27 March 2007

Glenn Dickey's Examiner Column

So what we have here is your garden variety shoot first, ask questions later piece from a well-respected, longtime sports columnist. It does little to inform fans about the process, and frankly does a disservice to its readers. But what do I know? I'm a mere blogger.

Dickey takes a little swipe at Fremont for being "not really a city but a collection of small towns," and attributes that characteristic to the lack of progress in extending BART south. Followers of the WSX and BART-to-SV extensions know that Fremont's size has little to do with it. Both projects were packaged contingent upon funding happening in Santa Clara County. No one city has sufficient enough clout to extend BART, not San Francisco, Oakland, Antioch, Livermore, Fremont, or San Jose.

Then Dickey starts with the "bait-and-switch" possibility:

A’s managing partner Lew Wolff had made proximity to a BART line a condition for a new site in Oakland. When he announced his preferred Oakland site, across 66th Avenue from the Coliseum, he insisted that a new BART station must be built there.

Now, the official word from the A’s is that a BART station nearby is not a requirement for the new site.

What’s going on here?

It's simple. The BART station condition was based on the idea that the ballpark would be in Oakland. Last time I checked, Fremont was not within Oakland city limits. As the stadium site moves south, it draws different demographics. Since much of the new demographic is going to be South Bay residents who don't have the privilege of a having a nearby BART station, BART obviously won't be a requirement for them. It's the South Bay contingent that's expected to make up for much of the lost BART-based fans.

Let's take a look at Dickey's primary argument:

Never forget that Wolff has made his money in real estate. His projects have included much of what has been built in downtown San Jose.

The projected baseball park in Fremont would be part of a much larger real estate project, including retail and housing. To build that, Wolff needs to get zoning changes. The lure of a new park will certainly be enough to get those changes.

I believe that, having got the zoning changes and started his real estate project, Wolff will then announce that it really isn’t feasible to build a new park there.

And then, the bidding will begin from cities eager to get the A’s.

I'll keep bringing this up until I'm blue in the face: Fremont's control of the zoning is their leverage. Why on earth would they approve the land development deal without the ballpark? They're not interested in changing the city's charter and adding residents without new revenue streams to go with it. Fremont's angle is keeping the entertainment dollar in the city. Accepting separate plans for the housing and ballpark village kills their leverage. The entire project has to be submitted with all parts included, otherwise environmental and economic impact studies can't be done properly. In the end Fremont has to certify the studies associated with the project to let it proceed. If it doesn't, Wolff is stuck with a bunch of land in South Fremont that isn't appreciating much.

If Wolff wanted to play the normal stadium extortion game, he'd have done what the Marlins have foolishly done in Miami, destroying all goodwill with the community even after two World Series titles in a decade. Or easier yet, he'd have simply announced the A's were going to move to Vegas while mayor Oscar Goodman still was interested and not jaded from being used by other teams' owners and Bud Selig. Portland had a better chance to be in play when Wolff first took over the team. San Antonio has felt the sting as much as Las Vegas. It's only getting more expensive to build a ballpark anywhere with each passing year. And Wolff's not getting any younger.

What about the Cisco angle? Why would Cisco sign its name so early to a plan that could become a PR nightmare if Wolff decides to pull a bait-and-switch job? Cisco could have easily waited until the A's moved, began construction, and started taking bids for naming rights. That would've been pain-free. Instead, Cisco is a partner in this venture, and not just because the ballpark would be a tech showcase. Cisco wants to be cool like Valley cohorts Google and Apple, and it won't get there backing something that isn't substantive.

Still not convinced? Wolff submitted the Quakes/SJSU stadium proposal last week, and guess what - it looks similar in some ways to the Cisco Field concept. The financing plan involves rezoning of industrial land and turning profits from home development into funding for the stadium. Now if Wolff had the Giants' territorial rights over turned it's likely he'd have used the same rezoning plan as part of a downtown San Jose ballpark project. Since territorial rights aren't getting changed anytime soon, it makes more sense to use try to pitch it for the Quakes' stadium effort.

Sadly, there'll be conspiracy theorists who'll continue to shake their fists until the first fan walks through a Cisco Field turnstile. I can't blame Wolff for not worrying about convincing them. There's little he can do about it other than build the ballpark. Even then, many of them won't come.