18 March 2007


Lew Wolff sat down with long-time A's beat man Mychael Urban to talk shop. There are a few quips here and there about the state of the baseball side of the team, soccer, and the talked-to-death tarp matter. There's also a little insight into planning for the ballpark, though you shouldn't expect me to get too much out of these tea leaves: Obviously, the stadium issue is front and center with most A's fans. Where does everything stand with the proposed park in Fremont?
It's the most complicated transaction that I've ever seen. It's a win-win-win for everybody involved, but one of the problems we have in baseball is that everyone thinks the baseball teams should underwrite everything. I'm not talking about the public. I'm talking about various constituencies we deal with. So I'm confident that we have a great program, but there's a lot of constituencies we have to satisfy, and we're trying to do that. So it's hard to set a date for when it's going to happen. If everything went great, it could be 36 months before we open it. But that's if everybody was cooperating exactly the way I want them to, which I'm not expecting. On a fast-track basis, we could open in 36 months, but it's probably going to be closer to 60 months. Right now we have a certain number of issues that we need to agree to, and we're getting close. We're trying to stay in Alameda County, because that's our district, and we don't have any leverage. We can't say, "If you don't do this, we're moving to Omaha." Every other team I know of [that's tried to get a new stadium] has had an alternate site. We're trying to do this without that. We just want to get it done here.
That's about as pragmatic an approach as one could expect. Wolff's feelings about the "leverage" situation are reflective of the realities of the East Bay market, and by extension, the South Bay as well. Honestly, what other owner have you heard or read recently that has said that he doesn't have any leverage? Leverage is the name of the usual stadium-building game, folks, and it's clear that a different game is being played here.

The window of 36 to 60 months is nothing new. Let's establish these timeline scenarios, remembering that in general it takes 12-18 months to complete and approve an environmental impact report and 24-30 months to build a stadium. Even though the ballpark village and surrounding residential development are integral to the plan, for now we'll focus solely on the ballpark itself. We'll use a hypothetical date of April 1, 2007 for the development application submission.

First, Lew's worst case:

  • There's a clear line between the two major phases, but in a worst case scenario the line can turn into a messy gap. Delays could come in terms of getting financing (San Diego), legal problems such as court injunctions (Cal's Memorial Stadium retrofit), or last-minute concessions that have to be made by the developer or city (Forest City Uptown in Oakland).
  • Even in this case, the A's have some wiggle room since their last option year at the Coliseum is 2013. They would still be eager to get everything in place ASAP because by that point they'll have invested their $500 million on the ballpark with nothing to show for it.
Next, Lew's best case:

  • In previous posts I had more-or-less ruled out 2010 because the schedule would be too compressed. It's not impossible as you can see from the timeline above, but far too many things would have to fall perfectly into place to make it happen. For instance:
  • Unless the EIR and planning pieces went through without significant review, one year is too short. An EIR for the Cisco campus project is already on the books, but it was heavily dependent on the land's planned use. The ballpark village is a night-and-day contrast from an office park. Plus there's no telling what concessions will have to be made regarding the 2900 townhomes, some of which could run really close to the wetlands preserve.
  • 24 months to build the ballpark may well be doable, since Cisco Field will be a smaller and less complex building it can't be ruled out.
Finally, the likely scenario:

  • This scenario includes a full 18-month study period and 30-month construction window. There are 3 months or so of padding in the middle to accommodate any changes that may occur in the schedule. What's important is that there'd be no need to rush - and rushing costs a lot of money.