30 January 2009

Going out of pocket

If you've ever had the pleasure of heading out to spring training in Arizona, you've probably come away from it feeling it was a great fan experience. Compared to the regular season, the Cactus League is more relaxed and the players more accessible. Unlike Florida's Grapefruit League, most of the teams in the Cactus League are based in towns in and around the Phoenix area, making it easy to catch multiple games in a short timeframe (including doubleheaders). You might even be able to get a round of golf (or at least 9 holes) in before the customary noon tilt.

The ballparks may be the best part of spring training. They have around 10,000 seats, roughly the size of a AA or AAA park. Often, there is a small amount of chairback seating, most of the rest bleachers. A grassy berm frequently surrounds the outfield. There are no club seats and fans are encouraged to roam all over the grounds.

That isn't to say there aren't creature comforts. The newest ballparks have a full deck of luxury suites. Most ballparks also have expansive team practice facilities right next door. This season finally brings the Dodgers to the desert, after spending nearly 60 years at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL.

Given the state of affairs at the Oakland Coliseum, it may seem congruous for the A's to have spent their last 30 springs at simple, ordinary Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Muni has been around since 1964, which makes it older than the Coli. Muni does not have a grassy berm. The last time I went in 2003, it didn't even have an enclosed press box. In fact, it was the only Cactus League ballpark that had an open air press box, which sounds great except on those exceedingly warm days, when it had all the ambience of an average bus shelter.

So it's not overly surprising that Lew Wolff's looking for upgrades to the old girl. The strange part comes from the financing of renovations. Wolff knows that the City of Phoenix is strapped for cash much like any municipality in the nation. Instead of the normal "ask city for money, city raises bonds" deal typical of all spring training ballpark deals, he's offering to pay for renovations upfront, and when the city gets back on its feet well enough to pay it back, it can do so. The A's are locked in until 2014, so there's no threat of them leaving immediately. Besides, where would they go? Tucson?

Wolff's already done this "paying for renovations" type of thing only two years ago, when the Quakes paid for a bunch of improvements to SCU's Buck Shaw Stadium in exchange for an interim lease while they figured out how/when to build their permanent stadium. So far, so good for all concerned.
In related news, Wolff reset the vision for the new Quakes home, which is expected to seat 15,000. Two architectural firms are bidding for the work, and construction giant Devcon is pricing the whole thing out.

While the A's and Quakes are working on two different facilities with completely different sizes, layouts, and site plans, I'm starting to think that Wolff is trying to time the future construction of both venues in a manner that is more efficient in terms of labor. For instance, if Devcon is bidding on both facilities, with the plan to work on the Quakes stadium first (because it'll take less time to build) and the A's ballpark immediately thereafter, many of the specific phases of construction work can be packaged together. Wolff has been talking with local labor unions from nearly the beginning. Packaging the work is a great potential buy-in point for them (interesting note on union financing from Jay Hipps' article).

28 January 2009

Former Fremont councilman Dutra supports A's

Today's Argus has an opinion piece by former Fremont councilman Dominic Dutra. In it he argues that a win-win solution is still possible. The crux of his argument:

The city should strive to honestly and forthrightly address these impacts while also citing the potential for growth in office, commercial, residential and other development.

While impacts are certain to exist, the A's appear to be making significant and good faith efforts to address these concerns in order to mitigate them to an extent acceptable to most reasonable people.

Of equal importance, if traditional economic development patterns hold true, this planning effort should result in ample evidence that a stadium located adjacent to vacant land, major freeways and transportation hubs (such as the proposed BART station) would lead to significant economic growth for years to come.

Parallel with this planning effort, the city should perform a financial analysis to determine what the long-term financial benefits to the city would be in terms of additional property tax, sales tax, business tax, redevelopment tax increment, etc.

These future revenue enhancements then could be weighed against the cost of increased service demands.

Whether or not either of the alternatives is certified, it wouldn't be a bad idea to revisit the economic impact report released 20 months ago. The economy has changed drastically downward in the last 6 months, and it would behoove all to see how projections may have changed in that timeframe. It would be helpful for baseball village supporters or those who may want to put a similar concept in place in the "downtown" Fremont area.

