31 December 2008

Rays open ballpark site search

The AL champion Tampa Rays, in conjunction with a coalition called "A Baseball Community," released a two-part study (PDF: Part I/Part II) on seven possible future ballpark sites. The sites, all within St. Petersburg city limits, range from the downtown waterfront site upon which the Rays had previously planned a new ballpark to a 250-acre inactive landfill curiously named "Toytown." A map is available showing all seven sites:
  • Tropicana Field - The sacrificial lamb, development of the current ballpark site has been offered up as a way to help pay for a new ballpark at Al Lang Field. A new concept has a ballpark co-existing with planned surrounding mixed-use development.
  • Al Lang Field/Progress Energy Park - Concept rushed through during the spring, then quickly abandoned. Surprisingly, this site has the smallest population within a 30-minute drive of itself, only 539,312. That's less than the combined population of Oakland-Berkeley-Alameda. Or Fresno-Clovis. And that doesn't even include all of the communities within 30 minutes.
  • Derby Lane - An old dog track and kennel. Biggest issue is that it's furthest removed from I-275, though it is close to Tampa by virtue of another bridge spanning Tampa Bay.
  • Airco Golf Course - Has already been discounted due to its proximity to the St. Pete-Clearwater airport.
  • Sod Farm - Developer Tarpon Ridge bought the site from the City in hopes of building a massive mixed-use development. The land remains undeveloped and could project to have the highest infrastructure costs.
  • Carillon Town Center - May be in the best position right now. It also is part of a large-scale development plan but already has infrastructure in place. It's right off I-275 and is at the western approach to the Howard Franklin bridge, which means it's the closest to Tampa. The built-out nature of the complex provides fewer opportunities for ancillary development.
  • Toytown - Landfill ceased activity in 1983 and closed completely in 1991. Leachate seeped into the water table in the mid-80's, this was controlled shortly thereafter. This site, just south of Carillon along I-275, appears to have the greatest amount of potential. Part of this is due to the incredibly low land cost: $10 million for 250 acres. However, anyone who buys it will be responsible for the massive remediation cost that will be required before a single pile can be driven. Hunters Point or O29, anyone?
The report is worth the read and could be considered an executive summary-type synopsis of what we normally see in California in our EIR/EIS documents.

Population is the real eyebrow-raiser here. The Carillon site has twice the in-radius population as Al Lang. Still, at 1.2 million, there remains a question of sustainability in the market. To put that in perspective, even that total is less than the population of Alameda County (1.45 million) and further less than Santa Clara County (1.7 million). Going with a smaller, cheaper ballpark regardless of site is a good move there.

23 December 2008

Yankees reloaded: Time to revisit a salary cap?

Everyone saw it coming. The Bronx Bombers, who need to fill their new palace in 2009 every night and get back into the playoffs, had to make a big splash. So they made three in signing C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and M.C. Teixeira. Yes, we will now take our customary roles of railing against the Yanks and against the system. In these troubled economic times, it may feel a bit cathartic.

Way back in March 2006, when the economy was a wee bit healthier, I advocated for MLB to impose a salary cap. The twist would be that the cap talk shouldn't be initiated by the owners, but rather the players' union. I argued that the percentage of revenue the players received was inferior to that of the other three major sports, and that the players could be richer (on average) with a more equitably distributed system. Confirmation came last week, as it came out that MLB players as a whole received 52% of league revenues, compared to 59%, 57%, and 56.7% for NFL, NBA, and NHL players respectively.

Now I realize that the owners, whose laissez faire approach to baseball economics is practically out of the Ayn Rand playbook, have little interest in imposing new restrictions on their little confederacy. To show what those restrictions look like, here's a comparison of the four leagues and their team payroll models:

MLB does better than the mighty NFL without a salary cap. The 52% figure fits neatly within a range of 51-54% throughout the current CBA. If they're getting more out of their deal than the NFL, why would they want a cap? It may be that the only thing that could change their minds would be a sustained, massive drop in annual revenues. In such a scenario, the hardest hit teams would be the small market clubs. A sort of class warfare could ensue between the big and small market teams, but only if revenue sharing failed to shore up the have-nots' balance sheets. To date there's no evidence of such a problem. The only issue for the have-nots is their inability to compete, and as we've seen from the A's, Twins, and this year's Rays, they can compete for short periods if the franchises are run well. History has shown that a lack of competition isn't enough to cause serious tension in the ranks.

Both the NFL and NHL are headed for labor strife, albeit in different ways. In May NFL owners voted to opt out of the current CBA early, creating a situation in which the teams would operate without a salary cap in 2010 and perhaps 2011 - with a lockout even more likely in 2011. There's a good chance that if the NFL and NFLPA are unable to negotiate a new CBA, the hard cap seen in the NFL will be gone forever, to be replaced by something resembling either the NBA or MLB labor pacts. Four teams remain without new stadium deals, and small market teams like Cincinnati and Buffalo make $80 million less than their rich brethren in Dallas and Washington. Hockey, despite its post-lockout covenant, is facing a troubling economic future. Revenue growth, guaranteed contracts, and looming free agency have created a potentially toxic soup of unsustainable economic conditions. Some recent Sun Belt expansion teams are struggling to survive, bringing up talks of franchise relocation.

