31 August 2005

Selig to visit San Jose

According to this report from the Merc, the Commonwealth Club's Silicon Valley chapter scored big in getting an appearance from none other than commish Bud Selig. Selig is scheduled to speak September 7 at the McEnery Convention Center, where he will speak on numerous topics including steroids and expansion. The most locally intriguing issues are, of course, relocation and territorial rights. This is probably the best opportunity for San Jose partisans to find out if Selig is willing to budge on his hardline stance regarding the Giants' rights to Santa Clara County. There is an issue of timing, since the Oakland ballpark plans were announced only weeks ago and Selig won't want to say or do anything to potentially jeopardize that initiative. It's likely that Selig could spend the day touring the Coliseum North site with Lew Wolff, perhaps even alternate sites like Fremont. If San Jose officials were able to get an hour or so to make an unofficial pitch and tour, it would be a major coup for their efforts.

I, for one, will make every effort to attend the event.

26 August 2005

SB 4 passes Appropriations Committee

Yesterday, SB 4 passed easily in the State Assembly's Appropriations Committee, 13-4. The three Bay Area Assembly members on the committee (Mark Leno, Johan Klehs, Joe Nation) all voted yes. Now, it should be on to a third reading and a vote in the Assembly. Afterwards, the heavily-amended bill has to go back to the Senate for approval, and then finally to the Governor's desk. SB 4 will have to compete with dozens of other bills, many of which are higher profile. The journey through the Legislature must be completed by September 9, which marks the end of the session.

Again, should SB 4 pass, there are possibilities for raising tax-free financing for a new ballpark and surrounding infrastructure, without requiring a local vote to authorize funds. Because the bill itself has been weakened, it's only reasonable to expect that the I-Bank Board would be very careful about how it qualifies projects, since it will have the final say. If the Wolff plan proceeds with land acquisition and then construction, it's likely that either the JPA or Oakland would be asked to make a proposal to the I-Bank, even though the revenue streams used to pay off the stadium would be largely private.

22 August 2005

CBS-5 Mayoral roundtable

CBS-5's Hank Plante hosted a Charlie Rose-style roundtable including the mayors of the three big Bay Area cities: Jerry Brown, Ron Gonzales, and Gavin Newsom. The discussion covered a multitude of issues including crime, the Bay Bridge, gay marriage, and homelessness.

Inevitably, Plante brought up the issue of competition among the three cities, and that meant the A's and San Jose's thinly veiled efforts to get the A's. True to form, Gonzales said little about the A's directly, and Brown repeated his position of "let's keep the A's here, but at what public cost?" Anyone expecting heated debate about the A's was sure to be disappointed. It's becoming apparent that Gonzales is merely keeping the idea of baseball in San Jose warm for the next San Jose mayor, while Brown used the roundtable as a lengthy politicking session, as shown by his almost complete disinterest in the subject matter.

Attendance watch, August edition

The recent surge in the standings helped boost the A's turnstile performance during the first week of the 12-game August homestand. As expected, attendance cooled somewhat with the weather and the arrival of the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals, but the average attendance for the homestand was still excellent, at 32,555 per game.

To date, that puts the A's 4% down from last year. This season's total attendance through 65 dates is 1,697,637. In 2004, it was 1,769,184. The good news is that the A's should surpass last season's pace (not total attendance) in the next series versus the Yankees. The following three opponents (Texas, Seattle, Minnesota) probably won't make much of a dent. At least there are a Mark Kotsay bobblehead night (rare to have bobblehead giveaways on weeknights) on September 6, and a Fireworks Night on September 23 versus the Rangers. The last series of the year is a four-game mid-week set against The O.C., and while the last two games should be well-attended by default, attendance at the first two games may depend on the A's relative playoff status. To beat last season's total attendance mark, the A's will have to draw around 31,500 a game for the rest of the season - not impossible, but a challenge because of the way the schedule is drawn up. If the A's are in wild card or division championship contention during the final week of the season, they should be able to beat it. They'll need 1,000 more than that per game to beat 2003's total.

Wolff needs someone on the inside + Property owners have their say

Two articles by the Trib's Paul Rosynsky today. First off is a report with quotes from numerous property owners who may be willing to relocate if the price is right, but also hate eminent domain with a passion. Next is an article detailing a request from Lew Wolff to the City of Oakland, asking for someone within City Hall to assist with the plan (land acquisition, zoning, planning). Oakland did have just the man for that job once upon a time, but Robert Bobb was never supported by Mayor Brown, and so he left to a place where his skills could be utilized: Washington, DC. Larry Reid, as much as he may be committed to this, will not get the job done alone. There needs to be someone on the inside who can navigate the political maze and broker the necessary deals to get everything in place. At my day job, we call this person a "champion." The champion is willing to do the leg work, the follow-ups on all related parties - someone who has considerable influence within but won't be distracted by other issues, as an elected official would. Will the city produce such an individual? We'll find out shortly.

21 August 2005

The media has questions

The Chronicle has a new editorial that has the same tone as Thursday's Tribune op-ed. I imagine Wolff must be a pretty good poker player, though I imagine he's more likely to play hold-em, stud, or baseball than no-peekie. Then again, with so many Saturday evening games, perhaps he's a fan of night baseball.

Eric Lai of the East Bay Business Times has an excellent article on the impending land acquisition efforts. There are some mind-blowing numbers, including an estimate by the paper's analysts that the land in question could be worth up to $315 million. Or, at the below market rate of $20 per square foot, the land would cost $126 million. Keep in mind that the purchase of the land would not be a cost borne by the City of Oakland, but whatever the final figure may be, it's a substantial investment. The payoff potential is enormous though, as Wolff and his partners could net hundreds of millions if not billions if they built, say, 5,000 market rate condos on the site. The piece ends with a rather ominous note:
Wolff has set a one-year deadline for garnering the political and monetary support for his project. That assumes unrealistically quick cooperation from a wide range of government bureaucracies, critics say.

"Lew might have come up with something so big in order to see Oakland fail," said Zennie Abraham, a former Oakland mayoral adviser and sports business owner.

Having made his best effort, Wolff would then be free to negotiate moving the A's to a city such as Portland, Sacramento or Las Vegas, all of which are clamoring for a Major League Baseball franchise and willing to pony up more money than Oakland is.

20 August 2005

Coliseum South = Plan B? + Transit struggles + As the baguette turns

The CoCo Times' Guy Ashley mentions an important nugget not previously reported from the 8/12's JPA meeting:
Though Wolff said the team is open to all possible alternative sites, the preferred one appears to involve a compact new A's stadium in the Coliseum's north parking lot, and a massive new parking facility on the south side of the Coliseum near Hegenberger Road.

One East Bay official at the center of the A's ballpark initiative said the site repeatedly comes up as the most logical Plan B for the stadium project.

