25 September 2008

State to allocate $239 million for BART-to-SJ extension

Gary Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Roadshow, reports that the California Transportation Commission is expected to approve $239 million in additional state funding for the Silicon Valley BART extension. In the process, $91 million is being moved from the Dumbarton Rail project to the BART extension.

The last bit of funding completes the state responsibility. It's now up to Santa Clara County voters to approve Measure B, which is meant to cover operations costs of the extension (it does not claim to guarantee covering those costs). Should the measure pass, the matter would go to the Federal Railroad Administration, which would have to authorize matching funds to pay for $750 million in construction costs. Previously, the FRA didn't support the project in part because of the lack of a method to cover operations costs. The FRA's 2004 decision forced VTA and BART extension supporters to go back to the drawing board in hopes of getting the line built.

Richards ends the article with this appraisal:

But the 2000 measure centered on BART won with a 71 percent approval, by far the biggest margin of victory of five transportation taxes that have gone before voters since 1976. And this week's money boost gives BART backers a head of steam heading into the election.

"Big projects need momentum," said Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler. "And BART is picking up big momentum."

From a regional transit perspective, losing funding for the Dumbarton Rail project hurts. I sense that priorities shifted a bit when the High Speed Rail commission chose the Pacheco alignment over Altamont, which would likely have required a revamped or all new Dumbarton rail bridge to cross the bay.

November 4th is shaping up to be the biggest election day in a generation.

Memorial Stadium retrofit solution

Carolyn Jones, who has recently covered the A's stadium beat, has her sights set slightly north in her new article. This time the stadium in question is Cal's Memorial Stadium, which as longtime Bay Area residents know, sits smack-dab on top of the Hayward Fault.

Lost in all the hubbub about the new, adjacent athletic training center and the oak grove that it is displacing, is the sobering fact that the old stadium was in poor shape in the event of The Big One. For the Bears to continue playing there into the distant future, a retrofit is needed.

Thankfully, it appears that a group of seismic engineers has figured out a way to do it for about the cost of Mt. Davis (not adjusting for inflation). Here's the description of the major part of the solution:
At Memorial Stadium, the sections directly on top of the fault will be cut into three large free-floating blocks. The blocks will be separated from the surrounding structure by five feet of open space, which will give the blocks room to wobble and twist - but not topple - in the event of an earthquake.
Normally stadia have simple expansion joints in decks and walls to handle various types of jostling. This takes that idea to the extreme. By cutting gaps in the two fault-affected stadium sections and splitting each one into three independent pieces, the edifice is being split into two "halves" with what could be considered free-floating end sections sitting on plastic. The free-floating ends could slide around when an earthquake hits, while the two halves would move in accordance with their respective plates.

$150 million won't just pay for a few saws and plastic sheeting. There's a regular retrofit too along the western side:
The western half of the stadium will undergo a standard retrofit, with bracing, sheer walls and an extra layer of concrete coating the interior. The concrete will have breaks at either end over the fault, so if the stadium cracks it will crack in a designated and relatively clean way.
This is important because unlike the eastern side and the old Stanford Stadium, this side is not built into a hill. It's old, decaying reinforced concrete with access tunnels and vomitories.

I for one am glad to hear about this simple, sensible plan. At a time when numerous Division I-A/Bowl Subdivision teams are building bigger and more expensive expansions onto their existing stadia, it's nice to see that UC is working to preserve the current experience while fulfilling a great need in seismic safety.

Now the remaining question is: Will Jeff Tedford still be there when the retrofit is done?

21 September 2008

A little advice to Lew: Change the tone

The Rusty Simmons-penned article about Lew Wolff's Q&A session with the A's booster club and Ray Ratto's follow-up brought me back to the old adage: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. That brings up the following exchange:

Q: What will transit options be in Fremont?

A: Instead of just saying, 'If you don't have a BART station, you can't survive,' we're trying to figure out if we can. If we can, we will. If we can't, we won't. Of course, then we wouldn't be in California any more.

