08 April 2009

The "I" word

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.


monkeyball said...

If Crywolffisher really wanted to get in on the fed-stimulus/public-transit-hub/public-private-partnership money and goodwill, they could propose siting the western terminal of the (proposed? abandoned? planned?) northern CHSR cutoff at ... the current location of the Coliseum. You've already got a micro-hub of BART, Amtrak, 580, and the airport -- adding HSR to the mix, along with federal development dollars and visionary urban/transit/renewal/density planning, could absolutely DWARF both the Fremont plan and any feasible Diridon plan.

Marine Layer said...

Who said anything about the Wolff/Fisher wanting stimulus funds? Not them. Not me. It appears that the only people talking fed stimulus are the Oakland Stadium Task Force, which is a big mistake. No stimulus funds should be used for a stadium project anywhere in America.

Besides, why on earth would Wolff go against SVLG, the entity that sunk the Altamont route in favor of the Pacheco alignment? He's looking for SVLG to deliver corporate customers. Like it or not, there will be more as much if not more private money thrown into these endeavors than public money. They're going to do business in their backyard, not someone else's.

Jeffrey said...

When I go to the CAHSR website, the East Bay is ignored mostly. Not sure if they have officially pulled the plug on any of that, but an example (taking a trip from Stockton to San Jose) appears to show that the East Bay is not included in the final plan. The route in my example trip would go From Stockton South past Merced and then through the Pacheco Pass to San Jose.

Marine Layer said...

For more on the possibility of HSR in the East Bay, check out this post at the CA High Speed Rail blog. The author says it could happen no earlier than 2030.

gojohn10 said...

Sounds like the those of use in the East Bay will have to wait until BART comes to Diridon to get convenient HSR connector service :(

Jeffrey said...

So other than the video where the folks were getting completely excited about nothing (or a re imagined Fremont plan minus the housing and samckdab in the middle of the Coliseum parking lot), is there really an Oakland Stadium Task Force and do they have some sort of website?

I'd be interested in reading up about it.

Anonymous said...

gojohn10, not necessarily. East Bay residents can take a short BART ride to the San Francisco terminal and then take HSR to San Jose. This is likely to be a faster and more pleasant trip than taking BART directly to San Jose.

Marine Layer said...

gojohn10, if they get the Transbay Terminal built, there will be some kind of moving walkway connecting the terminal with the Embarcadero BART Station.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article by John Pastier, Marine Layer. IMO, the best part of the post.

To me, the money quote from the article is this, from a discussion of the relative merits of downtown vs suburbs: "If you put them in the wrong place, it's a colossal waste of money," says the planning director of the city of Cleveland. "But if you put them in the right place, the benefits are phenomenal."

According to the article, downtown is the right place and suburbia is the wrong place. Intuitively, this makes all the sense in the world; it also strongly supports the San Jose stadium location, while suggesting that maybe it was a good thing that Fremont fell through. It further discredits a re-do of the Coliseum in the parking lot.

If you've ever been to a game in Baltimore, Denver or Pittsburgh, you'll realize why so many planners say build it downtown or don't build it at all.

Anonymous said...

I understand Kopp's approach regarding HSR provided that it is consistently applied for all cities--is HSR underground in SF? If so why not underground it in other major cities? If not--agree that each city needs to figure it out--challenge will be all of the "challenges" to EIR's etc--a city can hold a project hostage for a long time with lawsuits etc--

All great information ML---still a bit in the dark as to next steps for SJ---did last nights meeting shed any insight into status of land acquisitions at Diridon, next steps to update EIR, how Autumn Ave improvements will be financed etc? Is SJ just waiting for blue ribbon committee to provide their assessment before anything else is done? Was general tone of the meeting positive--didn't get sense that there were that many NIMBY's present--

As always--thanks for providing such an incredible site for A's fans to keep connected on curent happenings--

Anonymous said...

Agree with anon 12:36 1000%.

Anonymous said...

So now it's Wolff's fault that CHSR is going through Pacheco instead of Altamont? The hysteria of the Wolff haters has gone off the rails. How dare he work tirelessly to build a new stadium for the team and its fans without using public money. What a jerk he is.

hamachi said...

when can we get more geeking about ballpark architecture? that seems like some great reading.