28 February 2007

That's "New A's Ballpark", Lew

I was surprised to find out that in Lew Wolff's KLIV appearance with Dave Holland on Carl Guardino's CEO show, this very site was mentioned. Specifically, Lew talked about how I and many others are eager for the details, perhaps before they're ready to present. Given the recent articles about the Scott Specialty Gases situation, perhaps more patience should be exercised. It doesn't help that I have high-res renderings of Cisco Field rotating every 30 minutes on my computer's desktop background/wallpaper.

No transcription, but I picked up a few good points from the Q&A:
  • Wolff cited an economic study for a stadium in Arlington (TX), and said that the impact of Cisco Field would be greater. Not sure if the comparison is with the Ballpark in Arlington (now Ameriquest Field) or the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium. If it's the ballpark, the comparison is easy because the ballpark woefully failed to deliver on development promises made when it was initially pitched. The new football stadium has a more recent glowing economic study, but around here we tend to view such reports with a suspicious eye.
  • The soon-to-be-released A's economic study will claim that through direct and indirect means, the project will bring 7,000 new jobs to Fremont.
  • For the first time, Wolff mentioned a bus system serving as the shuttle to BART. No specifics.
  • Wolff inferred that the buildings outside the ballpark that have a view of the field would be leased or owned by third parties, but the A's would have control over the rooftops.
  • Ads would be largely digital and targeted. For instance, alcohol ads would stop showing when beer sales stopped in the 7th inning.
  • Cisco VP/Treasurer Dave Holland talked about how baseball is moving from a broadcasting model to a more user-driven experience.

On a side note, Carl Guardino was named to the California Transportation Commission, the state body charged with doling out $4.5 billion in Prop 1B funds. Guardino is a major proponent of BART-to-Silicon Valley. It's a very big deal.

27 February 2007

A Toxic Cloud Over A's Town

KCBS and the Merc have stories on Scott Specialty Gases, a business on 5121 Brandin Court in Fremont. SSG's Electronic Materials Group is located there, and it supplies various semiconductor firms with gases used in manufacturing. According to Fremont officials, Wolff and Co. would have to pay to relocate SSG away from the ballpark village.

The shock value comes from mitigation measures already in place at Pacific Commons, in which various nearby stores (Kohl's, Office Depot) would have to shut down their ventilation systems in the event of a toxic cloud or leak. Since the ballpark would be open air, no such mitigation would be possible - leading to the need to relocate the business.

Even if the danger is slim, the concern is well-placed. The articles only cover the possibility of arsine (yes, it's related to arsenic) or chlorine gas endangering crowds at Cisco Field. But with the introduction of a new residential neighborhood, it's residents that would have to be just as worried, if not moreso. So yes, SSG most certainly has to be moved to make the project work.

Is it a showstopper? I think not. While SSG has been at the current location since 1985, it's not a business that forces it to be fixed. It's a distribution facility, not a plant, so we're not talking about uprooting manufacturing facilities or potential groundwater leaks. It's a fairly nondescript industrial building with no tanks (correction: there are a few tanks outside) or smokestacks outside. In other words, it's not a Tosco or Chevron. That's no to say there aren't special facilities built in to properly store the chemicals - it's just that it's merely a cost to be factored into the relocation. And that has to be the real sticking point. There's plenty of land and other buildings elsewhere in Fremont's Industrial zone that can be utilized for SSG's relocation.

It's all a matter of price. The property is assessed at $1,954,210 including improvements for slightly more than 1 acre. I've seen a CBRE listing for a 4.65-acre property with a 76,500-s.f. building for $5.7 million, so the SSG property has to be worth less even with relocation costs included. SSG is a national firm, not some mom-and-pop, so don't expect them to get fleeced. Wolff's known for his negotiating skills. We'll see how long it takes, but it will happen. Remember that there are a handful of businesses in the area that will need to be relocated for this project. Personally, I'd much rather deal with a handful than dozens, as would have been the case with Coliseum North. Not to be ignored is the fact that Fremont has stood firm on its stance that these types of costs have to be borne by the developer.

