28 February 2008

Please fix your gaze on our nation's capital

Apologies in advance to those outside the United States.

Something's stirring in DC. I'm not referring to the continuing Clemens-Waxman staredown, or the purported stonewalling of Arlen Specter by the NFL. There's a new ballpark in the District, and it's causing more than a little upheaval.

The still-unnamed, $611 million, publicly-funded stadium is getting its finishing touches prior to its opening, which is only one month away. There's a good deal of apprehension about what will happen when the Nats start playing ball in their new digs, and for good reason. It appears that the Nats will be getting by with the bare minimum of parking at the site while leveraging the excellent but potentially overtaxed Metrorail system to get up to 50% of all stadiumgoers to and from the ballpark.

For those not familiar with Metro, it's a third-rail based system that's about the same length (trackwise) as BART, but with more standardized equipment (standard gauge tracks) and cool modern station design (platforms actually light up as trains approach). It also has three times the riders of BART, many of whom come from the Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs to work in the District daily.

The Navy Yard station is only one block from the northern edge of the ballpark, though it's serviced by only one Metro route, the Green line. The west entrance to the station is being expanded and new escalators have been added to accommodate up to 15,000 people per hour. Previously, the entrance could handle only 5,000. Getting everyone in and out on trains shouldn't be too difficult as WMATA has plenty of experience with crush crowds from their previous work with RFK Stadium and Verizon Center. It promises to be somewhat time-consuming as each trainset is only a pair of cars holding up to 350 total including standees (DC riders please correct me on this if I am mistaken - I'm recalling from memory).

Metro promises to be full of fans who park at or near a station further away and take the subway in. That's a pretty good plan since parking is going to be scarce around the ballpark. Two garages, holding a total of 1,200 spaces, have had their spaces signed away to the team and its highest of high-roller customers. The Nats are working on an additional 4,000 spaces in the vicinity. The catch? Those spaces are only being promised to season ticket holders. Area residents have their own on-street parking restrictions (PDF map). Casual fans will either have to endure a frustrating hunt for expensive parking, or park and take a shuttle from RFK, which is over 2 miles away through what will probably be gnarly traffic. At least parking and the shuttle are supposed to be free.

Speaking of shuttles, the RFK shuttle won't be alone. WMATA is beefing up buses to handle fans who want to use a non-subway alternative to Union Station and other more central locales. Still others who are looking to avoid the crush at Navy Yard may take a different line to another station about a mile away from the ballpark, then hoof it in.

As the area around the ballpark gets more developed parking options should increase. For the time being managing this situation on a daily basis should be at the very least quite challenging. There's one interesting indicator of how difficult it could be: the Nats don't have a single midweek day game at home on this season's schedule.

25 February 2008

Updated Ballpark Transit Comparison

Some of you had been asking what happened to transit comparison table I put together a year ago. Well, I inadvertantly deleted it during the summer while doing some site maintenance. I took the recent down period to construct a new version of the table, so here it is in its renewed glory (click on either graphic to view a larger version):

The legend above doesn't have an explanation for the "Setting" column. I left it off to cover it in the post. I think it's important to make certain distinctions regarding the various environments that the different ballparks inhabit. In doing this, I came up with three specific categories: Downtown, Urban, and Suburban. Here's what they mean:
  • Downtown: Refers to a specific neighborhood within a city that serves as its CBD, or Central Business District. A downtown usually includes an already pre-existing dense, vibrant neighborhood that serves as a central focal point for retail and entertainment. Downtown will usually have a major transit hub or similar facility within walking distance of the stadium. This is important as the locale and its proximity to the transit hub may reduce the need for transfers on public transit. The ballpark site may have limited parking immediately adjacent but other independently operated facilities serve the public, filling demand.
  • Urban: Covers a large and somewhat disparate group. In all cases, the site is somewhat centrally located within a market or region. However, the ballpark is not located within the designated downtown area, which usually means a transfer is required for a sizable portion of the fanbase. In some cases, an extensive parking facility may be onsite or adjacent (examples: US Cellular Field, McAfee Coliseum, Miller Park). Alternately, there may be an active legacy neighborhood for which the ballpark serves as an anchor (Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park).
  • Suburban: This type of venue is usually surrounded by many acres of parking. Public transit availability is not generally a major factor for its fanbase. The site is often far from an established CBD or other established neighborhood, making trips the ballpark an in-and-out affair. Some ballparks straddle the line between Urban and Suburban due to their location (central to the populace), and (re)development occurring in the area adjacent to the site.
As Cisco Field and the ballpark village are completed, we may see new proposals elsewhere that mimic the A's efforts. If so I may add a new category called quasi-urban, which denotes a facility that has urban traits but is in a decidedly suburban location.

The hollow X's indicate transit options that are planned or are under construction. In Phoenix, the first leg of its light rail line is due to open this December. Seattle's light rail is scheduled to open in 2009. Fremont's Warm Springs BART station would open a few years after Cisco Field and would require a shuttle for access. The south Fremont train station may be up and running sometime before that, it would also require a shuttle.

At some point I'll add a column showing the percentage of fans that use public transit in its various forms.