Hoops and hardball appear to be in good stead comparatively. David Stern has what he wants most in a post-Jordan era, the return of Lakers vs. Celtics - and don't think he won't pull strings to maintain the rivalry to its fullest. There's a similar Sun Belt expansion problem to that seen in the NHL, but it won't impact league health. Bud Selig had Bob DuPuy on the Marlins' ballpark talks like a flea on a dog, and all the attention appears to have paid off. Only two teams lack a new or upgraded stadium deal. You can bet that if Fremont doesn't pan out, Selig will send DuPuy out here to give the A's predicament the same treatment as Miami. Despite this, Selig can look at his counterpart Roger Goodell and think, "The only cap baseball needs is the kind worn on a head." For those of us looking for financial parity, that isn't an encouraging sentiment.

So here's the question for the day: If you could implement a salary cap in baseball, what would it look like? Feel free to be as brief or verbose as you like.

Mayor Wasserman steps in

In an effort to resolve the impasse between the A's and the big box triumvirate of Costco, Lowe's, and Kohl's, Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman spoke to the retailers last week. The A's were not directly involved in the discussions. Via Matthew Artz in the Argus's Tri City Beat blog:
Wasserman said he and ProLogis talked about a couple of proposals to put the stadium a little further from the stores, one idea would be to put it closer to Interstate 880, and the other further south from the stores, which, admittedly wouldn’t have the best freeway access.
The "closer to 880" option may be the simplest since it involves land the A's already own, particularly the 8-acre concrete plant next to the freeway. Then they'd have to redesign the village and residential areas to work with the new ballpark site. Integration of the village and the ballpark wouldn't be as good because the ballpark can't face west, which would be the best direction to have the ballpark face into the village as it does in the original plan.

Pushing the ballpark to the southern edge of the project area is likely a nonstarter for environmental reasons. The combination of light, noise, and a heavy supply of congealed nacho cheese sauce don't make for a healthy environment for all of the critters in the wetland preserve next door.

19 December 2008

MLB Network

Are you looking for little baseball fix? If so, tune to Comcast Digital channel 412 or DirecTV channel 213. MLB Network is now broadcasting there in preparation for its official launch on New Year's Day. The programming is all pre-recorded, including season retrospectives for the most part.

I heard a while back that MLB worked out a deal to be carried on basic cable, but it appears that MLB Network will stay on 412 with the three sports networks (NBA TV, NFL Network, NHL Network) as part of the digital sports tier. DirecTV will carry HD broadcasts, while no Comcast appears to be a no go for now. MLBN is scheduled to broadcast Thursday night games and the World Baseball Classic.

18 December 2008

Oakland's Poor Working Conditions

We've Lew Wolff and Steve Schott grouse about the age and condition of the Coliseum. The Furcal chase, however, may be the first time we've heard about someone actually complain about it. Ken Rosenthal wrote last night:

Upon learning that free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal was deciding between the Dodgers and Braves, one prominent agent expressed sympathy for A's general manager Billy Beane and assistant GM David Forst, saying that they face an uphill fight trying to attract free agents to Oakland.

Furcal ended up choosing the Dodgers on Wednesday.

The A's rarely are major players in free agency, but the agent said that the poor working conditions and occasionally unruly crowd behavior at McAfee Coliseum are turnoffs for his clients.

"Many players are uncertain about the atmosphere," the agent said. "They're not as comfortable going to work there or having their families attend games there on a regular basis."

In 2012, the A's are scheduled to move into Cisco Field, which will be located approximately 20 miles south of McAfee in Fremont, Calif.

"That will help them recruit players," the agent said. "Billy and David are as good as anyone in the business. The new park will level the playing field for them and allow them to excel."

It's terribly unfair that one or two incidents many years back, and perhaps Raider fans' reputations, have given the Coliseum a bad rep. Of course, it could be said that when free agents tour the area, they might go through a sequence of events that doesn't really help matters:
  • Fly into SFO or OAK
  • Check into either Parc 55, Sir Francis Drake, or Four Seasons
  • Have dinner/entertainment in SF
  • Next morning, drive to Oakland
  • Take tour of Coliseum
  • Have lunch either on site or in downtown/JLS
  • Head east to Danville/Blackhawk to look at homes
  • Meet other players who live there if possible
  • Wrap up
The only items that don't match the others are the "drive to Oakland" and "tour of Coliseum." When everything else looks pretty good by comparison, it's easy for those two to look not-so-good. It's probably less of a problem for young players. We've known of a few young players who've taken BART daily to the Coliseum. When you're a 32-year-old, injury prone player with a family looking for your last contract, it's a different story.

To be fair, Citizens Bank Park (and previously the Vet) is in the middle of a parking lot in South Philly. The Phils don't have trouble attracting free agents.

In the end, it's one more issue that Lew Wolff and Bud Selig can use as rationale for moving.

17 December 2008

Oracle Arena lags behind HP Pavilion

Robert Gammon, who co-wrote the "Fremont Athletics" cover story in the East Bay Express two years ago, just finished a scathing analysis of Oracle Arena. It's been well known for some time that HP Pavilion gets more events, but on the surface it would appear that the two venues are otherwise on par. Gammon dug into an audit showing the ways Oracle Arena underperformed: non-aggressive management by SMG, less promoter-friendly labor terms, and ticket surcharges.
According to the audit, which was requested by the Golden State Warriors and completed last month, Oracle Arena has averaged just 99 events a year over the past three years, including 43 basketball games annually. By contrast, HP Pavilion drew 169 events last year alone, including San Jose Sharks hockey games. According to Pollstar, a concert industry publication, HP Pavilion ranked sixth in the world in 2007 among indoor arenas with 666,587 concert tickets sold. Oracle Arena ranked thirtieth, selling just about half as many tickets — 343,584 — even though it's slightly larger.
70 less events per year? That's astounding. It's not location, as concert promoters don't care where a venue is as long as it's large enough, equipped enough, cheap enough, and populated (market-wise) enough. Worse, those lost events are a drag on the Warriors, whose lease includes $7.4 million in premium seat revenue every year. Compare that to the Sharks/SVS+E, who are projected to pay $4.4 million to San Jose in 2008-09, and that figure is offset in part by the vastly higher number of events staged at the Pavilion. Gammon notes that the W's may be looking to throw SMG out and manage the arena themselves, thereby adopting the Sharks' business model.