The media and fans have been focused on that last, cringeworthy sentence. It hides a fundamental problem in his response. Assuming that the mayoral race and EIR come through, he's going to build it without an adjacent BART station. It's not a matter of someone telling him the team won't survive without it. There's no way to determine that until the ballpark is built and operational. BART's importance ranks behind the development plan and financing, corporate sponsorships, and ongoing patronage from the existing fanbase, which overwhelming comes by car, not BART.

It really comes down to a few facts about the situation. First, there's nothing that can be done until election day with the mayoral election, which I suspect sticks in Lew's craw more than he's outwardly indicating. Then there's the EIR, which won't happen until late November or December. There's little else to discuss, whether it's a move out-of-state or to San Jose, since massive obstacles confront both possibilities.(FWIW, I haven't seen many yard signs advertising mayoral candidates in Fremont.)

As long as the waiting game continues to be played, he might as well have a more open, ongoing dialogue with the existing fanbase. Explain why the move needs to happen - and yes, that means being truthful about the Silicon Valley overtures. Talk about how the team will make every effort not to abandon the loyal hardcore fan, and then follow that up with action. As alluring as the South Bay is, the South Bay is not enough all by itself. Just as the East Bay isn't enough by itself.

Wolff's been making great strides building good PR in Fremont, but I sense that not enough care and feeding has happened elsewhere. It's akin to the current presidential campaigns, whose efforts are almost entirely focused on a handful of "battleground" states, but not to states where the base is expected to turn out en masse.

Perhaps the most important issue is for Wolff to keep his foot out of his mouth. A couple more comments like that and he'll venture into Jeff Loria territory, and that is truly poisonous for all. Well, maybe not for columnists like Ratto, for whom controversy is their stock and trade.

19 September 2008

Goodbye, McAfee

Say it with me now: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Feel better? You might knowing that the stadium whose original name, above, was changed to Network Associates Coliseum and then McAfee Coliseum, is reverting back to the original after McAfee's naming rights contract ended yesterday. And to think that I unknowingly attended that final game. I didn't even get a souvenir!

While the naming rights, at $1.3 million per year, were a pittance compared to newer facilities, that money couldn't have hurt with the bottom line, especially considering the outstanding debt on the facility. I was told once years ago that had the A's moved out, McAfee had early termination rights. McAfee's shares have grown fairly steadily since the dot-com bust, but their disinterest in renewing the deal says a ton about how ineffective it was for their marketing efforts. It'll be interesting to see what happens with future broadcasts and the mention of the stadium's name. Will those bright red "McAfee" logos on the backs of the scoreboards be repainted soon or after the football season is over?

As for a naming rights successor - I wouldn't count on it.

Block these dates out: June 12-24

I've had the pleasure of going on several ballpark sojourns in my day. It started during college breaks, as it has for many. When you're a broke college student on the west coast, you can only get so far even if you're camping and gas is cheap (circa 1996). The adventures extended well into post-education life. I even have a pretty good routine down for scheduling business trips to coincide with sporting events of different types.

In these troubling financial times, it might be easy to be dissuaded from taking such a ballpark trip in the near future. It is, after all, the era of the staycation. However, next year there will be a unique period in which California fans will have an opportunity to take in a veritable cornucopia of baseball experiences - all practically within the state of California. We can thank MLB's schedulers, who have released next year's schedule in time to start planning.

Next year's interleague schedule has the AL West facing their counterparts in the NL West once again. During the second period of interleague play in mid-June, all five California teams will play each other in a sort of unintentional round robin. It's the scheduling equivalent of a total eclipse. From June 12 through June 24, the schedule looks like this within California:

From this an A's fan could fashion a pretty nice road trip focused entirely on A's road games. It could get more interesting by throwing in one of the Freeway Series games. If you wanted to make it really cool (and you had the time), insert a few minor league games to boot. We already know about the Sacramento River Cats and the Fresno Grizzlies. Las Vegas will continue to field a AAA team, though it's not yet known what affiliation it will carry - other than the fact that it won't the be the Dodgers, whose AAA team will once again live in its rightful home, Albuquerque. Vegas' Cashman Field may not be swank or even modern, but as a one-time temporary home for the A's, it could merit a visit. Besides, it's Vegas, right?

