I spoke briefly to John Pastier after the vote was made, explaining how much of a fan I am of his work (Historic Ballparks/Slate article "Diamonds in the Rough"). I hope to pick his brain on the architectural aspects of a future ballpark. You guys think I geek out about the political stuff, no way - not nearly as much as the buildings themselves.
While pretty much everyone from the mayor on down agrees that public funds for a ballpark are a nonstarter, the real debate will involve whatever amount of public money is required for infrastructure improvements in the area. Opponents are starting to pitch their argument as transit hub vs. ballpark, claiming that the site is valuable land that would be better used to flesh out the hub or foster additional transit-oriented development.
This argument is a trap. It's not an either-or scenario, as both facilities can be accommodated with related development that can properly complement both. To understand why, it's important to establish how we got to this point.
In 2005, when plans coalesced around a San Jose Ballpark effort, the CAHSR project was also formally getting started. Both were considered mere glimmers in the eyes of their respective supporters. Only when certain measures passed in the November 2008 election did they gain real traction.
From there everything diverges. CAHSR is projected to start service in 2020, 6 years after a ballpark could open. Amazingly, that's 5 years before BART is slated to come to downtown SJ despite its vastly greater system length, expense and complexity. City fathers are looking to build a great rail facility, already drawing comparisons to Grand Central Terminal.
Let's stop right there. Grand Central? Are you kidding me? There's one unusual fact that everyone should understand before dreaming about Beaux Arts rail stations: You could fit the original Diridon Station building inside Grand Central's Main Concourse 12 times and still have space to walk around. Grand Central Terminal was built during an era that emphasized trains in a city that is built for them. While we should look to the old lady as a prime example of how to efficiently move large numbers of people around, it is wholly impractical for San Jose to build anything approaching GCT's scale. Besides, as romantic as people view GCT, it's Penn Station, GCT's unloved brother, that moves more people on a daily basis.
CHSRA head Quentin Kopp has been clear in his battles with the Transbay Terminal folks that he is most concerned about getting the SF-LA main line built as quickly and cheaply as possible, not so much about fancy passenger terminals. If you're a city that wants to build one anyway? Fund it yourself. Want to run all of the tracks underground, as Menlo Park and Palo Alto are planning? Put your money where your NIMBY mouth is. San Jose has asked for $100 million in stimulus funds to help build the hub, a good start if it comes through but not enough even with whatever is available from the Authority's budget to build anything truly "grand." Harvard University's Graduate School of Design recently won a contest to design the new hub. Hopefully they can put it together in a way that provides efficiency and real aesthetic value while not costing an arm and a leg. On a related note, SJ's redevelopment agency just moved one step closer to raising its debt ceiling to $1.5 billion.
To make it a fully multi-modal transit center, bus facilities will have to be relocated. They may go underground, they may inhabit the space where the PG&E substation sits. Parking will sit on top, with street level retail and perhaps some office/commercial development on the 8 acres bounded by HP Pavilion, Diridon Station, and the ballpark site. I've mentioned before that parking is a potential win-win for all parties, as the expensive garages that will go up here don't have to be single-use (transit only, arena/ballpark only). That said, what kind of parking will be needed for HSR use? Day parking, as we find with Caltrain users, or something else? The last thing anyone wants is for any new garages in the area to turn into an incredibly expensive version of long term parking.
Any vision of a sleek, effective transit hub has to be done in a public/private partnership. In this case, that could mean that like Transbay Terminal in SF, the hub facilities will be funded by development on the street and above. Once the area is cleared out, transit could only have two immediate neighbors, the Sharks and A's. The Sharks already have their own parking requirements with the city and will be affected by the construction process. The A's will have even greater parking requirements, but at least with the A's accommodations can be baked into the plan.
Why not partner with both teams to make it work? Certainly all parties can work out a deal that can send the right amount back to pay for the transit hub's eventual debt service while also covering the A's and Sharks for the cost to develop the area. Build in a method to pay for parking enforcement in nearby neighborhoods, and everyone's on the same page. The projected opening dates for the ballpark, CAHSR and BART are staggered enough that not everything needs to be built at once.