20 December 2007

More TV stuff + 49ers stadium a few bucks short

I'm not usually one to dabble in rumormongering, but this one seemed juicy so I can't really resist. During KNBR's 10 a.m. segment on Wednesday featuring Gary Radnich and Tony Bruno, a caller claimed that the FOX affiliation in the Bay Area is up for grabs, with longtime station KTVU losing grip and Radnich's own KRON in the running. Radnich tacitly confirmed the rumor, saying (I'm paraphrasing here) that the station didn't get involved with MyNetworkTV for nothing. MyNetworkTV is the tiny, failing broadcast network owned by FOX.

Not that the A's are performing well ratings-wise against Dr. Phil, but this would certainly explain why KRON wouldn't pursue a lengthy deal with the A's. KTVU could be in serious trouble if they lose FOX, as they'd become just another independent station with few prospects (yes, I'm including MyNetworkTV). Longtime news anchor Dennis Richmond is retiring next spring, which would put the KTVU news operation in a similar position to, well, what KRON is in right now. KTVU is not owned by FOX. It's owned by Cox Communications, which has long resisted FOX's offers to buy and fostered a sense of autonomy for KTVU. Among the shows of autonomy: KTVU has in the past used CNN national video instead of FOX News, and it still partners with CNN on its website. KTVU is the only one of the Bay Area's four major network stations that is not owned by the parent network. Should KTVU lose FOX to KRON, could it provide an opening for the A's? We'll see.

Meanwhile in Santa Clara, rising costs and limited sources of funding put the project underfunded by $51 million. The key appears to be the city's preference not to give up development rights to some key parcels of land north of the stadium site (quotes from Assistant City Manager Ron Garratt):
Revenue from land leases "is the one significant revenue source in the general fund that is locally controlled," he said in an interview. "The state can't come in and take it; the county can't touch it. It's critical. It's 10 percent of the general fund now and it's projected to grow somewhat higher."
The proposal calls for a large amount of gameday revenues being routed toward debt service. However, there are no plans for a land lease payment from the 49ers for the stadium land. It's unclear how the $51 million gap would be bridged. The team indicated that they or the NFL may be able to raise additional money. For their sake I hope so since the city says it's tapped out at their stated $136 million contribution.

Nearby hotels are positive about a plan to create a Mello-Roos district that would levy an additional occupancy tax, helping to fund the stadium. Many of those hotels are also interested in becoming the hotel of choice for visiting teams, so there's some direct benefit there. The backup site, or bus/overflow lot, is looking more and more like the best site with each passing day.

The humorous part of it was the list of demands submitted by Cedar Fair, operator of Great America. Cedar Fair wants to be compensated for the 4 days of lost revenue every year when they'll have to close the park because of conflicts with football games. They also are demanding control of all parking revenues from all events at the stadium. Good luck with that. Does anyone else find it odd that two companies from Ohio are duking it out over the fate of a Bay Area-based team?

16 December 2007

Messing around with TV

Over the last few weeks, I've finally taken the plunge into HDTV. The geek in me won't go about it the normal way, so I've been looking at more than just TV's. As much as I like TiVo I couldn't justify laying out cash for yet another monthly subscription, so I decided to find out what TiVo alternatives were available. In the end I went with a neat little product called HDHomeRun from Livermore company Silicondust. It has two digital tuners that pick up free digital feeds from either cable or over-the-air. Those feeds are sent into your home network and can be streamed or recorded by any computer on the network. Not every channel comes through free and unencrypted. Most of the major cable networks are encrypted and require a cable box. YMMV but it's worked well so far for me.

Apparently the Giants have also been messing around with TV. Last week the Giants bought a sizable stake in FSN Bay Area, which will put them in excellent financial shape for the next 25 years. The details:

  • The team bought a 30% stake, which comes out both the Comcast and FOX stakes. Comcast now owns 45%, while FOX has 25%.
  • Giants games will continue to be broadcast on the channel, which will officially benamed Comcast SportsNet before the season starts.
  • CSN will show at least 130 Giants games now that the Giants' deal with KNTV has a reduced schedule compared to KTVU.
  • Existing agreements with the A's, Warriors, and Sharks will be unchanged (those run through the end of the decade).
  • CSN will produce a nightly local sports newscast. It already produces Sportsnite for the existing CSN West channel, which is geared towards the Central Valley currently. It's not clear whether the new CSN channel will have a specific Bay Area focus or if it will be merged with CSN West (which is partly owned by the Maloof brothers).
The Giants picked a good time to work this deal out. It gets them a nice new stream of revenue, which along with the $100 million stake in the channel, will raise the team's value significantly. It should be easier to work with sponsors who will now know that the Giants have a 25-year run of stability behind it. And while it hasn't been mentioned yet, should Peter Magowan and his group decide to divest themselves of the team, they could get upwards of $600 million for the franchise.

What about the A's?
If you think the A's have been left out in the cold, they aren't. Right now the broadcasting world is in a major state of flux, with the digital conversion coming in February 2009 and AT&T starting to offer rival services that rival Comcast's cable TV, the rules are quickly going to change.

Let's say the A's wanted to start their own cable sports network. There a couple rules they'd have to follow in order to get started:

  • If you want to be carried by Comcast, you must give them a taste. Like Tony Soprano dealing with his capos, Comcast wants their envelope. That's means Comcast wants a piece of whatever new channel you're launching. They'll help you get production going. If you want to go it alone, good luck getting any help from them. Note: When scanning for my local free channels, several networks I didn't expect to find were available: Vs., TVOne, and Comcast SportsNet West. All three are partly or wholly owned by Comcast. If FSNBA becomes CSN West, CSNW won't be free for long.
  • Don't ask to be on expanded basic. Comcast is pushing all new sports networks to their "digital sports tier." A legacy network such as FSNBA or ESPN/ESPN2 will stay on expanded basic, but everything else is meant for the sports tier. That goes for national single-sport networks such as NFL Network and NBATV, as well as new regional sports networks. Part of the reasoning is that Comcast doesn't want to pass along the often high subscriber fees to regular customers who may not be interested in additional sports networks (they also frequently complain about rising cable bills). Another is that by relegating a RSN to a digital channel, it takes up far less bandwidth than an analog basic channel.
  • The satellite companies won't offer any favors either. DirecTV and Dish are feeling the pinch as they have to carry hundreds more channels simultaneously than the typical regional cable operator. They'll carry your channel as long as you don't ask for overly exhorbitant fees.
As you can see, right now isn't exactly the best time for the A's to start getting entrepreneurial. At least not in TV land. However, change is afoot.

The Digital TV Transition
On February 17, 2009, all US broadcasters are supposed to switch over from analog to completely digital transmissions. Many consumers won't really notice as they may already have their TV served up to them by some kind of set top box (cable or satellite). That old "cable-ready" TV you may have put in the garage? Or that trusty 4" portable deal you bought several years ago to bring to sporting events? Those will be useless.

Over-the-air broadcasts will be digital, and to help the government is helping by subsidizing $1 billion in new digital set top boxes for viewers who only get over-the-air TV. Digital broadcasts are more bandwidth-efficient than analog, so the government is reclaiming some of that bandwidth for other uses. You may have heard recently about the 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction, scheduled for this coming January. Verizon, Google, and Cox are among several bidders for certain pieces of spectrum, which could carry voice and data faster and more reliably than existing networks. The 700 MHz spectrum has been used by OTA channels 52-69.

