Oakland A’s think they can get fans to a Howard Terminal stadium by gondola, are probably wrong

I have a bad cold and had been hoping to just leave everything for tomorrow’s news roundup, but then Village Voice transit reporter Aaron Gordon sent me this:

The Oakland A’s are exploring using a gondola ski lift to transport fans from downtown to the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal, where the team is thinking of building a new ballpark…

And though it would hardly top direct BART service to the ballpark, a gondola system could carry anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 passengers an hour — delivering them to and from either the 12th Street BART Station or from a couple blocks to the south, near Oakland’s City Center and Housewives Market.

Okay, so, several things. First off, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross seem to have confused trams and gondolas, which are different technologies, something we’ll return to in a minute.

The bigger issue I have is with that “4,000 to 6,000 passengers an hour” figure. First off, that sounds really ambitious. There are two urban aerial trams in the U.S.: the Roosevelt Island tram in New York City (which you’ll remember as the thing Spider-Man saved people from while the Green Goblin talked like Gilbert Gottfried for some reason) and the Portland Aerial Tram in Oregon. The Portland tram holds 78 passengers per car, and runs every six minutes; that’s 780 people per hour, which not anywhere near 4,000 to 6,000.

But! As this guy who cares a whole lot about gondolas notes, you could run smaller ski-lift type gondola cars that hold six to ten passengers around every ten seconds. That gets you a somewhat more respectable 2,160 to 3,600 passengers an hour.

Which is still nowhere near enough to get people to an A’s game. You’re going to need to transport at minimum ten times that many passengers — and they’re not going to arrive conveniently spread out over an hour, but will all queue up right around game time, see the long lines for the gondola, and then say “Screw this, I’m walking across the train tracks.”

Or as Gordon summed it up to me, “It is arguably the dumbest plan I’ve ever heard.” It honestly makes more sense as leverage to try to keep the Howard Terminal site on the table while negotiating for a better deal for the Oakland Coliseum site, though given that the A’s owners are negotiating with the same city and county in both places, it’s not really that much of a threat. For now, let’s file it under Sports Team Owners Propose the Craziest Things — if it ever becomes more real, there’ll be plenty of time to make fun of it later.

Tesla, USL team owner make their own problematic bids for Oakland Coliseum land

Looks like there are other people interested in bidding on the Oakland Coliseum site after all:

One is Elon Musk’s Tesla, which has sent a letter of interest to the city about the 130-acre Coliseum parcel. Exactly what the company would build there is a closely guarded secret.

The other is a proposal that arrived at City Hall just hours after Schaaf suggested talking with the A’s alone. It came from Mark Hall, a real estate investor from Walnut Creek who has won the rights for a United Soccer League expansion franchise.

He’s pitching a plan for a 44-acre mega-sports and recreation center on the Coliseum site that would include a stadium for his team and sports fields. He would use Oracle Arena, which the Warriors are about to vacate, for concerts, pro lacrosse games and foosball competitions. (Yes, foosball*, the arcade game when little players on hand-manipulated metal rods kick a ball up and down the table.)

The rest of the property would go to the A’s for their new ballpark.

Musk isn’t saying publicly what he’d offer for the land, and anyway he may be broke before long so maybe not best to count on him. Hall is offering to pay $85 million, which is less than the A’s owners offer of $135 million, but would only be for part of the parcel, with room left for an A’s stadium.

This isn’t actually all that exciting either, because as we’ve covered many times in the past, baseball stadiums aren’t especially lucrative use of land — Hall is in essence saying, “Give me all the good bits where I can build whatever I want, and the A’s can have just enough room to spend half a billion dollars or so on a baseball stadium but nothing else.” With offers like these, exclusive negotiations with the A’s might not be so bad, though if Oakland can keep soliciting bids in the time before any exclusivity window kicks in, if only to get a sense of the market value of the Coliseum land, this could work out well after all.

*Disappointingly, probably not foosball, but rather futsal. See comments below.