27 January 2009

Alternative to the alternative

Over the weekend I got an interesting message from someone who worked for the City of Fremont. Apparently, there was a small push to get the city and the A's to consider a Fremont ballpark site other than Pacific Commons and Warm Springs. The source even got a mock-up aerial photo showing where the ballpark would be placed:

For those who are not familiar with Fremont, the site is Central Park. The ballpark would be placed next to police headquarters, a short distance from the park's Lake Elizabeth. It would displace a cluster of softball fields, which could conceivably be relocated. Central Park is located at the corner of Paseo Padre Parkway and Stevenson Boulevard, and is at the outer edge of what could be considered Fremont's "downtown" area.

The major advantage to this site is its proximity to BART, 1/2-mile away. Since it's on parkland, it also wouldn't require private land acquisition. According to the source, there is plenty of potential for parking in the commercial area to the west. The site is actually along the path planned for the Warm Springs Extension. BART would tunnel under the park, including the lake.

Two issues immediately pop up regarding the site. It's about 3 miles from either 880 or 680, and the drive is on what are currently congested, major arterial streets (Stevenson and Mission Blvd.). If you look closely at the broader view below, you'll also see that anyone driving will be going through a whole mess of residential area, much of it single-family residences in the Irvington and Mission San Jose neighborhoods.

In the past on this blog, someone has brought up a similar concept. I had always considered it difficult because of the distance from the freeways. This concept died in City Hall despite some persistence. No explanation was given as to why.

What do you think of this concept? Does it solve the problems presented by the Pacific Commons and Warm Springs alternatives, or does it introduce more problems than it solves?

NFL to LA: Who has the advantage?

Picture your regular poker night. For me, the routine usually includes the consumption of craft brews and single malt scotch, followed by the near immediate loss of money. It's a familiar scene, practiced nightly in homes all over the country.

Now imagine that scene with a bunch of multi-millionaires and billionaires sitting around the table. For some, their chips are the controlling shares of their respective teams. Another player has a stadium site and resources as his buy-in. They're all playing a single hand. Some will fold early. Others will stay in a little longer. Someone will win, but he won't win everything, just as the big winner in poker night doesn't win all of the money. Someone else will do pretty well in the second spot, and someone will go home unsatisfied.

This analogy works best when considered in this context: No one has started playing yet and no one's desperate. It's important to remember this when trying to analyze the situation and then predict how it's going to play out. For now, owners say the right things about staying in their current cities. The guy dangling a carrot in LA wants to deal with teams on his terms, instead of making the first deal that becomes available. Once you take this into account, and then factor in all of the different players and their unique situations, it becomes clear that the only prediction to make at this time is that we will probably be wrong.

