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09 March 2009

Indulge the fantasy

It's hard not to remember the late 80's fondly as an A's fan. Rickey in left, the Bash Brothers, Stew dominating Clemens, multiple ROY wins, Eck, the list goes on and on. While the team only went 1 for 3 in the World Series, the idea that the A's were at the top of the heap was inescapable.

We got a glimpse of what the Coliseum looked like when it brought in 35,000 a night. Now, that usually left 14,219 seats available, but who was really counting? Not the Haas family, evidently. The place was vibrant, pleasant, and most importantly, the team won. Who could complain? Not me. I was just entering the giant bag of awkwardness that was high school, and the A's were a great refuge from the social mores of adolescence.

In that context, it's difficult to dissociate the Coliseum, forlorn for much of its life, from the team. The team provided the stadium a halo effect, much the same way a new model sports car will improve the perception of a car brand or dealership. The Coliseum was at times mentioned in the same breath as Dodger Stadium, a comparison which now sounds ludicrous but was fairly apt back then. Of course, the halo effect is never permanent, and nearly all vestiges of those salad days disappeared when the Raiders came back to town.

I don't fault the end product, Mt. Davis, as much as I blame the circumstances that led to its construction. Unlike the 60's-80's era of multipurpose stadia, modern baseball and football diverged significantly in how the two leagues wanted their venues designed. Let's look at how the two sports diverged:
  • Starting with New Comiskey Park, new ballparks capped their capacities at 50,000, eventually downsizing to 40-45,000 as the comfort zone. Football stadia hold crowds of 60-70,000, with some designed to hold thousands more for college bowl games or the Super Bowl.
  • With few exceptions, ballparks had 40-60 suites. Football stadia had at least double that number. Texas Stadium and FedEx Field each contain an astounding 300 suites. That creates more verticality and reduces intimacy.
  • Football stadia generally eschewed the use of cantilevered or overhanging seating decks. In ballparks, cantilevering is encouraged, though short of the point at which columns would be needed.
  • The first row of a ballpark's lower deck is usually no more than 1 foot above the field. In football, it's customary to be 6-10 feet above the field when in the first row.
When considering this divergence, it's easy to see how Mt. Davis was constructed. Function ruled over form, with the mission being to stuff as many seats and suites into a small space as possible. The east side wing now sits as a massive concrete albatross, costing Oakland and Alameda County a combined $22 million in debt service and operating costs per year for the next 18 years. It's fine to want the thing demolished, but if one or both teams are going stay there, someone has to pay for it. The meager lease the A's pay hardly makes a dent. However, you're not going to get more out of the A's in the next lease than what you're getting now. Who knows what an extension for the Raiders might look like? The Coliseum JPA is truly stuck. They have to justify the debt service somehow, yet it only costs them more to keep the two tenants in the Coliseum. How ironic that one of the Coliseum's tenants has a white elephant as a mascot.