Oakland mayor and A’s agree to exclusive negotiations for stadium sites (if city council and Port of Oakland approve)

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval announced yesterday that the two parties have approved an exclusive negotiating agreement to explore building a new stadium at either the Howard Terminal site or the Oakland Coliseum site. This means … okay, let’s figure out exactly what this means:

  • Nobody seems to be reporting how long the exclusive agreements will remain in place, but this may be yet to be worked out. (More on that in a moment.)
  • Will the A’s owners be asked to pay more than their $135 million offer for the Coliseum property? “Price is part of what will be hashed out,” said Schaaf.
  • Kaval says he’s hoping for a resolution by the end of this year so a stadium can open in 2023, which, sure he is, but target dates like these change all the time.
  • Kaval called this “a 50- to 100-year decision for having a long-term home,” and Schaaf echoed that “we also want a 100-year plan” for a stadium, all of which is a nice thought but flies in the face of trends in planned ballpark obsolescence.

None of this is final: All Mayor Schaaf has done is proposed that the city council and Port of Oakland enter into exclusive negotiating agreements with the A’s, so presumably it’ll be up to those bodies to determine how to write the actual language. One hopes that, even if it gives the A’s some time to be the only bidders at the table (as team execs demanded earlier this week), it won’t preclude Oakland from doing due diligence on what those parcels are actually worth, since that’s going to be key to determining how much the A’s owners should be paying for them. Given that it’s a step that could end up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars if you get it wrong, they’ll want to be sure they don’t leave it out.

A’s owners offer to buy Coliseum site for $135m, which is better than nothing, but how much better?

The first news came yesterday, as it so often does these days, in the form of a tweet:

https://www.twitter.com/athletics/status/978275521661304832

On first glance, this sounded like a pretty good offer: The Oakland A’s owners would take the Coliseum and its debt off the public’s hands, and put it into private ownership where it would actually pay property taxes? Where do I sign? (Okay, I don’t sign because I’m not an Oakland or Alameda official, but you get my point.)

Read the fine print in that small-type attachment, though, and it becomes clear that there’s a rather large catch:

This letter serves as an indication of the A’s desire to assume control and purchase the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum complex in exchange for paying all remaining debt service on the more than $135 million of debt ultimate owed by the City and County against the Coliseum complex.

Wait, the entire complex? Including the Oracle Arena and all the parking-lot land that has been eyed for development in the red-hot East Bay real estate market? (Admittedly the Coliseum isn’t exactly the most desirable location in the East Bay, but anything west of Nevada is considered commuting distance from San Francisco these days, so.) How much land is that exactly, anyway?

Matier and Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle (warning: page may not load properly thanks to the Chronicle’s weird-ass paywall) have the answer: 130 acres, including “the stadium where the A’s have played since 1968, the arena soon to be vacated by the Warriors, the parking lot — everything.”

The average sale price of land in Oakland, according to my new favorite study ever (thanks, correspondent who sent it to me!) was $1,412,000 per acre from 2005 to 2010, which would price the Coliseum site at $183 million — plus any inflation over the past decade. If you want more direct comps, here’s a seventh-of-an-acre vacant lot right across the road from the Coliseum that’s on the market for $150,000, which is about $1 million per acre, pricing the site at about $130 million.

So this looks to be a better offer than the New York Islanders‘ deal with New York state, and the Los Angeles Angels‘ rejected proposal to Anaheim, and probably the Denver Broncos‘ plan for their parking lot land as well. Though I would still want confirmation that the A’s owners would take title to the land and pay full property taxes, and to be sure that $135 million is a fair price for the site.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to figure this out, which is to open the Coliseum site up to competitive bids:

A number of outfits, including Fortress Investment Group — a money management firm in San Francisco that boasts billions in assets — have approached the city and county about purchasing the land and possibly turning it into something besides a ballpark. The A’s fear they could quickly find themselves shut out.

City Council President Larry Reid, who sits on the city-county Coliseum Authority board, called the A’s offer “a pretty big deal. But other players have expressed interest in the property.”

He added, “The mayor, and I assume a majority of the Board of Supervisors, would like to have some control on what happens to that 130-acre site that the Coliseum sits on.”