Let's look at the players to try to get an understanding about how they'll do things. First, the team owners. I mentioned previously that these teams are not desperate. When a team is guaranteed $107 million in TV money every year, it's clear that it can financially tread water until the next CBA at the very least. The NFL has even girded its loins by creating its own rainy day fund in case of a labor stoppage. The only instance in which an owner would get to that point of desperation would be that he was either so debt-ridden or lost so much money in the last year that it made "liquidating" the team a necessity. No current owner fits that description.
  • Al Davis (potentially Mark Davis), Raiders. The team has been sniffing around the East Bay for a possible site, first by properly working with the Coliseum Authority, then by hiking out to Dublin to see if they were interested (they weren't). Crossbay rivals have shown interest in a shared facility, but so far the Raiders clearly haven't. That leads some to deduce that LA is the next logical step, except that logic does not necessarily apply in the franchise's movement history - why should it now? Al spent over three decades wresting control of the franchise from others. It's very difficult to see him allowing his family to piss away controlling interest in the team in one stroke. The team clearly has the advantage of an existing fanbase in SoCal. That may actually work against them in a sense, as LA investors may be more interested in bringing in a less difficult brand to town. For the time being, Al and Co. have done the best job of keeping their cards close to the vest.
  • John & Jed York, 49ers. One of the problems that doesn't get mentioned much is that the Yorks are from Youngstown, OH, which from a cultural bonding standpoint is as far away from the Bay Area you can get without having a drawl (John actually has one). Jed's young urbanite image makes him more approachable than his dad, though there remain questions about whether or not the prince can handle the job. When compared to Ray Ratto's musings about Mark Davis, there's no doubt that Jed wants the throne. Like the Raiders, the Niners have been sniffing around SF and Santa Clara, with the potential for options elsewhere in the Peninsula (Brisbane). Unlike the Raiders, the Niners have publicly shown interest in staying indefinitely through either an extension at the 'Stick or one of the new stadium options.
  • Ralph Wilson, Bills. The 90 year old has scared fans in western New York by scheduling the occasional game in Toronto. Rogers Centre is too small to be a permanent NFL facility, and the Bills sell Ralph Wilson Stadium out consistently despite its small market status and inconsistent on-field performances. They're getting over $7 million in annual subsidies from Erie County. They still get over 70,000 for each home game. A move would send thousands upon thousands of Bills fans to Niagara Falls in order to plummet to their demise. Now, it is true that if a team could be snatched from Baltimore or Cleveland, it could also happen to Buffalo. No argument there. It's just that no one's really getting hurt by the team remaining in Buffalo as it rides out the recession, so it makes more sense to stay away from the possible PR nightmare that would be associated with a Bills move.
  • Zygi Wilf, Vikings. Like the previouslly mentioned owners, Wilf's not a local. He's from New Jersey. All of his attempts to get a stadium deal done so far have fallen miserably short, as the Vikes missed the cut to get financing along with the Twins and UofM football program. Comments likening the Vikes' stadium project to federal stimulus were inappropriate. Options are simply running out. That could put him on the fast track to LA or to sell to someone else who could move the team to LA. Of the teams with uncertain stadium futures, Wilf is the least tenured. He has the least pull in his home market. Who knows if threats to "throw in the towel" are real or not, by verbalizing such sentiments the Vikes are going to this part of the playbook before anyone else.
  • Wayne Weaver, Jaguars. Occasionally when we talk football on the blog, someone brings up the prospect of having a team play in the Central Valley, either Sacramento or Fresno. The idea is that the large Central Valley population should be sufficent enough to support a NFL franchise. The short schedule would seem to support this since there's less individual financial outlay compared to baseball. Jacksonville, however, is a prime argument against the idea. Its metro is 1.4 million, though it is a high-growth market. Weaver isn't entirely a local boy, but he moved the Jacksonville shortly after he was awarded the Jags. Recently, Weaver dismissed any LA talk, though the door may be open now that an option has materialized.
  • Alex & Dean Spanos, Chargers. Again, here's a case of a team being passed to an heir. Dean Spanos is supposedly buddies with LA's Ed Roski, but the Spanos family doesn't want to sell controlling interest. Meanwhile, the Bolts' efforts to get something going in Chula Vista have stalled. LA would appear to be a very convenient move for them. After all, the team was originally the Los Angeles Chargers. The family has more firmly planted roots in Stockton, not San Diego. Slam dunk, right? Well, the numbers show that the Bolts don't have to commit to anything right away. Of course, they'd want to make a move before another team does. Perhaps the process will give the Chargers first dibs. Then again, Al Davis may have something to say about that. Update: Looks like the Bolts just made the first move by hiring LA marketing firm Wasserman Media Group to expand the team's reach into LA and Orange County.
That leaves the last guy at the table, the "outsider," Ed Roski. Roski's no stranger to sports, LA real estate, or politics. He has a small city with an approved EIR as his pocket aces. He can wait everyone else out if he wants. He can send out signals that end up playing interested teams against each other - not the NFL's preferred modus operandi, but still possible. It would look like a reversal of the Montreal Expos' move to DC, in which several candidate cities whined and dined MLB prior to the league showing the whole process to be a farce.

One thing that could dramatically alter the game would be the imposition of a deadline, especially in LA. I don't expect this to happen as I'm certain the NFL and Roski have an unspoken understanding about how this should proceed. If one or more city-team relationships deteriorate, there could be some nudging towards desperation, though it wouldn't be an overriding factor. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. In the end, there will be a clear loser in the city whose team leaves. The clear winner? The NFL, even if a team never moves to LA.

Note: I'm leaving out some additional teams who have made noises, such as the Saints and Rams. They would need to show renewed, consistent efforts (and failure) towards securing a new stadium deal to enter discussion.

26 January 2009

NFL encourages Niners and Raiders to shack up

This isn't difficult, folks. NFL stadia are expensive, at least twice as much as MLB ballparks due to all of the associated costs. It makes sense for both teams in a two-team market to explore ways the mitigate cost. Carl Goldberg of the NJ Sports & Exposition Authority says it best:
"It's unreasonable to think that each of these individual franchises would be able to invest the billion dollars necessary to build a new stadium alone," said Carl Goldberg, chairman of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, which owns the land under the new Jets-Giants stadium. "The whole thing seems to be a horrible waste. Let's not forget that they only play 10 games per year per franchise. Doesn't it make more sense to build a better facility, with better fan appeal and a better fan experience, for both teams?"
This is not rocket science. It makes sense. It won't destroy the "legacies" of the two teams if done correctly.

