliseum and construct a new Raiders stadium in its place, with the potential for a new ballpark down the road. The Raiders would play at Levi’s Stadium for two years. The A’s could play at AT&T Park for some length of time, probably longer than two years. Davis later rationalized the idea as needed to avoid all the construction-related upheaval and the related parking shortage.

The next spring, in 2014, Lew Wolff started lease extension talks with the JPA. Chastened by the legal loss over San Jose and MLB’s desire to get something going in Oakland, Wolff asked for a lengthy term keeping the A’s at the Coliseum until 2024. He also asked for a special set of conditions clearly related to Davis’s own concept: a process to vacate the Coliseum if the Raiders put together a Coliseum redevelopment proposal. Wolff’s notion was that the A’s needed some time to get a ballpark proposal started and wanted to minimize the chance of playing at a temporary venue (remember Cashman Stadium?). So he got language to give the A’s two full baseball seasons before they would be evicted. By this time Wolff was also working on improvements for the team’s new spring training facility, Hohokam Stadium/Fitch Park. The plans included new scoreboards for Hohokam and the Coliseum (buy in bulk!).

Even in 2014 Wolff and Davis were taking different approaches to the getting lease extensions (emphasis mine).

Wolff and Mark Davis are going at this stadium business in different ways. Wolff wants a lease extension, while taking that time to figure out the future either in San Jose or in Oakland. Davis is taking an opposite tack, declaring last year that it was time to stop delaying and get the stadium deal in place before any new lease. That puts the JPA in a very delicate spot. They’re already working with Davis, though he hasn’t been satisfied with the pace or the information he’s getting. Both owners, whether in league or not, are forcing Oakland to make a difficult decision between the two franchises. Both know that it’s incredibly hard to build one stadium, let alone two right next to each other. Public resources are increasingly scarce. Fred Blackwell’s leaving before he can get any blame for this. Smart move on his part.

Fred Blackwell. That guy is chilling at The San Francisco Foundation these days.

The A’s lease was stuck in deliberations for a couple months before approval. Raiders supporters decried it as something that would eventually force the football team out. The two-season exit, the demand for a bona fide football stadium plan and $10 million to secure it, and the length of the lease to 2024 hampered the Raiders’ flexibility. All those things would be reasonable arguments if not for the fact that Davis never formulated a proposal of his own beyond the aforementioned desire to build on the Coliseum’s existing footprint. Instead, he let Coliseum City complete its process without his signature, and the Lott/Fortress plan had virtually no input or involvement from Davis at all. Davis hired former 49ers exec Larry MacNeill as his representative at meetings. The NFL admonished both City proposals for no team or league direct involvement, yet the NFL reportedly never so much as inquired about the Coliseum land nor offered any alternatives.

Easy to blame Mark Davis there, and Lew Wolff if you’re so inclined. What this showed was that Davis’s will to build in Oakland was not strong. Schaaf held firm to her no-public-funds-for-construction stance, which can be interpreted as Schaaf not having the political will to get a stadium project going in Oakland. She’ll take that.

Since 2006, the Coliseum arrangement has been a series of short-term lease extensions for both the A’s and the Raiders, with no major fundamental changes. Oakland’s goal was to stay in the game with each extension, waiting for a great plan to materialize. Maybe they expected one team to change the game by seeking different terms. Turns out that happened in 2013, when Davis admitted he wanted to replace the Coliseum and evict everyone for a couple years. That started a chain of events which eventually brought us here, with Davis getting city he’s wanted since at least 1998.

The A’s get the Coliseum if they want it, and Schaaf may finally be the mayor that gets rid of the albatross. Dave Kaval, you’re up.

Eve of the Reckoning: Schaaf and Goodell exchange letters

They tried. Everyone can say they tried. Well, maybe not Mark Davis, since he hasn’t attended an Oakland stadium development meeting in at least a year. Instead, Davis hired a guy to sit in on the meetings he didn’t want to attend. The NFL can say they tried, since they kept Oakland in the game longer than St. Louis or San Diego, despite Oakland providing the least competitive offer among the three cities. Oakland did try repeatedly, though not hard enough for the NFL. And so we find a city and a fanbase at the precipice of losing its football team yet again, the second time less than forty years.

