31 October 2006

Meet the new flagship, KIFR

The A's announced that CBS station KIFR-106.9 (Free FM) will be the FM flagship starting next season. Many had been rooting for this move for a while, especially because around this time last year KIFR boosted its signal from a paltry 3 kW to 80 kW. Before you start running around claiming the A's are torching the blowtorch, keep in mind that AM signal properties are better for night coverage and KNBR's status as a clear channel station puts it in an enviable position regardless of signal strength.

Still, this is a huge improvement since KIFR's North Bay reach will be much better than what was coming out of the two Peninsula-based stations, KYCY-1550 and KNTS-1220. It remains to be seen how much CBS will stick with the youth-oriented format. Does this set the stage for a change to sports talk? Or youth-geared sports talk? Hopefully KIFR will be a better promotional vehicle than the A's have had on radio the last few years.

There's one nice little side benefit to having an FM station - Comcast digital cable carries it. Except, inexplicably, KIFR. At least that's the case in the South Bay.

30 October 2006

A suggestion: Build the museum ASAP

Last week I drove by Pacific Commons and went to Brandin Court, where a front company for Maritz-Wolff bought much of the cul-de-sac. I noticed that one of the buildings was vacant, so I decided to do a little research. The building's address is 5070 Brandin Ct. (assessor's map in PDF), and according to this listing it has over 53,000 square feet of space.

According to the listing the building is "Under New Ownership" and has "Exterior and Interior Renovations in Progress" even though I didn't see any cars out front. It has an
anonymously blah exterior, as would be expected of most Silicon Valley office parks. As a structure designed to hold both office and light industrial/manufacturing operations, much of the building does not have windows.

The Fremont office market is not hurting too badly at this point, so the owners should be able to find a tenant at some point if they haven't already. If/when the land deal for the rest of Pacific Commons is done, there's a particularly novel application just waiting if no tenant comes:

Use the building as a tentative site for a baseball museum.

Why not? Yes, ownership would undoubtedly lose money at first, but it's an extremely good way to build a rapport with existing and future fans. I went to the
Baseball as America exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California last year, and as impressed as I was with the collection, I also came away asking myself, "Why isn't there a local baseball museum?" Sure, the A's have been criminal for not adequately touting their history, but the Giants don't have a museum either even though they're constantly talking about their own history. In fact, not only is there no baseball museum in California, there's nothing west of the Rockies. The Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum had been trying to get a home in San Francisco since 2002 but little has come of their efforts (Citgo is working with the HoF on a Latin American traveling show). Are you as surprised as I am that no baseball museum exists nearby? The Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame is well-intentioned but its plaques and monuments are spread out all over the Bay Area.

In March it was reported that a
baseball museum would be part of the A's Pacific Commons development. That little heralded nugget may be the best part of the package because it would present the A's a unique opportunity to finally acknowledge the franchise's rich, 106-year history (38 years in Oakland) with something tactile and permanent. 5070 Brandin Court would of course be a temporary home until a proper museum could be built closer to the ballpark. In the meantime, the intervening years could be used for fundraising efforts, to gather collections, and to focus the scope of the museum properly. Consider the possible categories:

  • A's franchise history
  • The old Pacific Coast League
  • Bay Area baseball legends and notables
  • WWII and its effect on baseball
  • Broadcasting wing with nods to Bill King, Lon Simmons, Bill Rigney, et al
  • How technology has changed baseball and how we experience baseball
  • Sabremetrics
  • The usual kids exhibit - "Physics of a curveball" and other topics
  • Existing Cooperstown exhibits
If you visited Baseball as America you'll see that some of these ideas were covered by the collection shown, so I'm not exactly covering new ground. But wouldn't it be nice to have something permanent and at the same time more expansive? The only limitation is the amount of depth that the A's want covered. Some intriguing issues:

  • How is the steroids era treated?
  • Is the museum A's-only?
  • Do the A's attempt to work with the Giants?

The Rangers operate their "Legends of the Game" museum as an all-encompassing collection rather than one that trumpets the team's history (admittedly, the Rangers/Senators history is not that rich). Having a museum open well before anything else would be a fantastic way to get people into the Pacific Commons area early. Not only would they see A's tradition on display, but ownership could have a development sales office next door (if anyone's interested in buying a condo). I'd be willing to help out (with the museum, that is).

25 October 2006

Cisco at the ballpark, in your home, etc...

There's a lot of mystery surrounding Cisco's intentions regarding the ballpark. Now that the Arena in Oakland has been renamed "Oracle" would a new ballpark be named simply "Cisco"? Cisco Field? Cisco Park? Cisco Grounds? Cisco Yard(s)? Cisco Athletics Park? There's the remote possibility that Cisco won't be involved in the naming rights - but if Mark Purdy is right, Cisco is in it deep.

The innards of the ballpark will serve as a major showcase of Cisco technologies. While most acknowledge Cisco's role as a manufacturer of infrastructure products such as routers and switches, Cisco has been making inroads into the home market with its Linksys brand of networking gear and last year's purchase of set top box manufacturer Scientific Atlanta. They've also gone extremely high end when yesterday
Cisco unveiled their six-figure video conferencing product, TeleConference. The Bentley-Rolls version has three huge, 1080p (full HD) screens on one side of a table while "you and your team" are on the other side of the table. This will be a trial balloon for eventually cheaper, consumer-focused video conferencing and VoIP (Voice over IP) telephony products.