26 February 2007

Hetch Hetchy Hitch

The Niners keep running into obstacles with the Santa Clara site. First it was the power substation, which can be avoided without much difficulty in the design phase. Now comes the old Hetch Hetchy aqueduct, upon which nothing can be built. According to Matier & Ross, the aqueduct, officially called the Bay Division Pipelines 3 & 4, could be a bone of contention from both land use and political standpoints. But how big a deal is it?

First, let's take a look at the land use aspect. The pipelines run south through Fremont and Milpitas before turning west through North San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale. Where they run through residential neighborhoods, you'll find narrow landscaped greenbelts. In industrial and office parks, the aqueduct usually runs underneath surface parking lots.

The red area represents the lot the 49ers are targeting. The blue line is the aqueduct. I placed the Coliseum there because it represents a possible footprint (sizewise) for the stadium. As you can see in the photo, the Coliseum fits quite snugly between the substation and the pipelines' right-of-way. There's another graphic put together by the Support Our Niners advocacy website but it's a bad perspective for understanding how the right-of-way relates to the rest of the land.

The stadium is doable without moving or reconfiguring the substation, as was discussed for the Diridon South ballpark site. The pipeline right-of-way can stay intact, and when the time comes for the pipeline itself to be replaced, a partnership of the SFPUC, the City of Santa Clara, and the 49ers can jointly build a walkable plaza that would beautify the buffer between Great America and the stadium.

As for the political side of things, you can't count out the possibility of the City of San Francisco making things difficult through the PUC. It wouldn't be the first time I used the word cockblock with this situation.

Wolff on KLIV, Comcast to buy FSNBA

Lew Wolff will be on San Jose AM station KLIV Tuesday night @ 7 p.m. (repeat at 10 p.m.). From the KLIV website:

Please tune in this Tuesday night (February 27) for an engaging and interactive conversation with Lew Wolff and Dave Holland.

Oakland A's owner Lew Wolfe (sic) and Cisco Systems Executive Dave Holland will join The CEO Show, on 1590 KLIV.

Lew and Dave will discuss the plans to bring the Oakland A's to the City of Fremont, and the high-tech, state-of-the-art ballpark they envision for their fans.

The weekly talk show (starting at 7pm with a 10 pm repeat) features prominent CEOs and Senior Officers who impact our Valley, State, Nation and World, for an unrehearsed discussion on the key issues facing our Valley's economy and quality of life. It is a show about Silicon Valley for Silicon Valley.

The show includes a call-in portion for interested listeners who would like to participate in the conversation. The call-in number is 408/575-1600.

I hope you can join us this Tuesday, February 27 at 7pm, or the repeat broadcast at 10pm for an engaging conversation with Lew Wolff and Dave Holland.

KLIV is a low-power station that can't be picked up anywhere outside the valley, and as far as I know they don't webcast.

The San Jose Business Journal reports (subscription required to read full article) that Comcast is closing in on buying Rainbow Media's 60% share of FSN Bay Area. The long-discussed deal would give Comcast control over both Northern California regional sports networks, its own Comcast Sportsnet and FSNBA (40% owned by Fox). What are the ramifications of this arrangement?

It would be double-edged sword. FSNBA and Comcast have long had a good working relationship as content provider and cable operator, respectively. The entry of CSN to the Bay Area a while back made CSN a potential competitor, but FSN smartly locked up all of the Bay Area teams to long-term deals that shut out CSN. Without good local content, CSN had little reason to heavily market in the Bay, choosing instead to wait until FSN's agreements expired. Since CSN would own part or all of either channel, it could choose to be more aggressive since it would win either way. Here are some possibilities:
  • CSN could remake itself as an Expanded Basic channel, not a Digital Only channel (400). Such a move would make CSN available to almost as many subscribers as FSN, though arrangements would have to be worked with independent cable providers. It would be the costliest move for Comcast since they might have to deal with the displacement of an existing Expanded Basic channel.
  • CSN could stay Digital Only, which would limit exposure but reign in costs. I could see this happening CSN were to be established as a lower profile network compared to FSN, with lower cost/ratings programming. It's possible that the scenario could be flipped with CSN getting the prime spot while FSN is pushed aside.
  • CSN and FSN could have a programming sharing agreement with lots of cross promotion. The two networks could be peers, or one could be the "backup" for the other. That would probably mean the end for FSN+.
  • CSN could withdraw from the Bay Area completely, leaving FSN/FSN+ as the sole regional sports provider.
Whatever happens, it will make for a definite landscape change among the Bay Area teams. Wolff has expressed interest in creating a regional sports network, which I dismissed previously due to Comcast's 800-lb. gorilla status. The time might be ripe for a new alternative RSN, but there are startup costs and programming questions to be answered. A new RSN would only work if there's enough programming (not just baseball) to warrant it. That means pairing with a winter sport and having other deals in place. I could definitely see an A's-Sharks-Quakes relationship happening on either CSN or Wolff's channel.