The A’s owners, though, are trying to avoid this, proposing an “exclusive negotiating agreement” that would preclude taking other bids. Is finally ending the long A’s stadium saga — they’re not promising to build a stadium on the Coliseum site, but it would at worst be a viable Plan B if other sites don’t work out — worth giving up a shot at a possible better payday from another developer? Is estimating the value from other comparable properties good enough for government work? It’s a classic Monty Hall problem, only without Monty Hall there to know which door has the goat, which makes it a whole lot tougher to solve. Good luck, Oakland and Alameda officials!

A’s may prefer Coliseum site if it’s less likely to be underwater in a few decades

Ever since the Oakland A’s owners’ plans for a new stadium at the Laney College/Peralta Community College site were rejected by the college’s governing board, team execs have been saying it’s back to the drawing board, with that site, the Oakland Coliseum site, and Howard Terminal all still in the running. And team president Dave Kaval, who’s spearheading the stadium plans, said it again over the weekend, though he kinda sorta hinted that the Coliseum site might be the least problematic:

Team President Dave Kaval spoke in more positive terms about the Coliseum on Saturday than he has previously, and he said Howard Terminal is still getting a strong look. The team hasn’t totally given up on the Peralta/Laney College site, but with the talks over that location called off in December, the other two possibilities are clearly at the forefront.

“We have the three sites in Oakland we deem as viable,” Kaval said. “Peralta was obviously our preferred site. … We’ve kind of taken stock and we’re really spending a lot of time on the other two sites to determine their feasibility. And that includes: technically, can you build it there, especially on the waterfront?”

Kaval mentioned twice that the Howard Terminal site would have to take into account sea-level rise and transportation concerns.

Congratulations, Oakland A’s, on being the first pro sports team that I’ve noticed acknowledging that building on a waterfront might not be the smartest long-term plan when the waterfront is moving at a historically rapid pace. From what I can tell from this map, the elevation of Howard Terminal is between 3 and 7 feet, and it’s somewhat protected from storm surges by the island of Alameda and the San Francisco Bay itself, so sea-level rise probably isn’t as urgent an issue as it for, say, the Miami waterfront. (Also, the Coliseum itself is only 7 feet above sea level, so hmm.) Still, that Kaval thought to mention elevation with regard to Howard Terminal is at least a hint that the team is taking the Coliseum site seriously, which, as noted many times before here, isn’t a bad idea at all for all concerned.

We’re still a ways away from hearing about funding plans — the A’s owners say they’ll pay to build the stadium, but there’s still lease terms and land prices to be discussed — but as (almost) always, these kinds of conversations start on more reasonable terms when they take place in California. The place is almost like Canada or something!

Friday roundup: A’s won’t give up on Laney, Isles could play “some” games at Coliseum, more!

Tons of stray news items this week, so let’s get right to them:

  • The Rhode Island state senate’s finance committee approved $44 million in spending by the state and city of Pawtucket for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, which is what everyone expected, because the real opposition is in the state house. A spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said that if the bill passes the Senate, “it will be assigned to the House Finance Committee and be given a public hearing,” which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but then, Mattiello has been saying consistently that his constituents hate this plan.
  • Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval said that the team owners have “identified three final locations” for a new stadium, and … they’re the same three sites the team announced more than a year ago, even after Laney College officials since took themselves out of the running. “We spent a lot of time getting it to three final sites, and those are the sites that are viable,” Kaval told reporters. Props for sticking to your convictions, I guess, but there’s a time to go to a Plan B, and it’s maybe after Plan A told you, “Get offa our lawn.”
  • The city of Liverpool is set to spend £280 million on a new stadium for Everton F.C., four years after saying no to a similar plan, but Mayor Joe Anderson defends the plan as a loan that the team will repay and more. The Guardian reports that “the city council could make £7m-a-year profit from interest charged on a loan of £280m over 25 years, plus extra revenue from business rates and related developments once the stadium is up and running” — which sounds good if the profit is guaranteed just from the loan payments (the city would reportedly have first dibs on Everton team revenue), not so much if it would rely on those “related developments,” which could be stuff that would happen with or without a new stadium. As is so often the case, it all comes down to what that comma means.
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman toured Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, after which New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky said he was “confident” that “some games” would be played there while waiting for a new Belmont Park arena to be built, but that playing full seasons there would be “difficult.” So that would imply … some games in Nassau and some in Brooklyn, since the two arenas have the same owner? Some in Nassau and some at Madison Square Garden, which is set to help build the new arena? Some in Nassau and some on a frozen-over East River after that ice age that the American Museum of Natural History seems to think is imminent hits? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • A Unitarian minister writes in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer that if the Charlotte city council is going to spend money on a new Carolina Panthers stadium, it should be required to build affordable housing, too. My theology is shaky at best, so I’m not sure what Unitarianism has to say about a right canceling out a wrong.
  • Speaking of North Carolina, the Hurricanes got a new owner this week, and in his first few hours as head of the team, he didn’t demand a new arena or threaten to move the team without one. Though that may have more to do with the team’s sweetheart lease on its current arena that last through 2024, which had led former owner Peter Karmanos to say in 2015 that “we’d have to be idiots to move from here,” so give the new guy a few more hours, at least.
  • This. You’re welcome.