To make the minors more exciting, Reno is building a new stadium for the old Tucson Sidewinders (Diamondbacks affiliate). The team will start play there in April. Add that to the mix along with Stockton's Banner Island Ballpark, and you've got two weeks of baseball bliss without having to fly anywhere or drive more than 8 hours at any point along the trip, most often much less. Minor league schedules haven't been released yet so inclusion of minor league cities is speculative for now. As that information is released we'll have a better idea of what is feasible. Fortunately, the schedule allows for some flexibility.

The itinerary:
  • A's @ Giants, 6/12-14. If you're like me, you tend to avoid the A's-Giants series unless a large group gathering (read: casual fans) makes it worthwhile. As Yogi once said, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
  • TBD @ River Cats, 6/14 or 6/15. Hopefully the big league team stays healthy enough that the River Cats don't bear an uncanny resemblance. While you're there look for the AAA championship trophy.
  • TBD @ Reno team, 6/15 or 6/16. One more reason to head to the Reno-Tahoe area in the summer. The ballpark site is downtown. You could even take Amtrak's California Zephyr train from the Bay Area and walk to the ballpark.
  • TBD @ Las Vegas team, 6/16 or 6/17. The team is getting rid of the 51s moniker with new ownership. Side note: the former owner was Mandalay Entertainment (film producers, not casino), a group that was interested in buying the A's in 1999.
  • A's @ Dodgers, 6/16-18. Even if you've been to Dodger Stadium multiple times in your life and it's old hat, the place still has a magical quality to it. Maybe you'll catch a game on a relatively smog-free day.
  • A's @ Padres, 6/19-20. I'll go out on a limb and predict it'll be a low scoring affair. Even when accounting for the aggregate score of all three games.
  • Dodgers @ Angels, 6/21. Catch another rivalry game despite your hate of both teams.
  • TBD @ Grizzlies, 6/22. With any luck the River Cats and Grizzlies games will involve the two teams playing each other. Chukchansi Park is a nice, modern ballpark.
  • TBD @ Stockton Ports, 6/23. Might as well, it's on the way home.
  • Giants @ A's, 6/24. It's unusual to schedule any Giants-A's series during the weekdays, but that's what's happened here. I suspect that this game will be a 12:35 PM tilt as is customary on Wednesdays. That might allow for a switch at the end of this trip. After the end of this game, you might be able to drive out to Stockton to catch the Ports game.
Again, this is all contingent on the scheduling of the AAA teams. Still, at least two of the four teams should have schedules that can accommodate the trip. It's also possible to switch Las Vegas and Fresno if scheduling conflicts warrant it. A trip like this can be done cheaply (couchsurfing) or expensively (long hotel stays). The NorCal and SoCal segments can be separated. I'm looking forward to next summer, when I can take the whole trip myself.

17 September 2008

What's in a stadium name?

The Minnesota Twins announced the naming rights sponsor for their new outdoor ballpark: Target. The deal is for 25 years. Financial terms weren't announced, but it's likely the deal is worth at least $100 million for that period.

If you're wondering why Target Field sounds familiar, that's probably because the downtown arena named Target Center is just across Interstate 394 from the ballpark site. The two venues will be linked by an above ground (and freeway) public area called Target Plaza. A series of pre-existing parking garages also stand above the freeway.

I was curious as to how many other companies have their names scrawled on multiple venues. So I did a quick search on Wikipedia to get the lists of American arenas and stadia. When I culled the list, an interesting pattern emerged: companies with multiple naming rights deals are generally in the telecommunications, transportation, and financial services industries. To wit:

  • AT&T Bricktown Ballpark (Oklahoma City)
  • AT&T Center (San Antonio)
  • AT&T Field (Chattanooga)
  • AT&T Park (San Francisco)
  • Jones AT&T Stadium (Lubbock, TX)
  • Alltel Arena (North Little Rock)
  • Alltel Center (Mankato, MN)
  • formerly Alltel Stadium (Jacksonville)
American Airlines
  • American Airlines Center (Dallas)
  • AmericanAirlines Arena (Miami)
Bank of America
  • Bank of America Arena (Seattle, U of W)
  • Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte)
  • Citibank Ballpark (Midland, TX - A's AA affiliate)
  • Citi Field (Queens)
  • FedExField (DC-area)
  • FedExForum (Memphis)
Fifth Third Bank
  • Fifth Third Field (Dayton)
  • Fifth Third Field (Toledo)
  • Fifth Third Ballpark (Comstock, MI)
  • Fifth Third Arena (Cincinnati)
  • Ford Arena (Beaumont, TX)
  • Ford Center (Oklahoma City)
  • Ford Field (Detroit)
  • PNC Field (Moosic, PA)
  • PNC Park (Pittsburgh)
  • Qwest Arena (Boise)
  • Qwest Center Omaha (Omaha)
  • Qwest Field (Seattle)
  • Reliant Arena (Houston)
  • Reliant Stadium (Houston)
  • Target Center (Minneapolis)
  • Target Field (Minneapolis)
  • Toyota Center (York, PA)
  • Toyota Center (Houston)
  • Toyota Center (Kennewick, WA)
  • Toyota Park (Bridgeview, IL)
U.S. Cellular
  • U.S. Cellular Arena (Milwaukee)
  • U.S. Cellular Center (Cedar Rapids, IA)
  • U.S. Cellular Coliseum (Bloomington, IL)
  • U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago)
  • Verizon Center (Washington, DC)
  • Verizon Wireless Arena (Manchester, NH)
  • Wachovia Arena (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
  • Wachovia Center (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Wachovia Spectrum (Philadelphia, PA)
Wells Fargo
  • Wells Fargo Arena (Tempe, AZ)
  • Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, IA)
There's the potential for diluting the brand by slapping a corporate name on multiple venues, but the strategy is clear: target specific markets or regions that you can either claim as your homestead or venture into new markets where you can try to gain a foothold. In American Airlines' case, they dealt with two markets where they have huge hubs. Wachovia and Comcast focused on their relative strength in Pennsylvania (though Comcast got a package deal with they ponied up for both the new and old arena). AT&T inherited deals made by its former corporate name, SBC. All told, the value of the deals named above approach $1 billion.

Over in the Tri-State area, the Yankees and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority are grappling with naming rights issues. The Yankees are under pressure to preserve the name Yankee Stadium, despite the $1.3 billion price tag. Across the Hudson, the Authority recently fielded an offer from German insurance giant Allianz. Area Jewish groups protested the possible deal due to Allianz' WWII-era Nazi ties, forcing the deal to be nixed. Coincidentally, Allianz has its name on a massive stadium in Munich, Allianz Arena. Its architect, Herzog & de Meuron, also drew up the Beijing National Stadium, a.k.a. the "Bird's Nest."

10 September 2008

Reconstructing the Coliseum

To follow up on Monday's Raiders/Coliseum post, I put together a few mock-ups that show how the renovation would progress. To set it up, we'll make the following assumptions:
  1. The A's begin construction of Cisco Field by the end of 2010.
  2. Cisco Field fully signals the Raiders and the Coliseum to fully pursue an extension.
  3. The NFL either wants an expansion team or a franchise other than the Raiders to move to LA, thereby locking the Raiders out of stadium financing, or they don't want a team there at all thanks to LA market TV ratings and revenues.
  4. The A's open Cisco Field in April 2012.
Let's start off the the good ole' Coliseum the way it looks now (courtesy Google Maps, pic taken prior to a Stones concert?):

Now let's look at how it would look if the original bowl were demolished and the portable seats removed, leaving only the permanent portion of Mt. Davis.

Next, new permanent lower level seats would be built around three-quarters of the field. The old portable Mt. Davis seats would be re-utilized on the other side of the field as temporary seating while the rest of stadium is under construction. New locker rooms and team facilities would be built on the roughly 50,000 square feet under the yellow sections, while back-of-the-house stuff would be placed beneath the blue sections. Since the old press box would be gone, a new one would be built within the third level of suites in Mt. Davis. New temporary capacity would be around 47,000 only for the 2012 season.