How could this stuff be featured in a ballpark? I'm no marketing whiz, but besides the obvious high tech touches such as WiFi and in-seat ordering, there's potential for other interesting uses:

  • Alternate Broadcasts. Do you think you can do a better job than the A's current TV play-by-play men, Tim Roye and Glen Kuiper? How about using a special booth set up to stream your version of play-by-play and commentary to a select audience? Want to have a broadcast entirely from the bleachers? It would be possible. Broadcast pros would no doubt wince at the idea, but it's a novel way to hit a niche audience (and prove how difficult the job really is).
  • "TiVo" at your seat. A fan could bring or rent an iPod-like device (with WiFi and a bigger screen, of course) that would have the entire game broadcast streamed and archived to it. Want to see that controversial replay they won't show on the big screen? No problem. Interested to see if The Gambler had pine tar on his left hand when he stunk up the joint in his last regular season start against the Blue Jays (hmmm, look at that picture)? It's available instantly from MLB.TV's archives.
Cisco CEO John Chambers brought up technology in a ballpark setting in a speech at Oracle's OpenWorld on Tuesday:

The individual would gain entry to the ballpark via an e-ticket on their smart phone. Digital signs inside the ballpark, if authorized by the smart phone, could display advertising tailored to the person's likes. Once in the game, the individual could use their wireless-enabled ultramobile PC to keep score on the device's electronic scorecard or hit its instant replay icon to view a contentious play.

Restaurants at the ballpark could use Cisco's newly announced TelePresence videoconferencing system to show the game on huge screens and allow diners to contact remote friends to watch along with them.
Cisco is partnering with AT&T on TeleConference, and the cable market has been turned upside down since the Governator signed AB 2987, which opens the doors for all sorts of competition in the cable TV market - including phone companies that sponsored the bill.

A video of the Cisco's presentation at OpenWorld is available at cnet. The preso is awash in A's logos and imagery, enough to make me think that they might try some of this stuff out in the Coliseum first.

24 October 2006

New CBA equals minor changes

Details were announced on the new five-year deal struck between MLB and MLBPA. Some important points:
  • As expected, contraction did not rear its ugly head.
  • There was no major revamp of the amateur draft to include certain foreign players.
  • A reduced form of free agent loss compensation remains in place. Type A free agents will now be the top 20% of their position (down from top 30%), and Type B will be 21-40% of their position (down from 31-50%). Type C free agents no longer mandate compensation. Upshot: The A's will get something out of losing Barry Zito.
  • The luxury tax levels stay the same, but the tax threshold has increased to $148 million next year with 4.7% annual increases throughout the life of the CBA. Unless the Red Sox or Mets really went crazy, the only team that would consistently hit the threshold would be the Yankees.
  • Citing the increase of non-local revenue leaguewide, the revenue sharing formula has changed, with each team set to contribute 31% (down from 34%) of their net local revenues minus "actual stadium expenses" (i.e. rent or debt service).
  • League minimum salary increases from $327,000 to $380,000, with $10,000 increases thereafter.
  • Drug policy remains the same and now officially runs concurrent with the CBA. Selig will cite his "blood test study" until he retires.
  • The questionable rule that gives World Series home field advantage to the league that wins the All Star Game remains intact.
The new CBA should not change much things for the A's since they only undergo incremental payroll raises. It'll be interesting to see what happens with the Yanks because their radio deal with WCBS has just expired.

22 October 2006

Deconstructing the Coliseum, Part II: Stadium Height

In the first installment of this series, I wrote about how the round multipurpose bowl shape was ill-suited for baseball. This time, the discussion topic is height. In this case, I can proudly say that the Coliseum has far more positives than negatives. There's much that works well in the Coliseum when it comes to vertical circulation. The few negative aspects stem from the fact that the venue was built decades before the implementation of ADA rules. Unfortunately, much of what works for the Coliseum can't be used in new ballparks because of specific feature requirements.

You may have noticed that the drawings I posted on Thursday did not show the eastside stands, or "Mt. Davis" as it's typically called. Since the addition was built almost solely for football, it's nearly pointless to use it as part of the discussion. However, Mt. Davis provides a good reference point as it showcases huge differences between how ballparks and football stadia are designed.

Mt. Davis has a lot more in common with Gillette Stadium or Heinz Field than any ballpark, past or present. There are three levels of luxury suites, all having seats safely encased in climate controlled spaces. The plaza or mezzanine level is an exclusive club seating area. Cantilevered decks or overhangs are largely non-existent. The first row of the upper deck on Mt. Davis is roughly the same height as the top row of the upper deck in the original bowl. I've always wondered why the Raiders never placed sherpas at the base of each upper deck tunnel.

One thing rarely discussed about the Coliseum is how easy it is to travel between the three decks in the original seating bowl. Plaza level seats can be reached using either the lower or upper concourses. The upper concourse also serves the View level. Anyone sitting in the upper deck could get to the lower deck in 5 minutes by simply descending a few sets of stairs. Undoubtedly, this encouraged the informal seat trade-up policy so frequently used by upper deck dwellers (and conversely reviled by ownership). This practice was so frowned upon that at least one modern stadium, New Comiskey Park (US Cellular Field), was designed to segregate fans by seating level. Recently, teams and architects have started to see the value in allowing fans to circulate more throughout a concourse - the better to expose fans to concessions. Vertical circulation is still somewhat difficult due to exclusive club and suite levels, though in the concept I'm working on their may be a solution to that dilemma - that's for another time.