Laney College slams door on A’s stadium plans, team heads back to drawing board

That record-scratching noise you just heard was the Oakland A’s stadium plans screeching to a halt:

The governing board of the community college that owns land on which the Oakland A’s want to build a new ballpark ordered the chancellor to stop plans with the team…

“We are shocked by Peralta’s decision to not move forward,” the A’s said in a statement Wednesday morning. “All we wanted to do was enter into a conversation about how to make this work for all of Oakland, Laney, and the Peralta Community College District. We are disappointed that we will not have that opportunity.”

So, um, yeah. We all knew this was going to be a potential problem with the Laney College site — as soon as the A’s started hinting at the site, Peralta Community College officials were saying that faculty and students would likely oppose it — but an outright “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out” was not exactly expected. Time for the A’s owners to go to Plan B, I guess—

[A’s President Dave] Kaval previously told The Chronicle there was no “plan B” if the ballpark site near Laney College didn’t work out.

Whoops.

 

Friday roundup: CFL in Halifax, Columbus ghost stadium, Sydney is the new Atlanta, and more!

Are any of my American readers even out there, or are you all too busy tormenting retail workers with your demands for discounted goods? If so, you’re missing out, because we’ve got all your goods right here, at our everyday discount of free!

  • The CFL is considering expanding to Halifax, which means Halifax would need a CFL stadium, which means somebody would have to pay for a Halifax CFL stadium. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says a stadium is “not a capital priority at this time” and would have to be built “without putting taxpayers at risk.” The Ottawa RedBlacks stadium model is being floated, which is slightly weird because that ended up costing taxpayers a bundle of money plus free land, but maybe “taxpayer risk” is defined differently in Halifax. Anyway, we’ve been this far before, so grains of salt apply.
  • Remember how I wasn’t sure what would be included in the $75 million in public “infrastructure” spending that F.C. Cincinnati is demanding? Turns out that’s because nobody’s sure: WCPO notes that the team hasn’t provided any cost estimates or a traffic study, which “leaves us wondering where, exactly, FC Cincinnati came up with its figures.” I’ll take “nice round number, slightly less than the $100 million elected officials balked at previously” in the pool, please.
  • A guy in Columbus came up with an idea to use county sales tax money to build a new stadium to keep the Crew in town, then the next day said it was just an idea he came up with over the weekend by himself and never mind.
  • The city of Worcester is still trying to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox to town, and the state of Massachusetts may be getting involved, with one unnamed source telling the Worcester Telegram that stadium funding would need to be a “a three-legged stool” among the city, state, and team. You know this article is just going to be waved around in the Rhode Island legislature as it heads toward a vote on public funding for a PawSox stadium there, and what was everyone just saying about the role of enablers in abuse, again? (Not that stadium swindles are morally equivalent to sexual harassment, obviously, but you get my point. Also, why are all the articles about the role of enablers in sexual harassment a month old, are we not going to pay attention to that after all?)
  • The state of Connecticut may spend $40 million on upgrades to Hartford’s arena and some retail properties near its entrance, on the grounds that it might make it more attractive to buyers. If this seems like getting it backwards to you, yeah, me too, but at least it’s better than spending $250 million on the arena and then not selling it.
  • Laney College students, faculty, and staff all hate the idea of an Oakland A’s stadium on their campus. “They want to disrupt our education by building a ballpark across the street with noisy construction, traffic gridlock, pollution, and alcohol consumption by fans,” Associated Students of Laney College President Keith Welch told KCBS-TV. “We will not sacrifice our education so that the A’s owners can make more money.” Pretty sure they won’t get a vote, though.
  • “Industry experts” say that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will charge more for concert tickets because … it’ll draw bigger-name acts that cost more, I think they’re saying? That doesn’t actually seem like a detriment, though they also note that the new arena has a higher percentage of seats in the lower bowl, which people will pay more for even if they’re way in the back of the lower bowl, and helps explains why arena and stadium designers are so obsessed with getting as many lower-deck seats as possible even if it makes for crappier upper-deck seats. Which we kind of knew already, but a reminder always helps.
  • And move over, Atlanta, there’s a new planned stadium obsolescence king in town: The state of New South Wales is planning to spend $2 billion Australian (about $1.5 billion U.S.) to tear down the Sydney stadium it built for the 2000 Olympics, along with another smaller stadium in Sydney built in 1988, in order to build newer ones that are more ideally shaped for rugby, I think? Because nobody thought of that in 2000? I need to wait for my Australian rugby correspondent to return from holiday break for a more authoritative analysis, but right now this is looking like one of the worst throw-good-money-after-bad deals in stadium history, and it’s not even in America, the land that has perfected the stadium swindle. Crikey!