During a press conference-cum-rally yesterday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf defended the city, while expounding on a letter sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The letter was an effort to convince the league to give one more chance to keep the team in town. The presser was followed by a walk by supporters around the Coliseum complex and a pizza protest outside Raider HQ in Alameda. Sounds like a good day of fan activism, right?

Whatever positive momentum that generated was quickly squashed by the reveal of a reply by Goodell, which made it abundantly clear that Oakland needed to accede to the league’s demands, not vice-versa.

March 24, 2017

Hon. Libby Schaaf
Mayor City of Oakland
1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, 3d Floor
Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Mayor Schaaf:

We have had an opportunity to review the material your office released today regarding a stadium project in Oakland for the Raiders.

Before addressing the substance of the material, I want to personally thank you for your leadership and for the time and effort you have devoted to addressing the Raiders’ stadium needs and to keeping Oakland as an NFL community. As you have said more than once, the unquestioned need to replace the current stadium has been hampered by a long record of unrealistic and unkept promises that has complicated your efforts and constrained your options. I know from my own discussions with you, as well as those that have involved our staffs, that you and your team have made every effort to be accessible, creative, and diligent in exploring alternatives. I am grateful to you for doing so, and our member clubs are as well.

I particularly want to thank you for meeting on two occasions with our Finance and Stadium Committees, and much of our executive staff, most recently at our committee meetings on March 6. Those two committees consist of 18 owners and have devoted considerable time and attention to the Raiders. They will be presenting their analysis and recommendations to the full membership next week. Your presentations to those committees, as well as the many discussions between our staffs, have been valuable in giving us an understanding of the opportunity available to the Raiders in Oakland.

The material that we reviewed earlier today confirms certain information that had previously been communicated orally, such as a willingness to bring bank financing to a stadium project, and a proposed valuation of the land at the Coliseum site. It also confirms that key issues that we have identified as threshold considerations are simply not resolvable in a reasonable time. In that respect, the information sent today does not present a proposal that is clear and specific, actionable in a reasonable timeframe, and free of major contingencies.

In making this assessment, we recognize and accept the core negotiating principles that you have articulated as being appropriate to your community. A significant number of NFL clubs play in stadiums that have little or no public financial support (including the stadium being built in Los Angeles). We have long accepted your position that no public funds are available for stadium construction in Oakland. We also accept that you do not wish to exercise (and may not be able to exercise) the contractual termination rights related to the A’s.

We have been prepared for nearly two years to work on finding a solution based on access to land at a certain cost, without constraints on the location of the stadium or timing of construction, and clarity on overall development. However, at this date, there remains no certainty regarding how the site will be fully developed, or the specific and contractually-defined nature of the participation by Fortress or other parties. In addition, the long-term nature of the commitment to the A’s remains a significant complication and the resolution of that issue remains unknown. Other significant uncertainties, which we have previously identified, remain unaddressed.

We had hoped that the past two years would have allowed both of us to develop a viable project in Oakland. You have provided valuable leadership; for our part, our clubs have repeatedly delayed any relocation by the Raiders and committed an additional $100 million in NFL financial support (for a total of $300 million) to a stadium project in Oakland. We have had regular communications with you, your staff, and more recently with Mr. Lott and his colleagues. And of course, many of our owners have met with you directly, as noted earlier.

Despite all of these efforts, ours and yours, we have not yet identified a viable solution. It is disappointing to me and our clubs to have come to that conclusion.

At our upcoming meeting, the clubs will consider the Raiders’ application to move to Las Vegas. A key part of that discussion will be a thorough review of our collective efforts in Oakland. I will contact you promptly regarding any decisions made next week.

