The A’s options for moving to other cities are limited or nonexistent. Rooted in Oakland? More like stuck in Oakland. If they don’t strike a ballpark deal soon, it will be panic time for everyone.
Schaaf, recently re-elected, really would like to avoid going down in history as the mayor who waved goodbye to three pro sports teams.
I’ve read it three times now, and I don’t know how a human being with a fully functioning brain typed those first four sentences, and then that fifth one right after it. The rest of the column makes enough sense, but guys, I’m worried about Scott Ostler. Can someone check on him?
Everyone else, meanwhile, sit back and enjoy this rendering of A’s fans waving to the giant floating eyeballs beyond the team’s new right-field fence:
The Oakland A’s owners have leaked their long-awaited stadium plans to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross, and I think we can all agree that whatever you want to say about them, they’re not anticlimactic. I mean, holy crap, just look at this thing:
Yes, that’s a diamond-shaped stadium seemingly with vertically stacked decks surrounded by hyper-modern apartment towers and some kind of roof garden running around the perimeter so as to protect it from the wind. This is definitely the kind of weird-ass architecture one would expect from Bjarke Ingels, maybe with an assist from California’s recent marijuana legalization. And that’s before we even get to the plans for the existing Oakland Coliseum, which would apparently be turned into some kind of baseball-themed public park with lots of steps?
But let’s not get too distracted by the renderings, as distracting as they may be. (Why did that picnicker bring a giant yellow finger to the site of a former stadium?) The important thing all along here has been how the A’s owners would pay for a new stadium, and while there were few details released today, there are some hints:
[A’s president Dave Kaval said the A’s call for control of both the 55-acre Howard Terminal waterfront site and 111-acre Coliseum site in East Oakland is essential if the team is to deliver on its promise of a “100 percent privately built ballpark.”
That’s kind of a weird way of putting it, since control of more property doesn’t inherently make it more profitable. Control of property at a discounted cost would, obviously; the A’s have previously offered to buy the Coliseum site for $135 million, which seems about right in terms of market value, but Kaval indicated that that’s still subject to negotiation.
How much public money would be involved for infrastructure at the two sites has yet to be worked out, but Kaval said the plan was to use taxes generated from the projects to cover the major costs.
That is worrisome, given that “taxes generated by the projects” has traditionally been used to mean “instead of paying our taxes to the public treasury, we’ll keep them and use them to pay our own costs.” Of course, it might not mean that in this case, but it’s a definite red flag.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called the plan for the Howard Terminal ballpark “truly visionary.”
“This is the right project, in the right neighborhood and at the right price to our taxpayers,” Schaaf said Tuesday.
Schaaf has been one of the better mayors at holding the line on stadium subsidies, so this is promising that she likes it. Unless it means she’s no longer one of the better mayors at holding the line on stadium subsidies. It’s so hard to know which self-interested elected officials to trust these days!
Anyway, we at least know what main questions to be asking now: 1) Will the A’s owners pay the public what it could get on the open market for the Coliseum land? 2) How much will the public pay for infrastructure, and would that be real public infrastructure like roads and sewer lines or, you know, “infrastructure” that really means parts of the stadium itself? 3) Are the A’s owners looking for a pay-your-taxes-and-keep-them-too TIF-like plan?
Finally, will there be a gondola to get A’s fans to the games, as rumored? Hell yeah:
The plan also includes an aerial gondola to shuttle 6,000 fans an hour from downtown Oakland over Interstate 880 and the railroad tracks to Jack London Square.
Six thousand fans an hour! Definitely marijuana legalization played a role here.
When it rains, it pours, and this week provided a deluge of stadium news:
Fox 10 Phoenix is reporting that Phoenix city officials and the owners of the Sunshave reached a “tentative deal” on splitting the cost of arena renovations, which would have gotten its own item here if anyone other than that one news outlet based on no named sources were reporting it. Also any deal would still require approval by the city council, so really this is just “Suns owners and lame-duck mayor of Phoenix have almost agreed on what to put in an arena renovations funding bill, but won’t tell us what it will be yet.” Meanwhile, lawsuits continue over Phoenix refusing to release any details of what the Suns are seeking in renovations or anything about the team’s finances.
Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg still has only until December 31 to tell St. Petersburg if he wants to move out before 2027, while Hillsborough County is telling county commissioners there won’t be any news about a potential stadium in Tampa until after the new year. This means Sternberg will almost certainly have to negotiate an extension on his opt-out clause; one hopes that St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman will demand a bigger payoff this time in exchange for doing Sternberg a favor, but maybe Kriseman figures his city will benefit enough from getting the Rays out of their hair and getting to develop the Tropicana Field site that asking for cash on top of that would just be greedy.
The Oakland A’s owners say they’ll announce their preferred stadium site by the end of the year, to which former A’s exec Andy Dolich replied, “I have no doubt that the A’s will announce their site by the end of the year. They did so in 2006 for Cisco Field, in 2009 for Diridon Station, in 2011 for Victory Court, in 2013 for Coliseum City and in 2017 for Peralta College.” Ouch.