"It's his fallback position," said Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid, who spoke with Wolff about the Coliseum scenario days before Wolff went public with the baseball team's grand Plan A to transform a tired swath of land along I-880 between 66th Avenue and High Street.
While it's not the major development plan proposed at the meeting, it's a reasonable fallback should acquisition of parcels within the preferred site prove difficult. However, it does pose issues involving financing. Limited acreage makes the investment potential at the Coliseum North/South lots far less. There's also a question of whether such an option, which places the ballpark on the north end and extra parking along Hegenberger, makes sense. The Raiders don't want garage parking. They want surface lots for their fans to tailgate. It makes more sense to put a ballpark on the Malibu lot and build other parking along Hegenberger, so that interference with the Raiders' interest is minimal. They'd also have a chance to further develop the Hegenberger land, which would be a short walk from the ballpark itself. Whatever Plan B actually is, it's good to know that at least there is a Plan B.

Another item of interest is the fallout from the federal transportation bill (Fremont Argus). While San Jose Congressman Mike Honda inserted language that will help the BART-to-San Jose project, other projects were hurt because they didn't receive federal matching funds that are desperately needed to complete them. The BART Warm Springs extension and the BART Oakland Airport People Mover are two local projects that received nothing. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission may have the ability to shift money around to get some of 10 projects on the list going, but they're going to need to be creative. If something doesn't happen to bridge the funding gaps for each of these projects, they could be delayed at least two to four years, or even indefinitely.

The final item today is a report from the Chronicle on the closure of the Parisian sourdough bakery in San Francisco. An institution for 149 years, Parisian was swallowed up by Interstate Brands (Twinkies, Wonder Bread) several years ago.
Interstate Brands, which filed for bankruptcy protection last year, is shutting down two San Francisco bakeries as part of a cost-cutting move, an effort "to right the ship,'' said Interstate Bakery spokesman Jason Booth. The second bakery, on Bryant Street near San Francisco's Potrero Hill neighborhood, made Wonder Bread, Twinkies and Ho-Ho snack cakes. It also closed Friday. Interstate said neither plant was profitable.
The point of all of this? Interstate is keeping their Oakland bakery open. In a previous post, I noted that this is the landmark Colombo bakery, which just so happens to take up several acres of the land Lew Wolff is trying to acquire. There are a couple of possibilities here. Since Interstate has two factories that they would have to liquidate, it may be possible for Councilman Larry Reid to ask Interstate to relocate their Colombo operations to San Francisco, if that's feasible. Of course, that's probably not an appealing notion to workers at the Colombo bakery. There's also the possibility that because Colombo is a healthy brand and may have some special strategic importance to Interstate, that they may be unwilling to sell the property. Everything has a price, but there are certainly valid arguments for making it either more or less difficult. Only when these parties are engaged will we know for certain. Add to that the fact that negotiating with every individual company or landowner is a unique set of circumstances, and you can start to appreciate the effort that will be needed to pull this deal off.

18 August 2005

SB 4 amended again - more changes

Prior to a vote in the Appropriations committee, SB 4 was amended again. This time, there's a wholesale change in how the funding system works. The biggest change is the elimination of the California Public Performance Facilities Authority, the body that would have approved or rejected any stadium or venue projects that applied for funding through this new state-based process. Instead, now all approvals would go through the State Infrastructure Bank's board.

The impact is huge, in that the I-Bank's board is made up of much different characters than the Authority's would-be board. The Authority board would have been comprised of entertainment and sports industry veterans. The I-Bank's board is made up financial and policy wonks, who collectively may be less inclined to approve some of the more questionable projects than the Authority's board would have been. The net effect is that the bill's potential power in practice has been significantly reduced. In fact, the I-Bank's staff provided the following comment:
Conversely, staff at the Infrastructure Bank believe that this bill would not provide to the state any new tools from those currently available to a local government or joint powers authority seeking to finance these facilities.
Will the bill come up for a vote in the Assembly and then get signed by the Governor before the end of the short session? I'd say no, at least not in this rather neutered form.

Update (8/19): The bill was just placed in the Appropriations committee's suspense file, which means that it will be further studied because of its fiscal impact. Another vote in Appropriations is scheduled for Thursday, 8/25.

17 August 2005

Trib Op-Ed

Todays' editorial from the Oakland Tribune shows optimism in the ballpark plan, but withholds judgment on it until more details come out. An important issue that is brought up in the piece is the High St/880 interchange. Will it have to be revamped to handle additional residential, commercial, and event-related traffic? Would the same have to happen for the 66th Ave overpass as well? One of the few good things about postgame traffic from the Coliseum is that the cars in the north lots have to exit via 66th Ave, while those in the south lots exit via Hegenberger Rd, splitting traffic. That wouldn't be the case with a new ballpark whose traffic would be largely centered around 66th. A new thoroughfare could be constructed to take northbound traffic to High St, but that traffic could end up running through a residential neighborhood, which isn't ideal.

There's also a larger philosophical question here: Does this mean Oakland is near the end of its image as a blue collar town? While it's possible that not all of the businesses that would be displaced would leave Oakland completely, the plan is a classic case of gentrification. Like many other cities with a long manufacturing and industrial heritage, Oakland has been struggling for several years with the idea of gentrification (and the economic benefits it brings) against maintaining its gritty image. Many of the food processing companies that once called Oakland home, such as Mother's Cookies and Fleischmann's Yeast, left long ago. Colombo Baking may leave as well. Some may bemoan this major change as the loss of Oakland's soul. Others may welcome it, saying it's a better fate than that suffered by Detroit or Cleveland. Considering the fact that yesterday, 12,000 people lined up outside the nearby Wal-Mart in East Oakland to apply for only 400 openings, perhaps progress isn't the such the bitter pill many make it out to be.

Coliseum North Photo Overview + Wolff development news

The ballpark site photo overview is now available. The file is slightly over 1 MB and is in PDF (Acrobat) form. A permanent link has been created in the sidebar as well. Here's a sample photo:

In tangentially related news, L.A.'s Staples Center (owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group) is getting $10 million in video and seating upgrades. Staples is only five years old, but AEG wants to preserve Staples Center's reputation as the most glamorous, feature-packed arena in the nation. AEG is also developing land near Staples, including the big 1,200-room hotel that it is building with Maritz, Wolff & Co. The hotel is scheduled for groundbreaking in the fall.

16 August 2005

Response from BART

I received a response from Linton Johnson, Chief Spokesperson for BART (and former NBC-11 anchor/reporter). The answers he gave indicated how early in the process all of this ballpark and ballpark village talk is.

According to Johnson, the $70 million figure is based on "rough paper estimates" on how much it would cost to build a new station. A complete study would have to be undertaken for BART to be able to obtain firmer figures and a breakdown of costs. More interesting facts:
  • The cost would depend largely on whether the station is on-line (used during all operating hours) or off-line (used during games only). So far, no stations on the current system operate on an off-line basis, but it was considered for some of the stations between Colma and SFO.
  • The 10 car estimate is based only on operating a station on an off-line basis. An unknown higher number of cars would be needed if the station were to operate on-line/full time. The final number of cars needed would depend on a final study.
  • The A's have not called BART yet to ask them to explore this further.
  • The process of getting a BART station approved and built involves some of the typical studies such as an environmental impact report (EIR) and a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.
  • About prioritizing such a project, Johnson said, "Money and politics will determine priority."
So the rough costs cited were very rough, and could inflate quite a bit when all is said and done. Another item from the drawing is the pedestrian footbridge that would have to be built from the station to the village, similar to the existing Coliseum BART bridge. The cost of such a bridge would have to be included. For reference, a similar bridge project being built between Petco Park and Harbor Drive/San Diego Convention Center just received $2.8 million in federal funds. Oh, infrastructure!

