20 June 2005

Report from Measure DD Coalition Meeting

Just came back from the meeting at Lake Merritt's Lakeside Center. There were more than 20 people in attendance, all representing different interests and community groups. The Coalition was created to give the community a voice in how $198 million in Measure DD funds should be spent. A major focus for the past year has been the Oak-to-9th development, which is currently awaiting a completed environmental impact report (EIR). One of the agenda items was the approval of a set of recommendations regarding the creation of open space at the site, to be given to Oakland's Planning Commision, City Council, and others who could help shape the final development plan. The recommendation received all "yes" votes with three abstentions (one of which was me).

I was then given some time to open up the Oak-to-9th discussion to the subject of a ballpark, which is not in the current plans or EIR. Absent any kind of real proposal, I asked the only question that could be objectively answered by the Coalition members:

  • Is it feasible to place housing (Signature Properties), open space (as recommended by the Coalition), and a ballpark on the site?

While some members refrained from rendering an opinion due to the lack of information available, many who did said a ballpark was definitely not feasible. The reasons listed were varied and numerous:

  • Not enough space. Either the housing or open space would have to be sacrificed for a ballpark, and neither party was ready to give anything up to accommodate a ballpark. The ballpark itself could eliminate up to 75% of the open space in Signature's plan, and their plan has less than the ideal amount of open space according to the Coalition.
  • Traffic. The Embarcadero is a simple two-lane road that will have trouble accommodating traffic from 3,100 new housing units (6,000+ residents) alone.Adding a ballpark could add ten times the number of cars to the area, which would create instant gridlock.
  • Transit. The distance from BART is a factor. Not having BART there might push fans to drive to the ballpark, which would increase gridlock even more.
  • Visual impact. After I was asked what a ballpark's footprint could be, I spouted off some numbers: 15 acres without parking, building at least 100 feet high without light standards. The response to that information was not positive, as the ballpark would significantly block the view from the freeway and parts inland, including Lake Merritt.
  • Parking. There is no existing infrastructure for large amounts of parking in the development plan. Even the potential for under-the-freeway parking only yields a few hundred spaces. No open space could be used to develop parking, either.

Other comments were made about resistance to public financing (Raiders deal), Wolff's true motives in his ballpark search (Vegas?), and the suitability of the Coliseum site (prematurely dismissed, and not for a good reason). There was also a sense that this idea was just being thrown out there without much planning, especially considering Wolff and Ghielmetti haven't yet had any formal discussion about sharing the site.

So there you have it. These are the kinds of issues that any ballpark effort faces. While it's easy to view things through green-colored glasses and believe that everyone likes baseball, the reality is that it is often not considered worth bending over backwards to accommodate a team or owner. And it's clear from the meeting tonight that one or more parties, who have both been working over a year to get this project going, would have to sacrifice something significant to get a ballpark built at the Estuary. That's not going to happen quickly or easily, if it happens at all.

I'll have some commentary on this tomorrow.

Also, thanks to the Coalition for giving me ample time to gather comments. Considering I arrived there without advance notice, they were more than accommodating.

Wolff likes "neighborhoods"

CoCo Times columnist Neil Hayes spent some time recently with Lew Wolff and his family at A's games, and from all appearances, Wolff is getting more and more attached to the team with each passing day. There was little new on the ballpark front, except for a small nugget towards the end of the article:

(Wolff) envisions a new ballpark divided into "neighborhoods."

What exactly are "neighborhoods" in a ballpark? Generally they are distinct seating areas within the stadium that give them a separate, though not necessarily segregated, feel from other areas of the park. This can be accomplished by breaking up the grandstand in the multiple structures with varying heights, as was done at Petco (San Diego), Comerica (Detroit), Citizens Bank (Philadelphia), and Great American (Cincinnati). At field level, it's a little easier to foster neighborhood environments with the tiered pricing structure. The Coliseum, for instance, has always had distinct neighborhoods in the MVP sections which hold season ticket holders, and the left and right field bleachers, which are a younger demographic and unique unto themselves. SBC also has neighborhoods in the bleachers in straightaway left (Bonds Squad), center (family bleachers), and the arcade (party atmosphere).

The Coliseum and SBC's development of neighborhoods was more an organic, evolutionary process than Petco, where it's intentional. The Western Metal Supply building in the left field corner not only holds party suites, but it serves as an anchor for a party atmosphere. The Beachers section in center is the family-friendly spot with the big sandbox, while the seats that jut out into right field act as a soapbox for hecklers. Even the mezzanine club level is broken up into three sections: first base, home plate, and third base.

Whether or not the creation of neighborhoods will ultimately be successful is dependent on how fans take to the concept. A major goal is to get fans circulating around the ballpark to explore each of the different neighborhoods, sample concessions, and foster the larger ballpark community. Another goal is to get fans to find a place they can call home within the ballpark, get season tickets, commune with others in their neighborhood, and over time become fixtures or institutions as they pass the experience on to their children, grandchildren, etc. The potential upside is that those season ticket rolls may rise as a result. The downside is that the ballpark itself will have a natural sense of discontuity which might make it hard to foster an overall crowd energy, especially if fans are more likely to mill around than sit and stay focused on a game. In the end, it's seat pricing that's going to be the determining factor. It's not uncommon for fans to be priced out of being full season ticket holders, which then leads to becoming partial season ticket holders, then occasional patrons, and finally to not being able to afford a game at all. It's a difficult balance to strike, and there are plenty of examples of teams going the price-hike route (Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Giants) while few others have managed to keep prices reasonable despite having a new or renovated park (Angels).

Mired in Minneapolis' Mixed Messages

If you want to get an idea for what the media-based discourse on a publicly-financed stadium would look like, just visit the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's website for its coverage on the Twins' ballpark legislation. The open-air stadium would be 75% funded by a 0.15% sales tax raise in Hennepin County.

Columnist Sid Hartman has beating the drum for the Twins' stadium efforts for years, and he doesn't waver with his new plea, which claims that the project will revitalize downtown. Yet there's an article in the business section noting that the Twins have actually dropped the economic development argument.

Who's right? Read both and decide.