For cable, the process may be a little slower as some cable providers are preparing to keep at least a few analog stations (the regular broadcast networks) alive for a little longer depending on customer response. Cable operators are mandated to carry both analog and digital signals for the time being, an extension of "must-carry" rules. As the old analog channels are replaced completely by digital (including HDTV), bandwidth will be freed up. Some of that bandwidth is slated for video-on-demand services and more HD channels, some will be used for higher-speed internet access. (AT&T's U-verse service is IP-based and is far different from what Comcast or Verizon provide.)

Within all of that freed bandwidth should be additional space for a combo SD/HD regional sports network, should the A's decide to launch one.

Still need a partner
Even with all of that, an A's-based regional sports network won't be viable unless there's additional programming. To get that, they'll need to look south to San Jose, and the Sharks. The A's and Sharks are in similar positions relative to the local TV market. They perform worse than other teams that broadcast during the same season (A's vs. Giants, Sharks vs. Warriors). Both will be catering heavily to a Silicon Valley corporate base. Both have limited radio deals and are disadvantaged in the local media market compared to the other Bay Area teams. Chronologically they are the youngest franchises in the Bay Area. And their seasons are compatible, with the A's regular season ending when the Sharks' season starts (and vice-versa). Quakes 4.0 will be an integral piece, and their summer schedule isn't so heavy as to cause frequent conflicts.

The teams can't stop there. There are tons of other teams in the area and no one needs to look under rocks to find them. Did you know that CSN West and the St. Mary's men's basketball team have been expanding their broadcasting deal the last three years? That there are dozens of great high school football rivalries that don't get the regional recognition they deserve because of meager coverage?

The A's recently re-upped with KICU for 3 years. The deal probably isn't much to sneeze at, but that's fine because the market will truly open up at the turn of the decade. Once it does, the A's need to be poised to strike. There'll be a window of opportunity for their own media independence, but that window won't be open forever.

14 December 2007

All quiet on the Fremont front

Apologies for not having a post in the past couple weeks, everyone. Honestly, not much has happened with the A's regarding the stadium matters. The environmental consultant was approved as part of a consent vote with other items on 11/27. The city council session still ran 4+ hours, most of it devoted to a single agenda item: a development at I-680 and Auto Mall/Durham called Sabercat Center. The project faced vigorous opposition from residents of the Mission San Jose neighborhood, many of whom have homes a stone's throw away from the project site. Despite the seemingly endless stream of residents opposed to Sabercat Center, the council approved the project 4-1 anyway. Is that foreshadowing for Cisco Field? Probably not, because the two main criticisms of Sabercat Center were its vertical orientation (far different from the SFR's that dominate the area) and its location literally on top of the Hayward fault. Immediate NIMBY concerns don't really affect Cisco Field as it's across I-880 from any nearby residence. It's also a good two miles from the Hayward fault, slightly less than the distance from the Coliseum to the same fault. In any case, nothing's happening until after the New Year.

The holidays haven't halted everyone's work.
Oh yeah, some report was released as well. Which leads to the self-explanatory new poll item on the right.

27 November 2007

Good ole' Gus strikes again

Opposition has to come from somewhere, and its most consistent form appears to be former Fremont mayor Gus Morrison, who wrote a letter to the Fremont City Council criticizing the A's Community Specific Plan. In this round he assesses the A's parking plan as inadequate, citing the A's as having "only 5,800 permanent parking spaces identified for the proposed 32,000-seat ballpark."

Those who have been reading these pages for a while know that 5,800 permanent spaces only tells part of the story. As mentioned in a previous post, here's the true parking breakdown:
  • Interim/opening day buildout: 21,450 spaces (11,304 ballpark/10,146 non-ballpark)
  • Final buildout: 20,646 spaces (10,500 ballpark/10,146 non-ballpark)
The interim plan includes the use of the 41-acre West Cushing parcel, which will be gradually built out into mixed development over several years. Just as the City of San Jose has an agreement with the Sharks to maintain a certain number parking spaces, the A's will have a similar agreement with Fremont. Early indications are that the right number is 10,500, which is more than the current Coliseum lot capacity. There are options available to bridge the 4,700-space gap:
  • Use of the 40-acre city-owned parcel next to the planned rail station. The lot will be somewhat remote and the city may want to open it up to more uses than just parking (for instance, a public park) which would limit the space available. As the A's negotiate with the city and the school district on space allotted for public use and parking, it's likely the city-owned parcel will be divvied up in a manner that suits all parties. Should that not work out the A's can also...
  • Build garages. Keith Wolff has indicated that this option exists if demand calls for it. Keep in mind that they're already building 10,000 parking spaces in garages for residential and commercial use. They'll have agreements in place to preserve required parking for both of those uses, so the ballpark requirement won't be able to infringe. Additional garage space may become a necessity as the West Cushing parcel is developed. That responsibility won't fall on Fremont, it's up to the A's. In the end, having adequate amounts of parking is sound business. At least in this case, the A's have the better part of 10 years to plan and adjust accordingly. Then there's also yet another option...
  • Buy additional surrounding lots. I pointed out in my breakdown of the CSP that the A's haven't bought all of the Brandin Court properties yet. Having only 2/3 of that area alone accounts for the aforementioned 5,800 spaces. Add in the remaining properties and you add another 1,000 or so. Having one large contiguous space near the ballpark allows for flexibility if/when a garage comes into play.
For some reason, Morrison seized upon this bit from the Parking Facilities description:
It should also be noted that there are approximately 8.4 million square feet of R&D/Office, Industrial and Warehouse space within 1 mile of the proposed Cisco Field with an estimated 12,000 parking stalls. It is very common for a portion of surrounding commercial owners/tenants to sell parking for ballpark related events in evenings and on weekends when their parking stalls are not in use.
He then took the time to count 4,199 non-retail spaces within one mile of the ballpark site, based on calculations using Google Earth. While I applaud Morrison for using such a good application, his worry appears to be misplaced. He's probably right about his estimate, especially now that a large swath of previously industrial-zoned land in the area is being converted into commercial (the old Creative Labs warehouse comes to mind). Still, nowhere in the CSP do the A's factor these third-party, privately-owned spaces into their parking estimates. Nor do they say this type of use will become part of the eventual parking plan. There may be possibilities there thanks to the fact that much of the land in the area is owned by ProLogis and Lam Research, who can act as go-betweens (ProLogis is helping on the parking plan for the existing Pacific Commons center). Even if there isn't a single space that comes from these third-party lots, there will be over 20,000 spaces available for the entire ballpark village. Then there's also this nugget from the same paragraph:
It is also anticipated that a portion of Cisco Field attendees would shop/dine at the Mixed Use District prior to the game and would qualify for a discounted validation to park within the Mixed Use District as they are also patrons of that district.
How many fans would take advantage? There's no estimate and that's a good thing. Fans who choose to take this option end up with a win-win, as they lighten the load on the ballpark parking facility, they get (likely) discounted parking, and they stick around a little longer before and/or after the game to lessen the strain on road infrastructure.

Morrison's next salvo will involve traffic. I hope (and expect) it to be more enlightening than his crying wolf about parking.

14 November 2007

Survey says: Yes to A's in Fremont

A survey of 400 registered voters in Fremont conducted by the A's shows that a majority of residents want the A's in town. Results:
  • 60% of residents favor construction of the ballpark village
  • 69% of residents have a favorable opinion of the A's
  • 18% have an unfavorable opinion of the A's

Margin of error was ±5%. Perhaps some were swayed by the various charitable efforts the A's have done in the area (Eckersley Field renovation, attendance at numerous area events). Or maybe people are simply excited. Whatever the case, it's good to know that the populace is at the very least open-minded about the concept. That's all we can ask for.