In other news, columnist Evan Weiner of the Bergen Record/ details the trend of ballpark village developments occurring in MLB cities.

15 August 2005

And in Sacramento...

The Legislature is back after their month-long recess. That means it's time to check on SB 4. According to the latest update from, SB 4 is scheduled to hit the Assembly Appropriations committee on Wednesday. This legislation could have an enormous impact on the final deal between the A's and Oakland/JPA, because of the tax-free financing that would be available, as well as the ability of groups to use that financing to fund all sorts of infrastructure - including transit improvements like a new BART station or off-ramps, pedestrian bridges, etc.

Meanwhile, in San Jose...

From the San Jose Business Journal: San Jose's Redevelopment Agency is continuing with its efforts to acquire the Diridon South properties. To do this they are going around the city's charter, which requires a public vote before any money is spent on a sports facility. They're able to do it by saying that the land could be developed any number of ways, a stadium only being one. While this is certainly true on the surface (previously published planning docs indicate the city's desire to developing housing on the site), most everyone around the new City Hall knows that it's definitely a stadium site they are trying to secure. The latest update:
The RDA is ordering up appraisals, and on Aug. 9, the City Council tentatively approved the sale of 9.22 acres on Julian Street to provide the agency with about $14 million to help pay for the land, which includes the old KNTV studios, a PG&E power substation and Stephen's Meat Products.
Ever the cheerleader for San Jose effort, Santa Clara County Assessor and Baseball San Jose board member Larry Stone got in a few digs at Oakland over the plan when he was interviewed by KTVU-2 on Friday. Regarding the Diridon South site:
The San Jose Redevelopment Agency should have land secured for a possible ballpark on the western edge of Downtown San Jose, near the Diridon train station, within the next 30 to 60 days -- when Wolff's Oakland proposal collapses, San Jose will be waiting, Stone said.

13 August 2005

Pics of Coliseum North coming soon!

After today's game, I drove around the 90-acre site and took pictures of the various buildings in the area, the roads and railroad tracks. I'll put them into a Photo Overview soon enough. (And no, I was not accosted at any point.)

In the meantime, there's a new report from the CBS-5 (KPIX) with video of the area and feedback from local businesses.

The Price of BART

Paul Rosynsky's Tribune article on yesterday's announcement has a couple of eye-popping revelations regarding BART:
BART spokesman Linton Johnson said it is possible for such a station to be built, but estimated it could cost at least $70 million.

In addition, Johnson said, BART would have to buy at least 10 additional train cars to service the station and residential units and would ask Wolff and the team to pay for them. That cost could be as much as $40 million.
I'm flabbergasted. I figured the station might cost $50-60 million, so $70 million isn't out of line, but the cost of buying extra train cars really pushes the price up. $110 million for a station one mile north of the Coliseum station? That's enormous. This sets the stage for the BART issue to become a showstopper. It's up to Oakland officials to get really creative on financing this piece.

Elsewhere the Trib, Dave Newhouse's column trumpets the convergence of two catalytic events for the A's. Eric Gilmore of the Contra Costa Times also chimes in with his column, which expresses a fair amount of optimism. And to answer one of the financing questions:
Wolff said he hopes to use money from the redevelopment project to help fund the A's stadium. What he won't do is sell personal seat licenses, which contributed to the Raiders' debacle.

12 August 2005

First Impressions

Disclaimer: I am not a professional architecture critic or architect, so these comments should be taken with several grains of salt.

Now that the curtain has been lifted on the A's plans, we can start to dissect them in earnest. I have to admit that I didn't get the site right at all, but I promise to make up for it by putting together a proper profile on what can now be called the "Coliseum North" site. Expect to see that early next week. I didn't get the site right at all because I had no idea the plan would be this expansive. By thinking small, I limited myself to only certain sites. Again, that's an indication of why Mr. Wolff is a developer and I'm just a blogger.

Looking at the first batch of renderings (available in large format alongside Glenn Dickey's story in the Chronicle), there are a couple of words that immediately come to mind: humble and quirky. Humble refers to the unassuming, streamlined profile the ballpark cuts with its exterior. Quirky comes from the various unique elements in the outfield.


To understand the visual effect, look at the grandstand façade. Instead of large, ubiquitous, monolithic brick walls, the grandstand is open air, with brick-covered columns to define it. Access ramps, which are not present in the rendering, tend to be open air as well and should follow the same design philosophy. Since the playing surface is sunken, the columns themselves probably rise only 40 feet. Compare that to SBC Park, whose façade rises at least 60 feet from street level. Some other observations:
  • The two-deck design allows the design to be low-slung, eliminating the need for numerous concourse levels.
  • Luxury suites are not present in the grandstand. They will be there at some point.
  • Even the roof over the upper deck appears to be made out of either mesh or a translucent material, giving it less definition and giving the appearance that the roof is not contributing to the height of the grandstand. Whether a roof is even needed is questionable, since wind and rain aren't big problems in Oakland. At SBC Park the roof has purpose. Not so in Oakland.
  • The light standards are almost wispy.
  • The outfield buildings are of varying heights, all taller than the grandstand, which further lends to the idea that the ballpark is small. Even the entry plaza behind home plate doesn't announce itself except for six columns that jut out from the rest of the structure.


