30 June 2007

Ballpark plan leaked - er, linked?

The overview planning document that was shared with the Fremont Unified school board is now available, courtesy of the Merc and Barry Witt.

Witt's article has quotes from former Fremont mayor Gus Morrison, including a "scathing critique of Wolff's proposal." The excerpt:

Morrison, the former mayor, said he doesn't see how a shuttle bus system would function from the remote lots given their distance from the park and the absence of mass-transit close to the stadium.

'You've got to move about 500 people a minute' into and out of the stadium, he said. 'It just doesn't work.'

That assumes a shuttle bus system is in play. There's certainly no guarantee of a shuttle bus going to the remote parking lots. Should the Warm Springs BART extension materialize, it is thought that shuttle buses would be running from the station, which would be 1.5 miles away. Add shuttles from the remote parking lots and the area traffic associated with the existing shopping center, and you have a recipe for gridlock. When Wolff mentioned "a comfortable walking distance" previously, I think it means walking, not shuttling. I'll let the individual decide if 3/4-mile is overly arduous.

In reference to the proposed school site, Vice Mayor Bob Wieckowski asked,
"Who wants to be next to the dump?" He argued that the community will not support the proposed site.

Another coming bone of contention is the layout. The light green areas are housing sites, while the dark green areas are parkland of some sort, whether they are pocket parks or greenbelt space. 14 acres of parkland are in the plan. My worry is about the greenbelt established at the edges of the housing area. To preserve the wetlands area next door, there should be a much larger buffer, and I sense there will be an active fight to expand and define that greenbelt, at the expense of land available for housing and potentially for other public purposes, such as a school.

The plan looks similar to the mock-ups I've put together in the past, but there's a surprise. The parking area closest to the ballpark village includes the concrete plant, but only a portion of the Brandin Court properties. The Scott Gas property, in particular, is not included in the parking assessment. Is that a sign of continuing uncertainty regarding negotiations, or is it simply that those properties are currently occupied? An additional 1000 spaces are available if the entire Brandin Court area is included.

The race factor

The last several months I've written a few articles about casual fans and their impact on the A's. Not season ticket holders, not hardcore fans. Why? Because casual fans are the bulk of attendance, and have been for a long time. They are also the great variable, since numerous factors can affect their desire to choose the A's over other forms of entertainment, whether the substitutes are Giants games, other sporting events, or entirely different types of entertainment.

The casual fan, who usually brings a spouse/SO or friends/family, has his own decision-making process. Maybe he wants to tailgate before the game. Maybe he's interested in the opponent or star players. Maybe the A's are doing well, maybe they're not. Maybe they don't care much for baseball or sports in general. Race may be a factor in determining whether he wants to go or not, but how much? Please enlighten me, because I can't see how casual fan gives it that much thought.

How much does the black/latin player disparity matter? Is that phenomenon something that can even be linked to something as localized as attendance patterns? Do casual fans care much that Milton Bradley was a black player? Or that the team's makeup is mostly white, then latin?

Now there are some that choose not to go because the stadium is in Oakland and they feel it's unsafe. Then there are others who'll go to Oakland only for A's games or other Coliseum events but never go elsewhere in Oakland because of their own prejudices. Which is worse? Is that institutional racism? Or is it someone expressing their personal preference, even if it is ignorant? When does the abundance of personal prejudice become institutional?

To extend that further, let's say ownership knew that the above attitudes were somewhat prevalent and they factored that into their decision-making on where to build a ballpark. Can they quantify it? And can you? Because if they/you can't, it's very difficult to say it's anymore important than, say, access to BART, land availability, municipal politics, or true economic factors. These days it's difficult to run a business on a notion that's hard to substantiate. Quantify it, and we can have a real discussion. Until then, it's just a hot-button topic that unfortunately hasn't changed much in the A's nearly 40-year residence in Oakland. If the perception problem is as bad as some say, it's even worse that not much has been done to change it.

27 June 2007

Fremont School Board meeting tonight

Chris De Benedetti reports that Keith Wolff and A's consultant Jim Cunneen will present their plan at a FUSD board meeting tonight. FUSD has been keenly aware that there's no elementary school at Pacific Commons and at the very least one would be required there for the projected 700 grade school students. Some accommodations would have to be made for a large number of secondary school students as well.