Still, let's posit that the Raiders do actually leave after the 2010 season, leaving the A's in the Coliseum for at least 3 years. Let's go with the idea of demolishing Mt. Davis, then remaking the outfield to look like the old Coliseum. There are several improvements that could be made cheaply that would make the old girl a better experience for fans. The changes wouldn't bring it up to par with a modern ballpark, but that's not the point. It's an interim step until the A's and Oakland/Alameda County figure something else out, whatever that is.
  • Get rid of the fences and concrete barriers. These "spite fences," erected when the Raiders moved back in, are the antithesis of fan friendliness. They prevent views of the field from the concourse and limit sunlight from filtering in. The barriers have managed to make the concourse more drab and claustrophobic than it was originally.
  • Remove the last 4 rows of the lower level. By removing these rows, the lower concourse can be expanded 11 feet all around (with the exception of the stairwells). Circulation would be improved. New standing room areas can be introduced, as well as new ADA wheelchair locations, which would be properly elevated above the row of seats in front of them. Net loss of 2,000 seats.
  • Remove the last 3 rows of the plaza level. If you've ever sat in these seats, you know what I mean. You're at eye level with the overhang. You half expect bats to hang from the ceiling. The wind whips through, making things uncomfortable. The seats themselves aren't the most accessible because you have to contend with the stairs leading to the upper deck. This change only affects the sections down the foul lines, because of suites and the West Side Club. Net loss of 1,000 seats.
  • Tear off the tarps and remove the first three rows of the view level. The seats themselves are useless as long as the first row is used for circulation. For years, the A's wouldn't sell many of these seats until the seats above them were sold because of this problem. Instead, convert some of these rows into group or party areas. Cordon them off the way the East Side sections are separated, and the circulation problem goes away. I've always thought it would be cool to have a bunch of recliners at the front of section 317. Net loss of 1,400 seats.
  • Bring back the bleachers, iceplant, and monuments.
  • Handrails, please. The view and plaza levels are not particularly steep compared to other stadia, but they could still use handrails, especially for those who've had a few either in or out of the ballpark.
  • Upgrade the restrooms. This means new fixtures and the removal of troughs. An additional women's restroom may be needed to properly address potty parity.
  • Reduce the number of suites by expanding them. It doesn't solve the problem of not having an exclusive concourse. However, reducing inventory introduces scarcity, plus the suites can be redone in a more attractive way by including bathrooms and increasing space inside each suite. Net loss of 20 suites.
  • Move the Stomper Fun Zone to the outfield. Yes, it reeks of Coke bottle slides and gigantic gloves, but it's a way to spiff up the look of the park. It advertises how family friendly the place is. Plus it's not tucked into some out-of-the-way location as the current Fun Zone is. May reduce bleacher capacity a several hundred seats.
  • Combine the two DiamondVision screens. They're old and obsolete, but if no one wants to pony up $5-10 million for a new LED board, combining the two screens would make for a decent sized screen. Or if they only used one, the other could be used for parts.
New capacity would be 44,500, down from the pre-Mt. Davis capacity of 49,219. Again, it doesn't solve all of the other problems the A's have with the stadium. It does create a more fan-friendly, intimate atmosphere, with needed upgrades to several locations within the Coliseum. I figure these modifications would cost $25 million, including the demolition and rebuilding of the outfield. I may be underestimating the cost, and I have no idea how it would be paid for. The Raiders could easily destroy the fantasy of so many A's fans by signing an extension at the Coliseum, which contrary to popular belief, is what they were seeking when they settled with the JPA over three years ago.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I guess if the A's were going to spend the next 10-15 years at the Colisieum you could rationalize it---hard to believe it would only cost $25M--but you know better than I do--

At the end of the day---while the Colisieum might have been a reasonable ballpark back in the 80's..this was before Camden Yard, AT&T, and others re-defined the expectations---even Dodger stadium, which has been completly re-done to return it to its original grandeur, is adding a $500M plaza to improve the ambiance and game day experience---and in all honesty, I am not sure I would ever compare the Colisium to Dodger stadium--

Anonymous said...

Yeah, let's bring back the little rabbit that popped out of the ground behind home plate and Charlie "O" the Mule for good measure....and the Dingers, yeah, bring back the old ladies and their cow bells....

Please fast forward to 2014 before I die!

Jesse said...

The Raiders cant go anywhere. Where would they play in 2011? But if this did happen, I'd prefer they take off enough of the upper deck as possible and get as close to 35K as they can.

dmontero said...

I like this idea MUCH better than the re-use of Mt. Davis suggested last week. I think the tarps should remain on a large portion of the view level. From 1st to 3rd base, the view is OK if you're in the front half of the level. Too far around towards the foul poles or too far up and it's really not all that great, although with Mt. Davis gone that lovely view of the hills would be restored.

So sad that Mt. Davis will most likely outlive Mr. Davis.

Jesse said...

Can someone please explain to me why the A's couldnt build the ballpark in Pacific Commons in a place that would make the store owners happy? I really dont understand why they gave up on all of that open space out there. There must have been a million different ways to make 143 acres work. I need to hear from Lew Wolff, It just doesnt add up.

Marine Layer said...

Changes would have required a major EIR rewrite and the site would've created much greater environmental impacts on the wetlands.

Brian said...

I think the concrete barriers (I'm guessing you mean the ones behind sections 110 and 124) are necessary for the structural integrity of the building. The rest of the fences could go if the Raiders leave (I think they were put up because groups of people were forcing their way through the gates at Raider games or using counterfeit tickets as standing room tickets and standing in those areas-I used to work security at Raider games and they always instructed us to shoo away people who were standing and watching the game in the few sections without fences (107-108 and 126-127).

As the troughs are needed for the male-bonding aspect of sports fandom, and can accomodate more, um, users than can urinals, I'm all for them staying. It keeps out the squeamish.

Anonymous said...

You can have my trough urinal when you pry it from my cold, dead ... um ...

Aside from the deal-breaker of getting rid of the trough urinals, that's a nice plan, ML.

Jeffrey said...

That's it. I vote for San Jose as long as those damn trough urinals exist in Oakland.

BleacherDave said...

Hey, look on the bright side. It's MUCH less windy, thus less cold, with Mt. Davis blocking the breeze. The ball carries further. Great offset to the expansive foul territory - no longer an extreme pitchers park as when Stew was working out there......