09 November 2007

Tidbits from the Community Specific Plan

Before I begin, it's necessary to point out that the CSP is the first of what will be many lengthy documents supporting the ballpark village. And be forewarned: the CSP is the prettiest. Everything else will likely be very dry, fact-based, and for some, boring. So the CSP is not the end-all, be-all in the process. All other supporting documentation (EIR, traffic study, additional reports) will spring from the CSP. Case in point: the very brief transportation/parking section is only 10 pages long excluding appendices.

I'll start off with some general points. The question about who pays for infrastructure frequently comes up, so I'll let this paragraph explain the situation (from 2.10 - Plan Area History):
ProLogis (and formerly Catellus) have made major infrastructure improvements over the past ten years for roads and utilities surrounding and serving the vicinity, and, in large part, the Plan Area. The existing entitlements and improvement plans that have been constructed provide an “envelope” in which the new proposed land uses can be accommodated.
That, coupled with the already completed and ongoing freeway improvements, have created an excellent base for further development regardless of type. Obviously, it's up to the developer to fill in the space, but that is a cost that will be borne by the developer per standard practice, not by taxpayers. The items that will have to be negotiated are the transit hub, whatever/wherever that is, and the school.

Not mentioned in the CSP, but in the
yesterday's Mychael Urban article, is this tidbit:
Simultaneous to the environmental review process, ProLogis, owner of the Pacific Commons Shopping Center, will conduct a targeted outreach program with its tenants at Pacific Commons and the adjacent Auto Mall regarding the transportation and parking impacts of the proposed ballpark village. ProLogis will work collaboratively with both the A's and the City of Fremont as this project progresses.
ProLogis is definitely going to be looking out for its tenants in the process, but it's highly encouraging to know they'll be helping to shape the policy instead of simply taking a hardline position. Maybe they're getting a slightly inflated price for the land they're selling to the A's, maybe not. Even with the sale, ProLogis will remain the largest landowner in the area.

The number of required spaces for the ballpark alone has been debated and discussed at length (10,000+). The CSP takes it a step further by giving the parking estimate for the full village, including residential and commercial uses. Here are the total parking projections:
  • Interim/opening day buildout: 21,450 spaces (11,304 ballpark/10,146 non-ballpark)
  • Final builout: 20,646 spaces (10,500 ballpark/10,146 non-ballpark)
The non-ballpark figure includes a static 4,600 spaces for residential use. Unless I'm misinterpreting this figure, it appears to be a worst-case scenario that isn't reflective of what will occur during the interim period because housing will be built gradually over a 10-year span. Still, the max demand can be as high as 20,000+ cars, and that will be the challenge to address. Compare that to the original entitlement of the land, which was for 4.7 million square feet of office space. Using the commonly held ratio of 300 square feet per employee, that translates to 15,666 employees. Bay Area transit usage is around 10%, probably less in Fremont. Remove 10% off the top for transit users, another 15% for carpoolers. That means 11,750 cars from the offices, generally during peak-use periods. At the ballpark village, rush hour usage should be far more when the A's are in town, far less when they're out of town. Break those numbers down into night/day and weekend games and the picture becomes muddled. The A's argument is going to be that total parking/traffic demand will be the same or less than what is currently entitled for the land. We'll have to wait for the traffic/transportation study and a further analysis of it to ascertain the true local and regional impact.

The circulation plan will restrict the lot you can use based on which route you took to get to the ballpark. That is, unless you're a patron at one of the nearby stores or restaurants:

It is also anticipated that a portion of Cisco Field attendees would shop/dine at the Mixed Use District prior to the game and would qualify for a discounted validation to park within the Mixed Use District as they are also patrons of that district.

That's one way to entice people to come early and stay late, while getting a better parking location in the process.

Municipal Parcel
The 40-acre municipal parcel at the far west end of Auto Mall Parkway will be a serious negotiating point. The A's want it for 4,000+ parking spaces. The city would prefer to repurpose it as parkland. Either way, it will probably contain a train station. There is a strip of designated greenbelt area that connects the parcel to the ballpark village. It is this strip that has been designated for the parking tram route.

Other notes
Throughout the Fremont Industrial area, street parking is banned just about everywhere. This ban has been in place for years, and the streets sufficiently narrow enough to make street parking impossible (unless you want to get towed). The exception to this is one block between Pacific Commons and the planned mixed-use portion of the village. If you're looking for a free place to park on the street, you won't find it. They're planning for an extensive network of bike lanes instead.

The "Specific Plan Contributors" list contains 17 different firms, from the A's themselves to geotechnical engineer Engeo to residential planning architect Papageorge/Haymes.

Read the Implementation section (11) to get a feel for the process.

08 November 2007

Updated: Development app submitted

The A's have a new press release trumpeting the submission of the development application to the city of Fremont. In the release are several interesting nuggets:
  • On May 10, Wolff announced the completion of a land transaction agreement with Cisco Systems and ProLogis, giving the A's ownership group control of 226 acres of land in the City of Fremont and enabling the project to move forward.
  • A total of approximately 540,000 square feet of high-quality retail/residential mixed use is also planned for the project, with a significant portion of the retail area serving as a regional lifestyle center and neighborhood retail in a "Main Street USA" environment adjacent to the ballpark.
  • The estimated cost of the village project is approximately $1.8 billion. The project will be primarily financed by a combination of private equity and real estate development proceeds generated by the ballpark and the surrounding village.
I'll be cozying up with the Community Specific Plan (warning! large - 30 MB - download) this evening.

To answer a question from a commenter: No, this is not a done deal. This is only the first official step. 12-18 months will be required to vet the proposal. Groundbreaking would occur sometime after approval and certification of the plan.

Some quick observations:

  • The Scott Specialty Gas parcel is not included in the site plan. Is this merely a preliminary vision that will change when the site is acquired, or is it that the two parties can't come to an agreement?
  • The interim plan shows over 11,000 parking spaces. The final, depending on buildout, is slightly less than 11,000 spaces.
  • As expected, shuttle buses are prevalent. Not expected - the possible use of open-air trams (6.32).
  • The appendices have diagrams showing traffic flow for games based on initial and final buildout as well as shuttle routes.

More to come.

04 November 2007

Planning transit around a ballpark, Part III

Lew Wolff revealed on Forum with Michael Krasny that the development filing, due in 10 days, will be accompanied by 150 pages of documentation. Keep in mind that this "tome" won't be environmental impact report. It will likely include the much-anticipated traffic and transportation study. It might also contain an amended economic impact report to reflect changes in the development. The actual EIR will come after several months of study and review, first in draft form, then in final form for certification.

The traffic and transportation study will probably contain details about the shuttles that will take fans from either the current Fremont BART station or a future Warm Springs (South Fremont) BART station to Cisco Field. In an effort to provide a preview of this, this post speculates a bit on what the shuttles could look like.

The red, green, and blue lines represent potential routes from the existing Fremont BART station. The dotted yellow line shows routes from Warm Springs BART. The pink dotted line represents routes from the future Capitol Corridor/ACE station as well as the possible remote parking lot. At first glance it doesn't appear that the nearby lots (blue and yellow "P"), which are less than 1/2 mile from the ballpark, would have shuttle service.

This is where it gets tricky. Let's go with Keith Wolff's estimate that 5,000 people would either take transit or walk from the nearby village. How many would come from the village itself? 1,000? 2,000? I seriously doubt that more than 1,000 residents would go to the ballpark. The number of workers from the nearby area that could walk to the ballpark might number in the hundreds at best. So let's assume that 4,000 would come from transit.