Thank you again for your leadership and for the material of earlier today.

Sincerely,

ROGER GOODELL

In short: Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Financing and planning issues remain for Las Vegas, even with BofA’s injection of $750 million into the stadium project. I could see the project eventually splitting into two parts: the initial less fully-featured, indoor/domed venue that will be sufficient for the Raiders and UNLV to start, and then some $200 million to pay for Super Bowl-ready improvements. Super Bowls are already assigned through 2021, not including second go-arounds for the new stadia in Arlington, Santa Clara, and Indianapolis, so there’s time to figure it out.

If yesterday’s rally ends up the last hurrah, it would appear truly final. The Coliseum will be demolished within the next decade, whether there’s a tenant at the complex or not. The stance against public money will remain as strong as ever in Oakland. The city would end up competing with San Diego, St. Louis, San Antonio, and perhaps London for new franchises. If we say goodbye to the Raiders, be prepared to say goodbye to the NFL. Forever.

Raiders find their sugar daddy in BofA

Actually, Mark Davis was able to get Bank of America (BofA) to bridge the critical funding gap that was vacated weeks ago by both Sheldon Adelson and Goldman Sachs, leaving the Raiders scrambling and the stadium deal on the verge of collapse. No numbers were released, so we don’t know just how much BofA is putting up, but the reaction from around the league indicates that the Raiders got the job done.

Along with you, I’m scratching my head wondering exactly what convinced BofA to sign on with what is effectively a private stadium subsidy. Maybe the parties got extremely creative regarding the revenue streams. BofA already has a big presence in the NFL thanks to its naming rights deal at the Panthers’ stadium in Charlotte, the bank’s hometown.

As for Oakland, Mayor Schaaf’s response was the same old boilerplate, where Oakland’s not going to risk the general fund while claiming it’s “ready to compete.” And as with all previous such statements, they’re falling on deaf ears at the league office. Yes, Davis could blunder this all the way back to Oakland. It’s well within his capabilities. Davis’s work is now done. The decision is no longer in his hands. Yet you have to wonder – considering that he’s got the money lined up without giving up his controlling stake or involving the omnipresent gambling industry in the deal – if Davis has a little Verbal Kint in him.

An honest discussion about a ballpark’s transportation needs

The discussion always starts the same way. I throw out a question or poll to my Twitter followers about transportation at Howard Terminal. Most of the respondents are A’s fans who want to understand the options. Some are locals to the Jack London Square neighborhood or are from adjacent areas (West Oakland, Downtown/Uptown, Lake Merritt). There are always the inevitable “people can walk the mile” or “we don’t need anything more than a shuttle bus” folks who don’t understand how flawed (and usually short-term) such ideas are. And then there are the transit geeks, who envision something that could create better transit links for Oakland and the East Bay. That last part is what I call transit feature creep in that they always get away from the project-level needs and goals. The result is a general lack of consensus.

It starts and ends with how BART was conceived and implemented. BART is a “rapid” system, using equipment and grade-separated (from traffic) alignments like legacy systems such as the New York City Subway and Chicago’s “L”, along with newer systems such as Washington Metro and Atlanta MARTA. The first three have metro-systems with many in dense, urban areas, whereas MARTA is more like BART in its more spread out stations and extensions into the suburbs. Trains were designed to be more comfortable than their urban counterparts in order to attract suburban riders. As BART was built, Oakland became the spine of the system, though none of the stations in Oakland’s core are true transit hubs other than their connections to AC Transit buses. There are transit hubs elsewhere in the BART system (SF’s Market Street stations, Millbrae, Richmond) but with Oakland, the lack of a streetcar or light rail solution to better cover downtown and link neighborhoods has always seemed like a lost opportunity.