Just a brief glance at the outfield in this rendering tells you that this ballpark is busy. There are so many different elements that it can be distracting. I imagine that once inside the ballpark, the effect will be more subdued since the elements will be filled with patrons and the focus will be on the on-field action. Let's take a look at these elements one-by-one:
  • LF Corner Bullpen (yellow) - This is probably the home bullpen based on its size. It starts well down the left field line, continues past the foul pole, and ends at what is probably a combination retail/restaurant building, with standing room areas for fans to watch pitchers warm up. The idea originated in the design for Safeco Field in Seattle.
  • LF Corner Building - While it certainly borrows heavily from Petco Park's integration of the Western Metal Supply building, it doesn't serve quite the same purpose. Besides the restaurant, there may be extended club facilities and the A's administration offices, both of which would have enviable views of the field. Atop the building would be a large party deck and extra seating, which could be used or not used depending on expected attendance or high demand.
  • Bleacher Triangle (Left-Center) - This is definitely my favorite element of the design, and not just because I am a bleacher bum (Section 137). It definitely establishes a distinct neighborhood for the bleacher creatures in left. The triangle or "A" shape is playful. It's also divided into upper and lower sections. This may allow for the creation of a lower reserved section and an upper general admission section. The height of the first row may be only one-half the height of the same row in the Coliseum's bleachers.
  • The Tower (Left-Center) - The most unique element is the introduction of either condos or a hotel (less novel, see Toronto) overlooking the field. Six levels of units, three abreast, comprise the tower, which rises over the triangle like a sentry. The piece de resistance is the roof deck, complete with seats overlooking the field and a pool with deck chairs. Condos would provide more upfront money to finance the ballpark, but they might yield less in tax revenue than a hotel.
  • CF Building - Probably the most controversial part of the design, this building is adorned with several balconies and decks that hang over the field. Will they be in play? The idea isn't original, as it was built into Houston's Minute Maid Park in the form of "Crawford Boxes." In this incarnation, these look like party suites with decent sized seating decks attached. Above the two levels of party suites are more hotel rooms/condos. And yes, on the roof is another yet party deck, this time with a huge LED video board smack dab in the middle of it. It may sound like overkill on the party facilities, but it's actually smart. The facility will be flexible enough to hold gatherings of many different sizes. The decks could be split as needed, and there's potential for overflow seating as well. Lessons Wolff learned cutting his teeth in the hospitality industry can easily apply in this field as well. The southern end of the building (right-center) appears to hold a fountain, and a contemporary one at that.
  • RF Grandstand - The outfield wall will be low, probably 3-4 feet at most. If this sounds familiar, it's because a similar approach has been used in sections of Dodger Stadium, Angels Stadium, and Fenway Park. Another element similar to Fenway will be the design of the right field corner, which angles out sharply past the pole before curving towards center. Another bullpen (yellow) will be in the corner, with opposing pitchers constantly surrounded by fans. In light of the Craig and Jennifer Bueno/Frank Francisco incident, this might not be the smartest thing to do, but if the intent is to intimidate the visiting team, this will go a long way towards that. The foul pole is a dead-on copy of Fenway's Pesky's Pole. Gary Sheffield will be retired by the time it's built, so he won't have anything to worry about. There's a third seating deck just below the lights, too.
  • The Outfield - There's some question about the height of the batter's eye, but it's probably right, and if it isn't it could be modified pretty easily. Other than the right field corner, there are no odd angles, and none of it appears to be visual affectation, which is refreshing. The biggest concern is the dimensions of the field, which were not disclosed. Hopefully the VDC learned something from their visits to some of the newer National League parks: Don't build a bandbox. Cincinnati and Philadelphia are going to have problems acquiring top-level pitching because of the pitifully shallow dimensions designed into their new ballparks. If anything, the outfield should be deeper than neutral to offset the diminished foul territory (compared to the Coliseum). Atlanta has kept itself competitive in large part due to Turner Field's enormous outfield.
Overall, I'm mostly pleased with the design. It's borderline overbuilt due to amount of adornment in the outfield, but none of it is gimmicky and most of it serves an actual purpose. It should make for a nice backdrop, though it's unfortunate that the outfield elements will block the view of the Oakland hills over which many Coliseum fans still reminisce. The façade is open and minimalist, though it could do without the now cliché brick. The design is certain to change as different stakeholders provide input. As more details come out, I'll continue to provide reviews.

One more bit to chew on for the conspiracy theorists: There is nothing about this ballpark that is site-specific.

Media reports

The reports are starting to file in. Here is the first batch:

Also, a larger picture:

Now that it's bigger, it can clear up some confusion on my part.
The red-purple oval on the left is a large plaza with a fountain in the middle of it. Coliseum Way runs through the plaza and becomes a frontage road along 880.
  • In the upper-right is what looks like a BART platform and supporting structures (stairs, escalators).
  • It could either be a street or a pedestrian mall on the north end, leading from the BART platform west. A piazza of sorts is between the street/pedestrian mall and the red oval.
  • The green building just outside the third base grandstand looks like a public building - perhaps a museum or community center.

Morning update

NBC-11's website front page has a slightly larger than thumbnail sketch of a ballpark plan:

Video is now available on the site.

There's also a new press release from the team:
"On behalf of the Oakland Athletics ownership group, I have proposed a concept and a site to the Joint Powers Authority (JPA) and the City of Oakland that we believe has tremendous potential for the development of a baseball-only facility for the A's in Oakland. It is our hope to create more than just a ballpark, but one of the next major urban centers in the Bay Area that will greatly add to the economic base and the community image of the city we have called home for the last 38 years.

"A visionary leadership from all parties associated with this project who believe the A's are a community asset is required to help us reach our objective in creating one of the most exciting venues in all of sports, one that will have a positive and lasting impact on the City of Oakland for years to come.

"Our ownership group is willing to incur the vast majority of costs associated with this project; however, to create the major urban development we envision is virtually impossible without some sort of public and governmental support. If public and private forces can be channeled to see this project to fruition, it is our belief the economic benefits to the City of Oakland will far outweigh the public assistance sought.

"We look forward to closely working with the JPA and the City of Oakland in a diligent and expedient manner to further examine the feasibility of this proposal."
Some observations:
  • The site appears to be much more expansive than just the Drive-In/Swap Meet.
  • The ballpark itself is situated just north of 66th Ave, on the southeast section of the site.
  • The field is oriented northeast, similar to the current Coliseum, with the outfield running near the Union Pacific/Amtrak railroad tracks.
  • Parking is on the other side of the tracks, with a series of bridges (pedestrian only?) providing access over the tracks.
  • High-rise structures (probably the condos) are located in left and left-center.
  • Small retail buildings line 66th Ave.
  • Either a shopping center or big-box retailers have been placed to the west, along Coliseum Way.
  • The street grid is completely changed north of 66th Ave.
  • What looks to be a new street runs east-west through the complex. It may be an extension of the existing Seminary Ave., which currently ends at San Leandro St. That would make sense, because it would provide a direct route from I-580.

11 August 2005

CoCo Times: A preview of the Friday meeting

More details are leaking out about the nature of the presentation that Wolff will give to the JPA tomorrow.
The project would reportedly involve up to 90 acres of industrial land between 66th Avenue and High Street, and will be pitched as one requiring no up-front investment of public funds from a community still reeling from sour deals with professional sports teams, including the disastrous 1995 pact that returned the Raiders to Oakland.
These officials say they have not been told about project costs or other specifics related to Wolff's plan, including the exact site eyed for a ballpark. One official said it is assumed the project would include the former drive-in property, because it consists of about 20 acres of open land and is only blocks down Coliseum Way from the existing stadium.
It'll be interesting to see how expansive the plan really is. If it ends up being 90 acres, then it would come all the way down from the Drive-In/Swap Meet to 66th Ave. The bigger the size of the project, the greater the possibilities. There's certainly an opportunity for the creation of an "Athletics Village" or "A's Town" (someone else has already copyrighted the term "Athletics Nation") with the ballpark as the anchor for a large swath of development. Could it cause an influx of A's fans moving into the area, with residents eating, sleeping, and living baseball all year long? Statues of Billy Beane, Sandy Alderson, Wally Haas, Dave Stewart, and Rickey Henderson lining the streets? A Ricky's location just outside the ballpark? Bruce Bochte running a marine educational center/museum down the street? MC Hammer preaching at a church inside the village? Well, maybe not. It certainly would be a bold step, and if successful, would go a long way towards countering that California and Bay Area fans are fairweather or bandwagonesque.

It's good for A's fans to dream and hope about such things, but those hopes should be tempered with the fact that big urban renewal projects often have to get scaled back for any number of reasons: investor willingness, feasibility, government cooperation.

Trib: Details, please

In an editorial, the Trib implores Wolff to publicize the ballpark plans and stop teasing everyone with little details:
If Wolff has something specific in mind, this would be a good time to throw out the old trial balloon. The A's are the hottest team in baseball right now and could be in first place by this weekend after dwelling near the cellar a good part of the early season. Fans are streaming to the stadium, bringing with them converts from the other side of the Bay who could be hooked for good by a combination of consistent winning ball and the promise of a cozy ballpark.
While putting out information while the team is winning is no guarantee of widespread approval, it can't hurt. It's hard to conceive of a situation that's better suited, especially with the Giants' current plight.