The next several graphics show both the Coliseum (in color) and the concept (outlines) in profile. Two perspectives are used: behind the plate, and behind third base.

As shown in the previous set of drawings, the two models are comparable behind the plate. While the concept's seats are closer to the field horizontally, the closure of the View level makes the Coliseum's seats closer overall. Now see what happens at the hot corner:

Once again, the horizontal distance plays a huge factor. The total distance to the top row of the concept's upper deck is 213 feet, while the top row of the Coliseum's plaza level is 221 feet from third base. Worse, the overhang from the luxury suites is so bad that fans at the top of the plaza level have virtually no view of the sky. The following table compares various distances.

The overhang problem isn't limited to Plaza level seats. The back four rows of the Field level are pretty bad too, especially if you're down the foul lines a bit, say Section 106 or 128. You have to contend with the overhang and the auxiliary scoreboard, which drops another 2 feet from the bottom of the Plaza level. If you're seated in those sections it's not that bad, but stand up and suddenly everything changes. These days, a couple of changes have been made to stadium design to help. Fan complaints about these overhangs force a few extra vertical feet into the plan, but ADA design guidelines mandate more vertical space. This is because wheelchair-bound fans are supposed to be able to have a clear line of sight over standing fans two rows ahead of them. The way to do this is to elevate the wheelchair rows an extra 18-30 inches above the row in front of them. If you've ever sat in the Coliseum's bleachers, you'll see those aluminum platforms in most of the wheelchair rows. This was done exactly for the reason cited above. It can be said that the original bowl's wheelchair seating placement would not work in a modern day stadium design.

All of this may sound like nitpicking, but it all conspires to add the equivalent of one or two stories onto the height of the stadium. Inevitably, the fans who pay the biggest price are the ones in the nosebleed sections.

Speaking of nosebleeds, whoever decided that the first row should be wide enough for circulation deserves a tongue lashing. It's one thing to to have a rail as an obstruction, but traffic should not be another. That's probably another reason why the View level was closed. I remember seeing staff that were directed to sell the seats above row 4 first because they had fewer obstructions. I can't think of another stadium in the country in which the first row is also used for circulation, and I've been to dozens of them.

Suiteholders pay a price too, though it's not as steep. In the Coliseum's case, suites in the original bowl are inferior to most other Bay Area venues' suites. They don't have separate restrooms. They're cramped. They don't have their own entries, concourses, or elevators. Problem is, if you design a separate concourse into the plan, that easy vertical circulation is eliminated. Then again, maybe that's what they want...

The Coliseum may have plenty of warts, but it's fantastic when it comes to height conservation and vertical circulation. The seats aren't too steep. It's easy to move between levels. Sadly, it doesn't work well in today's MLB. Don't expect this to carry over into the new ballpark.

20 October 2006

Killion pleads for Magowan to cash in & Warriors + Oracle = deal

The type of column written by Ann Killion in today's Merc was bound to happen sooner or later. Colleague Mark Purdy had been pushing in this general direction. Both are now arguing that the Giants should relinquish territorial rights for the health of the franchise, or else they won't get anything if/when the A's move to Fremont and effectively encroach on the South Bay.

Killion asked Wolff about territorial rights while both were in Detroit for the ALCS last week:

Wolff completely dismissed any lingering idea of moving the A's to San Jose -- a step that would require a deal with the Giants over territorial rights.

``That's over,'' Wolff said. ``Dead. Over. I'm not going to waste one more ounce of energy on it.''

And that statement is important, whether you believe Wolff or not. The A's have been in full-on sales mode regarding the new ballpark/village concept for some time now. At this point details are very important, especially the site. While San Jose may be more desirable for some in the Valley, the obstacles are enormous and it's possible that the financing plan being applied to the Fremont site can't work in San Jose without major modifications and delays.

Supposedly, the rub is that the Giants in the post-Bonds era could be in such dire financial straits that they may be looking for a bailout of sorts. Don't believe it. While Bay Area fans can argue for days about Brian Sabean's competency as Giants GM, the Giants will get enough players or stars to bring out a minimum of interested fans. A $75-85 million payroll allows for this - see Seattle for proof. That doesn't mean the Giants will be good, but they will at least have one overpriced slugger and probably one overpaid arm. Who knows, they may get rid of Sabean and overpay for a GM.