One other thing: there will certainly be questions about HD content. Right now delivering HD has a premium associated with it, about $30,000 per game in production costs. That should go down over time, but right now it's pretty hefty.

21 February 2007

Progress or so they say

Article's like today's AP piece are a good way to keep Cisco Field in the public conscience. As of 9 p.m. tonight, it showed up on 69 newspaper websites (according to Google). There's talk of progress, but no indicators. There's nice warm-fuzzy stuff about taking batting practice and shagging fly balls. Readers can sense the passion and commitment by Lew and Keith Wolff. Great. We get it.

Such articles can only go so far and will be quickly forgotten once the public has real details to scrutinize. For a guy who has claimed that he wouldn't negotiate through the media, Lew's done a good job communicating to the public through the media (the Ronn Owens visits, San Jose speeches, etc.). We're getting close to dealmaking time. And frankly, I can only stomach so many of these types of articles.

14 February 2007

NBA softens stance on Vegas

David Stern may be getting ready to open the Pandora's Box that is Las Vegas. reports that the NBA commissioner and Sin City mayor Oscar Goodman may be close to bridging a philosophical gap that kept a NBA franchise out of the city. Stern, who previously has refused to buckle on his stance to never place a team in Vegas unless the city's casinos take NBA games off the books, appears open to a compromise.

Such a compromise could involve two things:
  • Betting for the Vegas team's games would be prohibited (a.k.a. "UNLV rule'). This is a major concession by Stern, one that could be an admission of how outdated the pro sports leagues' thinking is about gambling and especially Vegas. There's no way that any league will win this battle with the gaming industry, not even the NFL. The UNLV rule dictated that all state university football and basketball games (Nevada and UNLV) be taken off area sports books.
  • The majority of owners would have to approve of having a team in Vegas. While the NBA doesn't have antitrust protection over its franchises like MLB, moves generally aren't done without the consent of the owners' fraternity and the commish. Recognizing the dollar signs and the lackluster performance of the newer Southern franchises (New Orleans, Memphis), having a NBA franchise in Vegas would certainly boost league revenues over most other mid-markets, including Sacramento. The difference this time is that Stern revealed that he wouldn't "stand in the owners' way" if a Vegas team was what they really wanted.
Speaking of Sactown, the Maloofs have preemptively announced that they're committed to staying in Sacramento, even though they're pulling out all the stops as hosts for All Star Weekend and have no Sactown arena deal in sight.

Stern qualified his statement by saying that the two sides aren't close to coming to an agreement, a perfectly diplomatic thing to say if you don't want to piss off existing constituent cities. As the prospect of a NBA team looms closer, the question becomes: Will it be an expansion team or a relocation? Expansion would net a nice franchise fee ($500 million), but it would also further dilute an already questionable talent pool. Relocation might make the most sense considering the dearth of cities willing to pay for new arenas (see Seattle, Sacramento), but obviously the franchise fee wouldn't be there.

Las Vegas Kings? Sounds fitting for the hyperbole-driven city.

10 February 2007

Keeping up with the Joneses - Winter '07

Last October I posted an article that kept track of other teams and their ballpark suits. Some news about other ballparks came out this week, so it's a good time to revisit those other cities.

First, let's look at the A's.

Site acquisition is the major progress point here, as the Cisco deal and surrounding purchases have all but sewn up the land piece provided the project and rezoning are approved by Fremont (and perhaps Alameda County). I've also moved the A's up on the funding meter, as I figure that Wolff wouldn't commence with the land acquisitions unless he had some generally positive feelers on financing from one or more institutions and potential investors. The political process meter hasn't budged since the A's haven't formally submitted a proposal for consideration. Construction, of course, has not started yet.

