new Trib article on stadium
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| By jeffreyb on Sunday, March 31, 2002 - 07:06 pm:|
| By eyleenn on Sunday, March 31, 2002 - 11:56 pm:|
Here's the story, in case the link goes bad.
Article Last Updated:
Sunday, March 31, 2002 - 3:58:33 AM MST
City leaders rally to keep A's
Fact-finding tour to see how other cities built new ballparks
By Robert Gammon
OAKLAND -- As the Oakland A's embark Monday on their 35th campaign at the Coliseum, local business and political leaders are warming up for a campaign of their own -- hammering out a concrete plan for keeping the team in the East Bay.
In about three weeks, Oakland public officials, led by City Manager Robert Bobb, plan to fan out across the country for a firsthand look at new ballparks. The fact-finding tour likely is to include visits to Denver, Seattle, Baltimore and Cleveland.
The city is also awaiting the results of three reports by expert consultants. The first will be an analysis of how other communities financed new stadiums. The second will be an examination of the economic impacts new stadiums have on urban areas. The third will be a look at possible financing plans for a new A's ballpark in Oakland.
Bobb and Oakland City Councilmember Dick Spees (Montclair-Laurel), the two primary backers of a new ballpark, say they hope to have a comprehensive plan for a baseball-only stadium ready by no later than year's end. Step one of the plan -- a ballpark site analysis by the leading stadium architectural firm in the nation -- was completed earlier this year.
"We need to move on this as soon as we can to find out if we can get this done," Bobb said. "Because if we can't get it done, we need to move on to other things."
The flurry of activity represents a growing recognition the A's may pack their bags if they do not get a new ballpark.
Despite rising attendance figures in recent years, including ticket sales that topped 2.1 million in 2001, team officials and Major League Baseball say the A's cannot compete effectively at the outdated Network Associates Coliseum. The A's are on a year-to-year lease at the Coliseum that expires in 2004.
To be successful, proponents of a new A's stadium must overcome numerous hurdles.
First, they must choose a stadium site. The A's prefer the Port of Oakland's Howard Terminal, next to Jack London Square, while Bobb, Spees and others like the so-called Uptown site, a few blocks from City Hall.Question of fiscal sense
They also must counter arguments such as those made by City Councilmember Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland), who questions whether a downtown ballpark makes good fiscal sense at a time when the city has to cut $15 million from its budget.
They must decide whether to put the issue on the ballot, a move advocated by City Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland).
They must change the minds of skeptical politicians and East Bay community members still smarting over the Raiders debacle.
They must respond to sports economists who insist there's little evidence to support the contention that a new stadium stimulates a city's economy.
They must determine whether the new ballpark should be run by public officials, private business leaders, or both.
And most important, they must figure out who's going to pay for a new ballpark that could cost at least $400 million to build.
"If you were to ask me what are the chances of a new stadium, I would say, 'It's a super-long shot and not very likely,' " said Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (San Antonio-Fruitvale), who is also a longtime member of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority.
De La Fuente has said repeatedly he will oppose any proposal for a publicly financed ballpark. He also argued in a recent interview that a new facility would steal events from the Coliseum, which is mired in debt primarily from the deal that brought the Raiders home in 1995 from Los Angeles.Mayor's support needed
To top it off, ballpark proponents also must garner the support of Mayor Jerry Brown, who has kept a low profile so far.
Brown said through a spokeswoman he's "looking forward to seeing all the data" before deciding whether to throw his political weight behind a new stadium.
Ballpark backers hope some of that data will arrive in the report on how other cities paid for their new sports facilities.
Most agree the San Francisco Giants' example of a ballpark financed predominantly with private funds will not work with current A's owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann.
The two have taken a fiscally conservative approach in running the A's, and neither has shown an interest in paying the lion's share of costs associated with building a new stadium.
Still, there are a myriad of other examples of how a stadium could be financed. Cities, for example, have used bond measures, redevelopment funds and new sales taxes, along with dollars generated by seat licenses and stadium naming rights.
One sports locale that caught the eye of East Bay officials -- because the dilemma it faces is more dire than Oakland's -- is Minnesota.Minnesota's example
Late last year Commissioner Bud Selig announced that two major league teams would be eliminated. One of them was to be the Minnesota Twins, in part because the team has struggled in its old stadium.
