15 May 2006

Anaheim beats A's to the punch

Lew Wolff's concept of a ballpark village is about to look less innovative as housing giant Lennar and the city of Anaheim are about to embark on a massive mixed development project immediately to the west of Angel Stadium. According to a fresh-off-the-wire press release, the development will encompass 54.1 acres with up to 3,813 homes and nearly 200,000 square feet of retail/commercial space. The release claims that the project will be "Orange County's LARGEST urban redevelopment and FIRST downtown American ballpark community!"

The first thing that hits is the name: A-Town. I feel mildly offended since the Angels have been using the "A-Team" moniker informally for some time, yet there's only one true team called the A's. In actuality, it's a clever, ambiguous name. People can associate the project with the Angels or Anaheim, which could be convenient if Angels owner Arte Moreno follows through on his off-in-the-distance threat to move the team (which is highly unlikely).

The devil is in the details. To build the project, 54 acres of light industrial land called the "Platinum Triangle" is being cleared out and rezoned. Does that sound familiar to anyone? In this case, the Angels aren't involved in getting the project built. They apparently aren't partnering with anyone either (based on reports I've read so far) so they wouldn't see the proceeds, as the A's would for their ballpark village plan.

In essence, the project is simply infill housing with a "ballpark" brand affixed to it. The City of Anaheim has other infill projects in the works. The towers being built near AT&T Park make mention of their proximity to the ballpark, but don't use it as a chief selling point. Padres' owner John Moores bought much of the land surrounding Petco Park to build his hotels and condos. A-Town has some interesting similarities to what Wolff has envisioned. Conceptually, it's not as thorough since direct links to the team aren't there, but it should provide a reference point for those looking to keep track of such projects.

Merc poll: SJ residents say no to public funds for baseball

Among other election-related items, respondents to a recent poll commissioned by the Merc were asked how they felt about the city spending public money to bring MLB to San Jose. The results were negative in a landslide: 53.6% were against the idea, while 32.1% were for it.

The San Jose effort has been marred by three specific issues:
  • The Gonzales stench. The decidedly unpopular mayor (26.7% approval) publicly campaigned on behalf of the city over a year ago at spring training (the misspelling incident). He tried to have a ballot measure for a ballpark scheduled for November's general election (bad move, quickly dismissed). He now believes that his successor should figure out a way to avoid a public vote. That won't happen even if City Hall were scandal-free.
  • Dissent in the ranks. Baseball San Jose is made up of numerous civic and business leaders. Sometime after the Selig visit in September, the group became somewhat fractured as there was no consensus built about how to further pursue the A's. Some wanted to keep a low profile in keeping with Bud Selig's typical M.O. Some wanted to directly challenge the Giants and MLB. Others wanted to retreat and regroup - waiting for an opportunity to arise when efforts in Alameda County failed. BBSJ's website went dark and so went the best outreach arm the effort had. Few BBSJ members showed up at the publich outreach meetings. Any chance they had to shape the dialogue with the public was lost. On the political side, there are two mayoral candidates (Michael Mulcahy and Dave Cortese) who happen to be BBSJ leaders that are campaigning against each other. They may be splitting the pro-baseball vote, with Cindy Chavez getting a small portion as well.
  • No sizzle, no steak either. The city has been hamstrung by its inability to engage directly in a dialogue with the A's. Sure, San Jose leaders see and talk to Wolff frequently (because he is one of them after all), but the territorial rights issue has effectively put up a soundproof glass wall between them and the A's. As long as there is no dialogue, no substantive ballpark plan - with ancillary development - can be debated. It's unknown what the public's share would be beyond the land acquisition. It may very well be that if the poll respondents were answering a question more along the lines of, "Would you support the acquisition of land for a baseball team as long as there were no other public expenditures to get a ballpark built?" it might be a completely different result. The city has its hands tied because it can't explain the economic side of a ballpark concept.
Does this mean that the San Jose ballpark plan is dead? No, because things can change rapidly. San Jose is stuck being "Plan C" (if Oakland were "Plan A" and Fremont "Plan B") and there's very little it can do about it. Should the Fremont plan move forward and result in a ballpark, the San Jose effort (at least the $700K spent on the EIR) would be rendered moot. At least they'll be able to recoup redevelopment's land grab by selling off the property for housing. Should Fremont collapse and if Oakland and the A's aren't able to put a workable proposal together, San Jose could move to the forefront. Some would argue that was Wolff's plan all along. Considering the bullet points above, I have to respectfully disagree.