Update 1/26 9:42 a.m.: Per Hal Ramey's interview with Jed York (via John Ryan's article), the 49ers have dropped their request for redevelopment funds from $130-160 million to $28-45 million. Part of this reduction may have come from certain parts of the project being left aside, such as movement of the onsite PG&E substation (funny how that's a recurring theme). Movement of the stadium to the overflow parking site just across the street from team headquarters would allow them to forego the substation move. From the beginning I've advocated this option because simply put, the overflow lot doesn't get much use. The original plan had the stadium on a lot immediately north of the Great America entrance, which made little sense (especially for Cedar Fair).

The rest of the reduction could be attributed to lower construction costs. I've heard figures of contracts going for 20% lower right now as opposed to this time last year. This drop could last as long as the recession or longer, so teams looking to build, such as the A's and Niners, should feel sufficiently spurred on by the prospect of a less expensive stadium.

24 January 2009

Updated Diridon South map

Apologies to readers for getting this out later than expected.

The red parcel is the one remaining to be purchased that would be integral to building a ballpark. It is the site of Aeris Gas, which provides welding supplies and specialty gases. The location was formerly named ARC Gas Products, and over the years has merged with other Northern California locations to form Aeris. Last fall, national supplier Matheson Tri-Gas acquired Aeris. When the Diridon South site became a discussion topic in 2005, this business was considered one of the more difficult to relocate due to its specialized equipment and facilities. A move could be quite expensive. Will the city be forced to use eminent domain to acquire the land?

The blue parcels are only to be used to accommodate the widening of Autumn Street into Autumn Parkway. One of those blue parcels, the CarQuest Auto Parts store, is already vacant. Combined, the land is adjacent to Los Gatos Creek. In conjunction with the Autumn Parkway project, the creation of a greenbelt between the creek and the street would appear to be in order.

San Jose apparently has $22 million set aside for acquiring the remaining land. That would appear to be sufficient from a market value standpoint since the total amount of land is around 3 acres, and values at their 2006 peak were $7-8 million per acre - and have definitely dropped in the past 6 months.

There remains the issue of relocating the PG&E substation. The 2006 estimate for moving it south one block was $30 million.

20 January 2009

Don't want San Jose info? Then don't read this.

Over the past few weeks, I had been working on a lot of San Jose-related material, after sensing a tidal shift. While I'm not counting out Fremont, I'm also not nearly as optimistic about it as I had been at this time last year. The real estate market and the retail economy make prospects difficult at Pacific Commons, and Warm Springs has myriad issues of its own. So I started going into my San Jose archives, as there was so much detail there that I needed a refresher. This is the first of many posts to explain what the San Jose option is and what it represents. Keep in mind that while San Jose is considered by many in the media to be one of the commish's "other communities," no official outreach has been made by the A's to San Jose.

Fortunately, Katherine Conrad at the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal has already taken care of some of the background work that I had scheduled for myself. In her piece on San Jose's readiness should the A's attentions move south, she pointed out that only a few acres remain of the Diridon South ballpark site to be purchased. SJ Redevelopment project manager Bill Ekern noted that the city "assembled about 12 acres of the 14-acre site needed for a ballpark."

I sent requests to both Conrad and Ekern to find out which parcels remained to be purchased. Conrad responded, saying that she had a map and would furnish it tomorrow. I'll update the maps below accordingly once I get the info. In the meantime, here's an overhead view to get you (re)acquainted with the area.

Diridon Station (Caltrain) is one of only two real, multi-modal transit hubs in the South Bay (the other is Mountain View). While BART will brings additional hubs, Diridon is set to become one of the most heavily used transit hubs in the nation with the promise of BART, increased Caltrain service post-electrification, and high speed rail. That's in addition to Amtrak, Capitol Corridor, ACE, plus VTA light rail and bus service. For a better sense of what the area might look like once HSR is up and running, check out the video below, put together by the CAHSR Authority. The point-of-view is from the new neighborhood to the west of the tracks, with the camera moving north along the tracks. At the midpoint of the video, the northern edge of the ballpark site is visible to the right.