The idea that the Giants are going to be hemorrhaging money for the next decade is ludicrous. Let's remember some key facts about their operations:
  • They may have $20 million in debt service every year, but they can write off about $5-7 million of that thanks to MLB's stadium operations expenses deduction.
  • They're past the sixth year of their tenancy at China Basin, and officials have admitted that they can pull in 34,000 per game and still remain financially healthy. Below that, and they'd have to slash payroll a bit. Use this as a guide: each drop of 1,000 per game equates to $2.5 million in revenue. Even if they were to keep the entire amount (which they don't thanks to revenue sharing) that amount wouldn't even pay for a marginal player. If the G-men were to average less than 25,000 per game, then I'd be concerned. I don't see this happening.
  • Thanks to vested interests in both KTVU and KNBR, the Giants can hide ad revenue and local broadcast rights fees. In 2003, a season after the Giants went to the World Series, they reported non-gate revenue of $78 million. The A's reported $75 million. Who's kidding whom?
  • If it really does become dire straits for the Giants, they can do what the A's have been doing for years: suck on the teat of revenue sharing, if only temporarily.
Besides, even if the two teams actually got to the point of discussing the actual value of territorial rights, where would they begin? An immediate one-time cash infusion won't help since the Giants apparently can't pay off the debt early. Why would A's ownership want to buy the proverbial cow (territorial rights) if they can get the milk for free? Fremont creates a very compelling revenue trifecta for the A's:
  • They could secure better bond interest rates because revenue streams to secure the bonds would not be tied solely to stadium revenue (the Giants struggled with this initially). Entitlements would pick up a majority if not all of the cost.
  • Through some clever organizational setup (hiding revenue), the A's could still have the aforementioned stadium expenses deduction even though their stadium-related debt load would be near zero.
  • Not having to pay the Giants while having similar access to Valley companies equates to increased dividends for the owners - ahem - or increased payroll.
Both the A's and Giants would have interesting advantages in the Bay Area market if everything stayed status quo. The Giants would have the vertical integration that comes with media ownership stakes, while the A's would have little debt on a brand new stadium. Without delving too deeply into the numbers, I'd say that's a Wash.
The Warriors and the Coliseum JPA have finally hooked a big one for their naming rights deal: Redwood Shores database giant Oracle. Two interesting things about the deal: 1) It's only 10 years long, and 2) the venue will be simply called "The Oracle" with no apparent reference to Oakland. 10 years is a virtual blink of the eye in naming rights terms, and it doesn't cover the remaining balance on the expected naming rights fee contribution to the arena renovation's debt service. Perhaps there's an option that could be exercised by Oracle. Regarding the name, I suppose it's "fitting" that if the team doesn't have Oakland in the name, the venue doesn't have to either.

19 October 2006

Deconstructing the Coliseum, Part I: The Bowl Shape

This is the first article of a new series called "Deconstructing the Coliseum." The purpose is not to trash it or spit on it, for the Coliseum has served its purpose admirably over the years. Instead, my goal is to educate readers of this site on what to potentially expect from a new ballpark, and how it compares with the current situation and other ballparks as well. The first part of this task is explaining where the Coliseum succeeds and fails.

The idea came from my re-reading Philip Bess's excellent paean to urban ballparks,
City Baseball Magic. Bess, an accomplished architect, professor, and noted baseball architecture critic, put together an alternative plan to the new Comiskey Park (a.k.a. US Cellular Field) called Armour Field. Armour Field harkened back to the first ballpark building boom in the early 20th century and had many similarities to Manhattan's long departed Polo Grounds. As part of the plan, he compared Armour Field's dimensions and layout to the HOK-planned Comiskey, which itself was an updated version of Kansas City's Kauffman (née Royals) Stadium, considered the hallmark of baseball stadium design during the late 80's. (Oh how things change!) While Comiskey was hailed when it first opened, it only took a year before its gleam was eclipsed by the first true Neoclassic ballpark, Camden Yards. In the intervening years, Comiskey was rightly bashed for its steep and recessed upper deck and its three levels of suites and club seats. It was also criticized for its initially symmetrical dimensions, which I personally didn't have a problem with because at least they weren't contrived. In the intervening years, Comiskey has under gone renovations, chief among them the lopping off of the top eight rows of seats - a nod to increasing scarcity and the vertigo-inducing scary nosebleed rows up there.

Prior to my re-reading City Baseball Magic, I had been working on a new ballpark model. Since we lack a specific ballpark model other than the high-concept drawings shown in August 2005, I figured I'd put my own together to create a similar alternative concept. Like the Wolff-360 plan, it has:
  • 35,000 seats
  • 40 luxury suites and 40 mini (4-6 person) suites
  • Expansive club area
  • Hotel/Apartments
  • Party Suites
  • Two decks (sort of)
  • Increased intimacy
Bess's book got me to overlay my concept over the Coliseum. What I found was rather surprising. While we all know that the Coliseum's round shape is not ideal for baseball, this overlay really illustrates the problem. But first, let's take a look at the baseline - the Coliseum footprint.

Like the old cookie-cutter stadia, the Coliseum is based on a series of concentric circles, the smallest of which is a 400-foot ring where the field meets the first row of seats. Using 400 feet as a guide makes sense because a football field is 360 feet long, while a baseball field's dimensions are 330-400 feet excluding foul territory. The give-and-take required penalizes spectators of either sport in a multitude of ways, many of which I'll get into later.

The Green area represents the field and its quirky dimensions. Yellow represents the lower deck (Field level), Red the mezzanine (Plaza level), and Blue the upper deck (now closed View level). Yes, it is to scale (approximately), and it's based on estimates and measurements I've made in the bowl over the last several years.

Now let's strip it back to just the lower deck and overlay the first deck of my (unnamed) concept:

Take a look at the how many seats are in the green area. You may be asking where the rest of the lower deck seats are. The next graphic shows the rest of those seats.

In this case, the concept is still far superior to the Coliseum because of the shortened distance to the field. Even the small area where the Coliseum has closer seats, the backstop, was only created because of a design quirk that caused the "notch" in the bowl. This affirms the notion that those sections behind the plate (x15-x19) are some of the best in baseball. Unfortunately, everything else pales in comparison.

Next, let's compare at the upper tiers.