The irony here is that Oracle Arena has a more fiscally responsible deal for the public than its Coliseum sibling. It requires more pledged money from its main tenant and a user fee (ticket tax/surcharge). Frustratingly, the annual debt was not being serviced properly thanks to the W's not paying their share initially and the lack of a naming rights sponsor until a couple of years ago. The Coliseum Authority chose to chip away at the debt by letting SMG manage the Arena (and the stadium as well), yet they waited several years until Oracle came along in search of what they felt would be the most lucrative naming rights deal.

Contrast that with HP Pavilion, which was roundly criticized at its inception for a sweetheart deal given to the Sharks and arena management by the City of San Jose. Original Sharks owner (and now minority partner) George Gund put $37 million of his family's money into the design of the then-San Jose Arena to add premium features and to prevent it from turning into a white elephant such as Miami Arena. The Sharks got the lion's share of revenues from the arena and took care of all of the costs. The arena management firm later became SVS+E, which was spurred on to be very aggressive in seeking out concerts and other events. The cost of doing business there became significantly reduced, and the City was not saddled with massive annual subsidies as a result. There's an ongoing joke here that even though the San Jose Arena initiative passed 53% to 47%, you can't find anyone that doesn't support the arena now.

The lesson here appears to be that in order to have a successful public-private partnership, it's best to have a clear vision laid out from the beginning that incentivizes the private half to achieve, even overachieve. In San Jose that's exactly what occurred, and both public and private halves are all the better for it. In Oakland it's been a mess that's taken a decade to become somewhat palatable, yet Oracle Arena is still struggling compared its more efficient rival to the south.

16 December 2008

Arena League drops 2009 season

Despite San Jose SaberCat owner John Fry's efforts, the AFL is canceling the 2009 season. League officials believe the AFL can return in 2010 with a new business model. AFL's minor league, af2, will continue play in 2009 in large part because it has a different business model.

Two things jump out with regard to the AFL's (temporary?) setback. Attendance growth has been rather flat, topping out at about 13,000 fans per game regardless of a team's relative success. Fry had been wrestling with this even though the SaberCats won three championships in the last six years. Instability among the expansion franchises has also hurt the league. Take a look at this chart to see how unstable it is. Although the league was not dependent on big markets to stabilize itself, it couldn't have helped that the best run, most resilient teams were in mid-sized markets (Tampa, Orlando, Phoenix, San Jose). Teams in other small and mid-markets such as New Orleans and Nashville came and went twice. Numerous franchises failed to last an entire decade.

Another factor may have been the demise of the AFL's relationship with NBC. The two embarked on a revenue sharing agreement in 2003, but a large slump in ratings pushed NBC to end it. AFL then went to ESPN, which bought a small stake in the league along with a five-year broadcasting deal, but even that couldn't save them. The league has turned to ever increasing expansion franchise fees ($20 million recently) as cash infusions, but that in general is a poor way to run a league as it only temporarily takes care of fundamentally poor cash flow situations.

It's time for AFL to cull the herd. Sixteen teams currently populate the league, it could easily be cut to twelve or fourteen depending on each franchise's financial stability. Some teams were brought in simply to fill open dates in new arenas. If they really wanted to be more bold, they'd encourage more play between the big AFL and the little af2. Rules in place now prevent a real farm system, but it wouldn't be bad if teams from the two leagues played each other. They could even go to a relegation format, in which the best team from af2 moved up for a year to play with the big boys. This goes against af2's mission of player development, but honestly things need to be shaken up. They'll have to trim travel costs and perhaps reformat the league to streamline operations further.

Hopefully, AFL will take the year to make the necessary changes and store cash reserves in order to emerge healthy for 2010. It will require a change of scope and a more conservative business model to be solid in the long run.

13 December 2008

Purdy fires up the SJ bandwagon

Merc sports columnist Mark Purdy has always been an unabashed San Jose partisan, and his column in Sunday's edition will start many more San Jose partisans' minds a-wishing. It's not only an affirmation of San Jose's potential, it's nearly a call to arms:

In a recent phone conversation with Wolff, he was relentlessly prudent when I tried to push him into saying San Jose was his intended alternate target. He simply kept repeating the letter's language. But earlier, Wolff told MediaNews that "I don't think there's any restrictions as to where" the A's can look. A phone call to Selig's office late last week seeking clarification was not returned.

Here is one thing many people don't understand: The Giants may indeed possess the territorial rights to the South Bay. But they do not control those territorial rights. Major League Baseball does. And if enough team owners vote to allow the A's into Santa Clara County, those territorial rights would vanish.

Long ago, a highly placed baseball source told me Selig could easily get such a vote passed on behalf of the A's. But he did not wish to do so — it would require political maneuvering with some big egos — unless a ballpark would definitely be built as a result.

That brings me back to the question I asked on Monday night: Why did Selig allow Steve Schott to start discussions with Santa Clara?