The parcels are laid out in a sort of jigsaw puzzle look. I'll add another map identifying the parcels that have been acquired and remain to be acquired. The grey areas are Autumn and Montgomery Streets, important one-way thoroughfares through the area. The city already has plans to convert Autumn into two-way, four-lane Autumn Parkway, which will eventually connect north up to Coleman Ave. Currently, Autumn Street dead-ends at the Union Pacific tracks north of HP Pavilion. The project has already been identified by SJ Mayor Chuck Reed as one his leading long-term stimulus construction projects.

Conrad's article also clarifies an important point regarding the EIR. Minor modifications would require an affirmation of traffic and noise impacts. This would incur a comment period, which would subsequently bring out of the woodwork many of the initial critics of the ballpark plan and EIR. In 2006, the EIR was certified with little fanfare or complaint because the Fremont plan was in its initial, positive stages. Many down here felt the EIR was a lost cause, albeit smart for the city to keep it in its back pocket. Should the A's officially focus on San Jose, those same parties who felt threatened in a vague way will be spurred on since they'll probably feel threatened in a real, specific way. That's not to say that the outcry back then (or in the future) is anything like what Warm Springs residents are unleashing upon Fremont. Sometime in the next several weeks I'll rehash the EIR and my observations about the process.

City of Industy voters approve NFL stadium bonds

Ed Roski and the city of Industry has now created a lot of intrigue for several NFL teams looking for new stadia and their current home cities. Industry's voters approved 60-1 (out of only 84 registered voters) a package of up to $500 million in infrastructure bonds to support Ed Roski's dream of a new NFL stadium on a hill within the city limits.

While the city isn't actively seeking out any specific NFL teams (or vice-versa), Industry has now thrust itself into official stalking horse position. Four teams currently have outdated facilities: SF, Oakland, San Diego, and Minnesota. Jacksonville is often mentioned, though its facility is actually up-to-date. Its problem is its small market status.

The sticking point is likely to be which owner is willing to sell controlling interest of the team to Roski and his partners. The Raiders and 49ers have shown no interest in doing this. Chargers exec Dean Spanos and Roski are often cited as friends, but Spanos maintains that he wants to keep the team in San Diego (for now). Vikes owner Zygi Wilf just bought the team a few years ago and probably doesn't want to sell unless he runs out of options. Jacksonville is the fourth-largest market in Florida, though it is growing.

18 January 2009

Wolff rules out City of Santa Clara

Not sure why the Merc's Internal Affairs even brought this up. They bothered to ask Lew Wolff if he'd be interested in the City of Santa Clara as a future home, given the Selig letter. As I mentioned on Wednesday, there isn't enough room for the A's, 49ers, and Great America. The 49ers and Santa Clara are committed to seeing their project through to this November's election. A ballpark would require a new EIR whether it were alone or paired with a football stadium. If, hypothetically, Santa Clara County were opened up this summer, Santa Clara the city would be at an immediate disadvantage compared to San Jose. It would have one distinct advantage in that it already controls land under consideration for a stadium. San Jose only has half of the Diridon South site.

16 January 2009

Warm Springs now 1A, Pacific Commons 1B

Matthew Artz at the Argus/Tri-City Beat blog confirmed something I had heard last week: Warm Springs is now the preferred Fremont option. Pacific Commons is now the "alternative." This has to be due to the continued lack of progress on the Catellus/big box front.

Update: New article here.

Let's be clear about what Warm Springs brings to the table. Its only real advantage over Pacific Commons is its proximity to the future BART extension. That's it. Pacific Commons is better as an integrated project. It's less expensive because it doesn't require additional land acquisitions. We can debate all day whether who's the more difficult party to win over, the big box stores or Warm Springs residents. It's not an enviable position for the A's to be in, which is why the commish is giving the green light for Wolff to explore elsewhere.

For those who believe Sacramento is that elsewhere, here's a preemptive no.

15 January 2009

More great A's announcements + BART to WS

Future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson has been hired in a "goodwill capacity" for the 2009 season. While nothing would tickle me more than to have Rickey as a 1B/3B/bench coach, this is at least a good start. Yes, I would like to see him don an A's uniform one last time if that's at all possible.