This has the concept's upper deck overlaid with the closed View level. Notice how the concept's upper deck actually fits within most of the front rim of the View level. In the seats down the line, this translates to fans being as much as 70 feet closer, more than the distance between pitcher and hitter. Since the View level is closed, it may make sense to use the Plaza level in the comparison instead. The next graphic shows what such a comparison looks like.

Here, the concept is also better though the differences aren't as vast. But that's still remarkable considering the fact that the Plaza level was never built to be used as an upper deck. It sheds light on the compromises made when using a circular stadium design.

I remember taking some friends to an opening night game a decade ago. We sat in the third or fourth row of section 323. It was one friend's first time at the Coliseum, and the first comment he made was, "Man, are we far." Far, indeed.

Tomorrow, I'll cover height as it relates to the Coliseum.

16 October 2006

Expect to go over budget

Over the weekend, DC area architect Roger K. Lewis wrote a column for the Washington Post that serves as a primer for the ballpark construction process - in this case the Nats' new park. The piece does not cover political squabbles or the financing component. Nevertheless, it's a short, handy thumbnail sketch what should be expected to occur once shovels hit dirt.

The main points to cover:
Project size or scope increases. This results from changing needs, shifting market or financial conditions, or more stringent regulatory requirements.
When this is applied to the A's-Pacific Commons situation, it's easy to see that this will be the biggest factor. The relatively smaller size of the ballpark should make that component cheaper to construction, but once you add adjacent projects such as the hotel/condo building, museum, and other features, the price tag goes up quickly. Perhaps one of the goals is to have each of these units, including the ballpark, act as autonomous, self-running entities, which are to be funded and operated separately. The danger in this approach is that if one of these units doesn't "pencil out" initially, construction could be delayed until that unit evolves into something more feasible.
Field testing reveals unanticipated site conditions. Soil borings may disclose organic fill, clay, rock or groundwater. Undocumented utilities, structures or residual toxic chemicals may lurk below the surface. Hidden structural problems may be uncovered in buildings being renovated. Always expensive to remedy, unforeseen site problems may seriously delay a project and can blow the budget.

This shouldn't be a problem at Pacific Commons as a thorough EIR has already been written and much of it (relative to pre-existing conditions) should be applicable to the new project. The only thing being done on the site is the construction of a flood control culvert to replace a filled-in channel, and that was part of the original project.
Building material price escalation exceeds predictions. Project budgets are sensitive to the cost of basic building materials -- wood, concrete, steel, aluminum -- that are market commodities. Inflation affecting a building's major components -- mechanical, plumbing, electrical and lighting systems -- also can wreck a budget, as can rising costs for exterior wall assemblies, windows and doors, interior partitions, ceilings and flooring.

It's difficult to forecast the prices of steel and concrete 3-4 years from now, but at least this project will avoid the materials shortage that hit nationwide after Hurricane Katrina. With a ballpark, just about anything can be redesigned with an emphasis on value engineering, from the facade to the seats to the restroom fixtures or the scoreboards. The net result of value engineering, when done in excess, is the appearance of cheap materials or cutting corners, as was apparently the case in the new Busch Stadium.
The construction labor market heats up. The law of supply and demand governs the building industry. When contractors are flush with work and skilled labor is in short supply, prices rise. When construction slows and contractors are hungry, prices fall. Because project planning and design can last years after initial budget adoption, a busier construction market inevitably increases costs.

This is another factor that's difficult to forecast. The housing slowdown forecast for the East and South Bay for the next few years could keep the labor market friendly, but it could also make the financing mechanism (sale of entitlements) more difficult to execute. Though we're in a down period, new home sales all over the Bay Area are still good, which could mitigate things a bit. As far as big projects, there are high rises planned in both downtown Oakland and downtown San Jose. If the legal issues clear up, the Estuary/O29 project will be huge. A large amount of the SF Mission Bay project will be winding up by the end of the decade. Some of the larger tech companies will be building bigger and bigger campuses. And there's no telling how much infill housing will be started in the Bay Area.

But what of the "other" required stuff, such as parking? It may be advantageous to keep a ground lease for land destined for parking, but what form will the facility take? Garages are much more expensive to build than simply paved surface lots, and they may have limited use for the cost. On the other hand, surface parking tends to be an extremely inefficient use of land - even in a place where the developers may have up to 160 acres at their disposal. Which approach wins, and who pays for it?

14 October 2006

Okay, I'll bite on the name

Update: Two editorials were published this week on the A's possible move to Fremont. Both the San Jose Mercury News and the Fremont Argus support the efforts, pointing out the inability of the A's and the City of Oakland to work out a deal. The Argus thinks the team name could be "Oakland A's of Fremont," while the Merc doesn't rule out a "San Jose A's" sobriquet.

Folks, I shake my head at how half of the comment threads seem to get hijacked by the "city name" debate. There are all sorts of legitimate reasons for why one city may be included over another, but we simply don't know the true criteria that are being used. However, I think that if one of the main reasons for relocating the team (pursuit of Silicon Valley money) is the same as what's being used to name the team, it makes sense to use a designator befitting all of this new support:

Silicon Valley A's

Cringe all you want, but the political/economic forces at work are every bit as powerful as those from a municipality. One of those forces is the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (formerly the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group), whose latest media foray was a widely quoted study from a month ago that cited Silicon Valley as both the best and worst technology hub in the US (VC money for the former, cost of doing business for the latter). One of the main tenets of SVLG's core policy is the addition of housing, especially affordable housing in the Valley. Guess what the A's-Pacific Commons project would do? That's right, it would add housing in the Valley.