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great idea ML!! You're thought process must be pretty creative for you to come up with unique ideas for all this to make sense. Also for someone who lives in San Jose, I'll give you credit where credit is due and it certainly sounds like you are one of the very few true San Jose natives who's been attending games at the Coliseum from the beginning. I'll admit at first I thought you were also a "San Jose Partisan," but after following your blog for several years now, I can tell that you don't care what city they play in as long as they play in the Bay Area. Coming from a die-hard OAKLAND fan, I respect your views very much!

What's funny as I keep reading the comments and often post my own thoughts...it seems like whenever you post about the possibility to help find a way to utilize the current ballpark in Oakland, the rest of the San Jose Partisans doesn't seem to want to comment except for how lousy the idea is and that they should move to San Jose.

Good job ML and keep up the good work. As always I'm looking forward to your next thread.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

As much as I hate to admit it, tearing down the monstrosity has been done very well by our enemies to the south...Angel stadium was ruined once by the Rams addition and now even though its probably as old as the coliseum it has been turned into a very serviceable nice stadium again. They had to tear down as much if not more than we would have to. I just want to get this back to a neutral quality park, not a pit like it is now. Thats about all we can hope and pray for at this point.

Again, anyone hoping for the Raiders to find a new facility is really wishing though, they dont seem capable of pulling it off unless they just leave (again)

Dan said...

Don't know why you think it's less windy. If anything it's more windy, and unpredictable with the two small areas between Mount Davis and the old park. At least before the air flow was fairly simply, home plate toward the wall.

And ML thanks for posting that pic. It brings back fond memories of the Coliseum when it was one of the best parks in the game, rather than the monstrosity it is today.

Honestly the nostalgic side of me would support bringing back the pre-1995 Coliseum as my number 1 preferred option over even a new park. It just had a nice symmetrical and simple beauty to it, not unlike Dodger stadium just with more grass. Here's hoping they consider it as a legitimate option and here's hoping the Raiders shove off sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

I'm as big as an Oaklander as you're gonna get since I have so much pride where I come from.

However, I too will admit that although the Raiders are in fact my football team for geographic reasons only...I would vote them out of here in a heartbeat if it meant the A's get a new ballpark (or at least renovating the current Coliseum). I can honestly say that I care for the Warriors more than the Raiders.

With that being said, I really hope the Raiders and Niners could build a stadium together in Santa Clara County. That way the A's could renovate the Coliseum, San Jose folks would pretty much get two franchises in the South Bay that they could support and hopefully EVERYONE would get a new facility in the end and live happily ever after!!!

Go A's!!!

Anonymous said...

Renovation of the Colisieum means that the A's play a step-child role to the Giants and their incredible stadium---AT&T---

True A's fans want their franchise to be competitive with the Giants---remodeling an outdated ballpark. in a bad area, doesn't ever add up to success---even ML admits it is an interim solution.

Call us partisan San Jose fans or whatever, at the end of the day I want the A's to be able to compete with the Giants and in order to do this you need to be financially healthy--

Anonymous said...

Some people seem to think that if the Raiders left the Coliseum that it would automatically mean the A's would stay and renovate the Coliseum just for baseball but I think some are getting their hopes up and it is nothing more than wishful thinking. Whether the Raiders stay in Oakland or even move to Santa Clara with the 49ers, the status of the Raiders doesn't really have anything to do with the A's own new stadium pursuit.

Lew Wolf seems to be determined to build a new ballpark whether that be Oakland, San Jose or some where else. I don't see Wolf wanting to renovate the Coliseum just for baseball. I think he would build a new ballpark at the Coliseum site before he would renovate the old Coliseum. He wants the legacy of being the one who gave the A's a new ballpark that will stand the test of time. Some say he is stuck at the Coliseum for a while, maybe but if the issue of territory rights is settled with the Giants things could start rolling fairly quickly in San Jose with a new ballpark.

I think it would ideally be better if the Raiders and 49ers got together and renovated or even build a new joint stadium where the old Coliseum is. ML did an interesting report of renovating the Coliseum for football only on 9/10/08. I am not a San Jose partisan, I just want the A's to stay in the Bay Area whether it be Oakland or San Jose, although I think they are more likely to end up in San Jose.

oak80gone said...

ML,

I've always thought the old Coliseum was simply the Nor Cal version (for lack of a better phrase) of Dodger Stadium.

Did you see any similarities or differences between the two?

Marine Layer said...

There a few surface similarities. Both are old. Both are pitcher's parks, Dodger Stadium less so today. Both have symmetrical layouts. Dodger Stadium once had large foul territory like the Coliseum and the 'Stick, not so anymore. Beyond that they're not so similar. Dodger Stadium is privately run and it shows - you can practically eat off the floors.