Continuing their expansion into radio, the A's have also announced that they've inked a five-year (!) deal with the Spanish Beisbol Network. All 162 games will be broadcast on two stations locally, KDIA-1640 and KDYA-1190. It's a very big deal as this breadth of coverage of the A's season on Spanish radio is unprecedented. Veteran broadcaster Amaury Pi-Gonzalez will handle the play-by-play duties, with the color man to be announced at a later date. Interestingly, Pi-Gonzalez's last gig was with the Angels in 2007.

The MTC has approved shuffling $91 million of local transporation funds from the Dumbarton Rail project to the Warm Springs BART extension. It's yet another crucial step towards the eventual raping and pillaging of South Fremont due to BART's criminal element full extension to San Jose.

14 January 2009

Look South

And so it begins. Two stories, one from the AP and another by reporter Barry M. Bloom, start off in familiar territory. Commissioner Selig wants resolution of the Fremont situation, as stated in his December letter, and if Fremont falls through the A's "may begin to discuss a ballpark with other communities."

If this were your standard procedural cop show, Selig would be filling the role of bad cop while Wolff is the good cop. Wolff remains committed to making Fremont work, though opposition on different fronts remains daunting.

Bloom's article goes further, as in further south in Santa Clara County. He broaches the prickly subject that is territorial rights and sheds a bit of light on the process:
Thus, if the A's want to move into Santa Clara County, it would be a decision made by the Commissioner and not by the Giants, who were ceded the rights to Santa Clara County during a ballpark vote there about 20 years ago. The vote failed, but the Giants have maintained those territorial rights ever since.

"What we've done, I think, is open up a door for the A's that's been closed," said Wolff on Wednesday, the first day of this week's two days of owners' meetings here. "My priority really is Fremont. Other communities are all over us now because of this letter, but I'm not listening to them yet. I don't want to start this process all over again."

It would appear rather convenient, then, that San Jose (presumably one of those "other communities") has a completed and certified EIR which makes the process there much less painful than what's transpired so far in Fremont. Wolff is careful not to point blame at Fremont's city council.

Curiously, Bloom's article is headlined "Door opens for A's in Santa Clara." Is that an inference to a ballpark deal being possible in the city of Santa Clara? We don't know yet. Bloom only refers to Santa Clara County, not the city. There are some in Santa Clara who believe that it's possible for both a 49ers stadium and an A's ballpark to fit side-by-side near Great America. Santa Clara has to worry about the Niners' situation first before imposing any new concepts on its citizens. FWIW, I don't think there's enough room for the Niners, A's, and the theme park to operate in the same sandbox. Two of them, yes.

What is Lew going to say at the Chamber breakfast event on February 11? Sometimes I think Lew's playing this like Andy Dufresne at Shawshank, everyday carving out bits of stone wall unbeknownst to the guards and the warden, then distributing them in the prison yard.

13 January 2009

M&R: 49ers may stay in the 'Stick

Matier and Ross report that the Niners, should their efforts to get a stadium in Santa Clara falter or slip, are prepared to re-up at the 'Stick for 5, 10, or even 15 years.

Candlestick Park still works reasonably well as a barebones football stadium. No seats are insanely high. Other that a few obstructed view seats, it's a decent place to watch a game and can generate some serious noise. With the Giants gone, the 49ers don't have to worry about linemen struggling through muck caused by the baseball infield (drought helps too).

Despite those positives, the 'Stick is the oldest pro stadium in the Bay Area and it shows. Escalators are frequently in a state of disrepair. The team facilities have been mediocre since the 80's. Concourses are cramped. Breezes whip through there as if the stadium were located on Tierra del Fuego. There are no club seats. The luxury suites are a bit dated. And it's a real pain to get from the press box down to the field or locker rooms.

The plan, then, is to do a major remodel:

Already, the team is working up designs for a new club area with premium seating that could be introduced the season after next.

But there may be more to it than that. Lang confirmed that the Niners are looking at the possibility of a major remodel of the 'Stick - an option they had previously rejected as far too costly.

"We are running the numbers again because things have changed," Lang said. It seems that with the economic downturn, rehabbing the stadium might not be as expensive as once thought.

In December, new team President Jed York met with Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Sophie Maxwell and hinted that - depending on the outcome of their efforts in Santa Clara - he might come back to the city in three to six months to talk about a Candlestick rehab.