The speech that Lew Wolff made in August was sponsored by the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. Why both names? It's pretty obvious that Silicon Valley has far surpassed San Jose as the real catch-all descriptor of the area. Take Google's purchase of YouTube. Neither company is described as being near San Jose or San Francisco. Both are considered Valley companies, even though YouTube's San Bruno location is arguably outside the generally accepted definition of Silicon Valley.

While I was in Australia, I had several people ask me where my company's headquarters were. I explained they were in Fremont, which was often met with blank stares. Once I amended "Silicon Valley" or "San Francisco" to my response everyone knew what I was talking about. "San Jose" required a qualifier most of the time. San Jose's struggle with its own identity is typified by its motto, "The Capital of Silicon Valley". Most everyone that lives and works here knows such a tagline is a fallacy. That's partly due to how quickly things change here, but it also has much to do with the sprawling, homogeneous nature of the region. Downtown San Jose has a single major corporate headquarters, Adobe, and it's begging for nVidia to move to an empty building downtown. Meanwhile, Google is creating a mega-campus in Mountain View/Moffett Field, Yahoo is entrenched in Sunnyvale but is looking to make its own mega-campus in Santa Clara, not far from Great America. Apple's always been a Cupertino company. HP has always been a Palo Alto firm. Intel belongs in Santa Clara. Cisco in north San Jose. Sand Hill Road is in Menlo Park.

Not every Valley firm will be gung-ho about being lumped in with a particular city, especially if it's not their home. But they can all identify with being Valley companies. If the A's want something that makes sense to all of these new corporate sponsors, a proper nod to the Valley is in order.

Will the owners and the commish go for it? And what about Oakland?

13 October 2006

Coliseum lease extension done (almost)

Looks like the A's are taking another step towards staying in Alameda County, with the end of their stay in Oakland getting pushed out a little further. CoCoTimes' Chris Metinko reports that the A's will have a hard lease at the Coliseum through 2010, with three option years after that.

It makes me wonder whether the news that the A's bought property adjacent to Pacific Commons pushed some of the board members over the top.

Once the deal is signed by the County Board of Supervisors and Oakland's City Council, the A's will have supreme leverage over their venue situation, with a huge buffer covering any expected groundbreaking and opening dates.

The terms have been changed to eliminate the stipulation that the A's give the JPA 50 cents for each admission over 2 million. Conspiracy theorists pointed this as a greedy reason why the A's tarped off the upper deck. If the A's are paying 50 cents per person (as opposed to 50% of each ticket), that's not a lot of money to give up even if the A's hit 2.5 million this season. As I had written previously, ownership wanted to establish a
more sophisticated price tiering system, while also being able to fund payroll increases.

11 October 2006

Finally, Oakland responds

Quotes abound in Paul T. Rosynsky's Trib article. While Ignacio De La Fuente continues his bravado filled whistling-in-the-dark routine, fellow councilperson Jane Brunner has more pointed comments about Wolff:

"We all got this feeling, everybody who met with him, we all walked away thinking he was just not interested," said Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland). "When you negotiate with someone, you need a nibble. ... There was just no nibble."

Brunner said the city had put together plans for three potential sites for a new ballpark, including one that would have incorporated it into the Oak to Ninth housing development along the waterfront.

Each time a proposal went to Wolff it was rejected, she said.

Start off with Brunner's quote about Wolff's willingness to work in Oakland. Now this makes sense. Cynics point to Wolff's single concept (Coliseum North) and its small chance of success as a "token" proposal. There's a lot of circumstantial evidence that makes it appear that Wolff hasn't tried very hard to make it work in Oakland. At the same time, Wolff has in the past said that the city hadn't suggested any other sites. Brunner's comment contradicts this, and while I've heard rumblings about three site proposals being floated, this is the first time I've really seen this sentiment in public.

Let's go back to the summer, when the final development plan for Oak-to-Ninth/O29/Estuary was up for city council review (it passed). A coalition of citizens groups worked in August to get the plan on the November ballot, and while they appeared to get enough signatures, the petition was blocked by Oakland's city attorney. Why was this coalition against the project? The reasons:
  • Housing goes against the scope of the Estuary Policy Plan. This would not have changed if a ballpark village with housing were under consideration.
  • A lack of open space. With 60 acres available to develop and 18-20 used up by a ballpark village, that leaves 40 acres to split between parkland/open space and housing. And that's if it were done from the ground up. If, as I've heard, the proposal was to shoehorn the ballpark into the open space set aside for Signature's project, that would've been a complete nonstarter.
  • Height concerns. When I spoke to a community group about the possibility of a ballpark, they asked me how tall the ballpark would be. When I said that it would be at least 100 feet tall not including light towers, there was a unanimous disapproval of the idea. Part of that comes from people in the hills not wanting anything blocking their view, not even a ballpark. And going back to the previous point, the housing would have to be in tall towers, which would make for even more obstructions.
  • Preservation. The Ninth Avenue Terminal has historic value and should be preserved regardless of what goes up at O29 (It would make a nice location for a farmers market, a la SF's Ferry Terminal). However, it takes up too much space for it to be saved in any development plan.
Now, honestly, do you think that a ballpark village would not have experienced the same kind of resistance, if not moreso? And that's even without the consideration of additional subsidies, or the legislation/quid pro quo situation that made the O29 land deal possible.

