01 May 2008

May Day = FAQ Day

It's only occurred to me recently that I'd do well to have a Frequently Asked Questions file here, considering that this site is now three years (!) old. So without further ado, here's the very unofficial New A's Ballpark FAQ:

1. What is the current state of the ballpark project?
The project is currently undergoing environmental review, which started in December 2007. The process is expected to take 12-18 months. It was thought that the period could be shortened due to portions of a previous EIR (environmental impact report) being available, but that is no longer the case.
When initially conceived, the ballpark was projected to open in 2010. That has slipped twice, with the projected opening in 2012 or later.
2. What is the project called?
The ballpark will be named Cisco Field, after the naming rights sponsor, Cisco Systems. The residential and retail portions of the development are as yet unnamed and are referred to generically as the “baseball village.”
3. What happens after the EIR is completed?
A draft version will be distributed to Fremont’s city council and the public, upon which there will be an official comment period. Changes may be made during this period. A final EIR with public comments will be presented to council for approval/ratification. The council’s vote probably won’t occur before December 2008.
4. Will a public vote be required?
A referendum is not required, nor is it supported by the majority of the current council.
5. How much will the ballpark cost?
Current estimates have construction at $450 million.
6. What’s Fremont paying for the ballpark?
As it stands, nothing. Fremont’s role is to approve land rezoning that the A’s want (industrial-to-residential/commercial) to build 3,000+ homes on land previously owned by Cisco and ProLogis. The increase of property value for the land (225 acres) would mean increased profits from the sales of housing rights. A portion of those profits would be used to pay for the ballpark.
There is some amount of additional infrastructure that needs to be built to support the project: a school, public park(s), possible pedestrian paths, trails, or bridges. It is uncertain what the cost of such facilities will be or who will bear the cost. The cost of building streets, sewers, and running utilities is typically borne by the developer.
Cisco also has a 30-year, $120 million naming rights and technology deal with the A’s for Cisco Field.
7. How big will the ballpark be?
32-35,000 seats, not including standing room. The design calls for only two seating decks, with the press box on top of the second deck, a la PNC Park.
8. What features does the ballpark have?
The ballpark is expected to have all of the modern amenities that other new stadia and arenas have, including luxury suites, club seats, separate concourses, and a large variety of food options. One of the claims made by the A’s is that Cisco Field will be the most intimate ballpark in MLB, which stands to reason because it is so small.
The video/scoreboard in centerfield will be two-sided, which will provide views of the action from a small park just beyond centerfield.
The original project announcement mentioned a baseball museum of some sort, but this hasn’t been mentioned since.
The ballpark’s spec contains 40 luxury suites and 40 mini suites, which four or six-person boxes which are grouped three or so and share a common area behind the seats. Mini suites are being offered as an option for smaller firms or companies who can’t justify leasing a large suite yet want more privacy than a club seating section offers.
9. Who are the architects?
360 Architecture, a Kansas City-based architecture firm that opened an office in San Francisco largely for the Cisco Field project. 360 previously designed several multipurpose indoor arenas. Gensler, a large San Francisco-based firm, is the master planner for the whole development.

10. What is the “baseball village?”
The baseball village is an adjacent, 37-acre lifestyle center with high-end retail, additional restaurants, and 600 condos and lofts, plus additional residential development to the south and west of the ballpark. A movie theater is expected. The list of retailers has not been released, but it is expected to be along similar lines to those located at San Jose’s Santana Row or Palo Alto’s Stanford Shopping Center.
11. How many housing units will be built?
2,900+ units are planned for the residential neighborhood south and west of the ballpark. Most of these units would be townhomes or flats of varying sizes. Expected average price of a unit: $675,000. They are expected to be phased in over a ten-year span.
12. Will it be a gated community?
No, but it will be more private than public. The plan’s pocket parks are expected to be owned by the community, with their maintenance paid for by HOA dues.
13. How is the housing crisis affecting the project?
At least one section of land is may have more flexible zoning than the rest. That’s because more commercial uses may be expected there: office space, an extension to the Auto Mall, other shopping centers, etc.
14. What about the school?
The A’s and Fremont Unified School District are hammering out the details of what will likely be a public elementary school within the residential section. This has proven to be necessary as district officials have projected at least 600 students. To accommodate growth, FUSD is looking for a school that can handle up to 1,000 students with future expansion. The A’s have provided their vision: a compact, multi-level urban school similar to Horace Mann School, located in downtown San Jose.