Dufty said he was under the impression they weren't talking about the kind of massive makeover that Chicago's Soldier Field got, "but something that might be north of $100 million."

In other words, the kind of fix-up that could keep the stadium operating for an extra 15 years - long enough to pay for itself and carry the Niners through their last lease extension option.

We've seen this kind of remodel before. It's called Mt. Davis. To be fair, Mt. Davis was the construction of a completely separate, three-deck grandstand with nearly 100 suites. A 'Stick revamp need not be so extensive. It would pretty simple to remove the pullout stands on the east side and the old rightfield line sections that are no longer in use. In their place could be an extensive club seating tier (or two) plus a lounge/restaurant/atrium area.

If the Niners and SF do it right, they could correct one of the weird quirks of the old girl. The odd oval shape of the seating bowl created a situation in which no seat is lined up parallel to either sideline or end line, and few seats are properly angled at the center of the field. In the remodel, the field could be properly lined up parallel to the western side of the bowl. Then the club seats could also be built in the same parallel manner.

The problem? Who's going to pay for it?

Wolff to speak at SJ Chamber event 2/11

It's not on the calendar yet, but I have confirmed that Lew Wolff will speak at a San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce event in February. The specifics:
A's and Earthquakes: Plans for 2009?
with Lew Wolff
Wednesday, February 11, 7:30-9:30 AM
@ Adobe Systems
Park Conference Room
345 Park Ave., San Jose

Online registration will be available shortly, and will be open until February 6.

Speculate away.

A reminder about San Jose

I'm confirming a big piece of San Jose-related news today. In preparation for that, here's a clip of San Jose's Municipal Code (link dead) related to building sports facilities within the city limits:
4.95.010 Prohibition of the use of tax dollars to build a sports facility
The city of San José may participate in the building of a sports facility using tax dollars only after obtaining a majority vote of the voters of the city of San José approving such expenditure.

A “sports facility” for the purpose of this chapter is to be any structure designed to seat more than five thousand people at any one time for the purpose of viewing a sporting or recreational event.

“Tax dollars” for the purposes of this chapter include, without limitation, any commitment to fund wholly or in part said facility with general fund monies, redevelopment fund monies, bonds, loans, special assessments or any other indebtedness guaranteed by city property, taxing authority or revenues.

Nothing herein shall be construed to limit the city from allowing the construction of a sports facility funded by private investment.

If any provision of this chapter or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, then the remainder of this chapter and application to other persons or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.
More later.

11 January 2009

Uncomfortable positions

Effects from the economic crisis are hitting everyone, including wealthy team owners. Bruce Ratner has been forced to scale back value engineer his Brooklyn arena vision. The Yankees are looking for $370 million to "finish" New Yankee Stadium. Locally, talks of the Niners and Raiders teaming up to get a stadium done together may have started up.

Wait a minute. Haven't we heard that last rumor before? Indeed we have, about this time last year. And we're going to continue to hear this every year as both teams' seasons end unceremonious early while their stadium destinies hang in the balance. We have no idea if there are any substantive discussions. We don't know what it will take for the two teams to arrive at a proper compromise. Finally, we have no clue which muncipality out there would be interested in playing matchmaker, though I suspect that certain Santa Clara pols might be. The stadium architect may also have to play intermediary, as 360 architecture's George Heinlein did with the New Meadowlands Stadium. Sure, it makes sense. It's not, however, without its issues. As long as LA remains a tantalizing option for both teams (and the Bolts, Jags, and Vikes) there may be little progress on this front.
Back in Fremont, Warm Springs residents want details on the WS site alternative. That request is going to be difficult to fill, as the A's aren't going to purchase area land until they know there is a clear path to getting the ballpark approved. That means just about any of the WS parcels could be used for the ballpark, making it a little more difficult to spell out precisely all of the potential impacts. Sound a bit chicken-and-egg-ish? It is. In the meantime, A's and stadium supporters are going to hold a series of koffee klatches with affected residents starting this week.

The plan is to enact a "Neighborhood Protection Plan" that works in a two-way manner. Not only does it prevent stadium users from driving from the stadium area to the residential area, it also prevents anyone from using back roads into the residential area from parking and then walking to the stadium area. The plan is helped by the street grid, in which there are limited access points to the Weibel neighborhood on the opposite side of 680 (so named because of the area elementary school). It remains to be seen how residents will react to the plan and the additional inconvenience that may come with it.