New to the plan is the concept of placing the school on the city's 40-acre parcel, where a train station and park are planned. It seems like a reasonable use for the property, but there's one issue: the school would be separated from the neighborhood by at least the 0.6 miles I cited earlier. The school would be far more attractive if it were well integrated into the neighborhood, but using city land would be a much cheaper alternative. FWIW I'd rather see a land swap between the two parties to make the school work within the neighborhood confines - important since the residential area will be a gated/limited access area.

25 June 2007

Newswrap: Billionaires vs. Billionaires

Not much happening right now regarding the Fremont project, but I've heard noises about another report in the offing. We'll see soon enough. On a related note, Fremont officials and staffers held a closed session last Tuesday to discuss the 40-acre parcel west of the planned ballpark village. The A's are looking at this parcel for parking, while prior plans originally called for a mix of a public park next to the future transit hub/train station. The parcel's eastern tip (closest to the ballpark site) is approximately 0.6 mile away from the ballpark.

Over in Phoenix, debt raised to build Chase Field (previously Bank One Ballpark)
is about to be retired an astonishing 19 years earlier than expected. The "BOB" opened in 1997 and was funded by a 59%-41% public-private mix, the public part being a 1/4-cent sales tax hike in Maricopa County. According to the article, "All tax revenue portions for funding the stadium were met before it opened, meaning no taxes have been used toward the stadium since November 1997." Before you ask, don't think this is in any way feasible in the Bay Area. Paying off the BOB worked because the Phoenix metro's staggering growth over the last 20 years. That kind of growth is not anticipated in the Bay Area, where redevelopment has become the operative word, not sprawl.

Down in San Jose, Lew Wolff and Merc reporter Barry Witt appear to be firing a few indirect jabs at each other. First up was Witt's interview of Wolff for Valley AM station KLIV-1590. I didn't listen to it myself, but many Quakes faithful apparently like how Wolff went after Witt's line of questioning. Sunday's edition of the Merc had a Witt article describing how other area developers oppose rezoning of the Edenvale property, which would largely fund the Quakes' stadium project. Among the opposition is billionaire Carl Berg, who wanted some nearby Evergreen land that he owns rezoned. Berg was denied the zoning change, which not coincidentally was industrial-to-residential, similar to what Wolff is seeking but without the promised additional development (stadium + commercial west of SJC at the old FMC plant). To add more intrigue to the situation, Berg was once owner of the Quakes in the early 80's. Witt also threw in the prospect of IKEA placing a store on the Edenvale property. I've heard little to suggest that IKEA is really interested even though its plans for a Dublin store fell through.

The Quakes' situation brings to light something I hadn't thought about until recently. One thing that could sink the Quakes' stadium deal is the possibility of capital gains taxes that the developers (Wolff et al) would have to pay post-rezoning. It stands to reason that an even larger capital gain would occur with Fremont. While I'm certain they're investigating all manner of ways to mitigate the impact of capital gains taxes (*cough* loopholes *cough*), for a non beancounter such as me, it's still a head-scratcher.

18 June 2007

The 101 Rivalry

So this is what passes in the Bay Area as a bidding war. Two cities, separated by 40 miles on a major freeway. One is a world-renowned city with image and attitude to spare. The other is a much smaller suburb hoping to bring in entertainment and tourist dollars.

What do San Francisco and Santa Clara have in common? Both have two of the original missions founded by Father Junipero Serra. Both have Catholic, West Coast Conference universities. The City counts GAP and Bechtel among its corporate headquarters. Santa Clara has Intel and Applied Materials. And of course, both have pieces of the 49ers: SF has the history and current stadium on its side, Santa Clara has the current headquarters/training facility.

The media is painting the situation as a tug-of-war for the team, and the NFL is doing whatever they can to perpetuate this notion by having officials visit both cities on consecutive days. Gavin Newsom gave a pull today when he said there was "no way to justify" a potential $180 million stadium investment by Santa Clara. Great America's operator, Cedar Fair, also entered the fray by announcing their opposition to the Santa Clara project, saying that the stadium could adversely affect their operations. Cedar Fair left an opening for compromise.