The final phase would involve the removal of the portable seats, which could have a future purpose - additional on-demand seating. Notice the large gray area beyond the blue end zone sections? There's plenty of room for concessions, restrooms, and additional seating, up to 5,000 seats.

The red area shows new permanent lower level seating, which would have behind it a level of suites (a la the suites behind the bleachers). In addition, a new West Side Club (teal sections) would be built as a near mirror image to the East Side Club. Above the club seats would be a slightly cantilevered level of luxury suites and third deck. This third deck would be lower than the Mt. Davis third deck because it would have one less level of suites. New ramps would be placed along the wings of the concourse.

One last thing. Beyond the gray circle on the left and right are the current scoreboards. They look pretty far away from the action, don't they? They could be pulled in and lined up immediately behind the end zones seats, which will have a couple of benefits. Not only could the supports and framework be reused, the displays will appear crisper and larger simply because they'll be nearly 100 feet closer to the action. There's space in each frame for a single ultra wide HD screen of 23' x 70', nearly as large as the display at AT&T Park.

Final capacity would be around 63,000, the current NFL sweet spot.

Marlins one step closer to ballpark

The soap opera-esque story of the Marlins' efforts to get a ballpark took a positive turn Tuesday. Well, it was positive for the Marlins, perhaps not so much for the citizens of Miami-Dade County. Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, who was presiding over Norman Braman's lawsuit regarding the legality of the stadium deal, threw one the last remaining arguments of the case: that the stadium did not serve a public good. That may not sound like much, but that's important when it comes to securing public financing.

One issue remains, the most important one. Braman wants to see the ballpark put to a referendum. That ruling is expected after September 15. He has also indicated that he will appeal the case all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, although if he loses on this remaining count (he's lost the other six so far), the Marlins and Miami would be free to proceed unfettered.

08 September 2008

Raiders revisited

Chris Thompson of the East Bay Express has a lengthy piece on the Raiders' past and possible future in (and out) of Oakland. While the article doesn't draw any specific conclusions on the Raiders' stay in Oakland, their future there appears to be only slightly above bleak.

Last January I posited an idea that the Coliseum, once the A's moved out, could be renovated to become a properly updated (new) NFL facility. Considering the cost of a brand new stadium ($800 million or more and rising every year), renovation is not an idea that should be dismissed too quickly.

I mentioned in my previous post on this subject that the EIR process could be shortened thanks to the existing use of the stadium. However, there are challenges for a renovation. Let's start with a timeline, assuming the A's move into Cisco Field in 2012.
  • September 2011 - Raiders begin final season in "old" Coliseum
  • October 2011 - A's play final game
  • December 2011 - Raiders play final game
  • January 2012 - Renovation begins
  • August 2012 - Raiders begin playing in temporary facility
  • August 2013 - Raiders begin playing in completed, renovated Coliseum
The plan would be somewhat like the construction of Mt. Davis, except that everything else around Mt. Davis would be torn down and rebuilt. There may even be a chance that the Raiders could play the 2012 season in a partly finished Coliseum. I'll explain this later.
Building anything on the current Coliseum footprint is challenging due to the shared nature of the venues. The plaza between the arena and stadium is not particularly wide and underneath it is a vast amount of back-of-the-house facilities. There's the old Exhibit Hall, part of which is now used as the Raiders' locker room. VIP and player parking flanks the plaza. Anything new would have to minimize disturbance of the plaza and the arena.

When Mt. Davis was built, the existing plaza's utility was maintained. The lower deck of Mt. Davis has a handful of risers and seats. Most of it was left blank to accommodate the baseball field. Football seats on portable sections are brought in before games. This situation misses out on a large amount of potentially available space. Thus, the first move would be to place permanent seats in the lower deck and build it out underneath. Locker rooms and supporting facilities could all be stashed underneath.

Next, start tearing down the old Coliseum, sections x01-x10 and x24-x33. The recent trend among football stadia is to minimize the number of end zone seats, so building one deck of new infill seating sections in each end zone should not be difficult. Suites and club sections would not be necessary and would be suboptimal anyway.