Friday news: Phoenix funds Brewers but not Suns, brewers float crowdfunding Crew, and more!

So, so much news this week. Or news items, anyway. How much of this is “news” is a matter of opinion, but okay, okay, I’ll get right to it:

  • Four of Phoenix’s nine city council members are opposed to the Suns‘ request for $250 million in city money for arena renovations, which helps explain why the council cut off talks with the team earlier this week. Four other councilmembers haven’t stated their position, and the ninth is Mayor Greg Stanton, who strongly supports the deal, meaning any chance Suns owner Robert Sarver has of getting his taxpayer windfall really is going to come down to when exactly Stanton quits to run for Congress.
  • Speaking of Phoenix, the Milwaukee Brewers will remain there for spring training for another 25 years under a deal where the city will pay $2 million a year for the next five years for renovations plus $1.4 million a year in operating costs over 25 years, let’s see, that comes to something like $35 million in present value? “This is a great model of how a professional sports team can work together with the city to extend their stay potentially permanently, which is amazing, and we’re doing it in a way where taxpayers are being protected,” said Daniel Valenzuela, one of the councilmembers opposed to the Suns deal, who clearly has a flexible notion of “great” and “protected.”
  • And also speaking of Phoenix (sort of), the Arizona Coyotes are under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board for allegedly having “spied on staff, engaged in union busting and fired two employees who raised concerns about pay.” None of which has anything directly to do with arenas, except that 1) this won’t make it any easier for the Coyotes owners to negotiate a place to play starting next season, when their Glendale lease runs out, and 2) #LOLCoyotes.
  • A U.S. representative from Texas is trying to get Congress to grandfather in the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium from any ban on use of tax-exempt bonds in the tax bill, saying it would otherwise cost the city of Arlington $200 million more in interest payments since the bonds haven’t been sold yet. (Reason #372 why cities really should provide fixed contributions to stadium projects, not “Hey, we’ll sell the bonds, and you pay for whatever share you feel like and we’ll cover the rest no matter how crappy the loan deal ends up being.”) Also, the NFL has come out against the whole ban on tax-exempt bonds because duh — okay, fine, they say because “You can look around the country and see the economic development that’s generated from some of these stadiums” — while other sports leagues aren’t saying anything in public, though I’m sure their lobbyists are saying a ton in private.
  • A Hamilton County commissioner said he’s being pressured to fund a stadium for F.C. Cincinnati because Cincinnati will need a sports team if the Bengals leave when their lease ends in 2026 and now newspapers are running articles about whether the Bengals are moving out of Cincinnati and saying they might do so because of “market size” even though market size really doesn’t matter to NFL franchise revenues because of national TV contracts and oh god, please make it stop.
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says the proposed Oakland A’s stadium site has pros and cons. Noted!
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Calgary Flames‘ arena “needs to be replaced” and the team can’t be “viable for the long term” without a new one. Not true according to the numbers that the team is clearing about $20 million in profits a year, but noted anyway!
  • Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley is set to announce his proposal for city subsidies for F.C. Cincinnati today, but won’t provide details. (Psst: He’s already said he’ll put up about $35 million via tax increment financing kickbacks.)
  • The Seattle Council’s Committee on Civic Arenas unanimously approved Oak View Group’s plan to renovate KeyArena yesterday, so it looks likely that this thing is going to happen soon. Though apparently the House tax bill would eliminate the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which the project was counting on for maybe $60 million of its costs, man, I really need to read through that entire tax bill to see what else is hidden in it, don’t I?
  • The owners of the Rochester Rhinos USL club say they need $1.3 million by the end of the month to keep from folding, and want some of that to come from county hotel tax money. Given that the state of New York already paid $20 million to build their stadium, and the city of Rochester has spent $1.6 million on operating expenses over the last two seasons to help out the team, that seems a bit on the overreaching side, though maybe they’re just trying to fill all their spaces in local-government bingo.
  • There’s a crowdfunding campaign to buy the Columbus Crew and keep them from moving to Austin. You can’t kick in just yet, but you can buy beer from the beer company that is proposing to buy the team and then sell half of it to fans, and no, this whole thing is in no way an attempt to get free publicity on the part of the beer company, why do you ask?

