08 April 2009

In other news (4/8/09 edition)

New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field may be getting all the press, but let's not forget the $250 million in renovations being done to Kauffman Stadium. The big stuff has been completed, which includes the following enhancements:
  • Widened concourses from 24 to 37 feet
  • The ability to walk around the entire stadium, including the outfield
  • Hall of Fame in left field with party suites/meeting rooms underneath
  • Restaurant in right field that opens 2 hours before the gates open, party deck on top
  • Miniature playing field for kids way out beyond the LF wall
  • Royals team administration offices with modern exterior
  • Increased and improved landscaping
  • The crown-topped new video/scoreboard in center, a fitting replacement for the original
  • Standing room area below the fountains in right
Check out the Kansas City Star's open house photos and a PDF explaining the new features. It'll be interesting to see if the changes produce a significant increase in attendance. The team may be coming of age at the right time to give KC a double boost.
Miami-Dade County approved the issue of $563 million in bonds for the Marlins' Orange Bowl ballpark. Questions remain about the general fund being raided to pay for it if hotel tax revenue doesn't come in as expected, and the interest rate(s) the county will be able to secure in the market. The market's weak enough that it eventually could be dangerous for both the county and the team:
The county bonds are designed as interest-only instruments at the start, with large payments due at the end. The plan to pay off the bonds relies on steady growth in sports and tourism tax revenue.
Is it me or does that seem a little too subprime? If the bond deal can't be struck by July 1, the whole thing is off.
Down south, the cities of Diamond Bar and Industry settled over traffic concerns spurred by the LA Football Stadium project. Diamond Bar will get $20 million to cover traffic mitigation work. Neighboring city Walnut has filed a lawsuit, claiming that Industry's EIR for the project was insufficient. As far as the stadium goes, it looks like a Staples Center for football. Ed Roski must have an obsession with purple seats.
Frank Deford thinks architects should pipe down in their critiques of Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. His argument is that ballparks are for nostalgic fans, not architects. I don't know about that, it seems that ballparks are as much about making money as they are about fan experience.
Check out the piece that Deford criticizes, by NYT architecture writer Nicolai Ouroussoff. Citi Field's first regular season game comes April 13. Yankee Stadium's first game is scheduled for April 16. Last but not least, Reno's ballpark is scheduled to open April 17.
A man died after getting into a fight at the A's-Angels game last night. Apparently the guy was cheap-shotted. I'm sure a manslaughter charge is coming...
Giants and A's ownership are making the rounds in the media. Bill Neukom and Larry Baer were on CSN's Chronicle Live yesterday, Lew Wolff and SJ Mayor Chuck Reed (their first joint appearance?) will be on Friday. Baer was also on KQED-FM's Forum this morning. His stance? "A rule is a rule." When pressed on T-rights later, Baer admitted that the issue would be "hashed out by Major League Baseball." What happened to the litigation threats? Hmmm???

19 San Jose Giants games will be on the Comcast Hometown network, channel 104 for South Bay Comcast subscribers. There's something so utterly patronizing about what the SF Giants are doing, I have to chuckle a bit.

A Field Poll shows that 82% of California residents are opposed to splitting the state into Eastern and Western California. 71% are opposed to splitting the state into Northern and Southern California. But you wouldn't know that from the comments at the bottom of the SacBee article, and after all, aren't comments sections truly reflective of the populace? Randomly sampled surveys by reputable firms? Pish posh.

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.