Prior to BART, the Key System provided streetcar to Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville. It at first connected to SF-bound ferries via a long pier, or mole. Later it traveled on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, terminating at the Transbay Terminal. The Key System then became part of a diabolical plan to kill off streetcars and replace them with buses. BART filled in the transbay aspect of the Key System, but most other transportation needs are handled by AC Transit, a situation that the Eastshore has lived with for 40+ years. AC finally started construction of a BRT (bus rapid transit) line that runs from downtown Oakland on Broadway to San Leandro BART via International Blvd. It will have streetcar/trolley-like stations, though the route will avoid currently low-traffic neighborhoods such as Jack London Square/Howard Terminal and Brooklyn Basin in favor of denser neighborhoods.

brt

The map above, which shows the northern part of the BRT route, largely covers the same ground as the planned streetcar except for the aforementioned JLS/HT/BB Estuary neighborhoods. If the new BRT route succeeds, it’ll lead to further rollouts elsewhere, such as San Pablo Avenue, where there’s already a limited-stop “rapid” line 72R in place.

By now I’ve spent 520 words talking about transit that doesn’t serve a ballpark near Jack London Square, which may feel like a waste of time to you. There is a point – that all this talk of trying to include every neighborhood and constituency leads to losing sight of projects that can provide great effectiveness at the scale required. It’s not the oft-discussed, still under study streetcar. It’s not an infill BART station between West Oakland and 12th Street, which would be close to Howard Terminal (1/4-mile) but not close enough to Jack London Square (3/4 mile) to make sense. Shuttle buses are only a temporary solution. Any bus solution would be hampered by limited peak capacity to handle crush crowds for events at a ballpark. The answer is nothing in the poll I posed two weeks ago.

The answer lies in how BART is constructed along Broadway. If you’re a frequent rider, you know that the stations along Broadway have two platform levels. The upper platform is for trains traveling north, either along the Richmond line or the Pittsburg/Baypoint lines. The lower platform is for southbound trains heading to Dublin/Pleasanton, Fremont, and by virtue of BART’s alignment, San Francisco. However, all of the southbound trains only travel on a single track, effectively using half of the platform. BART left the space there for expansion, including a potential second Transbay Tube or service to Alameda. For the purposes of a ballpark, let’s start with a simple BART spur to Jack London Square.

jls-shuttle

The spur would run from the 12th Street Station to the heart of JLS (Broadway & Embarcadero), with the station having portals on either side of the Embarcadero. If developed properly, the station could partly solve the pedestrian safety problem by providing an underground concourse for fans to use before and after games. Fans exiting at Broadway and Water would be a mere 1/4-mile away from a Howard Terminal ballpark, allowing for a leisurely stroll through what would surely become very high-rent retail property.

This option would be the most desirable and hassle-free for BART riders. Consider how they would never have to leave the station to transfer, riders from Berkeley or Walnut Creek only having to walk across the platform. Riders from SF and Southern Alameda County would have to descend an escalator. That’s it. No having to leaving the station to wait in line for a streetcar or bus, or walk 20 minutes. Walking is nice if you have the time, but not convenient. Queueing for one of multiple 50-person buses is never fun if you’re person 200 in line. Muni streetcars work for the Giants, mostly because can transfer to BART within the same stations on Market Street.

Ridership forecast for the spur in the 2004 Jack London BART Feasibility Study was estimated to be 3,000-4,000 riders on weekdays, half that on weekend days, for a rough total of 1.2 million riders annually. That was without a ballpark in the area. Take 82+ dates of decent (30k, not sellout) ballpark crowds and the current percentage of BART riders (20-25% percent) and the ridership for the line could grow up to 50%! From an operations standpoint, there’s a good chance that the spur could be automated, like the Oakland Airport Connector. Since it would be a direct connection, the trip would take 3-4 minutes, the same time it takes to travel from 12th Street to Lake Merritt.