But in recent weeks Minnesota has attempted to avoid the chopping block with a new plan for a Twins ballpark. Both houses of the Minnesota legislature have approved the plan, and it's also backed by Gov. Jesse Ventura.
The complicated Minnesota deal calls for the team and taxpayers to share the costs of a new $330 million facility. Public funds would come from new taxes on liquor, food, parking and hotels in the city where the ballpark is built.
Closer to home, ballpark proponents also can look for answers in the financial history of the Coliseum, which opened in 1966.
Originally, a public bond measure was to pay for the Coliseum, but when doubts arose as to whether voters would approve the deal, a small group of powerful local business leaders stepped forward.
Led by former Oakland Chamber of Commerce president Robert Nahas and then-Oakland Tribune editor and assistant publisher William Knowland, the group formed a nonprofit corporation to shepherd through the Coliseum plan.
In a deal known as a lease-buy-back, the nonprofit organization -- Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum -- sold $25.5 million of bonds that were paid back equally by the city and county in $1.5 million annual installments.
For 35 years OACC ran the Coliseum Complex, never requiring a public subsidy beyond the $1.5 million payments from the city and county. In some of the years, the complex did so well the city and county's payments were lessened.
When the Raiders returned from Los Angeles seven years ago, the OACC was replaced by the city-county public panel known as the Joint Powers Authority.
Several current East Bay business leaders believe a private group, similar to OACC, or a combination of public and private officials, might be the solution for turning the dream of a new A's ballpark into reality.
"If I had to pick a system, it would have to be a private one," said Jim Ghielmetti, owner of Pleasanton-based home builder Signature Properties, which is to develop a large section of Oakland's waterfront, known as Oak-to-Ninth, over the next five to 10 years.
Jim Vohs, former chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, added he thinks the group that ultimately takes the lead in building and overseeing a new ballpark should include "a strong private component that really understands how to manage a business."
Vohs served on the old OACC board for 10 years, and now both he and Ghielmetti are members of a ballpark advisory committee assembled by Spees.
Stadium backers are also looking for answers in the financial deal proposed by a South Bay A's booster club that last year sought to bring the team to Santa Clara.
That plan, put on hold indefinitely by the A's last November, included use of $149.5 million in public funds, mostly from Santa Clara's Redevelopment Agency. The deal called for the A's to pay back about $94.5 million of those funds, primarily in the form of rent.
"We could not figure out how to keep public funds out of harm's way," said Santa Clara Assistant City Manager Ron Garratt, explaining why several city leaders, including the city's mayor, opposed the plan. "Someone has to guarantee these deals, and our belief was that if it failed, it would come back and slap the city."
Larry Stone, assessor for Santa Clara County and a member of the booster club, said watching the stadium deal fail in the heart of Silicon Valley convinced him there's little chance of one succeeding in Oakland.
"I just don't think it's a possibility," he said. "I just don't believe the people of Oakland or Alameda County are going to vote to pay for a new ballpark, especially after all the turmoil over the Raiders."
Nevertheless, Schott, who supported the Santa Clara deal and is friends with Stone, has expressed interest in a public-private deal for a new stadium in Oakland. And A's President Mike Crowley said the team has been in close contact with East Bay officials as they develop their plan for a new ballpark.
As part of the city's analyses, Bobb said he also wants to assemble a panel of sports economists who question the economic impact sports teams and stadiums have on cities. Bobb and others have argued a new ballpark could help awaken Oakland's long-dormant downtown area.
But experts such as Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College in Massachusetts and co-editor of the book "Sports, Jobs and Taxes," takes issue with such arguments.
"At best, a new stadium might relocate economic activity to a downtown -- but usually at the detriment of an outlying area," Zimbalist said in a recent interview.
He also said cities must do far more than build new stadiums if they want to revitalize their downtowns.
"Look at Yankee Stadium. It's a very successful ballpark, but if you walk around it, there's absolutely no development other than a few memorabilia stands," he added.
This last quote about Yankee Stadium seems irrelevant to me. First, YS was built decades ago. I've never been there, but I understand it's in a terrible area of the Bronx.