Part of the Milwaukee Brewers‘ retractable roof was making a weird clicking noise, but don’t worry, they’re fixing it, this totally won’t turn into a demand for taxpayers to build them a new roof, not when the stadium is only … 17 years old? Okay, it won’t turn into a demand this year, anyway. Probably.
In case you’re wondering what lease extension extortion money looks like on the minor-league level looks like, the Binghamton Rumble Ponies just got $5 million in state and city money for stadium upgrades in exchange for signing a new lease through 2026, which is less than major-league teams have gotten away with, but still pretty damn sweet if you’re the owner of a Double-A team.
People who want an NBA franchise in Louisville say they’d consider building a new arena for it, despite Louisville already having two perfectly good basketball arenas, which is arguably even more crazy than the idea of Louisville getting an NBA franchise at all.
Speaking of the Pegulas and New York’s current governor, they’re planning an $18 million upgrade of Rochester’s arena that hosts the Rochester Americans minor-league hockey team (which the Pegulas also own), with costs to be split among the owners and city and state taxpayers. Split how? Sorry, no room in the Associated Press article, ask again later!
The AP did find time to fact-check Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s claim that the new Milwaukee Bucks arena would return three dollars in new taxes for each one spent, and found that “Walker omits some of the state money spent on the 20-year arena deal and relies on income tax estimates that experts call unreliable.” I could’ve told them that — in fact, I did, three years ago.
“‘Ticket tax’ proposal could lead to higher prices on movies, theater, sports in Columbus” reads a headline on WSYX‘s website, something that the station’s reporter asserts in the accompanying video without saying where he got it from. He’s at least partly wrong: Ticket prices are already set as high as the market will bear, so unless the ticket tax changes the market — in other words, unless people in Columbus are forced to spend more on movies and theater and such because the other options (staying at home and watching TV, going out to eat) aren’t good enough, mostly this will just mean prices will stay roughly the same but a bigger share will go to theater/team owner’s tax bills. (I could try to find an economist to estimate exactly how big a share, but isn’t that really WSYX’s job?)
Former Oakland A’s exec Andy Dolich says the team owners may be looking at buying both the Howard Terminal site and the Oakland Coliseum site, and using the revenues from one to pay the costs of prepping the other for baseball, which, if the Coliseum site is such a cash cow and Howard Terminal such a money pit, wouldn’t they be better off just buying the Coliseum site and developing that? Or is the idea that Oakland would somehow give up the Coliseum site at a discounted price in order to get a new A’s stadium done? I have a lot of math questions here.
With nobody wanting to spend $250 million on a major renovation of Hartford’s arena, the agency that manages the XL Center is now looking for a $100 million state-funded upgrade instead. Still waiting to hear whether this would actually generate $100 million worth of new revenues for the arena; if not, the state would be better off just giving the arena a pile of cash to subsidize its bottom line, no?
Sorry for the radio silence the last couple of days — it was a combination of not much super-urgent breaking news and a busy work schedule on my end — but let’s remedy that with a heaping helping of Friday links:
Part of that busy schedule was wrapping up work on my Village Voice article trying to unravel NYCFC’s latest stadium plan, and while the upshot remains what it was a month ago — this is a Rube Goldberg–style proposal with so many moving parts that it’s hard to say yet if it would involve public subsidies — it also involves city parks land that isn’t really parkland but is really controlled by another city agency that isn’t really a city agency and denies having control over it … go read it, you’ll either be entertained or confused or both!
Based on questions asked at a Monday hearing, The Stranger concludes that most King County council members aren’t opposed to the Seattle Mariners‘ demand for $180 million in future county upgrade spending on Safeco Field, in exchange for the team signing a new lease. That could still change, obviously, but only if all of you readers turn toward Seattle and shout this post in unison. Three, two, one, go!
MLS commissioner Don Garber says talks are “ongoing” with the city of Columbus about replacing the Crew if they move to Austin, and by “with the city of Columbus” he apparently means the local business council the Columbus Partnership. And even their CEO, Alex Fischer, doesn’t sound too in the mood to talk, noting that Garber has called for a new downtown stadium in Columbus while not requiring the same of Austin: “I find it extremely ironic that the commissioner wants a downtown stadium at the same time that the McKalla site is the equivalent of building a stadium in Buckeye Lake.” MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott retorted that Fischer’s remarks are “certainly a strange way to demonstrate an interest in working with us.” The lines of communication are open!
The owners of Nashville S.C. would have to pay $200,000 a year in city rent on their new stadium, which is … something, at least. Except, reports the Tennessean, “Parking revenue collected from non-soccer events at the new MLS stadium, such as concerts or football games, would go toward the annual base rent and could potentially cover the entire amount.” So maybe not really something.
Here’s Austin’s lead negotiator with Crew owner Anthony Precourt over a new stadium, Chris Dunlavey of Brailsford and Dunlavey. on whether the deal is fair to taxpayers: “All around, I don’t know how it could get characterized as favorable to [Precourt Sports Ventures]. I think the city of Austin has negotiated this to as favorable for a city as PSV could stand to do.” Uh, Chris, you do know that “good for the public” and “as least awful for the public as we could get” aren’t the same thing, right?
