21 January 2008

Grand plans abound

When Ray Ratto's Sunday column was published, I had only one immediate response posted at AN. It was short and at the time, I felt it was sufficient. Since then there have been numerous comments here I'll address it further.

There's nothing wrong with having contingencies. While Fremont appears to be moving along now that the process has gotten underway in earnest, one can't always see all of the things that could derail a project. So it doesn't hurt to continue to have an understanding of the Bay Area and even markets outside the Bay Area if Fremont doesn't come to fruition.

My confusion over Ratto's column comes from the highly convoluted machinations that would have to occur for it to even be feasible. Consider what would have to happen:
  1. Fremont plan would have to fail either by city council action or applicant withdrawal. Earliest time for that to happen would be a year from now - January 2009.
  2. Santa Clara (city, not county as Ratto suggests) 49ers stadium plan would also have to fail. We'll know this in November of this year. Don't forget that the Niners have threatened to take their headquarters with them wherever they go.
  3. Bud Selig would have to seek out punitive measures against the Giants. Ratto suggests conceding Santa Clara County territorial rights. That action would have to be taken by the owners during the next owner's meetings following points #1 and #2 above. This is despite the fact that the Mitchell Report recommends against punitive actions for "the past." ETA: Who knows?
  4. Santa Clara would try to pick up the pieces and negotiate with the A's on some land deal, which may or may not include the hotel tax pledged by area hotels. Santa Clara has in the past felt burned by former A's owner Steve Schott when news reports circulated that he was considering selling to Mandalay Sports Entertainment. That news irritated then-mayor Judy Nadler and others, who felt that Schott was not on the level. This effectively ended future talks. To get Santa Clara on board again, the city would have to set aside any residual bad feelings and be willing to slog through another political war - and another vote - to get any kind of ballpark deal in place. ETA: At least 18-24 months after #1 and #2.
  5. If San Jose were to be involved in any manner, they would have the Diridon South site and its EIR to fall back on. But that would means potentially being in a bidding war with Santa Clara. What would happen if either city required county support? Who would get it and why?
Not to be forgotten in all of this is money. No other sites could be considered unless some financing scheme were in place. Don't think that A's ownership is going to suddenly become magnanimous and offer to pay for the bulk of a ballpark out of their pockets just because it's in San Jose or Santa Clara. Some public or private financing method would have to be identified, and if it's the typical methods we normally see, it's going to be an uphill battle to say the least. The housing crisis has rendered the A's ballpark village financing plan not particularly portable, meaning it wouldn't work in Las Vegas or Sacramento. Portland - maybe if there's a sufficiently large enough piece of land to do so.

I could start to believe the above twists and turns if they didn't so thoroughly violate Lew Wolff's prevalent m.o., which is to take the path of least resistance. At Fremont he has the site, the financing method, and he's gathering the necessary political will. Just about everywhere else he's going to require public votes, massive changes to the financing, or something else that will draw out the process considerably. Lew's joked about getting this done before he dies, and his references to his own mortality are borderline creepy. However, I sense there is an element of truth to it. It may be as strong a motivator as any other factor.
The Giants have their own plans for the parking lot across McCovey Cove from AT&T Park. Their plans would allow for a similar amount of parking from the lot as they have currently, while introducing additional shopping and entertainment options. They've even teamed up with Cordish, a development firm working on the St. Louis ballpark village concept. The anchor for the plan would be a 4-5,000-seat concert hall. The closest similarly-sized venues are the outmoded Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the outdoor Greek Theater on the UC Berkeley campus, and the SJSU Event Center. That is, of course, unless others come up with their own plans for such a venue, such as Santa Clara County or even the 49ers. The Giants will be openly bidding against many other developers, who may have different designs for the Port-controlled parcel known as Lot A. If it's working for the Red Sox and it just might work for the A's, more power to the Giants if they can pull it off.