In 2000, years before this blog was first published, Wolff predecessor Steve Schott tried to get a ballpark done in Santa Clara. It was to be placed in the same location as the planned 49ers stadium. At the time there was no pressure on Oakland to get a ballpark deal done. There was no bidding war among cities. It was just Schott trying to get a deal done in a city where he grew up and maintained a business.

Bud Selig could've immediately put his foot down, stomped on Schott's plan, and reinforced the Giants' territorial rights. He didn't. He played wait and see with the plan and didn't slap it down for five months. Why would he wait so long? Probably because the A's were in a fluid situation, entertaining either a move to Santa Clara or a sale to out-of-area interests. News about that sale to Mandalay Sports was leaked in August 2001, forcing the Santa Clara City Council to end talks. Schott eventually got a ballpark built, but instead of a major league stadium, it was a smaller field for his alma mater, Santa Clara University.

Selig's stance on the Giants' T-rights has been consistent until Monday night, when he busted out the letter with the "other communities" phrase, a tantalizingly and maddeningly vague one at that. Does that sound like a consistent application of a rule or principle? Not to me. Selig's being an opportunist here. If he sees a deal that works for MLB and both the A's and Giants, he should be able to get plenty of support from the other owners. If not, he can cite territorial rights and lend the rule its mythical power.

That's why it puzzles me that so many believe T-rights are this entirely intractable situation. I wrote in Thursday's post that the biggest barrier to entry is not so much T-rights as it is money. It's not cheap or easy to move from one market to another. The costs involved can be absolutely staggering. That's why no movement has occurred in the NFL in a decade even though until recently four teams had outdated stadiums. I stand by my statement that territorial rights are obsolete, though I will amend that with the acknowledgment that the commissioner can use the rule to control discourse. Judging by his actions regarding the A's, that's exactly what he's done.

12 December 2008

Fremont details lost in the shuffle

Now that San Jose has suddenly become a topic of discussion and Warm Springs has become a hotbed of its own, it only makes sense to do reset on the original Fremont plan at Pacific Commons. You remember that one, right? The plan with the 3,000+ homes and high-end retail meant to create a "walkable downtown" in a city that doesn't have one?

Plenty of details came out over the last week that work to lift some of the mystery over discussions between the A's, ProLogis/Catellus, and Fremont. It's these details, not the viability of alternative sites - they are alternative sites after all - that will help determine the fate of Cisco Field at Pacific Commons. Let's sort many of these out.
  1. How much land do the A's own? I have to admit I got this wrong thanks to incomplete info and some incorrect assumptions. At least now, we've gotten a lot of this cleared up. On Tuesday night, we learned that the only land the A's owns is the land outside the ProLogis/Cisco areas: The Fountains Business Park, some of the properties on Brandin Court, and the old Christy Concrete plant. That's no small coin as it's nearly 45 acres. Even at a lowball value of $500k per acre, that's $22.5 million, nothing to sneeze at.
  2. Who owns what among the Cisco/ProLogis-Catellus sites? Cisco controls the 28 acres that are meant for the "core village," the Santana Row-like development adjacent to Cisco Field. Cisco Field and the bulk of the housing would be built on ProLogis's land. The A's negotiated options to buy both as long as existing retailers' concerns were resolved. It was revealed that the true "option" belongs to those retailers, who are represented by Catellus, ProLogis's development wing. Opposition comes from the three big box stores and some of the Auto Mall dealers, and their disapproval amounts to a veto of the whole deal. Their opposition isn't to the project on principle, it's to the location specified in the plan. They would be more open to the plan if the A's placed the ballpark further away. The combined land total is around 180 acres, so it's possible for a reconfiguration to yield the results the retailers desire. The problems with doing this are threefold. Process-wise, a new Notice of Preparation would be required to show the new details of the land use plan. Environmentally, there would be different impacts as the ballpark were placed closer to the adjacent wetlands area. It's also probable that reconfiguration would make for a less cohesive development plan, as more parking may need to be placed in the area immediately surround the ballpark. Both sides, by not budging during this impasse, have made the location of the ballpark a dealbreaker. The city is stepping in to see if anything can be done about this, but unless both sides are willing to make more compromises, it's an uphill battle.
  3. Without the ballpark, Pacific Commons doesn't get its Santana Row. Without the ballpark, the A's don't see upscale retailers filling a new lifestyle center. Which means that if the ballpark were decoupled and placed in Warm Springs, no Santana Row. That's less appealing for Fremont residents and the city, which is looking for greater sales tax revenue from high-end, high-margin retailers.
I have to say that, knowing all of this, it doesn't look good. My support of the project was based on the ability of the various parties to find common ground and compromise when necessary. It appears that's proven a tougher task than many of us outsiders had originally envisioned (even though I argued the retailers' case 5 months ago).

11 December 2008

Lucky? San Jose

What you see above is what San Jose Economic Development honcho Paul Krutko might call a “baseball city.” Therein lies the promise of San Jose’s Diridon South site. It’s at the future nexus of Caltrain, BART, High Speed Rail, Light Rail, and bus service. It’s in a downtown locale. And perhaps most important of all, the ballpark planned for the site already has its EIR certified.

Most of the buildings in the foreground are just an artist’s concept, and that’s the point. The area between HP Pavilion and the ballpark site is a relatively blank slate. BART will tunnel underground, leaving plenty of space to develop. It’s just a matter of what type of development the area will see.

