Community first in ‘A’s’ ballpark plans



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Video: Coliseum Global Sports Venue Alliance (YouTube)

The Oakland Athletics, often referred to as the ‘A’s’, are an American professional baseball team based in Oakland, California (US). The Athletics compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League West division. The team plays its home games at the 63,132-capacity Oakland Coliseum.

Dave Kaval, President, Oakland Athletics, US, gives an insight into the ‘A’s’ proposed new 34,000-seat stadium at Howard Terminal near Jack London Square and a massive mixed-use development. He also shares exclusive details with ‘Coliseum’ as to how the community is the fulcrum of this whole development and the unique element of the whole development being a park inside a park – all at the Coliseum Online Week EUROPE Worldwide – held from March 22nd-26th, 2021.
 

Venues as destinations

Sports sell places. How do you ensure that the spectators come to the venue earlier, stay longer, have more fun and in the process help generate more revenue? Many stadiums nowadays are conceptualized as destinations – for visitors and the neighborhood, the so called community stadiums. These stadiums will have to respond to local needs else they will never make profit. Stadiums are more than just a place to watch the game. Involving theme parks is bound to add value to the best practices and experiences for destination creation.

Know more about it from Dave Kaval as he states, “To discuss our exciting projects – the waterfront in Oakland which is going to be a new 34,000-person stadium for the Oakland Athletics and a mixed-use development, almost 8 million square feet of development – everything from retail to performing arts center to commercial real estate to housing including affordable housing.”

The ‘A’s’ new venue plans would create the 35,000-seat ballpark and mixed-use development with up to 3,000 residential units, up to 1.5 million square feet of offices and up to 270,000 square feet of retail uses.

Kaval informed as regards the ambitious ballpark project, “Right now, this is kind of an old port area that has not been in the news for almost 10 years and so we have taken an old marine terminal and we are kind of converting it into an entertainment destination and we have this incredible ballpark that’s designed by Bjarke Ingels from Denmark. We actually picked someone who has never been into a baseball game to design a ballpark. A lot of people were taken aback with our design firm choice. But, we went for Bjarke Ingels because we wanted someone with a fresh approach and someone who could kind of understand the true reasons why people were coming to the sport events and it is all about placemaking and creating reasons to come to the waterfront beyond even the game itself. And, as you can see with the ballpark, we have this incredible rooftop park that rings the stadium where you can actually be in the park and watch the game and look at the beautiful waterfront, the Oakland hills, the downtown skyline, and those incredible container cranes.”

Kaval recalls the first time he visited the project site, he almost went “crazy” because it was almost barren. However, climbing up the container cranes did the magic as the spectacular view of the San Francisco skyline, Oakland estuary and the spectacular backdrop led to Kaval and his team deciding to build a new ballpark for the Oakland Athletics right there.

He added, “As you can also see, we have the mixed-use development around it with condominiums and apartments, towers as well as the retail on the first floor. This builds out into the ballpark area and creates a great connection between the ballpark itself and the patrons going into the game as well as the people living in this new neighborhood which is going to be a really stellar edition to the City of Oakland and that is something which we are really proud of. This is an area which has been underinvested in infrastructure and in housing for generations and we can actually come in and provide private capital because the ballpark is completely privately financed. The only public piece of this is the contribution the port is giving on the land side and so you really have a great public-private partnership (PPP) to make the project a success.”

Fans will really have the time of their lives when the ballpark comes to fruition as Kaval puts in, “You will be able to be out there in a kayak or a boat and see the game just like the 41,915-capacity AT&T Park in San Francisco and really create a great backdrop. And the reason to come to Oakland is that the stadia can serve as a tourist driver, an attraction for people to come to the location, often Oakland is overlooked for San Francisco and the ballpark will help to attract people, to attract businesses to set up their headquarters there and really create an amazing environment.”

Kaval informed that there is a space in the ballpark plan where any fan and member of the public can come in and actually look into the stadium and watch the game – “It is a non-ticketed space as one does not need to pay and it’s a great way to create a connection on to the broader community and the public at large and really make it more of a public space and the village green for our community. The community on which this ballpark will sit is very happy over this non-ticketed space.”
 

Project attributes

  • State of the art ballpark;
  • Public access to the waterfront with 18 acres of new public access;
  • Residential housing (including affordable housing) which is critically important in the Bay area;
  • Retail and restaurants;
  • Office space;
  • A hotel which will stand right next to the stadium; and
  • A performing arts center.

