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, fa├žade), 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.


jrbh said...

You're right on about the Nationals fiasco. It reminds me of the Raiders deal: local yokels with visions of their own luxury boxes get brutalized by some very smart lawyers for a sports organization (the Raiders; MLB) with no sense at all of what they're doing to a community.

I also think you're right about the third deck: I think Selig will save Wolff from himself with this one and open it up. Of course, betting on Bud Selig to do the right thing is a fool's errand. So we'll see.

I think there's a debate we haven't had here that is technical and variable and hard to talk about: the $400M pricetag. The cost of Nationals' park and accessories is going to go up over $700M, and in St. Louis, the ballpark was about $350M, and the "village" attached to it is going to add another $300M or so. The notion that we can build a ballpark and several thousand housing units, along with the concomitant infrastructure, for anywhere near $400M here in the Bay Area seems crazy to me.

Among other things, there are more serious environmental concerns here, seismic concerns, of course, more and stronger unions, and of course issues about incredibly expensive transportation infrastructure that would be necessary.

And probably a bunch of other stuff we haven't thought of.

Hell, the Giants park, construction for which started almost ten years ago, was over $350M. On a small piece of land. With nothing else attached to it. How can the A's possibly come in anywhere near $400M?

Marine Layer said...

That $400 million is just construction cost. I don't have a good estimate on the land value, especially because the land itself may be acquired on a piecemeal basis. While the sale of entitlements would presumably fund construction, everything else will have to pay for itself - hotel, retail/commercial, etc. Each unit has its own feasibility, and the total amount of investment required for this project will run into the billions. Wolff's admission a while back that he's getting active in MLB committees points to some potentially radical (not necessarily fan-friendly) changes in how a ballpark is funded, sold, and packaged.

I think what he's gathered from the other projects currently under development is that it's best to come prepared with as comprehensive a plan as possible. Leave out details like parking or the ballpark village concept, and they become delayed and inevitably much more expensive, perhaps even infeasible.

Bleacher Dave said...

Check out Maury Brown's piece on MLB's trend toward season ticket sales. I was surprised by how involved MLB is with the secondary ticket market.

Tigers only put 3,000 individual tickets on sale/game!