Transportation/Public Transit
15. Will BART run to the ballpark as it does to the Coliseum?
No. The closest current station is the Fremont station, which is the southern terminus of the system. It is approximately 5 miles from the ballpark site. There is a planned station, Warm Springs, near the NUMMI plant, approximately 1.25 miles east of the ballpark site. Buses or shuttles would have to run from either station to the ballpark.
16. What is the Warm Springs BART extension?
It is a 5.4-mile extension that would run south from the Fremont station to Warm Springs. It was initially part of the BART-to-Santa Clara County extension, but was decoupled due for funding and political reasons. The Warm Springs extension is not expected to be built unless the BART-to-Santa Clara County extension is also built. The latter extension faces a funding shortfall at the moment, and it is not clear how that will be made up.
17. Will other rail options be available?
Amtrak and ACE currently run on the Union Pacific line approximately 1.25 miles west of the ballpark site. There is no current station there, but a station was previously planned and would likely be built should the ballpark project move forward. A tram-style shuttle would bring train riders and fans who park in the planned adjacent parking lot to a drop-off point near the ballpark.
The state’s High Speed Rail project, if approved, would not have Fremont along its initial planned route. A Regional Rail option is possible after the first phase if funding is available. That may allow for a station at Warm Springs, alongside/in place of the planned BART station.
18. Could VTA light rail service the ballpark?
Such a line or extension is not in VTA’s plans.
19. Could a private rail solution be built between Warm Springs BART and the ballpark site?
Cost for such a solution would be at least $100 million not including land acquisition. It’s not likely.


20. How will existing traffic problems be affected by the ballpark?
On days the ballpark is used, expect up to 10,000 cars in addition to the expected new traffic generated by the retail and residential developments. Those cars would be coming from four different freeway segments and Fremont/Newark surface streets. The most heavily impact segments would be northbound 880 and 680 leading up to the ballpark. Southbound 880 and 680 near the ballpark are not heavily impacted in the weeknight rush hour period. A percentage of fans may also come from the Peninsula over the Dumbarton Bridge. They would be dealing with commute traffic as well.
Considering the wide geographical spread of A’s fans, it’s safe to assume traffic will be spread fairly evenly among the freeway segments, with the less congested southbound 880 getting the most. The traffic/transportation study hasn’t been released, but it’s reasonable to roughly project the following:
880 South: 3,500 cars (may include some Dumbarton traffic)
680 South: 2,500
880 North: 2,500
680 North: 500
Fremont/Newark/Milpitas surface streets: 1,000 (may include some Dumbarton traffic)
Note that these would be peak figures (sellouts), and would drop proportionally with actual attendance at the ballpark.
21. What’s being done to improve 880?
A series of interchange improvements were done in the last decade or so in South Fremont in order to help area manufacturing and warehousing/distribution companies. The last piece of this is the Mission/880 interchange, which is expected to be completed in 2009. Previously, all north and southbound traffic ran into this bottleneck, which only had three lanes in each direction and no carpool lanes. When completed, the interchange will have better separated traffic from 880 to Mission/680, plus a continuous carpool lane down to Milpitas and up through San Leandro. Additionally, traffic from one side of 880 to the other will be better managed by the addition of the new Warren Avenue exit/interchange. Previously, traffic from west of 880 had to mix with commute traffic get to the area east of 880. Lastly, the new Kato Road bridge was built to better route truck traffic bound for NUMMI.
22. That won’t completely alleviate congestion, will it?
No it won’t, but A’s fans traveling in groups will find things easier with the fully extended carpool lanes. The commute nightmare is also largely a one-way affair for those on 880 and 680 north headed towards the Tri-Valley area and exurbs Tracy and Stockton.
23. What about those coming from north of 92?
Work on the biggest bottleneck, the 880/92 interchange, has begun. The project will replace two of the “cloverleaf” sections (92 West-880 South and 92 East-880 North) with flyover ramps. When completed, the interchange’s capacity will be much greater, easing the transition for affected drivers. The interchange is expected to be finished in late 2011. Unfortunately, carpool lanes aren’t expected to be built through Oakland anytime soon as 880 in the area needs seismic retrofitting and widening before carpool lanes can be built.
24. What about surface streets?
Fremont doesn’t have a typical straight grid layout among its north-south corridors. Fremont Blvd and Paseo Padre Pkwy are four-to-six lane drags that are meant to handle city traffic. Auto Mall Pkwy, the main exit near the ballpark site, was widened as part of the 880 interchange projects. It may be widened again if it’s chosen as a carpool alternate route between 880 and 680. Mowry Avenue east of 880 just got a new long lasting asphalt overlay, while Stevenson Boulevard was widened to six lanes. Boyce Road (Fremont)/Cherry Street (Newark), which together are used as an alternate route to/from the Dumbarton (84), is a four-lane road that is meant largely for industrial traffic. Cushing Pkwy, which is Boyce Road south of Auto Mall, was extended over the newly created wetlands preserve as part of the previous development agreement between ProLogis and the government. Cushing runs south to Fremont Blvd and empties into 880 south. Fremont Blvd will be extended from its southern dead end to Warm Springs Blvd and the county line, providing a complete alternate route west of 880.
Mowry, Stevenson, and Fremont will be taxed as a result of shuttles running between Fremont BART and the ballpark site. What is unknown is exactly how many shuttles will be in service pre/post-game.
25. Will there be enough parking?
The A’s project at least 10,000 spaces when the ballpark opens and have pledged to replenish spaces lost due to other construction. This will likely be part of agreement between the team and the city. An additional 10,000 spaces will be constructed for residential and non-baseball commercial use. In addition, the team will encourage fans to come early by offering validation in conjunction with patronage at one of the village’s restaurants, which would mean parking in non-ballpark spots.
In addition, spaces at other nearby office parks may be available at each company’s discretion. It is unknown how much of this parking may become available. The A's, ProLogis, and tenants at retail and office developments are working on a gameday parking plan that preserves each group's respective parking areas.
The Coliseum’s 10,000-space lot handles A’s crowds well, although up to 20% of fans may use BART and several hundred cars park at the Coliseum BART lot during games.