 

Timeline

Stated Kaval, “In terms of the timeline, we are kind of in the final stretch to give final approval to move forward with the project. We are waiting for the City Council to take the final vote. So, once that happens we will have a more definitive timeline when we can break ground and open but the last three to four years has really been hectic in terms of giving all our approvals so we can move forward. And, obviously, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc globally and inflicting severe blows on United States, there have been some delays on the public approval. We were originally hoping to have that approval last year but with COVID and the inability to have public meetings it slipped the year. So, we are on track for 2021 approval of the project.”

The Oakland Athletics President said that they are very excited to continue to innovate at the waterfront in Oakland.

Though it is a big-ticket project, but the Oakland Athletics decided to settle for an architecture firm from Denmark rather than going in for giants like Populous or HKS.

Explained Kaval, “We have always been into placemaking and we were interviewing all these kind of second planners when five or six people showed us a Bjarke Ingels design. We were so pretty impressed that I decided to take the next flight to New York and met the Bjarke Ingels guy. I was totally enthralled with his vision of what he could do and bringing a fresh approach to ballpark development and one that really was integrated into the community in an authentic way, especially on the waterfront which is such a unique aspect of what we are doing.”

The new ballpark capacity of Oakland Athletics will be reduced by nearly 50 percent and to this Kaval explained that their current stadium can pack in a crowd of 55,000. The new stadium capacity will stand at only 34,000 – “The actual bowls itself is almost a lounge So, we are trying to go back to that original era of steel and concrete ballparks from the turn of the last century and really pull out the best aspects of that – being close to the action, seeing the game, the intimacy – not very high so it really fits into the neighborhood in a better way and that’s what really driving our design.”

The Oakland Athletics has made a really wise move. Their argument is that it’s better to have a smaller capacity but the more packed stadium than a bigger stadium and half of it is empty. Maybe the declining numbers in baseball spectators over the last 10 years has led to this decision.

Kaval acknowledged that the capacity reduction was due to the declining number of baseball spectators – “Building Camden Yard-era ballparks for 50,000 spectators does not reap profits because around 12,000 seats always remain empty. And, so we think this smaller, more intimate ballparks – ones where you can manage with your pricing more efficiently the secondary market can yield a much better outcome for the teams.”

As it will be a mixed-use development, those living on the apartments on the top floors – they can see into the stadium. This means these apartments will cost a bomb as the Oakland Athletics President averred that these apartments will “Come at a premium. You can see the action – see a home run from Matt Chapman (baseball third baseman of Oakland Athletics) or Matt Olson (first baseman of ‘A’s’). So, yeah, that’s a great reason to buy one of those apartments because you will see these stars in action right from your apartment.”

Kaval carries a reputation of bringing in sea change in arenas like he has done with the Oakland Athletics present digs – Oakland Coliseum or with the fan experience as he stated, “I enjoy doing projects where I can bring total transformation as they are very challenging and you almost have to be creative to be successful. And you have to try new things – new fan amenities like we built the tree house at the Coliseum or having a rooftop park – that’s never been done in Major League Baseball before. The park is open 365 days a year. So, these new aspects attributes I think for something that sports needs to stay relevant with all the other competitions – the digital competitions – esports, all these are the things and we have to think out-of-the-box to stay ahead of our competitors.”

Kaval also strongly believes that the community on which the venue will sit will have to be an intrinsic part of the development. Community engagement is accorded top priority by him as he stated, “We have had an incredible amount of outreach, community benefits, agreements that were putting in place the local community groups to ensure that this project is not only good for our fans but also good for the community members in West Oakland. For instance, we have agreed this entire project will be greenhouse gas neutral and all the local assets will help air quality in this part of the City which long have had the worst air quality because it is near to the port. So, we are doing parts of the project that is very innovative that had environmental, sustainability goals and then help the community beyond than just having an entertainment venue.”

He also pointed out that to engage the community it is imperative that the local people are hired and how it needs to be for the community members who live in Oakland now – “Everything from the jobs, ensuring people who live in and around these areas are employed to ensuring that the greenhouse gas is handled and there is an environmental footprint that’s manageable. So, all aspects of that type of feedback are being incorporated into the project. So, in the end we are hopeful that the community feels they are a part of the project.”

The new ballpark of Oakland Athletics will come armed with a rooftop park which will only be open to ticketed patrons on gamedays but Kaval concluded by stating, “But on non-gamedays it is open to anyone, it is a public park. So, it’s an elevated park with incredible views that’s open to the public. So, it’s a public amenity and our USP is that the original baseball you played it in a park and this is the notion that it is a park in a park and so you have this incredible kind of pastoral history in baseball and this is the way to invoke that in the 21st century.”

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