Some residents south of the stadium site (Warm Springs/Mission) are more concerned about the single north-south artery between 680 and 880, Warm Springs Blvd., being clogged on game days. Only the traffic study will have any real answers, as it will probably take into account situations in which normal traffic flows and signaling can be compared with gameday situations in which police will be called upon to control traffic.

What next? We're about a month away from the next City Council meeting to review the plan. Until then, stay tuned.

08 January 2009

KTRB wants to add North Bay/Sac coverage

I received a note this morning from Jim Pappas, KTRB's VP and GM. The station has FCC and FAA approval to construct a new transmitter in Sonoma County. The 50,000-watt facility would seriously augment coverage in the North Bay and Sacramento. By now you've seen the existing coverage map:

The new Sonoma Daytime transmitter map (exclusive of existing transmitter) looks like this:

Much better, right? It is a Daytime transmitter, and Nighttime operation is in the works as well, though it would come later (application with the FCC already on file). For those who believe in miracles, don't expect the transmitter to be ready in time for Opening Day. It's not like building a skyscraper in terms of complexity, but it's still quite tall and requires proper preparation and testing. Maybe before the end of the season. The deal between the A's and KTRB is only for one season, but this gives you an indication of where both parties would like the relationship to go. Both want to be serious Bay Area radio players, and they want to do it together.

This is where you come in. Construction of the transmitter is wholly dependent on approval by Sonoma County's Board of Zoning Adjustments. KTRB is ready to build pending approval. The transmitter has not yet come up for review by the BZA. When it does, KTRB will draft to request fan support. I'll post it here. The board usually meets twice a month, and like the EIR process in Fremont, it is open to public comment. You can go to the meeting at 2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA, 95403, or send written comments to that address.

05 January 2009

A's move to KTRB

In a move that should delight listeners all over the bay, the A's are moving to 50,000-watt KTRB-AM 860. KTRB's transmitter is located in the Diablo Range east of Sunol, which is a big improvement over the three transmitter locations it used two years ago. Check out the maps below for a better idea of the service area.



See any difference there? I don't. That's a good thing for both the A's and A's fans.

KTRB's programming is a mishmash of talk, with high profile slots taken by syndicated conservative hosts such as Glenn Beck and Neal Boortz. Bay Area veteran Ron Barr has his sportstalk show in the 7-10 slot, which would be pre-empted by most of the A's weeknight games and related pregame and postgame shows. Ironically, the partnership with KTRB is the first time in years that the A's will be on a station with compatible sports programming.

Readers, I'd much appreciate if you could at some point during the day flip on your AM radios and tune to 860. Then drop a comment and let me know how the signal comes in, specifying your location. Thanks.

04 January 2009

Another slice of Raiders may be for sale

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that the Raiders are in talks to sell at least 10% of team to a group of LA-based investors. As usual, Raider management has steadfastly denied the rumor.

The real issue here is that of controlling interest of the team, which has been in Al Davis's hands for more than three decades. It's difficult to see Davis as a figurehead given his penchant for meddling in everything from personnel moves and gameplans to stadium deals, even with his somewhat advanced age and health concerns.

Unfortunately for Davis, he doesn't hold many cards. The chances of Davis getting a stadium deal in the LA area without ceding control are slim. The NFL's G3 loan program has dried up and talk of a new fund has been tabled as the league bundles up for a cold economic winter. There are no Irwindales out there willing to give him a fat check, and the only stadium deal on the horizon is Ed Roski's plan in City of Industry, which would be privately financed. Roski, according to the LA Times, is quietly pursuing a team. Couple that with Roger Goodell's curious December visit to Oakland, and it would appear that something is happening behind the scenes.

While Roski and his SoCal cohorts get their affairs in order, talks continue between the Raiders, Oakland, and the Coliseum Authority. Of course, if Davis needed a cash infusion to keep the team going, how would he have the cash needed to get a Coliseum revamp or new stadium started?

Our two local NFL teams are in a similar position economically. They won't admit it, but either would love the other to leave posthaste as it would help crystallize support for their own local stadium efforts. Yet they must both look at Roski's vision and see dollar signs. Both ownership groups want to hold on with a death grip, but may not be able to in order to move or even get a stadium deal done locally without ceding control. And both teams have been woefully mismanaged over the past decade. There's a race here, but I'm not sure what it's for.