The irony in the whole Fremont/San Jose saga is that what may eventually kill the Fremont concept could make the San Jose concept work. To quote former President Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It’s entirely likely that had the housing market not collapsed, we would be moving forward with the Fremont baseball village plan without a Warm Springs alternative, and without most of the hubbub seen Tuesday night at Fremont City Hall. The financing model would be solid and the only remaining issues would be the ones identified well ahead of time: traffic, satisfaction of the Pacific Commons businesses and environmental mitigation. Compared to the messy situation in Fremont now with the differing opinions and multiple conflicts, it would’ve been a cakewalk.

Dual-use infrastructure

The Diridon/Arena area, on the other hand, is destined to get a major infusion of cash. A major overhaul and expansion of the train station will be necessary to support HSR. Mayor Chuck Reed is already on the hunt for funds to improve the area. President-elect Obama’s rising-by-the-week stimulus package will be largely focused on major infrastructure projects. HSR is going to be near the top of the list because much of it is ready to go. I wouldn’t be surprised if movement of PG&E substation on the site was somehow magically appropriated. It certainly wouldn’t be wrong for the substation to be expanded upon its move to accommodate growing demand from BART and HSR.

Parking is the main infrastructure to be built. Additional parking will be needed to handle Caltrain, BART, and HSR users. It’s not known exactly how many spaces we’re talking about, but it will be more than the roughly 800 spaces there now. The beauty of it is that the parking would automatically be dual-use, for transit users and arena/ballpark patrons.

The problem there is that a lot of parking has to be built. San Jose is required to keep 6,650 spaces within a ½-mile radius of the arena. The ballpark has a 1,200-space garage planned to its south. That will help replace some of the spaces that will be lost to future development. Even more has to be built to handle the demand when both a baseball game and an arena event (only 25% are Sharks games) are occurring simultaneously. The good thing is that any new parking in the area can serve both events and transit at different times. Then again, it’s a double-edged sword. Having more parking available invites more drivers. What is currently a manageable system for the arena could turn into gridlock quickly.

The key, then, is to strike a balance. The secret to the traffic success around the arena is that there really isn’t that much parking immediately around it. Most of the area parking is east of Highway 87 in the downtown proper. That parking will continue to be leveraged and may need to be expanded.

In San Jose, the sights are set lower than in Fremont. The dream of serious retail downtown died with the opening of Santana Row. For the moment, housing is a nonstarter. So that basically leaves the ballpark. Chances are that the financing model hinted at by the Wolffs (private funding, additional naming rights and sponsorships – the Giants’ model) will be the one to use for at least the next five years. As much as Selig doesn’t want any team to go down that path, the times dictate alternate methods. It’s no coincidence that the two of the last three major sports venues built in this state within the last decade were privately financed (Staples Center, AT&T Park).

Territorial rights
The unique way the Bay Area is gerrymandered for the two teams is unlike any other two-team market. In May, I advocated for a simple payment of the A’s annual revenue sharing receipt (~$15 million) to the Giants every year until the ballpark opens. That could be $75-105 million depending on the opening date. Beyond that, the A’s could continue to pay some amount until the AT&T Park debt is paid off. Some will argue that this opens a Pandora’s Box regarding T-rights for other times, especially in NYC. However, that view is not the least bit pragmatic. The biggest barrier to entry now is not T-rights. It’s money. To get a team going in, for example, Northern New Jersey, a team will have to pony up close to $1 billion for an adequate ballpark. Where would they build? Can’t be the Meadowlands. Definitely not Newark. Plus if you haven’t noticed, most of the financial institutions that made loans to area MLB and NFL teams are struggling mightily if not belly up. NYC, for all its considerable population and wealth, is tapped out thanks to four (possibly five) new venues along with an on-the-table revamped Madison Square Garden. Teams also had to undergo huge lobbying efforts to get favorable legislation through. Territorial rights as a tool have become obsolete. That’s not to say that MLB will get rid of T-rights tomorrow. As long as they have an antitrust exemption they’re going to use it. This time however, there’s little milk left in that cow.

Think about it this way. What if T-rights ended tomorrow? What would happen? The A’s could try to get a ballpark deal done in San Francisco. What land could they conceivably build upon? How much would it cost? How would they know they could siphon enough of the Giants’ fanbase away to make it worthwhile? In reality, they couldn’t. It’s bad leveraging of the market. Politically, it’s not doable due to a populace and pols who won’t bend for the 49ers, let alone some new baseball team.

Let’s not forget that T-rights are entirely wrapped up in the Major League Constitution, which bars teams from suing either the league or each other. Any disagreements have to be wrapped up within The Lodge (though Bill Neukom didn’t earn his reputation as being soft).

Political will
Nothing gets built without a champion. Reed may be a fiscally conservative Democrat from Kansas, but he’s got former Mayor Tom McEnery in his ear. McEnery’s Siliicon Valley Sports & Entertainment owns the Sharks and just signed a deal to operate the Earthquakes’ new stadium. McEnery, Sharks president Greg Jamison, and Lew Wolff are good friends from way back. McEnery has long advocated bringing a baseball team to San Jose. If there’s a power behind the throne to get this done, it’s him. Even in City Hall there are able and willing participants. Dave Cortese, the current Vice Mayor, is about to step into a new County Supervisor role. He also is a major proponent of MLB-to-San Jose, HSR, and BART, and may look at all three with the same vision. Krutko plays the role of Robert Bobb in San Jose. From this Merc article, they're both quite excited about the prospects. That's just the tip of the iceberg. There’s no telling how many other high-powered proponents, such as the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, will come out of the woodwork should a real proposal become public.