Ratto: The A's can do better

The Chron's Ray Ratto weighs in with his opinion of the latest ballpark site:
Anyway, when you get right down to it, the A's aren't being held down by their ballpark much at all. Fact is (and who doesn't enjoy a good fact now and then?), they're probably better off staying where they are than sinking nine figures into a site that makes sense only to the editors of Redeveloped Flea Market Quarterly.
Thus, the idea behind putting the ballpark further away from a BART stop, between two freeway off-ramps, and with a lovely view of San Leandro Boulevard seems odd, and bordering on the downright misguided.
Once Friday's presentation is made and the subsequent press conference is held, it should get the public debate going. Some questions to consider:
  • Are the existing owners of the targeted properties willing to play ball (read: sell and relocate)?
  • If not, what measures will the JPA/City of Oakland explore to make this get done (read: eminent domain)?
  • What options are available to bridge the 1.2 mile gap between the Drive-In/Swap Meet and the Coliseum BART station? Shuttles? Trolleys? Another BART station?
  • Why would the JPA be involved if the site under consideration is not under JPA control?
  • There are large trucking/warehousing companies along Coliseum Way. How would they react to a mixed-use development next door, especially one that could significantly alter the existing street grid?
  • How are the existing train tracks going to be negotiated? Pedestrian or vehicle bridges? Gates at crossings?
  • Is this the best site? The easiest to acquire? The best compromise among all factors? Are other sites under consideration?

10 August 2005

Matier and Ross: The Old Swap Meet

The latest tidbit from Matier and Ross concerns the old Coliseum Drive-in/Swap Meet lot just north of the Coliseum:
A birdie tells us that Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff does have his eyes on a location he'd like to explore for a new ballpark -- and no, it's not the waterfront -- it's the privately owned site of the Coliseum Flea Market at 66th and High streets.

Wolff is expected to go public with his ballpark plan during an appearance before the Oakland-Alameda Joint Powers Authority on Friday.
Coincidentally, I drove right by the Swap Meet yesterday to check out the site. The old screens and projection building are still there, though the Drive-In itself is no longer operational. The Swap Meet is open daily. I've linked a satellite photo if you're interested.

Some observations:
  • It's 1 mile from the Coliseum BART station, and everything between it and BART is industrial. That's a pretty long distance. Would Wolff ask for another BART station to be built there? There's a $50 million price tag associated with a new station (Figure obtained from estimates for the Irvington station, part of the Warm Springs Extension). The best option may be to extend the Airport BART People Mover an extra two miles to the ballpark site.
  • It's flanked by a huge warehouse that I don't think is getting used right now, an 5-acre overflow parking lot, and a PG&E plant/substation. An EBMUD maintenance yard and storage facility are across the freeway.
  • The Swap Meet lot is owned by Syufy (Century Theatres to the rest of us).
  • Coliseum Way would need regrading because of the now non-functional railroad tracks that repeatedly criss-cross it (and rip a car's suspension to pieces, btw).
  • The area is zoned M-40/Heavy Industrial and would need to change to accommodate housing, retail, etc.
  • A slough runs through the area, between the Drive-In and 880.
To make it worthwhile, Wolff would have to acquire everything between the BART tracks (San Leandro St) and 880, from the southern slough north to 50th Ave. That's about 35-40 acres, not including the PG&E lot. The combined property would be enough to build the ballpark, parking, and the mixed residential/retail development required for the area.

Is this a good idea? The distance from BART is a concern, and I don't see Oakland and Alameda County diverting some of the downtown/JLS transportation project money just to build a BART station only a mile away from an existing station. A shuttle could help, but not having BART immediately nearby is a significant issue. If you took BART to and from last night's game as I did, you know what I'm talking about.

Beyond that BART issue, it seems to fit Wolff's requirements. It's highly visible from the Nimitz (880), so he should be able to attract big-name retailers. The area would be a blank slate, so it could be developed however the developers saw fit, though for at least few years, it would be on an island compared to its surroundings. There are only a handful of property owners in the area, so Wolff could deal with them directly.

I've already started to see the comparisons to China Basin. It's unrealistic to expect development in East Oakland to flourish the way China Basin did. China Basin was a case of extremely good timing. SF politicos had been working on development plans for China Basin for decades, including two separate ballpark proposals (4th & Townsend was the first). Pac Bell Park broke ground just after the dot-com boom hit, and since the area was one of the last parts of the city not touched by new development, it became hot overnight, especially with the influx of young professionals. Soon lofts started showing up on Potero Hill, UCSF announced their new China Basin campus, and the South Beach neighborhood fully took shape. The confluence of high-stakes speculation and enormous economic growth is not looming in the same manner for East Oakland. If Wolff and his partners choose to invest in East Oakland, more power to them.

07 August 2005

PSL's: A Cautionary Tale

Not to beat a dead horse regarding seat licenses, but a new article from the Trib shows that there continues to be much that can be learned from the Raiders' PSL woes. The Giants' charter seat program, while successful, does not lack nuggets of wisdom either. The main lesson is, "Provide value above and beyond a seat." There is a wide ranging array of perks available for potential seat license investors at a new ballpark. Some ideas that may or may not prove effective as incentives:
  1. Expanded preferred ticket-buying opportunities, especially for high-demand games (Giants/Red Sox/Yankees).
  2. Greater access to players/staff/management through open houses, fan forums, or planned social events.
  3. Access/admission to club facilities several hours before/after games. May also include post-7th inning alcohol sales.
  4. Discounts on renting ballpark facilities (clubs, meeting rooms, tours).
  5. Food, beverage, and parking vouchers for low-demand games (er, Tampa Bay/Kansas City).
  6. Liberal renewal terms (dropping out for one year in season ticket purchases does not result in significant drop in preferred seating location - may be subject to demand).
  7. Extra swag available on promotional giveaway days.
Putting a winning team obviously has an effect on season ticket/seat license sales as well, but as seen in the Raiders' 2001-02 season, winning offers few attendance guarantees. Wolff has said the area is not keen on seat licenses, but I'm still skeptical on the idea that they won't be offered.

05 August 2005

Wolff, JPA to meet next week

The Trib reports that a meeting between members of the Coliseum JPA and Wolff/A's VDC is scheduled for sometime next week. The VDC will likely present its "wishlist" containing site details and requirements.

In the article is a quote from Ignacio De La Fuente, who "showed frustration that talks have not progressed since Wolff announced last year the team was going to take control of the planning and site location for a new ballpark."
"We talk a lot, and nothing happens," he said. "I want to make sure that we are not just talking. ... It is going to be up to them to at least show, or give us some indication, what area they are looking at."
DLF also had this to say about the public share:
"I'm prepared to work with the A's and explore possibilities for sites, but I can't make a blanket statement that we are going to put land together for them," he said. "I want to be absolutely clear. It has to be their money. (Putting land together) does not mean it is their money."
Sounds like we have a potential problem looming regarding financing. Surely even DLF realizes that SBC Park, which is considered the best (and the only recently built) example of a privately built major league ballpark, had some public involvement? There were much more insidious ways of doing this, such as the machinations that created Dodger Stadium. Considering Wolff's previous comments that while the ballpark will be a mostly private transaction, he doesn't think an SBC-type deal is likely, one wonders what the gap between the two positions will be when the presentations are made.