That leaves the last part of the original bowl, sections x11-x23. These contain the West Side Club, press box, A's clubhouse, and additional functions. In this case, pull out all of the lower level seats. They're too low and not pitched enough for football, so they desperately need replacing. Then start building in permanent lower level seats, like the ones put in to finish Mt. Davis. It'll take some work to "connect" them to the existing concourse but it can be done. The concrete supports for the upper levels, which are built into the vomitories, would have to be preserved.

This is where the timeline could be split. With the new seating sections in place, the Raiders might be able to play 2012 in the partly upgraded stadium. During the next offseason, the remainder of the renovations could begin. The issue there is the structural work that will be required. If it's lengthy (cast in situ concrete) then there's no way 2012 could be played there. If not it the split schedule might work. The upper decks would be removed and replaced with two levels of suites with press box, a full-length club level, and a large upper deck (like Mt. Davis but not as tall).

The cost? Well, the land's already paid for. There's demo and some new foundation work, but far less than would be expected for a new stadium. Wild guess is $500 million, far cheaper than a new place, yet with all of the location advantages and volume parking that come with the Coliseum.

05 September 2008

A's begin to address traffic concerns

An article in today's Fremont Bulletin (Wes Bowers) notes that on Wednesday, Wolff Urban Development Sr. VP Paul Menaker spoke at length at the Fremont Rotary Club about the state of the Cisco Field and ballpark village project. Most of the news relates to traffic and parking management. There's nothing to report on public transit, other than the A's are in talks with every transit district that services Fremont and the surrounding area. Menaker noted that BART service to the Warm Springs station is scheduled to begin in 2015. Construction of the Warm Springs extension is slated to begin next year, with the Santa Clara County extension to follow pending approval of a countywide sales tax hike in November.

Menaker's discussion appears to have centered around infrastructure. While area freeway interchanges are plenty beefy, the A's propose additional lanes and even another on-ramp to accommodate the projected 10,862 auto trips for each game. I'll go point-by-point on several of the new developments:
To accommodate autos, Menaker said parking would be sited in various designated areas on the east side of I-880. He added parking had originally been slated to be in the Fountains Business Park.
That's a major departure from the original development plan. The area east of 880 is far more developed than the project area, which makes me wonder if the A's have acquired even more properties in Fremont. They'd also have to get the fans across the freeway safely, which would require either a long pedestrian bridge over the Nimitz or more shuttles. It's a bit of a headscratcher until there are more details. It's not stated how much parking would go in that area. 10%? 20%? 50%?

Saying the A's also know this will increase congestion in Fremont, Menaker said the team will make a number of improvements to existing roadways, including adding a second westbound turn lane from Stevenson Boulevard to Boyce Road.

A third westbound lane will be installed on Auto Mall Parkway from Cushing Parkway to Noble Way, and an additional offramp from I-880 to Auto Mall Parkway will be built.

A second right turn lane from Fremont Boulevard to Cushing Parkway will be installed, but only used on game days, he said.

He added various traffic light improvements will also be made, and also only apply on game days.

I believe that's Nobel Way, not Noble Way. The combined effect of these changes will be to make the additional traffic run more smoothly - though it may be as much aimed at the new residential and commercial traffic as it is the ballpark. The onramp is an intriguing proposition, though I have no idea where it would go.

As motorists near the stadium, there will be permanent signage directing where they can and cannot park. He said the team would pay for all aspects of traffic management, including traffic and security officers.

"Everything we do in parking management will be to keep people from parking in Costco's lot and Pacific Commons," Menaker said, adding the team will pay for security personnel, monitors, and enforcement which he called security zones.

As for parking, the A's are proposing a validation scheme for shoppers and employees. Previously I expressed skepticism about validation and remain so, simply from the notion that the big box retailers generally frown upon validation in general.

While I am impressed with the expansive nature of Menaker's traffic discussion, there remain questions about how to placate all of the various constituent groups in the area. The additional infrastructure, which the A's say they will pay for, will be expensive. I'm curious to find out how they will pay for it, as well as further traffic and parking plan details. The role of technology may be important as well, since RFID could help streamline parking management.

At this point I'm only certain of one thing: the traffic and parking study will be a bit larger than a fold-up pamphlet.