Since there would be no direct BART or rail service to the ballpark, all transit riders would be coming via some kind of bus, big or small. So the question is, how many buses will it take? Going from what's in AC Transit's fleet, here's what they'll need:
  • 40 articulated (60' long) buses: 63 seated, 40 standees -or-
  • 60 regular (40') buses: 40 seated, 30 standees -or-
  • 200 mini or shuttle buses: 20 seated, 0 standees
There a couple more considerations to take into account. Would these shuttles provide "express" service between the station and the ballpark, or would there be stops in between? I can't see Fremont officials signing off on something that appreciably clogs their streets without providing at least some service to its own residents. And if the service included stops in between, what about service to parts of Fremont not on the routes? Or service to Newark or Union City? An express bus might take 20 minutes in favorable traffic. In bad traffic or with a bunch of stops, it could take 10-15 minutes more.

This is where our oft-neglected friend the train comes in. While Capitol Corridor won't bring fans the last mile (literally), CC trains can bridge much of the 5 mile gap. They can also overcome some major challenges. A train shuttle running from the Union City Intermodal Station would reduce the need for those 40-100 bus shuttles from Fremont BART. It would also service Union City and Fremont by default, plus a new station along the Newark section of the route could service Newark residents. Most importantly, the remaining shuttle traffic would be largely confined to the Pacific Commons area (the pink dotted line), with few shuttles crossing 880. Shorter shuttle routes translate greater efficiency and lower operating costs. The trip from Union City to Pacific Commons could run around 15 minutes - not as good as BART but better than a bus. Capitol Corridor officials had indicated in the past that they aren't set up to run a shuttle like this, but some creative scheduling can allow this service to be folded into their expanding schedule. Additional trains between Fremont and San Jose will soon be feasible with the completion of several already underway track improvement projects.

Now, on to the dotted yellow line. A study was undertaken in 2001 to determine ways to better move traffic between 880 and 680 during the commute hours. Two identified methods would immediately impact fans traveling between the proposed Warm Springs BART station and Pacific Commons.

Alternative A1 involves the widening of Auto Mall Parkway to 6 lanes east of 880. That alone should make things easier, but two other measures should be taken to mitigate traffic. First, it appears that the parking area located closest to Cisco Field will be largely VIP parking. That alone will reduce the number of cars making left turns from Auto Mall to Christy St. Rules can be established that limit left turns there to VIP parking passes and shuttle buses. Second, since Joe Fan won't get to park that close to the park, he may be forced to use the lot across Auto Mall from Pacific Commons (the uppermost "P" above). It would behoove the A's to build a pedestrian overpass over Auto Mall Parkway. A full lot there would equate to over 5,000 fans walking from the lot. Not putting in an overpass would be borderline irresponsible, as Auto Mall Parkway is 9 lanes wide in this area and only one side has a usable crosswalk. The best thing to do would be to build the overpass and stick some flexible electronic signage on it. The signage can direct traffic on event days. It can also show advertising on other days/hours.

Alternative B1 adds HOV lanes on Fremont Blvd and Grimmer Blvd between 880 and 680. If implemented, it would allow a natural route (the longer southerly dotted line) with built-in bus/carpool lanes.

I'm certain that with the direct discussions the A's have had with all of the area transit agencies, they can come up with more creative methods of serving the A's fanbase. The solutions described above are but a handful that can help bring fans to Cisco Field without huge capital expenditures while leveraging without taxing existing infrastructure.

01 November 2007

FUSD trustees continue push for school

There's been an ongoing dialogue between the A's and FUSD, with both at different ends of the negotiations. In today's report from the Fremont Bulletin by Wes Bowers, the district revealed more about their projections for a new school that would service ~3,000 new homes:

The range of elementary students generated from the development is projected between 621 to 931, based on an analysis from a district housing study.

From kindergarten to the sixth grade, the district-wide average from all homes is .214 students per home.

Multiplying that average by the 2,900 homes proposed by the A's, approximately 621 students could be generated by the project.


The board said the A's should build a school that can house at least 1,000 students, citing that because it will be a new school, it will attract more people.

"These units will generate a higher number of students," Boardmember Larry Sweeney said. "This will be the newest school in a high-performing district, and it will attract quite a few people from this development. It needs to accommodate 1,000 kids from day one."

This is where it gets tricky. The district doesn't want to run into a situation where the school is underbuilt, especially with an urban design that doesn't have the space to accommodate temporary or portable classrooms. They also have their preferences for proper amounts of play area and fields. All of these issues and more have to be taken into consideration for the school's final design.

Giants move to NBC11

This one's a shocker. Today the San Francisco Giants announced that they will be leaving their long-time TV flagship, KTVU-2, for KNTV-11, the Bay Area's NBC affiliate. KTVU continues to have a small stake in the Giants, which seems, well, awkward.

The deal will run for three years, with the broadcast teams staying intact.

For the Giants, the move shouldn't change things much. KNTV moved their
transmitter to San Bruno Mountain a while back, so from an over-the-air standpoint they should cover much the same ground. On cable they're on channel 3 instead of 2. And it looks like KNTV will help produce some additional magazine-style promotional content.

The move's much more interesting for KTVU. KTVU has been riding high on FOX's numerous hits such as 24, House, M.D., and American Idol. All three of those shows air on Monday and Tuesday nights, which are primetime conflict areas for KTVU vis-a-vis the Giants. Even though KTVU has KICU as a fall back when that type of conflict occurs, I'm certain they were contractually obligated not to preempt Giants games for anything else. Those hit shows may also have been better lead-ins for KTVU's 10 p.m. newscast than Giants broadcasts. That's saying a lot since Giants broadcasts trump every other non-NFL Bay Area sports franchise. So if you're wondering if the A's could somehow slide into Oakland-based KTVU's schedule - fuhgetaboutit.

This move is even more telling for KNTV, whose parent network, NBC, has struggled since stalwarts such as Seinfeld, Friends, and Frazier retired. Obviously, NBC-owned KNTV needs a better lead-in to its newscasts than much of its lackluster programming. A look at last week's Nielsens shows not a single NBC primetime telecast in the Top 20 list - which was somewhat skewed by the inclusion of all four World Series broadcasts. Bringing the Giants into the fold has to be a steadying influence, even if an even greater majority of Giants broadcasts will end up on FSN Bay Area. Note to NBC: Please don't mess with the Thursday lineup. I'm tired of you guys killing Scrubs.

From a regional standpoint, I suppose this kind of move should give the Giants better ties to the South Bay, but ever since the ownership change KNTV has been working hard to remake their image as a Bay Area-first station, not a Silicon Valley station. However, both parties might get more Valley advertisers in the process, the same way various Valley companies advertise on Sharks radio broadcasts. The NBC-Telemundo partnership may become an integral part of the broadcasts, though I can't yet say for certain how.

In the long run, the length of the contract allows the Giants to test out a new flagship while exploring other ventures. If the Giants wanted to launch a new regional cable network, they could easily do it starting in 2011. Many teams are moving a greater number of broadcasts to cable, and by the middle of the next decade viewers could face a situation in which no A's or Giants games were delivered over-the-air. It's a day late for Halloween, but it doesn't make the future any less spooky.

Planning transit around a ballpark, Part II

I haven't had a chance to listen to Lew Wolff on Michael Krasny's show on KQED-FM. I'll pick up the archive later and comment those. Those of you who've already heard it live, feel free to chime in.