04 August 2005

Gems from the AN Interview Part II

"Blez: At least you're getting a lot of walk-ups lately.

Wolff: That's the worst thing that could happen to us.

Blez: Really? Why?

Wolff: Well, let's think it through a little bit. We have the highest walk-ups in Major League Baseball. That is a big black mark against us with the league. Say you're trying to get the vendors ready for the game and you don't know if you're going to have 10,000 people or 20,000. The Giants have the luxury of knowing almost every game where they'll be. This is a serious problem. It's not a plus. Obviously we have a lot of seats because of the Raiders expansion and such. So when people say, "Gee whiz, can you spend more money?", we don't want to gouge anybody but we'd like to be closer to what the Giants are able to do just by way of a neighbor."
  • One of the things that tends to be forgotten in the appreciation of baseball is that there is a business model behind it. Or rather, several. Moneyball is a unique business model for developing and acquiring players. SBC Park and McAfee Coliseum have very different business models for their stadium operations. A team with its own cable network (Yankees, Red Sox) would have a separate business model for selling advertising. It may not be the most interesting thing to discuss, but it's the reality of the modern era.
  • This is not the first time Wolff has expressed his disdain for walk-up attendance. Expect the season ticket advertising push at the beginning of this season to be cranked into high gear in September and throughout the offseason.
"Blez: So, when you talk about 32-35 thousand capacity...

Wolff: That will create some scarcity. Not a lot. We still have some great ideas. We want to cater to families still and we aren't looking for the last dollar. But we'd like to be able to manage the dollars that we have. And we don't know sometimes whether to have 100 people working or 200. You need to probably talk to the people that do that to get more detail. But it's just not good. And by the way, even if the Raiders weren't there, it still wouldn't be good. Without the Raiders, we'd still be looking for a modern venue."
  • The challenge for Wolff will be to sell the added value in a new ballpark. Some of it is inherent: new amenities, better location. Other added value may not be so obvious, such as special perks for season ticket or suite holders. In the end, the best added value comes from a winning team. It is the ultimate end product, after all.
  • Mt. Davis has been almost universally hated by A's faithful, but it's provided some interesting benefits for them. The lease agreement is extremely favorable for the A's, as their yearly payment is slightly less than the cost of salaries for rookies Huston Street and Nick Swisher. They also have one-year options on the lease starting in 2008 and have a cheap buyout clause. Without Mt. Davis, the A's would arguably have less of a case to get a new ballpark. Opponents, including those who would have an emotional attachment to the Coliseum, might be more in favor of renovations to the Coliseum, perhaps similar to those undertaken in Anaheim. The Coliseum now is clearly not a good revenue-generating ballpark model because of the huge capacity and little scarcity.
  • Pricing is another matter altogether. Since a competitor resides in the same market, the A's couldn't make huge across-the-board price hikes without dealing with the ramifications of the demand curve. Wolff has said that the area isn't too keen on seat licences, but seat licenses are a very common part of stadium financing these days. Are seat licenses out of the question, or will they be offered in a limited form? If they are offered, how will they be pitched? What flexibility will be in the partial season ticket plans? What about ticket promotions such as newspaper family packs?
"Blez: Are you strictly focused on Oakland right now? I live in Sacramento, so I selfishly hope you'll come here, but have you explored any place like Sacramento or Las Vegas?

Wolff: We have time to look at Portland and Las Vegas and places that people keep hearing about. Our focus is in our territory, which is really a district. Our district includes, Alameda County, Contra Costa County and I think Monterey too (laughs), we're not moving down there. We don't have Santa Clara because that was somehow shifted over to the Giants. I am focused totally on our district. In order of priority, I would like to be in the city of Oakland, if we could. If not, something to do with the city and county through the JPA, and otherwise, the county."
  • This should get the Portland and Vegas folks talking, but they're just going to have to wait like vultures circling carrion (this goes for San Jose and Sacramento too) for talks in Oakland to collapse. However, Fremont or Dublin may be in play sooner than later. Wolff held firm on intent to not challenge territorial rights in Santa Clara County, which makes it all the more difficult for Baseball San Jose to sell their concept.
"Blez: Anything beyond that?

Wolff: I don't know where to go beyond that (laughing). That's all we have the right to do. Now, Sacramento could probably be an area. But I haven't discussed it in any detail with anybody. Right now, I'm not sure whether that's a good market or not.

Blez: Raley Field was actually built so you could build a second and I think third deck on it to make it into a major league ballpark.

Wolff: We want a ballpark without a third deck. I understand the park is great and a friend of mine owns the team. I haven't actually seen it yet but I'm going down with Billy soon to see it. When you're going to make this type of investment whether it's in Oakland or somewhere else in the area, and I'm talking $300-400 million, you should get the biggest bang out of it. San Diego's done a great job. They've benefitted a lot. But Oakland is a tough city. It's built up."
  • At first, I was surprised with Blez seemingly pimping Sactown. I don't really have an issue with it. Wolff, Fisher and other investors will choose a site and plan based on feasibility, cost, and potential. He's probably heard plenty about Sacramento already, so Blez isn't giving him anything new to think over.
  • As for bang-for-the-buck, there's potentially another issue regarding Sacramento. If a ballpark village were planned for the area around Raley Field, that would mean displacement of many business situated in the warehouse district there. That may not seem like much, but those businesses have a rail line, the river, and a major interstate only steps away from where they hang their shingles.
  • Built-up? This wasn't necessarily an issue only three years ago, when the relative futures of Howard Terminal, Uptown, and Oak-to-9th were in question and all three were open to different development plans. Howard Terminal is now sewn up for the next 30 years. Uptown is belatedly getting all of the pieces in place for the Forest City project, and Signature may have a plan in place for developing the Estuary. This brings up the question of timing. Wolff was brought on solely to work on venue development in 2003, then got an option to buy the team. Then he exercised the option in December, shortly after all three deals were well past initial planning stages. That leaves Oakland with fewer and fewer ideal sites. I'm probably reading too much into this, but it is curious.
I'll end on this note: Not only was it a brilliant interview "get" for Tyler Bleszinski, it was an excellent P.R. move by Wolff. He addressed much of the hardcore fanbase directly, giving them a few details to whet their appetites. Many are now clamoring for site plans, models, renderings, anything to push it forward. It's clear from most of the comments that there is a positive feeling about Wolff, one of guarded optimism. It's a crucial step in convincing the community at large that a ballpark is a good thing for the public.

Gems from the AN Interview Part I

In today's post, I'm going to cherry pick some of Wolff's stadium-related quotes and analyze them. There's much to glean from the interview, so if you haven't read the entire transcript yet, check it out.