The Twins' project has stalled over a land cost dispute. You'd think this would be the first thing they got out of the way. Alas, the two sides are caught in a risky game of chicken, one that threatens to severely delay if not derail the project altogether.

The political process and funding meters haven't changed, as legislation passed before October. However, the funding part isn't complete because the land cost remains an X-factor. There's a myriad of opinions on what to do about this. One columnist suggests that Twins owner and billionaire Carl Pohlad should bridge the gap, while another thinks that it's time to ditch downtown for suburban Anoka County, where a football stadium proposal recently failed and money (and land) may be available. While a judge has cleared the way for eminent domain proceedings, there's still no set value for the land and county/ballpark officials aren't budging from their $13.5 million offer for the 8-acre parcel and the county has said on more than one occasion that a cap on the $522 million project prevents them from offering more. The scary part: Unveiling of the design is scheduled for this Thursday.

The Marlins' fortunes started to look up when Republican Charlie Crist won the November election for governor. Crist has expressed interest in providing some level of state funding for the ballpark, moreso than his predecessor, Jeb Bush.

Unfortunately for the Marlins, that's the only good news so far. Napoleon-like Marlins president David Samson thinks a deal could be made by October, but there are a ton of issues left to work out. A site has not been finalized yet, though the front runner appears to be a downtown location near the old Miami Arena. The funding mix will be heavily dependent on that state source, and there's some potential backlash if Crist works with the Marlins but doesn't open up the state's wallet to other pro sports. There's also the question of whether the ballpark will have a retractable roof, the inclusion of which would certainly blow the lid off the ballpark's budget.

After much political heartache and bad planning, the Navy Yard ballpark is well on its way to opening next year. The project website even set up a webcam to show off the progress. The bowl foundation is in place and structural work continues.

Plenty of issues remain, like the amount of parking that will be available in the area. Still, the Nats are definitely going to be the only team of these four that will open in new digs before the end of the decade. Too bad it took a fantastically horrendous deal to do it.

One more note: Next Tuesday is the first of four open houses set up by VTA to get public input on the BART-to-San Jose extension. The schedule is as follows:
For all four sessions, the Open House portion will run from 6:30 PM to 7:00 PM, with the Presentation and Formal Public Comment period to start shortly thereafter.

05 February 2007

A's Waterworld

Matier and Ross pointed out in today's column that Pacific Commons is in some danger due to global warming. Should sea levels rise 1 meter over the next 100 years, it would appear that the low-lying project area would become waterfront property or at worst underwater. So which is it?

previous Chron article included a handy-dandy map showing which parts of the Bay shoreline would be inundated. While the map shows that the project area is not within the 1 meter zone, it's somewhat outdated because it doesn't include the work done to create the Pacific Commons wetlands preserve. In order to maintain tidal flow throughout the area, a causeway was built for Cummings Parkway, which runs through the western part of the project area. The causeway is some 3-4 meters above the preserve.

The preserve area (light gray) is physically lower than the project site by 1-2 meters (check this space later for GPS measurements). What you'd have is the project site above the preserve, evolving from a usually dry tidal marsh to an estuary-type area. So the ballpark and the nearby housing should be relatively safe, right?

I'm not going to make any predictions. It would be nice if the subject matter were covered in the EIR. One thing's for certain: Someone's going to need flood insurance.

I'm including murf's comments in this post. murf knows this particular field quite well, so his opinion is worth a lot more than mine, or a couple of columnists:

It won't be covered in the EIR except to say that future considerations should be made, dependent on observed sea level fluctuations. That's all that can or should be said about it right now.

An aside on potential sea level rise: 1 meter is a pretty generous (sensationalized) estimate. More recent estimates put the potential rise at 7 to 23 inches by 2100.

An important factor re: how sea level impacts are predicted. Anytime you see a number, be it 7 inches or 2 meters, it's a prediction for the average global change in sea level. Change, we know, is most severe at the equator with diminishing severity as you go north and south away from the equator. This is because there is a major factor beyond ice cap melt that is considered in the models: thermal expansion. Water at the equator, currently and predicted in the models, fluctuates with greater variance than in the northern and southern hemispheres. Unless ocean currents are reversed (very unlikely) the California coast will still receive current from cold regions near Alaska, which predictably could mitigate some of the thermal expansion expected in warmer waters. The one thing we know for certain is that we don't know everything about how the oceans are going to react. We've got a good idea, though. As for Pacific Commons, it lies within the Study Area of the South Bay Shoreline Study of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a host of local sponsors. This project is in year 2 of a 7 year study to determine appropriate steps to protect the area for the next 100 years against tidal super-elevation and potential sea level changes. (New Orleans opened a lot of eyes.) Assuming the Federal Government can pass appropriations bills in the next 100 years, PC should be safe.