Haven't been able to past the last couple of days, so here's the continuation of Sunday's Part I.
The yellow line.

That line is the route Amtrak and ACE take through Fremont as they wind they way north and east, respectively. None of these routes have direct connections with BART within Fremont city limits.

Union City may become a vital piece. Just east of the existing Union City BART station, a fairly large development is springing up. It's a
mixed-use transit village that will contain office and residential towers. Anchoring the whole concept is a new rail station, one that will accommodate existing Amtrak and future high speed rail lines. Like the intramodal stations in Millbrae, Richmond, and the Coliseum, riders can step off one platform and switch to another fairly easily. Funding for the station will be dependent on the high speed rail initiative and the Caltrain Dumbarton line (red dotted line), which would run between Redwood City and Union City.

Should the Union City intramodal station come to fruition, it wouldn't cover the last mile to the ballpark, since the planned Pacific Commons train station is still 1.25 miles west of the ballpark. Another shuttle or a lengthy walk would be required, since it's unlikely that planners would go for the
spur station concept I posed a year ago. The yellow line, which depicts the serpentine route through Fremont, would take much longer than a BART train taking a much more direct route to Warm Springs.

Even if these various rail solutions get built, a shuttle of some kind would still be necessary. If the rail solutions don't get built shuttling fans will be a daunting task. Shuttle options were discussed previously. I'll revisit the subject this weekend.

28 October 2007

Planning transit around a ballpark: Part I

First off, I have to admit that the title above is quite disconcerting. The preferred set of actions for a new ballpark would include siting it in close proximity to multiple modes of existing transit or at worst, future transit. Should Cisco Field get approved and built there will be challenges getting fans via public transportation to the ballpark. The 18% of fans that currently take transit or walk (i.e. BART) will likely drop precipitously, despite some overly rosy predictions.

To paraphrase FSU from the
last comments thread, just because a transit solution can be built doesn't mean it will. That's the rub. There are numerous factors that come into play when considering how to service an area. Budget constraints are always a reality. Operators want to ensure that the most people get the best available service, and running routes that don't have much ridership is wasteful. At the same time, there needs to be a populace or potential user base already in place to utilize transit solutions, since the car-oriented often don't switch to transit quickly or easily.

Unfortunately, south Fremont is a no-man's land transit-wise. The oft-mentioned 5 miles from Fremont BART to Pacific Commons is already bad. It's another 4 miles south to the county line. Most of that area, especially along the Nimitz, is industrially zoned. AC Transit services the area, and there are certain bus routes that get a fair amount of usage, but for the most part the riders aren't there thanks to sprawling campuses. Driving around the area, one gets the sense transit use drops off exponentially the further one moves away from the BART station. That isn't really anyone's fault. When BART was built Fremont was a relatively new city and was sparsely populated. Much of south Fremont was still farmland or otherwise undeveloped. It made sense to terminate BART at the city center since the greatest ridership potential would be there. In hindsight, it may have been advantageous to bring the line 5 miles south to Warm Springs, to better serve all of Fremont and South Bay riders. There weren't many residents there at the time, but there were jobs at NUMMI. Ultimately, the best solution would have to involve major consideration of users north and south of Warm Springs. The immediate surrounding area doesn't have much density.

The following map (click for a much larger, 800 kb version) is a highlighted version of AC Transit's Tri-Cities local service map. Current and future rail lines and immediate areas surrounding current transit hubs are featured.

What a big disjointed mess. There are 4 current transit centers, all north of Stevenson Blvd, which are supposed to service about 330,000 residents, spread over an area larger than Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville combined. One of these, the Centerville train station (Amtrak/ACE), gets far less usage than the true transit hubs (the BART stations). NewPark Mall's transit center is bus only. ACE and Amtrak take a serpentine route through Fremont that has to be speed-limited because it runs at grade right through residential areas. And to simplify things, I haven't included the high speed rail routes, the optional Irvington BART station, or the Ardenwood Park-n-Ride in Newark, which is for transbay commuter use. This is suburbia in nearly its least transit-friendly form. There is no unifying thoroughfare linking all three cities (880 does not count because people don't hang out on a freeway). All three cities are naturally in competition with one another for residents, businesses, and sales taxes, making joint efforts potentially difficult.

Why focus on this? It's simple. A transit solution for Cisco Field cannot be considered outside the greater context of south Fremont and the Tri-Cities area as a whole. No white elephant solution can work unless it were totally financed and operated privately. Any solutions will require partnerships among the MTC, AC Transit, BART, Amtrak, ACE, VTA, WHEELS, and even Caltrain. So let's start with options that could provide the most benefit:
  • Warm Springs BART Extension (WSX). Okay, I know you're saying "duh" but hear me out. It's not that simple. It's not just the fact that even with the extension riders would still be 1.25 miles away from Cisco Field. For AC Transit, WSX would solve a host of problems. Bus routes are usually a hub-and-spoke operation in this area, and since in Fremont they have to start at Fremont BART, any route to south Fremont would run at least 10 miles with sparse ridership. Move the hub down to Warm Springs and routing becomes far easier, tighter, and as a result more efficient. VTA would get the same benefit because it would be a much shorter haul from the county line to Warm Springs. More regular VTA service could run to BART instead of expensive Express bus service. Once that's done, time-sensitive bus and/or carpool lanes could be designated in the corridors between Warm Springs and Pacific Commons. Most of the surface streets in the area are already sufficiently wide or could be widened to accommodate this kind of service. Most importantly, a shuttle from Warm Springs would be a ton cheaper to operate than a shuttle from the Fremont station. Now it's understood that the WSX extension can't be done without the San Jose extension, which is facing an uphill battle. However, there is one change to BART that for some reason has not really been considered, that could push a San Jose extension over the top...
  • Dublin-Pleasanton to Fremont-and-beyond BART service. Regular BART riders already know that the system has an all-roads-lead-to-Oakland approach. BART also doesn't run Express or Limited service, and its lack of track siding or alternate routes makes single points of failure potentially catastrophic. Then there are the political issues that make BART difficult to expand (which would require a separate post to cover in even rudimentary detail). Despite all of this, BART is a clean, efficient system that counts 100 million boardings annually. In all of the hubbub about the Warm Springs and San Jose extensions, there has been a vocal outcry from Livermore users and others east of the current Dublin/Pleasanton terminus about an extension east along 580. IMO they're absolutely right. It should've been done a decade ago. For some reason, the Livermore extension supporters and San Jose backers have decided to oppose each other. If they truly want to get their extensions built they should band together. On some websites and in the San Jose extension documents, there is not a single mention of a Dublin-Pleasanton to Fremont-San Jose line. (There is talk of a 680-based BART line but south of 580 - why? Sunol is not a population center, and that median space would be much better suited to carpool or toll lanes.) Back to the new line - from a construction standpoint, this would require one additional set of connectors between the 238/580 extension and the Fremont line, equating to a couple of miles of aerial or submerged track. Currently, the only connectors send trains from westbound 238 towards Oakland/Richmond/SF. The only way to get to Fremont is to transfer at Bay Fair. It would be a challenge because of the lack of available space and the acute angle that would be used, but it would be worth it. Users would finally be able to directly go from Pleasanton and Livermore to Fremont and once the San Jose extension is built, down to the job centers. Yes, there is ACE and buses already run along the Sunol Grade, but if there were a faster, cheaper way to go wouldn't you take it? Proponents would suddenly have increased justification thanks to higher ridership estimates. And for once BART would show signs of flexibility, since the line would dispense with the decades-old Oakland-as-Appian Way approach. ACE might suffer a bit but their riders come largely from the Central Valley anyway. The easily forgotten WHEELS wouldn't have to run a ballpark service bus, which is a big deal because they don't currently have any kind of service between the Tri-Valley area and Fremont. Politically, this kind of project would have to be led by three Alameda County supervisors whose districts would be affected. Scott Haggerty has long been a proponent of both the Livermore and San Jose extensions, and Tri-Valley is in his district. Gail Steele's district contains Pacific Commons, which stands to get more business from this kind of plan. Alice Lai-Bitker, whose husband, Steve Bitker, filled in at times on A's radio broadcasts and was passed over for the similar-sounding Vince Cotroneo (hmmm), would be the linchpin since the connector would be built in her district. The MTC would have to give its thumbs up, and current projects would have to be restructured or amended such as WSX. In the end that tiny connector would be a win-win for Tri-Valley commuters, both extension proponents, BART, and last but not least the A's.