It’s amazing how the landscape has changed in such a short time. The economic collapse has hit many of us or our friends and family, yet the A’s and San Jose may benefit in an odd way. I didn’t see the Warm Springs alternative coming, and while I understand why it’s out there I could also see the opposition coming from a mile away. I don’t think San Jose would’ve opened up as a possibility if Santa Clara County Measure B had not passed. Proposition 1A had some pull as well, as it opens up the floodgates to federal transportation funds and private investment. It has taken a rather unusual, unforeseen set of circumstances to make San Jose a possibility, and I think we’re on the cusp of that moment.

10 December 2008

The old San Jose Ballpark EIR

In case you're interested in seeing what a completed ballpark environmental impact report looks like, I've made the 2006 San Jose Ballpark EIR available online. It took some work to find and organize it.

The Draft EIR was distributed in numerous pieces. The first file contains the body of the document. The appendices are in a separate file, as is the Economic Impact Report. I'm still looking for the figures document, which contains various graphical detail. I've listed links for the Final EIR (scanned, not searchable), which is essentially the Draft EIR with some changes and additional technical information. All of the files are PDF, compressed in .ZIP format.

Draft EIR
Final EIR (most of it scanned, not searchable)
Should you choose to download most of this stuff you'll be treated to hundreds of pages of at times mindnumbing detail.

It's important to note that this EIR only covered a ballpark and an associated parking garage nearby. No ancillary development was considered, and the ballpark concept was a fairly generic, 45,000-seat footprint. The Cisco Field concept is at least 10,000 seats smaller. While the EIR was certified almost two years ago, it faced staunch NIMBY opposition from the surrounding area. Appendix B in the Draft EIR has 20 pages of generally negative comments about the concept - and that doesn't include all of the comments taken during the several public outreach sessions. For a chronology of the EIR process, check out this link. From the Notice of Preparation to Certification, the process was 15 months long.

Tomorrow I'll give my current take on San Jose.

09 December 2008

The genie is out of the bottle

Last night I spelled out the four types of comments we'd likely see in tonight's session. It pretty much fell in line with that demarcation, but I wasn't ready for the considerable intensity of one particular type of comment.

I took shorthand of each of the 42 comments and tabulated the totals. Suzanne Chan took her own poll and had it as 8 for, 30 against (!), and 4 neutral, giving the caveat that most of the negative comments were not negative about the project in general, but rather a specific site. I had slightly different numbers. Read 'em and weep:

You can see that 20 out of the 42 comments were related to the Warm Springs alternative, in which the ballpark would be decoupled from the village and placed near the future BART station. Opposition was passionate, some parts thoughtful and others hysterical. One resident didn't want a ballpark serving alcohol a half mile or less away from the local elementary school. Another mentioned the twelve traffic light cycles he had to wait through at the Auto Mall/Osgood intersection on Black Friday, as shoppers entered and exited the nearby Fry's parking lot. Two commenters talked about "letting the genie out of the bottle" as the ballpark would start to transform the area from a safe, well-heeled neighborhood into East Oakland around the Coliseum.

The addition of the Warm Springs alternative was a response to suggestions by BART and the MTC. The transit agencies and the A's feel that a ballpark could fit into a transit-oriented development design, though the concept is merely in its infancy. Surely they knew what kind of wrath they would encounter if they floated the idea, right? Many of the anti-WS folks were not opposed to the A's or the Pacific Commons site. They were vehemently against having it in their backyard.

Had Warm Springs not been included in the Notice of Preparation, tonight's comment distribution would've looked more like this (Other means neutral):

That's fair when you consider that sessions like these tend to bring out more negative comments.

Matt Artz of the Argus (thanks for the shout-out BTW) focused his article on Catellus, who officially came out against the project as it exists in the Notice of Preparation. Catellus is the real estate unit of ProLogis and has been working with the A's and the city to mitigate existing retailers' concerns. Unfortunately, I think Artz left out something. The statement read by Catellus veep Aidan Berry was not so much a general disapproval as it was frustration over where the ballpark was placed in the original plan. The site plan placed the ballpark less than 1/4 mile from the three big box anchors: Costco, Lowe's and Kohl's. Those three have been and always would be the most difficult to deal with because their business models don't mesh with a ballpark. The statement suggested that another site within Pacific Commons would've been more agreeable. The ballpark location hasn't changed since conception, ergo Catellus can't sign off. I can only guess that the A's didn't want to pursue a change because it would require a major change in the EIR, especially with regard to environmental concerns (I could use some expert verification of this, e-mail address in my profile hint-hint), and that would lengthen the process yet again.

How difficult is this? The NIMBYs want the project as far away from them as possible, at the expense of environmental and transit concerns. Some business owners and transit advocates want the ballpark at Warm Springs, but had little to say about the NIMBY issues. Meanwhile, there are supporters out there who want either Pacific Commons or Warm Springs or don't care either way. And that, my friends, is why ballot box planning is so problematic. People tend to look only at their own interests. They have every right to do so, but that doesn't make them good planners.

Council member Anu Natarajan chided the crowd at the conclusion by bringing up frequent complaints by Fremont residents that there aren't enough entertainment options in the city, that there isn't enough good retail. She initially supported the plan in an effort to address those quality of life issues. No good deed goes unpunished, eh?

KTVU: Selig letter surfaces, urges resolution

KTVU sent veteran reporter Lloyd LaCuesta to the proceedings tonight and he got the scoop du jour, a letter from Bud Selig urging Lew Wolff to take care of business in Fremont. And if he can't?

Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty interpreted that as meaning Selig is encouraging discussions with San Jose. Haggerty, who had a large part in putting the Fremont deal together, is as much in tune with East Bay politics as anyone.

Moving over to San Jose, Mayor Chuck Reed was asked for his reaction:

Basic pol-speak there. He went on to mention that San Jose has an already completed EIR as well as the Diridon South site at fair market value. Fair market value? Previous estimates for the 14-acre site were around $74 million, though that may have dropped somewhat with the flagging real estate market.

To keep things in order, this post will be the territorial rights and San Jose thread. The previous post and tomorrow's post will cover Fremont. Any comments straying from the subject matter in any thread will be deleted, you have been warned.

I'll say good night posing this question: Why did Selig allow Steve Schott to start discussions with Santa Clara?

08 December 2008

Workshop: Setting the stage

Tonight was spent mostly observing various people's responses to the displays and the back-and-forth with representatives of Fremont and LSA Associates, the firm conducting the environmental impact report. Keith Wolff was also in the house.

The largest crowd was gathered around the image above, and for good reason. Many of those in attendance were residents of that neighborhood across 680 from Warm Springs. They are going to be there tomorrow, and they will have numbers. The session tomorrow is shaping up to be an interesting contrast of constituent groups. We'll see four types of comments:
  • NIMBY types from the Mission San Jose neighborhood. Regardless of which parcel in Warm Springs could be chosen for an alternate ballpark site, many of those residents will protest vigorously.
  • Ballpark supporters who prefer the baseball village in its original, whole form.
  • Transportation advocates who would like to see the decoupled village/ballpark concept as shown above.
  • Environmentalists who don't want to see development endanger the adjacent wetlands.
It's hard to say which group will be more prominent. I'll make an informal tally while I'm there. A warning about that - the session tomorrow is only an hour long, and even if they devote the entire hour to public comments (which they won't), only 30 or so comment slots will be available to speakers. Commenters are encouraged to use either the written comment forms or contact project principals via e-mail. From a process standpoint, public comments all get the same treatment and attention since they are a matter of public record. People tend to feel better about voicing their concerns directly, so if you get there early enough to get in the queue, let er rip!

I did learn one thing about the process that is, well, depressing. I mentioned earlier that the Warm Springs Alternative would be included in the EIR, but due to the lack of information about the alternative, additional time-consuming EIR work would be required. Traffic and other impacts would have to be studied in the same detail as the original site. That would conceivably push back the completion of the EIR, which then would delay construction, etc. I struck up a pleasant conversation with LSA's Shannon Allen, who when asked about this possibility said, "It gives me a headache." Me too.

Fremont sessions (yes, plural) and other news

While I was away prepping the Turkey Day feast, I had received an e-mail from the City of Fremont, advising me a City Council work session for the baseball village scheduled for this Tuesday, December 9. This is not a rescheduling of tonight's "open house" type event, it's an additional session to occur prior to the Council's normally scheduled meeting. So here's the complete schedule to avoid any confusion:
  • Monday, December 8 - General Public Scoping Meeting on the Notice of Preparation for the EIR, 6:30-8:00 p.m. @ Fremont City Hall Council Chambers.
  • Tuesday, December 9 - City Council Work Session for Ballpark Village Project, 6:00-7:00 p.m. @ Fremont City Hall Council Chambers.
Fremont City Hall is located at 3300 Capitol Ave.
The Giants and developer Kenwood Investments received an extended deadline, January 15, to present their vision of a retail/entertainment complex across McCovey Cove from AT&T Park.
The Sharks acquired a 10-15% stake in the Earthquakes from the A's for up to $3 million. That's a pretty low figure compared to the reported franchise fee of $20 million (Correction, $3 million is a correct amount. I edited out a reference to the new asking price for an MLS expansion franchise, reportedly $40 million). Franchise values for teams outside of the NFL and MLB could take a hit in the near term, even small market NBA and NHL teams.

For SVS+E, the Sharks-related company that manages HP Pavilion, ice rinks in San Jose and Fremont (very close to the Warm Springs BART station site), and the San Jose Civic Auditorium, it's a chance to seal up the large events market in the South Bay. They'll manage the new stadium, which may or may not have a stage to accommodate large concerts. Only Shoreline Amphitheatre, which is run by events giant Live Nation, qualifies as local competition.

The agreement appears to be a few steps removed from having SVS+E operate Cisco Field. Given that many of the business-side and money people from both the A's and Sharks tend to rub elbows a lot, such an arrangement is a near formality. But where will that stadium be located?
Despite the recession, the Yankees are positioned to bring in an extra $200 million a year in revenue because of the new Yankee Stadium. Perhaps pinstripes will have a slimming effect on Vallejo native C.C. Sabathia.

04 December 2008

All you need to know about Warm Springs, Part II

We'll start off with a pleasant image, courtesy Google Earth/Panoramio user Typeaux.