The spur doesn’t come without downsides. It would involve a tunnel, which is by far the most expensive alignment option. Muni’s Central Subway currently costs $500 million per kilometer. A kilometer is slightly shorter than the distance from 12th Street to JLS, though I suspect engineering could be a little cheaper by simplifying the process (no station in between, no/minimal cut-and-cover operations). The feasibility study estimated the cost to be $180-250 million more than a decade ago, expect the $500 million estimate to be more in line.  That’s a ton of money, but it would come with far less upheaval coming from digging up dozens of Downtown Oakland blocks for years. And unlike streetcars or buses, a BART spur would not mix into surface traffic, ensuring a much smoother, efficient trip to and from JLS. Plus there’s also the chance for user fees, such as a $1 ticket surcharge for ballpark events, to help fund the project.

The other caveat is that spur wouldn’t directly connect with the Jack London Square Amtrak station. That’s not as big a deal as you might think, considering that the western end of the Amtrak platform at Webster is less than 800 feet from Broadway. Having a portal on the landslide of Embarcadero and improved wayfinding should help significantly. In addition, JLS is also not close to Brooklyn Basin, nearly a mile away. Unless Oakland wants to extend a streetcar to Fifth Ave, there is no good transit option there.

A spur may at first sound like a very limited-purpose, “selfish” option. Taken within the fabric of how transit is being developed in Oakland, it actually makes sense. It provides fast, direct access to JLS. It acts as a first step towards a BART tunnel to Alameda, if Alameda actually wants it badly enough. It eliminates the looming redundance and inefficiency that comes with having streetcars, BRT, regular buses, and normal traffic on Oakland’s dieting streets.

Planning an effective transit strategy for a ballpark will come down to priorities at Oakland City Hall. If they prioritize the needs of users (quick and easy transfers, high capacity) a spur is the best solution. If the goal is to better connect neighborhoods and have lower capital cost (not sure how much lower), a streetcar is a better solution, though it will be slower and less efficient. It’s up to you, Oakland.

Howard Terminal and… Oakland’s Outer Harbor?

Yes, Howard Terminal is high on the list for the A’s. Eastshore Empire looked the last week’s Port Commissioners’ meeting agenda and found something interesting:

That type of language comes up a lot for the Coliseum JPA’s board meetings, especially when the JPA and its tenants are negotiating leases. It’s great to hear that the A’s are having talks about land use and potential acquisitions or leases with the Port. That shows that they’re willing and able to move on multiple sites without waiting for the Raiders to clean up their own mess. Having Berths 20-24 (?) on there is a different matter altogether.

I chimed in with the following:

Berths 20-24 are better known as the former PAOHT (Ports America) site. Due to an ongoing dispute with the Port over their own lease and slow business, PAOHT declared bankruptcy last year, abandoning their 50-year lease in the process. I wrote about the potential of the site last year, though I framed it as more of a replacement site for the Raiders should the A’s take over the Coliseum. Because of the site’s lack of transit availability (BART runs nearby but can’t stop there) but massive size for a future parking lot, it could work as a NFL stadium site. For baseball it makes little sense at all. It’s two miles from West Oakland BART, three from Howard Terminal, and three from downtown Oakland. There’s nothing around it and the wind there makes Candlestick feel like a light tropical breeze. And because a ballpark can’t face west, fans would never benefit from the incredible view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco.

The site may function as parking for a Howard Terminal, which might work better in terms of planning and maintaining Port operations. However, as mentioned before, the site is a three mile bus ride from HT. That’s the same distance along Broadway from the Embarcadero to 51st Street. Having dozens of shuttles running such a lengthy distance on regular Oakland surface streets during peak hours sounds like a recipe for disaster. It belies the urban ballpark concept that Oakland and the A’s are seeking. Still, parking is rather scarce at JLS/HT, and maybe the shuttles can be routed to stop by West Oakland BART to pick up fans.

paoht-ht

David Kaval reaffirmed that the A’s will announce their site choice, plan, and timeline this year. While the communication lines are open to fans for suggestions, the decision-making process isn’t exactly open. That was a major mistake made under Lew Wolff, and I hope that the team at the very least provides more insight into the factors driving the decision (cost, transit, land availability, development potential, etc.). A’s fans deserve at least that much.