Wolff: "We have something like 7,000 season ticket holders and the Giants have 25,000. We have comparable records, comparable division wins and wild cards, but since the new venue was built over in San Francisco-- I'm not a scientist, but I think that does have some factor."
  • Both of the statements are a big deal. The last statement - that was the first I had seen anyone in the A's ownership discuss SBC Park's effect on the A's attendance. That's important, because it acknowledges that the Bay Area is one large market, not a split into SF/Peninsula, East Bay, South Bay, etc., with hard drawn lines.
  • I had been wondering why the A's didn't release the season ticket numbers, and Lew does just that at what is arguably the best venue: AN. 7,000 is a paltry number for a big league franchise. There are good marketing opportunities in the future should they choose to take advantage. One promotion that seems obvious is using the purchase of full season tickets at the Coliseum, and even multiple years' worth, as a way to get better positioning for season tickets at the new ballpark. By establishing a pecking order - established season-ticket holders first, then the aforementioned "transition" ticket-holders, then those who elect to buy full or partial plans when the ballpark opens - demand should be driven up among the fence-sitters, including yours truly. It could yield a good deal of upfront funding without the term "PSL" hanging over it.
Wolff: "Then the size of the market. I think with a great venue and great venue support--and I'm not talking about the city writing me a check for the venue-- I think we could do a lot better. We're the smallest two market team in baseball. And even the White Sox, and my good friend owns the team, suffers attendance in Chicago. You would think Chicago would have more than enough people to be selling out and they're 14 games ahead right now!
  • The experience of the South-Siders should serve as a cautionary tale: Don't site a ballpark just anywhere without further planning in mind. If you don't develop a social community around it (entertainment district or ballpark village concept), the chance that you'll struggle with attendance is higher. It's easy to have such hindsight considering the fact that The Cell was built in 1991, before the Camden Yards boom. Still, the parallels between A's and White Sox' market positions are striking, and are worth noting if only to prevent a repeat of the White Sox' situation.
Wolff: "We have some challenges and I don't think Steve and Ken Hofmann spent a lot of time on that. They were busy trying to make the team work. We need a new venue and we'd like it to be in the city of Oakland. If not, then in Alameda County. One of the things you're going to see in the next few weeks is that as soon as I say I need government help, everybody thinks I'm talking about a bond issue and a check. What I'm really talking about is someone who will say, my God if we can do a new venue here, what can we do to make it work financially for the developer and the owner? How do we clean up the environment and where is the site? So those are the things we're looking for."
  • Wolff is being nice to the previous ownership group. It was Steve Schott, after all, who spent as much, if not more time looking for a site in Santa Clara County as he did in Alameda County. On his way out, Schott admitted that he could have done things differently. His methods, including negotiation through the press, had alienated much of the existing fanbase.
  • Wolff has started to become pretty forceful about defining what he means by "public assistance." It's extremely important to get citizens to think about the project positively, so he's not just avoiding, he's downright denouncing, the idea of the blank check. This is in keeping with his previous statement about having most of the financing come privately, but it doesn't mean there won't be some public share, though that might be more hidden than upfront. Rezoning, partnering on cleanup, easing relocation of existing owners and tenants - these are all hallmarks of large redevelopment projects, and Wolff has done many of those. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Maritz & Wolff or associated companies get options to develop area around the ballpark once it's rezoned. That would pave the way for new residential or hotel development, or even office towers, though Oakland isn't hurting for office space right now. Developers would then get a good deal on land along with promises of less red tape or regulatory issues (ex.: percentages of affordable housing in new projects). It's being done in San Diego, Brooklyn, and to a lesser extent, in Oakland as well (Uptown and Oak-to-9th have both benefited from city help to resolve potentially sticky legal situations).
"Blez: So what you're saying is that you aren't necessarily looking for funds to build the stadium?

Wolff: The answer is this. Cities have things that are better than funds. I'll give you an example. They have the power to clear property. When you look around Oakland, it's a pretty built-up community. And when you look around the 880 corridor, it is not the world's leading aesthetic (laughing). But all kidding aside, it has BART, it has transportation. What we're hoping for down the road is that there will be some leadership on the public side, and when I say that people immediately say, oh, you want them to pay for it and hand it to you, but that's not true. We're going to get a lot of spins soon saying that if I want some city help on zoning or entitlements, meaning zoning, right away people will be writing letters saying that he wants us to do the same thing that we did for others and the schools suffer and so forth which is true. But we need to have as much creativity on the public side as we do on the private side."
  • This is probably as close as A's ownership will get to actually endorsing a mayoral candidate. Wolff's being intentionally coy, but it's not hard to interpret this as a plug for Ignacio De La Fuente, who so far has been the only Oakland official to have regular contact with Wolff. Wolff has been in touch with members of the Coliseum JPA as well, but it's the City (and maybe the Port) of Oakland that are getting first crack, then the JPA, then Alameda County.
  • The comment about zoning and entitlements is surprising in its candor. Wolff deserves credit for acknowledging the controversy surrounding entitlements. Though he doesn't mention it by name, it's quite likely tax increment financing would be used to provide some measure of funding for cleanup, improvements, and land acquisition. It is controversial because it is a redirection of a portion of projected higher property tax revenues to the project, instead of the city's general fund (which means potentially less money for services). TIF tends to be used in blighted or underdeveloped areas that need a jumpstart to promote economic growth. In North Oakland, there is a debate about the merits of having a TIF district in a place that clearly isn't blighted. Depending on where in Oakland a ballpark is located, it could be a sticky situation, since some of the redirected money could instead go towards city services. There is also the threat of eminent domain being used to acquire land, as was done with Uptown.
"Blez: I wanted to ask how your relationship is with Oakland's public officials right now?

Wolff: So far, it's been terrific, including the county too. Right now we're operating under the JPA (Joint Powers Authority). The reason for that is that they're our landlord and it does include both county and city officials. I think everyone is for doing something. We recognize that the area, especially the city of Oakland, has huge and much more important priorities from school systems to safety. But we're still going to need some acreage to build this ballpark and it was in a blighted area. Do we have the resolve to clear out the blight? Even if we pay for it. The problem is that there are too many of these little blip statements and I need somebody to interact with. And we'll find that person or group. There's been a lot of willingness to help and I think it's up to us to say what we would like if we had a magic wand. We'll be doing that very soon.

Blez: Where do you think the process stands right now?

Wolff: Unless there's a change, I'll be giving an update report soon to the JPA which will be a little more specific than it was a few months ago. That's all I really want to get into at this time."

  • The report to the JPA should be interesting, partly because of the nature of the venue development committee's discussions: they are working with the City of Oakland and the Coliseum JPA in parallel. The timetables will probably be different just because the JPA only has the Coliseum under its control, while Oakland has numerous potential sites to offer. The report should clearly indicate what the VDC's assessment regarding Coliseum feasibility really is.
"Blez: (Laughing) At first, the talk of location for the new stadium was the parking lot of the Coliseum, then it was a waterfront location and the latest that I've read is the Coliseum south area.

Wolff: There's a number of possibilities. All require some significant action on the part of the owner and the public body involved. For example, there are some easements and some power lines involved in the Coliseum land itself, which are things we could probably get by, but at the same time the dislocation of parking while we were building a ballpark would not be very fair to the Warriors, assuming they would agree to it. That isn't the point, but we'd have to be very careful on how to do that. So there's a bunch of balancing acts. We'll need to have private development to build just a ballpark and not take advantage of what it could do aesthetically around it. It seems like a lost opportunity to me."
  • The last two sentences together are the biggest indicator of what the A's are intending to do, i.e. a ballpark village concept.
  • Funny that the Warriors' parking issues are being considered, but the Raiders aren't mentioned, even though it's the Raiders' parking requirements that are greater.
I'll cover the walk-up situation and Blez's "Sacramento plug" in the next post.