20 February 2008

Stepping up in Florida

In a recent St. Pete Times update on the Rays' downtown ballpark proposal, I noticed the following passage:

The money would come from a private team loan, Rays senior vice president of development Michael Kalt said. The Rays previously had planned to pay the city $10-million a year in rent payments to cover a third of the $450-million stadium cost.

Changes in Major League Baseball revenue and accounting rules allowed the Rays to reconsider how they paid their part of ballpark construction.

This caught me off guard. I'm trying to find out more about this. UPDATE: I got a clarification from the writer, Aaron Sharockman. MLB now allows teams to pay teams to put in their contribution against revenue sharing upfront. My take on this is presumably, a team could choose to amortize this over several years so that it hits as part of the "stadium operating expenses" revenue sharing deduction.

On the other side of the swamp,
details are trickling out about the Marlins' ballpark financing plan. The Sun-Sentinel has come out in favor of the plan, its argument being, "If it doesn't get done with this deal it won't get done at all." Now that's a sales pitch for ya.

13 February 2008

Anything new? Not really

Between commercials on the Ronn Owens Show (archive), the banter between host and guest and the Q&A bits with callers felt like a simple PR exercise, something of a Hey! We're still alive and working! session. There were nearly as many calls from fans wanting answers about the offseason personnel moves as there were about the ballpark.

As expected, Owens didn't challenge Wolff much, preferring to follow up when callers gave their questions. One caller in particular asked Wolff why the A's would leave Oakland for Fremont if they were clearly getting a better stadium deal in Oakland. Wolff replied that the team would in fact be getting a better deal in Fremont because, as stated here previously, the revenue from the ballpark village would help pay for the ballpark. I don't understand why the detractors continue to have difficulty comprehending this.

A few San Jose-based callers chimed in. One was so bold as to suggest that Wolff pull an Al Davis and simply move the team to San Jose, territorial rights and MLB be damned. Of course, we've seen what happened when Steve Schott tried to do that exact thing - it didn't end in success. The issue of MLB's antitrust exemption came up, and when Owens challenged Wolff to explain what it was, Wolff demurred.

Other "highlights":
  • Wolff said that the development team and city officials are in talks everyday regarding the traffic management plan, which is part of the EIR. When asked by a caller about a BART solution, he surprisingly didn't mention yesterday's good news regarding the Warm Springs extension. Instead he gave the same pat answer as he's done previously.
  • Owens asked Wolff if the residential portion would be a gated community. He said it would not. The initial conceptual drawings seem to confirm this.
  • Wolff showed Owens a new concept noisemaker that looks like a baseball and when opened, sounds (and looks) like a trumpeting elephant. Owens commented that it wasn't annoying enough. I sense a jump-the-shark moment for noisemakers...
  • The name issue is still up in the air, and Wolff again suggested that financing may help decide the name. While I certainly don't think it will mean a corporate-named team (AFAIK this is not allowed under the ML Constitution) there's still a great possibility of "Silicon Valley" or "San Jose" due to Valley powers throwing their support behind the project.
  • Speaking of San Jose, Wolff said the city is encouraging the Quakes to move forward with the FMC site. The Quakes are back this season, with SCU's Buck Shaw Stadium serving as their main temporary home. The Quakes will also play thrice at McAfee Coliseum during the 2008 season.
In hindsight, maybe they should have rescheduled so that it wouldn't run opposite the Clemens hearings, which were fantastic theater if nothing else.

12 February 2008

Wolff on Ron Owens show tomorrow + BART Warm Springs closer

Tomorrow, Lew Wolff will make another appearance on KGO host Ronn Owens' show at 11 a.m. (correction: originally had this at 10 a.m.) A link for the streaming archive and a dissection of the discussion will follow.
Good news on the BART front (thanks James): The Argus's Matthew Artz reports that the $747 million Warm Springs BART extension is closer to fruition, thanks to some generosity among local transportation agencies and local lobbying.

The combined $160 million would significantly close the project's $225 million shortfall. The remaining $65 million could come from state infrastructure bonds approved by voters last year, city officials said.

"BART to Warm Springs is closer to reality right now that it's ever been," Councilmember Bob Wieckowski said. He was in Washington, D.C., last week lobbying Bay Area representatives for an extra $30 million to cover expected cost overruns.

If all goes according to plan, the extension would open in 2013, 1-2 years after the expected opening of Cisco Field. Of course, there would still be the issue of getting fans the remaining 1.25 miles from the Warm Springs BART station to the ballpark, but that's a lot easier to figure out than 5 miles to the existing Fremont station.

11 February 2008

Maybe we really live in Missouri

The Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal has a piece this week covering the A's strategy of selling season tickets at the Coliseum in order for fans to secure rights at Cisco Field. Skepticism abounds, as this excerpt illustrates:

While longtime season-ticket holders have some discretion over choice of seating, those with the most fan capital often choose seats in the immediate infield behind first base, says Aaron Dragomir, an inside sales supervisor for the A's.

Still, some potential South Bay seat holders are skeptical and "want to see a shovel in the ground" in Fremont before they'll commit to buying tickets in Oakland, Dragomir says.

"We have a big contingent of fans who are literally waiting for us to break ground," he says.

A's fans from all over the Bay Area and twice-stilted South Bay baseball aficionados remember recent history all too well, which explains public reticence about the ballpark. Sounds good but show me, is what they're saying. And they're absolutely right.