Before some of you start on the "BART is never coming to San Jose" rants in the comments, let me just say that yes, it is going to be difficult to get BART to the South Bay because of the rising costs. Funny thing is, I've talked to a few officials who consider it a fait accompli, sooner or later. It is looking at this project from a regional standpoint, not just as a series of smaller projects, that will give rise to a better transit vision, one that all Bay Area residents can agree upon. One that, with a little savvy and patience, will have positive cascading effects for the A's and A's fans at Cisco Field.

Tomorrow I'll go over that crazy yellow line on the map.

26 October 2007

What size school? + Killion wants traffic answers

The Argus' Linh Tat covers discussions by trustees of the Fremont Unified School Board, who want the ballpark village's school to be larger than the 4-acre concept the A's have been pitching:
Sharing their vision for the new school for the first time, trustees agreed at Wednesday night's board meeting that they would like 4 1/2 acres of play area alone, and Trustee Larry Sweeney said he would like the entire school to encompass a minimum of 8 acres. Typical suburban schools are spread over 8 to 10 acres.
This means negotiations between the district and the A's can begin in earnest. The trustees want no more than two stories for safety reasons and more play area, which could include more than one field or one really large field. The A's want a more compact design so that they can conserve land for housing or other uses.

We'll see where they can come to an agreement. It's possible the city might step in here, especially if the concept ends up being a shared school/park facility. The A's have been reluctant to go that route, instead suggesting a series of smaller pocket parks and playgrounds. I've mentioned before that a bargaining chip may be the city-owned 40 acre parcel next to the rail line and near the now-closed-to-the-public landfill. From the discussions that emerged from the school board presentation a few weeks ago, there's a good sense that all parties know how to make this work.

The Merc's Ann Killion
jumps on the alarmist traffic bandwagon. This time, her critique is two-fold. There are the actual public transportation and traffic issues to address. Then there's the cavalier nature by which Lew Wolff is responding to repeated inquiries.

Killion wants to act as the environmentally conscious journalist when she writes:

Twenty years ago, 10 years ago, even two years ago locating a stadium away from easily accessed public transportation was not such a big deal. It wasn't even that big a deal last year when the A's unveiled their swanky plans for Cisco Field.

But with every passing day, every new horror story about global warming, every new Prius sold, every bump in gas prices, the public becomes more and more aware of the desperate need for better public transportation. That the old model of bigger freeways and longer traffic jams just isn't going to work.

Excellent points. I hope to take a new train from Downtown San Jose to Fremont to attend games, even if I have to take a shuttle. Maybe I'll even buy a townhouse near Cisco Field so that I can walk. I'll try to make my contribution.

Here's the problem I have with these critiques: the writers are jumping the gun by playing the
FUD card. Yes, there are concerns about how to properly route ballpark-related traffic and even reduce it. Getting effective public transportation to the site will be no easy feat and will require buy-in from many different entities, including Fremont, Alameda County, the MTC, and several transit agencies. Everyone who is in any way associated with the project is keenly aware of these issues. That does not mean, however, that they are intractable. It will require some very creative planning to put together a solid, usable system of traffic management and public transportation at the site. Let's wait until the traffic and transportation study are released, then we can give a proper assessment. Tonight I'll try to frame the discussion by assessing the local (Tri-Cities) public transportation system, and why the existing suburban buildout might make it difficult to implement any significant changes.

Funny thing is, wasn't it Killion who around this time last year
lobbied the Giants to accept a payoff for territorial rights to Santa Clara County? She even wrote this:
I'm less perturbed by Wolff's posturing about leaving Oakland and voicing his frustration over the red tape he is facing than I am about his discussion of one of the biggest hurdles: traffic.
I wonder then, where Killion would like to see the A's located? Definitely to a place that has good public transit infrastructure already in place. Maybe a place that could get both BART and High Speed Rail in the next 15-20 years. Maybe a place like... Downtown San Jose.

Nah. From a San Jose-based columnist? Couldn't be that.

(awaiting first Anthony Rodriguez, er., Dominguez comment...)

25 October 2007

Chronicle Editorial

With all the hubbub from Ray Ratto's and Carl Steward's columns along with Carolyn Jones' writeup about the Commonwealth Club speech, it may have been easy to miss the Chronicle's editorial on both the 49ers and A's. In assessing the A's situation, the piece says this:
Wolff is only being realistic. While the A's have a colorful history and a vibrant fan base in Oakland, there is neither political will nor a plausible site for a new baseball stadium there. The lack of an uproar to Wolff's remarks should tell him everything he needs to know about the need to focus his energy in Fremont.
Well, there certainly was a mini uproar in the comments section of the Ratto and Jones pieces. Then again, the commenters there tend to rail against anything and everything. In any case, way to tell it like it is, Chron.

24 October 2007

Getting it partly right

Ray Ratto has chimed in with his take on the Commonwealth Club speech/Q&A. He shared the same puzzlement I wrote about earlier regarding the Wolff's current bargaining position (there isn't much of one).

He then went on to bring up CEQA, the statute that requires a thorough environmental review before major projects can be built in California. As a developer, Wolff was expected to fire off a couple of shots at the law. After a while it only becomes so much noise. All any developer can do is put together a plan that they hope will satisfy CEQA guidelines while also making a buck in the process. Since those two goals are often diametrically opposed, getting that done is quite a balancing act. While CEQA may be daunting or even hostile to developers, it's CEQA that's allowed us regular citizens to enjoy unspoiled beaches, preserved hillsides, and many other uniquely Californian natural attractions that we often take for granted.

There are a couple of things we all should know about CEQA of which I'm sure Wolff is all too familiar:
  • CEQA ain't going away. As this state grows to over 50 million residents, CEQA will become even more important.
  • Whatever gets submitted will look different 18 months later. Thanks to the exhaustive and seemingly repetitive review process, there will be plenty of opportunities to pick the whole plan part and make changes. The bigger the project, the more likely changes will occur. You only need to look at the EIR/EIS documents for the High Speed Rail and BART-to-San Jose projects to get a feel for it. Changes can be caused by environmental factors, budget constraints, market conditions, or other variables.
Knowing that change is inevitable, IMHO it would be best to simply submit whatever they have to Fremont and let the two parties crank away. Which brings me to an error in Ratto's column:
In short, Wolff now is feeling the first real squeeze of his grand plan - the inertia that comes from civic hesitation.
It's not "civic hesitation" that's the problem here. The city is champing at the bit! The problem is Wolff and his team. Maybe the whip is getting cracked extra hard on the consultants, or whatever deliverables they were going to put together are woefully behind schedule. Whatever the case, the City of Fremont is entirely blameless. In fact, they've been clear from the beginning in their "cautious optimism" stance that they want to work with the A's to get the best plan available. Now it helps that the A's put in the $500k dev fee, but time is also money for all concerned.