Finger pointing has commenced.

10 October 2006

Purdy: Magowan blew it

As usual, Merc columnist Mark Purdy does little to make Oakland partisans happy. In Purdy's most recent piece, he sets his sights squarely on Giants owner Peter Magowan:

Something else I know: The Giants are concerned about the A's possible move. Team owner Peter Magowan has stubbornly invoked his territorial rights clause to prevent the A's from moving to Santa Clara County. However, Magowan can do nothing to stop Wolff from going right to the county line and snatching away consumers on the other side.

How about this? About six weeks ago, Magowan and Giants executive Larry Baer were spotted in a vehicle in Fremont, eyeballing the A's potential new home. A tipster saw them stop for coffee at Starbucks, drive around the proposed ballpark site in their SUV, then hit the freeway.

When Baer was recently asked to confirm this sighting, he jokingly asked whether someone had placed a tracking chip in the vehicle.

And then Baer said: "I can neither confirm nor deny that it happened."

In other words, it happened.

Purdy points to a parade happening in San Jose, in 2010. If the A's are having trouble figuring out the right city (Oakland, Fremont, San Jose), perhaps the best place to have a parade would be San Francisco - just to rub it in.

A's buying land next to Pacific Commons

Foreshadowing? Maybe.

The Trib's Paul T. Rosynsky and Chris De Benedetti report that a firm acting as a front for Maritz, Wolff, and Co. has recently bought 10 acres of land across the street from the target Pacific Commons site. No, it's not the land that I pointed out last week, but it's immediately adjacent. The assessed value of the land is $5.9 million, though the purchase price was not disclosed. Unlike the target site, this land is largely occupied by, coincidentally, high tech companies (listing/aerial photo).

Just to show how much Lew Wolff is trying to keep this under wraps, the reporters disclosed how Wolff initially didn't confirm that the company had bought the land, then confirmed it several hours later. If they haven't yet bought the concrete plant, news about the purchase of nearby parcels certainly won't help keep the prices low.

From the article:

Speculation that the team would build a ballpark in Fremont intensified the day Wolff was hired by former owners Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman as vice president of venue development.

Although Wolff promised to search for sites in Oakland first, he never gave up the idea of building a ballpark in Fremont. Its proximity to San Jose and open tracts of land always kept it a contender as a future A's home.

Then in March, Wolff declared that Oakland did not have the time or space for a new ballpark.

That certainly gives credence to the notion that the ballpark effort hasn't exactly been Oakland-or-bust.

08 October 2006

Matier and Ross: Fremont more and more likely

Not much new in Sunday's Matier and Ross column other than a few quotes from Alameda County Supe Scott Haggerty, who exudes confidence if not actual details. One sad note: the A's and the incoming Dellums administration have not spoken since the election.

I've stumbled upon a few things that may shed a tiny bit of light on the situation:
  • In recent interviews, Lew Wolff hinted that at the end of the ballpark lease, it would be owned by the City of Fremont, not the A's. That indicates that the land on which the ballpark would site would also be owned by the city - if not immediately, then later. Does this mean that part of the deal is the A's giving the ballpark to the city? Or that the A's would buy the land, give it to the city, then have the city arrange a cheap/free ground lease for the A's? Obviously, after 30-40 years the ballpark will have depreciated significantly. It may not sound like it makes a huge difference whatever way it's structured, but for the A's there could be sizable tax implications.
  • For those of you wondering how the existing Pacific Commons land deal works, here it is: ProLogis (formerly Catellus) owns the land. Cisco paid for a 34-year ground lease in advance, with the notion that they'd build a large campus there. The networking giant paid $105 million in prepaid rent as a result. If you're looking for a baseline for negotiations between the A's and Cisco, there you have it. There may be some inflation-related adjustment, but the figure itself is interesting. Consider this: Lucas Oil is paying $120 million over 20 years for naming rights to the new stadium for the Indianapolis Colts, while the University of Phoenix is paying $154 million over 20 years for naming rights for the Arizona Cardinals' new digs. If you're the A's, you can either swap the naming rights for ground lease transfer, or you can buy Cisco's lease rights and then get (some of/all of) the money back in the naming rights deal. Which sounds simpler? There are some complications in that the land on which housing would be built would have to be purchased instead of leased.
Right about now, I'm eager to see a plan.

06 October 2006

Keeping up with the Joneses

To keep things in perspective, I've devoted this post to comparing where the A's are in their path to a new home as opposed to the other three MLB teams also working on new facilities: Minnesota, Florida, and Washington. Each team's situation is judged on four different factors (red = incomplete, green = completed):
  • Political Process: Has a deal been struck between team ownership and local politicians? Or is it just at a proposal stage? If a vote was required, did it pass? And did it hold up under legal challenges?
  • Funding: Public or private financing? Both? Is there a funding gap that needs to be bridged? Is the funding plan solid or full of question marks?
  • Site Acquisition: First of all, has the team decided on a location? Next, how difficult is it to acquire? Is the land cheap or expensive? Is it a single parcel or something more complicated? Is there resistance to the acquisition? Is eminent domain involved?
  • Construction: There are different stages: prep (demolition/cleanup), initial construction (pilings, concrete bowl), buildout (seats, electrical, plumbing, landscape, façade), and finishing touches (testing)
The four factors are interconnected enough that there are dependencies. For instance, funding problems delayed the construction of Petco Park. In this case, we'll keep it simple by presenting the factors in their normally chronological order. Let's start on the homefront.