That's the view east towards the Fremont Hills from what could be considered the northeast corner of the planned Warm Springs BART station. Next, a map (also from Google Earth):

Pros compared to Pacific Commons:
  1. BART. Regardless of which parcel is chosen for a ballpark, it will be within a few hundred feet of the Warm Springs BART station, which is expected to start construction next year and open in June 2014. That's two years from the planned opening of Cisco Field, but it's better than not having BART.
  2. Site relative to freeways. Sandwiched between 880 and 680, 4 different exits are available to service the area. From Oakland/Hayward, 880 South to Auto Mall Pkwy. From Tri-Valley, 680 South to Auto Mall/Durham. From Santa Clara County, either 880 North to Fremont Blvd. or 680 North to Mission Blvd.
Cons compared to Pacific Commons:
  1. Insufficient area road system. 4 different freeway exits are nice until they all funnel into two narrow roads, Warm Springs Blvd. and Grimmer Blvd. Currently, Warm Springs is only a two-lane road near the BART station, which will be widened to 4 lanes in conjunction with the station's construction. If they plan to put the parking on the Westwood parcel, it will be gridlock hell.
  2. Proximity to NUMMI. That gridlock, which will probably be spelled out in the EIR, won't make NUMMI happy. Grimmer Blvd. in particular is an important surface road that contains an entry into the plant. A NUMMI spokesman talks of a "win-win" for the plant and the team, but it's hard to see that happening unless either major concessions are made to NUMMI or the plant itself closes down. Neither option sounds palatable or cheap.
  3. Proximity to a local neighborhood. There is a reasonably well-heeled residential neighborhood just east of 680. It's accessible from Grimmer Blvd., a potential source of gridlock. Granted, residents already have to deal with the freeway so noise shouldn't be that big an issue. The ballpark is only going to make it worse. Light pollution from the ballpark could also be a nuisance.
  4. Proximity to the Hayward Fault. The BART station is only 0.5 miles from a known active trace of the Hayward Fault. The stadium may be even closer.
  5. Land cost. The Merc has a new editorial that paints the Warm Springs site as a nearly perfect place that will allow A's fans to suddenly ditch cars. Only 15-20% currently take BART to A's games. That means 80% or more drive. They'll continue to drive. It's nice to be able to take some cars off the roads, but let's be realistic. It translates to a reduction of roughly 2,000 cars per game. An improvement, yes, but not paradigm-shifting in the least. For that 80% of fans, around 10,000 spaces will be needed. If they don't build a single garage and rely entirely on surface parking, 78 acres will need to be acquired to accommodate the parking need. That won't be cheap.
I must sound like a nattering nabob. It's not intentional. I point these issues out because when you solve one problem (BART), you open up the possibility of other problems. That's exactly what the Warm Springs site does, given the current situation.

03 December 2008

All you need to know about Warm Springs

Amidst talks between BART and the A's is a new article by Merc scribe Denis C. Theriault (CBS 5 also picks up the trail). The focus is on a 36-acre parcel near the planned Warm Springs BART station. Being familiar with the area, I wondered which parcel they were talking about. After going through my archives, I found a few things you might want to check out.

First, my old Fremont site album from three years ago. The album has both Warm Springs and Pacific Commons in there for reference. Trust me, the area hasn't changed much. From the album is this overhead shot:

Next up is a document from Fremont called the Warm Springs Existing Conditions Report, explaining existing and potential land use for the area surrounding the Warm Springs BART station. From that is an important map showing who's who among area landholders (this was from 2004 and may be somewhat outdated, but I doubt it):

A tiny piece of 880 is at the bottom left corner of the map above.

The last bit comes from the good folks at OAFC, who kept parts of the old Oakland HOK study, from which came the original Fremont site study - yes it was Warm Springs.

Now about those 36 acres under consideration. Based on the information in the Existing Conditions Report, two parcels are that size: the BART station facility and the "Westwood" site, which is east of the station next to 680. The A's couldn't be asking for BART to give up some of its land for the cause, could they? Nah, it's gotta be the Westwood parcel. Then again, two years ago I projected that losing the A's fanbase would drop total BART ridership 1% per year, or $3 million. They may have some incentive to work out a deal.

02 December 2008

December tidbits

The Giants are going to experiment with a new pricing scheme for select seats at AT&T Park called dynamic pricing. Prices will vary in the left field corner, upper deck sections could vary as much as $2 from published pricing based on demand. While this is not expected to make a significant difference in attendance or revenue, it's a good way to gauge how responsive area fans are to such an initiative.

Regionally, the best analogue comes from State Highway 91 in Orange County, which has so-called "Lexus lanes," otherwise known as high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. The toll on the premium lanes varies depending on time of day, and is a model from which more dynamic pricing will be based. Don't like the concept? You might want to get used to it, as it's part of transit planning throughout the urbanized parts of the state in the future.
Despite an additional $25 billion taxpayer bailout, Citigroup will retain its naming rights deal at the Mets' new stadium in Queens. This has caused some angry NYC pols to call for a renaming of the ballpark to "Citi/Taxpayer Field."
Santa Clara County Measure B (BART to Silicon Valley) has passed with the vote certified by the county registrar. A San Francisco judge also struck down an electoral challenge to the results. A partial, manual recount is possible, but it'll cost $400k to whomever is interested.
Bill Simmons, a.k.a. "The Sports Guy" on,
wrote a neat article two weeks ago on how the way new football stadiums have been built has largely eliminated home field advantage in the NFL. The lessons? Make the structure as compact as possible, lose the open ends that make for scenic vistas, minimize the impact of luxury suites, and stop forcing Joe Fan to sit in the nosebleeds. 360 architecture, the firm working on Cisco Field and the new Meadowlands Stadium for the Jets/Giants, appears to have taken some of that knowledge to heart.
Last but not least, regarding the rumor of discussions about territorial rights during the winter meetings next week: I received a couple of notes on this prior to the anonymous comment. That said, I'll wait until next week to post on it, lest I go back on my promise not to comment on San Jose rumors.

Update: Matier & Ross report that this week the A's and BART officials will the alternate Fremont site near the planned Warm Springs BART station and NUMMI. Keep in mind that several parties with no relation to BART control the land in the area.