24 January 2007

Down on BART, Up on Silicon Valley

Don't say you didn't see this coming.

At a luncheon in San Jose sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Lew Wolff downplayed the importance of BART when he said,
"If BART was as effective as we thought they would be, the parking lots wouldn't be as crowded.''
At face value it's pretty poor logic. There are numerous reasons people might drive as opposed to taking mass transit: tailgating, cost when a party of five or more is attending, or convenience coupled with location (usually a dislike of mode switches or transfers). The oft-cited 15-20% of attendees using BART is a good percentage compared to NYC, where 13-30% of fans take trains to either Shea or Yankee Stadium.

Wolff could be referring to how BART doesn't service all of the Bay Area. Livermore residents have long complained about being promised BART in previous expansion efforts. Or maybe it's a veiled shot at the various Bay Area bureaucrats who chose not to include Santa Clara County in the original system layout. Whatever the case, he's chosen to marginalize the effect BART has on attendance. After all, 80-85% currently arrive by car. Ample parking is a factor for getting fans to stay at the revenue-generating ballpark village, while finite mass transit schedules tend to make such a notion less palatable.

In the end this is largely a business decision. The developers can't afford to base their decision much on a much-delayed transit project whose future is in doubt. If you think it's cold and insensitive, you're right. I don't doubt that Wolff would welcome the BART option with open arms if it were beyond the planning stage, but as part of the compromise plan that Pacific Commons is, he (and the rest of us) will have to make do.

Not to be missed from the same article is this excerpt:

Wolff pitched the A's as a future economic pillar of Silicon Valley.

The team, he said, would "add value to the economic base and further identify Silicon Valley as a specific place to be instead of having people believe it's in downtown San Francisco.''

You can see where this is leading. An anecdote: one of my new Aussie friends is in town this week. After showing him the sights in SF last weekend, we'll run around the valley tomorrow. I drove to a point in South Fremont to give him the lay of the land. I found myself having difficulty explaining the geography of the Silicon Valley, whose edges are blurry and whose shape is amorphous. San Jose proclaims itself as the capital. Both Sunnyvale and Santa Clara lay claim to the "heart." It may be that this fragmentation forever prevents the definition of a center, whose criteria may be arbitrary. But Wolff is also right about Silicon Valley's lack of definition. "Silicon Valley Athletics at Fremont" would go a long way towards creating that sense of place. Many companies in the valley consider themselves more "citizens-of the-world" and are not locally focused.

Wait, there's more.

Wolff downplayed the importance of mining Silicon Valley companies to buy up season tickets at the planned 32,000-seat stadium. He said the team wouldn't be dependent on luxury boxes and would still rely on drawing kids and families.

"We weren't soliciting box seats or anything like that today,'' Wolff said after the meeting.

The team had a special pitch for business leaders who happen to be A's fans.

Of course they weren't soliciting box seats. They don't need to. SVLG is a readily available marketing and sales machine for the A's. I've heard that luxury suites are already largely spoken for. The 4- or 6-person suite concept seems perfect for that "special pitch" to smaller firms. That could in turn open prime seats up for families and hard-core fans (if they can afford the seats).