My advice: Just submit the application already. Everyone will get past this FUD stage and start debating the true merits and problems with the plan, instead of all of this idle speculation. Sadly, one thing that's getting lost in this is the A's have already made some major concessions regarding the school site and parking that weren't in the original concept. Often such concessions don't get made until after the CEQA review begins. Oh well.
ESPN's Mark Kreidler also wrote about the supposedly difficult relationship between the Coliseum and the A's ever since they moved in. For some reason he forgot the salad days of the late 80's, when the Coliseum was a premier baseball venue and hosted premier teams. Now, to put that in perspective, we're talking about correlating that era to about 1/7th or 1/8th of the time the A's have been in Oakland. That may not sound like much, but it's a testament to how, from a baseball standpoint, the Coliseum has stood still while just about everyone else has upgraded their digs.
We'll see something more substantive next Tuesday (10/30), when another study session is scheduled to occur. Update: I received word that there is no study session scheduled, as it's dependent on submission of the development application.

23 October 2007

Fremont or Bust

Well, at least Lew Wolff isn't entertaining the concept of a local bidding war. In what has the most definitive statement to date, Wolff reaffirmed the idea that Fremont is Plan A, there is no Plan B, and Oakland is out of the picture. Wolff's quote from Carolyn Jones' Chronicle article:
"We don't want to move. We don't want to start pitting cities against each other, but it's out of the question we'll stay in Oakland," he said after a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
Those who have been following this for a while know that this is no fundamental change in Wolff's stance since the Cisco Field plan was unveiled. Fremont was really the only plan in place. This time, Wolff added what amounts to a complete dismissal of Oakland as a possibility.

As the A's close their 40th year at the Coliseum, it seems a certainty that the team will not see their 50th year there. I suppose there's some strategic value in Wolff sending the message so bluntly, but I have to question it. What's to be gained by going this route? It won't make Fremont officials move faster. It won't move the needle on regional support. And it definitely won't win over any die-hard Oakland-firsters.

As I write this, an old USFL game between the Pittsburgh Maulers and the New Jersey Generals is playing on ESPN Classic. Like the USFL and the Oakland Invaders, the "Oakland Athletics" will soon become a thing of the past.

18 October 2007

Your Athletics Crystal Ball

We've discussed at great length the where and how of the ballpark project. I've also covered "why" from the perspective of deficiencies at the Coliseum. The main point, which I haven't covered in significant depth, is money. Ownership stands to make a boatloads of cash from this deal while taking on a good deal of risk in the process. The purpose of this post is to provide a basic understanding how much more money they could make over the current situation. Take a look at the tables and when you're ready drop a comment.
Disclaimer: Most of the numbers discussed here are based on various media-reported estimates of revenues and costs. They should not be considered anything resembling a thorough accounting of the A's operations. Estimates take into account rules described in the current CBA.
In an effort to further this discussion, I've taken the time to dissect the revenue sharing model, A's-style. But first some explanations:
  • Concessions numbers don't match ticket sales because concessions sales are based on turnstile count, which runs at about 80% of ticket sales (you can't sell concessions to no-shows).
  • Parking sales numbers are based on 8,000 spaces sold per game over 82 games. This may be generous given actual parking lot usage at the Coliseum.
  • Non-game events include tours and other activities outside of game days.
  • In-stadium advertising, sponsorships, and broadcast revenues are placeholders for the purpose of fleshing out the model. So are the items listed in "Actual Stadium Expenses."
  • It is not assumed that the new stadium will immediately benefit the A's in terms of more lucrative local broadcasting deals.
  • Revenue sharing contribution is defined as 31% of Net Local Revenue. All teams pay in this percentage, plus luxury tax if applicable.
  • "Recovered debt service from dev rights sales" is the "refund" the A's will get from selling development rights to ~310 housing units per year. It's this amount that is intended to finance the ballpark debt. That boils down to a $300 million loan, financed at $31 million per year over 15 years. The final loan structure is likely to vary greatly from this.
  • "Revenue Sharing Receipt" is the share of the revenue sharing pool the A's get.
  • "Central Revenue" is national and international revenue taken in by MLB. This includes national broadcast contracts from FOX, ESPN, and TBS, plus merchandising sources.
And now for the details. Below is the A's current revenue/expense model:

A combination of low operations costs and revenue sharing make the A's a reasonably profitable franchise. That $140 million figure looks tantalizingly large, but don't be mislead. Lew Wolff has held close to a "guideline" that dictates teams should spend no more than 55% of revenue on payroll, as is done throughout pro sports. Using the 55% rule the A's payroll should be around $83 million, which is pretty close to this season's actual payroll. Before we move on, remember the amount of the "Revenue sharing contribution."

(estimates not adjusted for inflation)
In this model, A's revenue has risen $25 million. Yet the "Revenue sharing contribution" is almost the same as in the current model. How can this be? The "Actual Stadium Expenses" table totals a whopping $52 million, thanks to stadium debt service and operating costs, which are all deductible from the amount used to determine the contribution. Consider it similar to your annual 1040 form's "Adjusted Gross Income." The A's would service the stadium debt with sales of housing development rights, not stadium income. That would allow the A's to reclaim all of that debt service and put it towards the team - or ownership partners. Notice that even in this instance the A's would be receiving some form of revenue sharing receipt. This is because the A's new revenue streams from the stadium would still place them slightly below the league-wide revenue average, squarely in mid-market territory. This number is smaller because it's expected that most if not all teams that still are developing ballparks will have theirs open around the same time Cisco Field opens. New stadia for the Yanks, Mets, and ongoing improvements to Dodger Stadium and Fenway Park allow the big market teams to take the same deductions, limiting the amounts they pay into revenue sharing.

Apply the 55% rule to the future revenue model and the payroll grows to $97 million. Is that enough to remain competitive? In spurts. A fantastic diary posted by Taj Adib at Athletics Nation goes in depth on future iterations of the A's. $97 million isn't enough for anyone to turn into Brian Cashman. It is enough to invest in more than one franchise-type player while maintaining a young, cheap core of players. The franchise-player investments have inherently high risk, and if those players come through with career years while your young core stays healthy and produces, you might end up like this year's Rockies or Indians. Gamble and lose, and you get this year's Orioles or Rangers. 6 or 7-year deals are not easy to trade if a player seriously underperforms, so GM's won't have frequent chances to roll the dice. What we could see in the future might be shorter and more frequent rebuilding cycles for the mid-market teams. What we don't want to see is a situation like the NBA, where GM's are forced to trade bad contracts instead of trading players based on exchanges of talent. (It's an ugly system, though for a number-cruncher like me it's strangely fascinating.) Thanks to the number of roster spots per team, MLB's salary/trade model is somewhere between the dog-eat-dog tendencies of the NFL and the egregious excesses of the NBA. And that's a good thing.

15 October 2007

NY Times article

A NY Times article (reporter Dan Reed) about Cisco Field has the rather sensationalistic headline, "Oakland's Dream Stadium, or Traffic Nightmare?"