Environmental Concerns
26. What is the wetlands preserve?
As part of the deal to develop over 800 acres of land at Pacific Commons in Fremont, Catellus (once the real estate arm of Southern Pacific) agreed to create a new, 440-acre wetlands preserve at the south end. To foster its growth, a large amount of earth was moved from the preserve section to the commercially developed portions. The moved earth elevated the Auto Mall and nearby business district, while the preserve was intentionally created lower to make it prone to tidal flows. The aforementioned Cushing Pkwy was extended in the form of a causeway to encourage tidal flow.
The preserve appears to be thriving. Migratory and native birds are present, as are rare plants. The tidal flow system is working as intended. As part of the EIR, long term effects of the preserve’s creation will be measured and compared against initially projected effects. From this, a strategy will be created that will help preserve the wetlands. Opponents including the Sierra Club have come out against the Cisco Field project, saying that residential development next to the preserve will irreparably damage the wetlands.
27. I heard the ballpark site is in an area that is prone to future rising sea levels due to global warming/climate change. Is this true?
No. The site is very close to a large estuary within the bay and flood control channels, which could make it prone to flooding if exceedingly heavy rains are combined with rising sea level. However, the predictive model assumes a uniform one meter rise all over the world, when it is more likely that there will be a greater rise at the equator and less rise as one gets further away from the equator. The ballpark is at least 1 mile away from the projected shoreline created by the sea level rise.

Economic Impact
28. How much will the ballpark improve the A’s financial situation?
Depending on how well the ballpark sells out, I’ve conservatively projected they could net an extra $24 million per year in revenue over their current situation at the Coliseum. A recent article on the new Twins’ ballpark has a comment from a Twins official indicating that the team will gain $40 million per year once their stadium opens.
29. Will the financial boost allow the team to compete with the Red Sox or Yankees?
Not by itself. The big market teams have huge amounts of TV and radio revenue along with their revenue-producing ballparks. Unless the A’s were to move towards buying or building their own media properties, there will continue to be a major disparity in revenue between the big market teams and everyone else.
30. Will the project be as beneficial for the city/county as is being claimed by its proponents?
Claims of economic benefit have to be taken with several grains of salt. Let’s be clear. The party that clearly wins in this type of deal is the team. They get a brand new stadium without having to use much of their stadium-generated revenue to pay for it. The city wins because it doesn’t have to raise or levy new taxes in order to get it done, plus it gets a fancy new source of sales tax revenue in the process plus the prestige that comes with having a team call it home. That said it removes a major piece of valuable industrial-zoned land from availability within Silicon Valley. It also adds residents and visitors, which adds strain to an already stretched-thin city.
Jobs will come most immediately in the form of concrete construction and are not permanent. 300 housing starts a year will be a boon for homebuilders. After construction is completed, there will be a number of retail and hospitality jobs, plus stadium operations and concessions. Many of the ballpark-based, non-construction jobs will be low paying. The situation there will be close to zero sum, since those job will simply be moving from Oakland to Fremont. A number of public sector jobs – police, fire – will be added due to the development’s impact on existing city resources.


31. Has the team released any documentation about the plan?
They’ve released an economic impact report and the preliminary site plan. A traffic and transportation study will be released as part of the EIR.
32. How long is the A’s lease at McAfee Coliseum?
In 2006, the A’s and the Coliseum Authority converted three option years (2008-10) into a hard lease, adding 2011-13 as option years. The Raiders' lease ends with the 2010 season.
33. What kind(s) of architecture will be featured?
The A's have made frequent reference to older East Coast neighborhoods, especially those with brownstones. They have not released information or pictures about the ballpark's façade, though it is likely the façade will be well-integrated into the neighborhood's overall theme. One particular type of exterior material is not expected to be used: stucco.
34. What will be the team's name after the move?
The A's have held this close to the vest, only saying that the team will be the "_____ Athletics at Fremont" or something to that effect. Principal owner Lew Wolff has hinted that the name in front of "Athletics" may be leveraged for additional investment. Considering the amount of Silicon Valley power and money behind this, it's not a great leap in logic to think the team may eventually be named "Silicon Valley Athletics at Fremont."