As you can see, there's a long ways to go for the A's in getting a ballpark built. The limited amount of released information makes judging the process difficult. Fremont's City Council and Alameda County's Board of Supervisors will have to approve whatever is planned with the Pacific Commons land. Site acquisition is under negotiation with Cisco/ProLogis. I've seen comments elsewhere that point to problems with the effort, but it needs to be taken into account that 140 acres and potentially several thousand residents will come with the project, so this is not something that's going to be rubberstamped without serious public scrutiny over its impact.

The District's government was essentially hoodwinked into giving MLB a new stadium. In fact, the Nats' entire fiasco may have set back public discourse about stadium financing at least a decade, effectively wiping out positive trends towards private financing shown in San Francisco and St. Louis. Everything about the process has been ugly, from the countless debates among the pols to the District's use of eminent domain. Even now, there are problems with the District's ability to provide enough parking in parcels adjacent to the ballpark, and they may be forced to go over their legislated spending cap to get the garages constructed. At least they're progressing well in terms of construction progress.

Ballpark proponents got a contentious sales tax proposal passed in Hennepin County, which got them past an enormous hurdle. There's time to get construction started, but there's still a major piece of land to buy. Right now the ballpark is going to built as an open air facility, but concerns about weather may put the idea of a retractable roof on the table, which would raise costs at least $50 million.

The Marlins have the most in common with the A's at this point. The main difference is the funding method, which is mostly public. There is funding gap of varying size depending on which news reports you read. A 2005 ballpark proposal fell apart due to a $30 million funding gap. The biggest problem is that it's not completely clear where the Marlins will build. The frontrunner is Hialeah, on a large parcel that bears some similarities with Fremont's Pacific Commons. Supposedly there have been talks with: the City of Miami regarding land near the old Miami Arena, officials representing Pompano Beach who want to redevelop an old racetrack, and even Orlando, which has had its own issues with their existing top tier franchise.

Wolff also cleared the air on the playoff tarp matter when he was interviewed by the Chronicle's John Shea:

As in the regular season, tarps will cover the upper deck and put capacity a touch over 35,000, including standing-room only tickets. The tarps would remain for the ALCS, but Major League Baseball, if it chooses, has the authority to reopen the upper deck for the World Series.

"If it's our call, it's going to stay covered," said Wolff, whose strategy for the tarps was to create a more intimate and fan-friendly environment. It's also a test run for any future park, in Fremont or elsewhere, which would have a similar capacity, according to Wolff's plans.

This should be a no-brainer since World Series sellouts should be guaranteed, but the big factor may be a feeling of home field advantage. If either the Mets or Cards represented the NL in the World Series, a large amount of those newly available seats would be swallowed up by proactive Mets/Cards fans, perhaps even a majority. How much money revenue may be passed up by MLB if they chose to keep all of those seats closed? Try $1.5 million. Per game. If nothing else, the revenue could help fund player win and loss shares.

03 October 2006

Want a piece of Pacific Commons?

Or rather, some land right next to Pacific Commons? If you're interested (and have several million bucks to throw away), the old Christy Concrete plant is up for sale (PDF brochure). Certainly the current owners know about the plans for the surrounding area and will make some coin on the sale of their 16.3 acre property if it comes to fruition.

What do you get? Excellent access to 880 and visibility from the Nimitz as well, for starters. The location also has great access to both the ballpark site and the retail area nearby.

The 16+ acres is deceptive. Almost 6 acres is set aside for a pond (wetlands, that's right) but the other 10+ are good to go. The land is zoned light industrial. A tech company with a desire for a high-profile location might be interested. If local pols are amenable to zoning changes, the possibilities are endless.

02 October 2006

Broadcast notes

Now that the playoffs are here, radio and television coverage has expanded as the national rightsholders have taken over. Here's a summary of what's coming:
  • Radio: In addition to the A's Radio Network, ESPN Radio (via KNBR-1050) will cover the entire ALDS. According to KNBR's Gary Radnich, the play-by-play man for ESPN's broadcast will be veteran Ted Robinson, who last worked with the Mets and Giants and does Stanford football. Robinson, who was one of the names bandied about for the A's 2nd play-by-play job (filled by Vince Cotroneo), had previously worked TV for both the A's and Twins. If you're unfortunate enough to be unable to pull in the A's Radio Network, you could do far worse than Robinson, who is more than merely competent, does his research, and most importantly, spends a lot of time in the Bay Area and has familiarity with the market, so he isn't tainted by East Coast bias. No word on who the color commentator is.
  • TV: I haven't heard who the broadcast team will be for ESPN's TV coverage, but it most assuredly won't be the normal Sunday night combo of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. It could very well be Dave O'Brien and Rick Sutcliffe, who are passable but won't be lauded for in-depth knowledge of either team. If FOX picks up one or more of the weekend broadcasts, I'm guessing play-by-play will be picked up #2 man Josh Lewin (he of the slight lisp).
Enjoy the playoffs.

Update: According to this link, the Miller/Morgan team will cover the first game before moving to a different location. O'Brien/Sutcliffe will get games 2 & 3.