Wolff Interview on Athletics Nation

Lew Wolff sat down with Tyler Bleszinski of the Athletics Nation blog to discuss Wolff's first few months as an owner, and to talk stadiums. Wolff gave more details, but I'm not going to recap them here. It's best that you see for yourself.

01 August 2005

What about Sacramento?

The Sacramento Bee's Marcus Bretón wrote a column last week encouraging the A's to move to Sacramento, where they would receive more fan support and greater attendance than they are currently getting at the Coliseum. He cites the four-county Sacramento Valley area's projected growth numbers, while also getting a few digs in regarding the A's poor radio position. Despite all of the bluster regarding Sacramento's potential, in comparing Oakland and Sacramento he only gets one point truly right: Sac would offer a better radio position.

What's wrong with the rest of what he says? I'll deconstruct the different points one-by-one.

When decrying the Double Play Wednesday ticket discounts, Breton writes that if it were a regular-priced game, "You would have seen about 25,000 fans, give or take, which is about the A's average this season, down from last year and one of the lowest attendance figures in Major League Baseball."

  • The A's are in the lower third in terms of attendance in the league, but the blame has to be placed partly on the stadium. A quick check of the attendance numbers shows that the standard deviation among the A's per game attendance figures so far is 10,563. That means it's just as likely for the A's to draw 15,000 (non-giveaway weeknights) as they did 35,000 (bobblehead Sundays) or 25,000 (the average). This is not going away as long as the A's stay in the Coliseum, an unsexy venue with a much larger than desired capacity. Presumably, a new ballpark built according to Wolff's small ballpark specifications should tighten that standard deviation up, drive up demand, and in turn, drive up ticket sales. Wolff doesn't need to move the team to Sacramento to prove this. It's all basic microeconomics.

"A month ago, the University of the Pacific's Business Forecasting Center told The Bee's Andrew McIntosh the Sacramento region's economy will more than double in the next quarter century. The four-county area - Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado - will grow to 3.5 million residents."

  • Sacramento's growth potential is bright, but even then, the area will be still be only half as large as the Bay Area, if not less. It's a matter of going from a major market to a medium-sized market. Some would argue that Oakland actually is a medium-sized market. I'd rather call it not actualized, since other than the radio issue and the territorial rights issue in the South Bay, there are no limits on how the A's can market throughout the Bay Area, or even all of Northern California. By moving the A's to Sacramento, Wolff would ensure that the vast majority of casual baseball fans in the Bay Area would go to San Francisco, not 90 minutes to the northeast.

"Compare the number of A's games on Fox Sports Net to those of the Giants. It's not even close."

  • The basic difference between the Giants and A's FSN schedules is the lack of broadcasts on A's weekday day games. Is that such a big deal? The A's have alternatives should this become a sore spot. They could make those "getaway day" games night games, which would get picked up by FSN. They could also move to Comcast Sports Network once the current contract with FSN expires. Comcast, in its thirst to get more substantial local programming, may be willing to broadcast more games in its bid. A competitive situation should yield this.

"Sacramento could provide the land for a stadium that the A's will never find in Oakland or in Contra Costa County."

  • Really? In Sacramento? Let's put it this way: There's a reason why Raley Field was built in West Sacramento, not Sacramento. That reason is politics. Raley Field ended up being a near perfect site because it's just across the Sacramento River from downtown, yet it was in Yolo County, which became the prime location after much squabbling among different neighborhood and business interests in Sacramento. It stands to reason that Raley Field will remain the prime location for a major league team as well, especially if a significant public investment for a ballpark is required. With locals sour on a downtown Kings arena, it would be hard to see support really drummed up for a new ballpark there if another major league franchise (the Kings) wanted a new facility and the ballpark built in 2002 was designed for expansion to attract a MLB franchise. Add to that the fact that there are sites in the East Bay for a ballpark (some less ideal than others, but sites do exist) and the argument doesn't hold water.

Beyond that, there's the issue of Raley Field itself. Stadium construction has become a highly evolving marketplace, with new innovations forcing early renovations and in many cases, a yearly fund has to be set up just to support renovations. Milwaukee's Miller Park, opened in 2001, is set to undergo several millions of dollars worth of scoreboard and signage changes over the next three years. To get Raley Field up to Wolff's desired level of creature comforts, it's not going to work to just build a second deck on top of the ballpark's luxury suites and call it a day. Let's look at the wishlist:

  • Minisuites. These would have to be built on top of the existing luxury suites, and might require a separate concourse.
  • Club seats. Only 450 club seats exist in a section along the first base line, on the same level as the suites. To get more premium seating in the ballpark, designers would have to create more club seats on top of the suites, perhaps behind the minisuites. Extra ultra-premium club seats (think of the Coliseum's "Diamond Level" seats) also could be placed on field level behind the plate, but that would require extensive construction, as was done recently at US Cellular Field. The sweet spot for new stadiums is around 3-5,000 club seats.
  • Large luxury suites. This actually works to Raley Field's advantage, since the place already has 35 suites and could be expanded to Wolff's desired 40 by converting the existing club.
  • Adding 20,000+ seats. The existing seating bowl has 11,000 seats plus 3,000 in the outfield berms. Extending seating down the right field line to the foul pole would add less than 1,000 seats. A second deck, without the separate club seating area and minisuites, could add in the neighborhood of 15-17,000 seats. With the club, which would be at the front of the deck, second deck seating would be limited to 12-15,000. Designers could add a large number of bleacher seats in the outfield to get up to 32,000 seats, but the bleachers aren't exactly a premium location (except in Fenway or Wrigley), and if you do it wrong, Raley will turn into the next Arlington Stadium. That will do nothing but give a team an excuse to ask for yet another new facility, since they'll consider Raley only temporary.
  • Team facilities. If you've been to Raley Field, you'll notice that the team clubhouses are located in left field. That's not the most ideal place for clubhouse facilities, and construction of new ones in the bowels of a renovated Raley Field would have to be lumped into the budget.
  • Financing. Raley Field is an example of how a public-private partnership could be made to build a ballpark in California. In fact, it is considered the model upon which SB 4 was written. That said, it was a $29 million project, less than 1/10th the cost of new major league ballparks, so it was much easier to reach the goals required to pay back debt service. For instance, the minimum attendance per game to pay off the bonds was only 3,400, and the Rivercats average a near-sellout for every game. Build a major league facility, and suddenly the requirements go way up. So if Raley Field is upgraded to a major league facility, an extra $100-150 million in debt service will be required, but it may result in a ballpark that just isn't big enough to handle future requirements. If Raley is upgraded to become a temporary facility while a new one is built, then what becomes of it when the A's move into the new ballpark? Someone will end up picking up the tab for two ballparks.

Sacramento may become a solid major league baseball-ready city at some point in the near future. But to think that building a facility there won't involve obstacles similar to those being faced in Oakland, San Jose, or anywhere else in the Bay Area, is shortsighted.