It's good to know that the Feds are learning from Katrina and could apply lessons to our situation.

The big chokepoint

The Merc's Mr. Roadshow, Gary Richards, has an update on the big chokepoint in South Fremont/Warm Springs, the 880/Mission interchange:

Q Gary, you've written so much about the construction on Highway 87, which I drive through every day and that is greatly appreciated. But I also drive up to Interstate 880 through the Mission Boulevard squeeze and need to know: When is this work going to end? Opening the merge lanes has helped, but I need to see more signs of progress.
Tom Enriquez, San Jose

A Oh, do I have good news for you. Progress is right around the bend on this $178 million project. The ramps from westbound Mission to south and north I-880 could open by spring or summer, a major milestone. And there is more you need to know:
• The Kato Road ramps will be closed and the new overpass open in another month, perhaps.
• The ramp from south I-880 to east Mission: spring 2008.
• The ramp from north I-880 to east Mission: fall 2008.
• Completion of the Warren Avenue interchange: Late 2008.
• Opening of carpool lanes on I-880: fall 2008.

The opening of the merge lanes from Mission to 237 has already made life a lot easier for those on 880 South during the PM commute. The incremental improvements, culminating with the carpool lane additions, should make 880 South quite smooth. As for 880 North, the widening and siphoning should alleviate some of the problems for the through traffic but there's no completely solution as the volume is too heavy to fulfill everyone's needs.

02 February 2007

NFL's G3 funds gone

The 49ers and Raiders won't have the option of getting the NFL's help in financing their stadia. The league's G3 loan program, which provided up to $150 million for a new stadium, has been completely exhausted according to new commish Roger Goodell.

G3 helped make the NFL standout from the other sports leagues as it was the only loan program of its kind anywhere. It also smartly borrowed against the NFL's huge TV contracts, which are the envy of pro sports. Even that was going to run dry at some point, and it looks like teams that faced delay in getting their projects going would inevitably lose out, as the local teams have.

All the more reason for the two franchises to team up on a new stadium. It's not going to be easy to finance the thing, so everything from naming rights to value engineering is going to be even more important than before. As they get further into their plans we'll see how bad their situations are. Right now they're talking to their respective individual municipalities, but someone will see soon that such projects are cost-prohibitive.

Quakes deal near, BART to SJ gets money

According to a report, SJSU and Lew Wolff are "as few as two weeks" from striking up an exclusivity agreement on a new stadium for the Spartans and Earthquakes 3.o. The key negotiating point is the size of the stadium: Spartan football backers want the venue to hold 30,000, while 23,000 is more comfortable for a MLS team. That may sound like a large gap, but it needn't be. The use of a stage at one end with portable seats (a la Gillette Stadium) could allow 2,500+ seats to be moved in and out. An open design could allow for lots of portable seating to be used in each end zone. I'd like to see the first 10-12 rows have a variable riser height, a feature seen only in recently built indoor arenas such as Staples Center and Portland's Rose Garden. That would ensure that for football games fans would be raised above the sideline, whereas for soccer games fans would be closer to the field. It's not a feature I've ever seen at an outdoor stadium.

The state released $364 million in funding for the BART-to-San Jose project. The money will allow VTA to be reimbursed for some previously done design work, while also funding further design work to the 65% stage. This should allow VTA to finalize placement of future BART stations and route alignment. The new SEIR, released earlier this week, drops two stations along Santa Clara Street in San Jose in favor of a single downtown station. Many of the changes prescribed in the SEIR are in a similar cost-cutting vein while actually bumping up the previously specious ridership estimates for the extension.

This money received from the state doesn't make the extension more or less likely. There's still a significant financial hurdle to overcome that can only be addressed by federal matching funds (previously rejected) or a tax hike (also previously rejected). Should funding come, service on the extension would begin in... 2016. The separate Warm Springs extension would commence service in 2013.