The article only briefly mentions the traffic problem and gets a quote from long-time fan Erin Hallissy, who I assume lives in Contra Costa County:
“For the loyal fans who live east of Oakland,” said Hallissy, who edits the alumni magazine at Saint Mary’s College, “it would just be too far to go to a game, especially on a workday when we’d be stuck with all the commuter traffic fighting their way home.”
Unfortunately, I saw this article at 7:00 p.m., at the tail end of evening rush hour, which was a bit messy thanks to a light shower and the astounding inability of many Californians to drive in inclement weather. Nevertheless, I immediately went to and took a snapshot of the traffic map. I queried the drive time from Lafayette to Fremont (Mission Blvd. South/680), which is a bit past the Auto Mall/Durham exit that would lead fans coming from 680 to Cisco Field. Here's what I plotted (click image for bigger version):

35 minutes. The blue line indicates the route. As I've said before, southbound 680 in the evening is often not the nightmare many make it out to be. Much of the ballpark traffic will run opposite commute traffic, plus it will be distributed among 4 separate freeway segments plus some larger area thoroughfares.

But who am I to argue? A spicy headline beats dry analysis for reader attention any day of the week.

The tortoise phase

Fremont officials have been grumbling louder in recent weeks about the A's delays in getting the development application in. FWIW I'm glad. They've expressed this frustration to any media person who asks - including me. I don't know if it will get the app in more quickly, but it can't hurt to put feet to the fire. Both the City and the A's have remained professional and cordial throughout.

In today's East Bay Business Times article by David Goll, Lew Wolff admits that the team's in "the tortoise phase":
Wolff himself admits he's in "the tortoise phase" of his plan, anticipating up to 18 months for the city's planning and review process to unfold once he submits a formal proposal. He also foresees spending $20 million to $30 million for a detailed design for the entire development and, assuming the Fremont City Council gives his plans a green light, about two years for construction of the stadium.
Fremont's economic development director Daren Fields gave his opinion on when he thinks the ballpark could open: 2012. I think it can still happen in 2011, but if the application isn't submitted in the next few weeks an April 2011 opening date could certainly be in jeopardy.

14 October 2007

Two new sites

Last week two new websites came online for those interested in A's new ballpark news. First up is the A's to Fremont Support Group. Currently the only page is a mailing list signup form for interested parties, but this is sure to expand fairly quickly. I am not involved with this particular site as I was with the dormant "Bring the A's to Fremont" site. That also is subject to change. For now I am replacing the dormant site with the new one on the sidebar.

Next up is MLB's Ballparks of the Future site, presented by Cisco. It has a video showing Cisco's vision of the future plus videos for all five in-development ballparks as well as additional galleries for other new and to-be-renovated venues. Check out the Nationals' stadium tour video to get a glimpse of how crazy the premium seating market has become.

10 October 2007

This town ain't big enough for the both of us

In today's press release, Cedar Fair has thrown down the gauntlet. The theme park operator "believes that the traffic, parking and other operational problems that would be created by putting the stadium in the middle of Great America’s main parking area are insurmountable and would place the continued operation of the park at risk."

After making this assessment, Cedar Fair offered to sell the park (remember they don't own the land, they have a lease through 2039) to the city/49ers so that the 49ers could do what they wanted with it. Talk about hardball, read the stance for yourself:

Cedar Fair has analyzed information provided by the 49ers themselves regarding parking, usage dates, project footprint, and traffic flow. While other parties can weigh in on the fiscal and environmental risks that building a new stadium would bring to the residents of Santa Clara, we oppose the stadium as proposed for three basic reasons specific to the interests of Great America’s guests:

1. Unacceptable parking limitations for Great America visitors.
2. Increased congestion for Great America visitors.
3. Irreconcilable limits on Great America improvement plans.

When Cedar Fair concluded that an amusement park and the stadium as proposed could not successfully coexist, Cedar Fair offered the City and the 49ers the option of redeveloping the entire parcel. The next step will be for the citizens and the City of Santa Clara to decide: should the Great America site be used for a new 49ers’ stadium or should the park continue to operate? If the City and its citizens believe that the best use of this property is for a new stadium, then Cedar Fair is willing to consider selling the remainder of its lease and all of its interest and assets to the City or 49ers for fair market value.

So it's Great America vs. the 49ers. Reading between the lines, it appears Cedar would prefer that Santa Clara citizens choose between the two. If/when an election is held to decide this, it will difficult issue to pass because it will be hard for the Niners to paint it as something other than a black-and-white scenario. Great America is the incumbent and doesn't face an uphill battle.

Should the Niners get to the point of actually acquiring the park, there is a question of what "fair market value" is. It comes down to branding and the value of operations at Great America. Close the park and it becomes a sunk cost. They can liquidate the rides and technology there but that sounds like a pennies-on-the-dollar problem.

You may be thinking, "Whew, I'm glad the A's aren't dealing with this," and you'd be right. It could have been this way, however, if the A's went with the Warm Springs site next to NUMMI. NUMMI felt a similar threat and put up the stop sign immediately. The A's and Cisco are partners. The 49ers and Cedar Fair? Not so much. Then again, maybe the 49ers really want the land so that it can be redeveloped in an effort to help pay for the stadium, whose cost is upwards of $800 million. It would be rather similar to what the A's are trying to do, wouldn't it?

09 October 2007

Great America owners put foot down

So now it appears that Cedar Fair, the owners of Great America, don't want to play ball. They've come out against the 49ers stadium concept on the lot north of the theme park, a stiffening of their need-more-info stance of a few months ago. Links:
Wire services and others have picked up on an idea that 49ers spokesperson Lisa Lang has put out there: the 49ers may be interested in buying Great America to make the stadium work. Certainly it sounds interesting on the surface, but there probably isn't much to it. Here's why:
  • Cedar Fair has already said it isn't interested in selling. The company only bought the portfolio of theme parks from Paramount a little over a year ago. A look at recent press releases shows that the newly acquired parks have underperformed relative to Cedar Fair's other properties. Cedar Fair notes that they've only begun the transition phase to bring the Paramount parks in line with their regular operations model. This is all part of a long-term strategy. You'd think they'd want to give Great America a shot at raising its performance before it gives up on Santa Clara. After all, it is their core competency. Of course, Cedar Fair's statements are pure PR-speak and should be taken with a grain of salt, but it still makes sense in the end.
  • How much would Great America be worth? The Paramount portfolio was acquired for $1.24 billion. That's 5 parks. One article notes that the land's assessed value is $114 million but that's virtually meaningless. The 49ers would be buying the whole kit and caboodle. A more realistic estimate would be 1/5th of the portfolio, or $240 million. But the land is owned by the city, not Cedar Fair, so it could be worth less. So what is a fair price? And then what would happen after it's sold? The 49ers would have to turn around and have someone operate the park since that's not what they do. Would they want to develop some portion of the land to recoup their investment? Even if Cedar Fair were playing hardball to secure a good price for their investors, they're in a position that gives them leverage. They're not in an apparently desperate position in which they're hemorrhaging cash. Note: Stock gains from the months following the acquisition have been wiped out as Cedar Fair reported the recent drag on the company's performance from the Paramount parks.
One good thing may have come out of this: the Niners are now open to building on the overflow lot across from their team headquarters. That lot would be far more compatible for both parties than the planned site. On the other hand, the following item sounds distressing:
Bottom line, Lang says: "There are a number of site configurations (Cedar Fair) could look at if they are serious about wanting to go forward with the project."
It's a bad sign when most of the so-called negotiations are occurring through the media. Is the city supposed to shepherd this through? It's hard to say.
To add intrigue to the situation, former 49er President Carmen Policy is signing on with the SF/Lennar effort to pitch a stadium at Hunters Point.