Friday fun: Draw your own Rays stadium, Pacers make money hand over subsidized fist, and more!

Oh, has it ever been another week! Some things that happened:

  • The Indiana Pacers revealed they brought in a record $13.2 million in revenues from non-sports events last year. “We’re trying to be a good steward for this venue,” said Rick Fuson, president of the team that is getting paid $16 million a year by the city to run its arena without sharing any of its revenues with taxpayers and also may ask for more public money for arena upgrades soon. “This is about an investment into the economic vitality of our city and our state.”
  • UC Berkeley is going to bail out its terrible football stadium deal with non-athletic department funds, though it can’t say where exactly the money will come from other than that it won’t be student tuition or state tax dollars. You guys, I’m starting to worry that UC Berkeley may have a lucrative meth-lab business on the side.
  • The University of Connecticut is spending $60 million on three new stadiums, which it will presumably totally pay for out of student tuition and tax dollars.
  • The NFL is opposed to the language in the GOP tax bill that would ban use of tax-exempt bonds for sports stadiums, because of course it is. “You can look around the country and see the economic development that’s generated from some of these stadiums,” NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart said with a straight face, either because he doesn’t understand that any sliver of economic development in one part of the U.S. from stadiums just comes at the expense of economic development in another part, or because it’s what he’s paid to say, or both. Meanwhile, speaking of that tax bill, there are a lot of reasons to be terrified of it, even if that stadium clause would be nice.
  • The Oakland Chamber of Commerce polled 503 “likely voters” and found that a large majority supported the idea of an A’s stadium at “a new, 100 percent privately financed site, near Interstate 880, four blocks from Lake Merritt BART and walking distance from downtown.” Cue the opposition poll describing it as a “cramped site wedged into an already-developed neighborhood with existing traffic problems” in three, two…
  • A website commenter got sick of waiting for the Tampa Bay Rays to issue stadium renderings and drew some of their own, getting on SBNation for it despite having failed to find the Fireworks menu in their CAD program. No, I don’t know why it has an apparent non-retractable roof, or how people in that upper deck in right field will get to their seats, or what’s holding up those seats, or lots of other things.
  • FC Cincinnati president Jeff Berding says a stadium announcement is scheduled for next week and that it will involve Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, so presumably the team owners are now focused on building in Cincinnati instead of across the river in Kentucky, using Cincinnati’s tax kickbacks instead of Kentucky’s. Poor Cincinnati.