An otherwise unidentified group calling itself Protect Oakland’s Shoreline Economy has issued flyers opposing the A’s building a stadium at Howard Terminal because, among other things, it could displace homeless encampments to make way for parking lots. This is getting David Beckham–level silly, but also it’s getting harder and harder not to feel like the A’s owners should just give in and build a stadium at the Coliseum site, since at least nobody seems to mind if they do that. Yet.
Congratulations to the team that had never won the hockey thing winning it over the other team that had never won the hockey thing because it was a new team! And meanwhile:
Today was going to be the last day for David Beckham’s Miami MLS ownership group to make a $901,500 down payment to the county for three acres of land that would be needed to build a new stadium in Overtown, which the owners say they don’t want to do anymore, maybe, but really who knows? But anyway, now it’s not the last day because Mayor Carlos Gimenez agreed to waive the deadline because of the ongoing lawsuit over the county’s no-bid sale of the land, and you’re already losing interest, aren’t you? All you want to know is where is this team going to play already, and who will pay for it how and when will it happen? and the answer to all of that remains ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
Here’s an editorial from the Seattle Times saying that spending $177 million in public money on upgrades to the Mariners‘ stadium would be a good deal because it “supports smart investments in a beloved regional asset that will need more than basic maintenance as it ages beyond its teen years,” which doesn’t actually explain what “smart” or “need” mean or why the public should be responsible for any of this. But also, the stadium is projected to “generate $3.1 billion in economic output” over the next 20 years, which doesn’t explain what “economic output” means or how this was calculated and then it acknowledges that “those numbers are high” but c’mon, just give the Mariners the money anyway, they have a difficult teenager to deal with, don’t they deserve some help? There’s a helpful list of editorial board members at the end, in case you want to drive around Seattle and point and laugh at them.
And speaking of the Mariners, here’s a long article in FanGraphs lauding them for “essentially guaranteeing that taxpayers will realize at least some profit from the initial stadium construction investment,” which is even too rose-colored for the Seattle Times editorial board. Seriously, if we’re going to be showering sports team owners for only asking for $177 million to upgrade their buildings that they got the public to pay more than $400 million for in the first place, I think maybe it’s time to give up on moral relativism altogether.
And finally, enjoy this article about a Philadelphia Flyers executive who recalls being at his then 18-year-old arena and thinking, “I was kind of out, walking around the arena, and it just sort of started to feel tired.” Arenas got mid-life crises!
As late as Wednesday, I thought this was turning out to be a slow news week. Then the news made up for it in a hurry:
The New York Islanders owners held a question-and-answer session for residents near their planned new arena on Tuesday, and when asked about how they plan to increase Long Island Railroad service to avoid tons of auto traffic, a state development official said, “We are in very active discussions with the LIRR — meeting with them once a week — and those talks are ramping up.” Hopefully they’re involving Dr. Strange in those discussions, because they badly need to find some new topological dimensions.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he plans to talk to Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk about whether he actually plans to pursue the LeBreton Flats arena development he won rights to last year, after Melnyk called it “a huge project with tremendous risk” and said, “If it doesn’t look good here, it could look very, very nice somewhere else, but I’m not suggesting that right now” and “Something’s got to break somewhere and I mean a positive break.” Melnyk has made threats like this before, but you’d think now that he has an agreed sale price for the land he’d be happy; it sure sounds like he’s angling for some additional public subsidies now that he has his mitts on the land, which you can’t really blame him for, since Watson opened the door to that already. Come on, mayor, haven’t you learned yet not to get the can opener out when the cat is around?
Tampa Bay Rays 2020, the group started by the Rays to push for business support for a new stadium, is signing up plenty of members, but DRaysBay notes that “the real test of commitment will come when businesses are asked to make clearer financial commitments to a stadium plan.” Yeah, no duh. (The subhead here, “Business leaders line up behind stadium plan, but financing questions linger,” is also a masterpiece of understatement.)
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says that the Toronto Blue Jays‘ Rogers Centre “needs an update to make it as economically viable as possible,” noting that other stadiums “have millennial areas, things like that that have been built and become popular more recently.” So, like, an Instagram parlor?
Here’s a story about how 25 years ago the NHL handed Norman Green the rights to move the Minnesota North Stars to any open market as consolation for putting an expansion team in Anaheim, where he’d wanted to move, and he ended up going to Dallas. Also it has Roger Staubach in the headline for some reason.
And here’s a story about how 50 years ago NHL expansion inadvertently kicked off the rise of arena rock, which is probably overstated but it has links to vintage Cream videos in it, if you like that sort of thing.
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is in talks with the Football Association to buy London’s Wembley Stadium for £600 million, which is certain to raise eyebrows about the possibility of the Jags moving to London, but is probably for right now more about Fulham F.C., which Khan also owns, being about to get promoted to the Premier League and wanting a bigger place to play. Khan also said, “I think it needs investment and updating. Compared to American stadiums the video boards are something that need to be looked at. The lounges are a little bit dated.” The current Wembley Stadium was built in 2007.
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.
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.
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.