There's a fundamental problem with all of this posturing: Nobody's offering anything. Since a report in April about the possible use of a utility reserve, Santa Clara has been skittish about pronouncing any level of financial support, let alone a method. Cedar Fair's position mucks up the works a bit because it is essentially a hand outstretched (enormous parking garage, anyone?) San Francisco, despite its bluster, hasn't really pledged anything except for a site, which may or may not be ready by the time the team wants to start construction.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, they're stuck with the economic reality. It's all too easy to compare the A's plans favorably (no cash outlay by Fremont, financing method fairly transparent). But let's keep in mind that the 49ers' stadium will be twice as big and twice as expensive as the A's. Value engineering won't net big savings. Uncertainty causes delay, and delay means money. The Niners are counting on a revamped loan program from the NFL to provide the bulk of funds, yet the NFL can't just rubber stamp a deal since the Raiders, Saints , and Vikings are still in play and they'll be looking for loans as well.

The Niners aren't perpetuating the bidding war myth. They've been upfront about Santa Clara as Plan A, while SF is a far off Plan B. That could be to curry favor with Santa Clara. Maybe not. Whatever the case, the reality is that it's too damned expensive to build a NFL stadium these days. I'm not a Niners fan, but for many of my friends' sake, I hope they stay in the Bay Area. I'm just glad I don't have to figure it out.

17 June 2007

Attendance Watch 2007, Game 35 edition

Back from some other responsibilities, and I figure we're overdue for a new installment of Attendance Watch. As you can see from the sidebar, this year's A's are nearly 100,000 better than last year's. They're also nearly 50,000 above 2005's YTD mark. 
So why are the A's doing better? It's not on-field performance since the A's have the same 37-31 mark as they did at this juncture last season. There are a few possible explanations:
  • Yankees. Last season's opening homestand featured the Yanks, who sold out all three games. However, this robbed the A's of an additional sellout because they could've had any team visit on opening night and have gotten a sellout. This season, the Yanks were the second team in, allowing the A's to have four sellouts during the first homestand (3 Yankees, 1 White Sox). Each sellout represents an additional 10,000+ attendees.
  • Red Sox. The Red Sox did not visit the Coliseum in 2006 until the second half, and the series was your garden variety weekday, three-game set. This season's visit from the Sox was also a weekday set, but it was four games, not three. Surprisingly, there were no sellouts this time despite the Sox holding the best record in baseball when they visited (though Sox fans were by no means underrepresented). 
  • Weather. Some have dismissed my theory that weather plays a part, but there definitely appears to be some effect, albeit one difficult to measure. The dry spring we've had in California has been much more conducive to bringing out casual fans than the wet spring of 2006. Temperatures have been fairly steady (cool), but rain has to be a huge deterrent. Simply watch the A's day-of-game ticket operations when rain has fallen prior to a game. There's a difference. 
As well as the turnstile performance has looked, expect the curve to flatten out over the rest of the season. The A's are on pace to break 2 million. Once again, the A's second half on-field performance will play a factor. Should they remain close in a race with the Angels and Mariners, the fans will come. If not, 2 million could be a reach.

This week's series against the Reds should find the gap between 2007 and 2006 shrinking ever so slightly. The weather forecast? More of the usual for Monday and Tuesday, temps around 60 degrees at first pitch and dropping down a few ticks by the end of each game.

03 June 2007

Praise from afar

South Florida Sun-Sentinel baseball columnist Mike Berardino praised the A's ballpark plans and thinks the Marlins should consider downsizing its planned 38,000-seat ballpark in an effort to to reduce their current $30 million funding gap. Not a bad idea, IMHO. It doesn't resolve the need for a retractable roof in the Miami area, but that's another kettle of fish.

Berardino goes on to laud other aspects of the project:
Another aspect of the A's plan that is refreshing is the limited reliance on public funds.

Wolff, 69, has already secured purchasing rights for 226 acres that would be used for the proposed Ballpark Village. The A's new home would eat up $450 million of the planned $1.8 billion redevelopment deal, a project that would include a hotel, nearly 3,000 luxury townhouses and 550,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

There is also talk of an A's-funded school on the property.

The club would fund the vast majority of that overhaul. No bond issues. No grab for general funds.

"I'm basically a developer that does urban redevelopment," Wolff said. "I've learned over the years, the more cookies you take out of the public jar, the sicker you get. It's really good for the public and private side to minimize trying to use funds that can go to other priorities."

Now you might say Wolff has little choice but to go this route after the Giants built their new home across the bay without taxpayer assistance, but it's still nice to hear such straight talk from a member of baseball's ownership fraternity.
Talk of an A's-funded school? If there's one thing that could really make the project a winner, that's it. That said, let's wait to find out the true infrastructure costs before declaring it a no-brainer.