A’s Ballpark – 2008

This is from my 2008 campaign.  While the City Council was hyping this as great from Fremont, I found that it was full of unresolved issues and disliked by most of the Fremont residents I talked to.  The project ultimately fell apart as the nearby retailers (Lowe’s, Costco, etc.) felt that it would negatively impact their businesses.  This led to the attempt to put the project by the Warm Springs BART station which led to it being an issue in the 2010 election as well.


The Oakland A’s Ballpark Village

Should the City of Fremont Take the Risk?Patrick

There is a sense of excitement that Fremont could get a major league sports team. I like baseball myself. My son even recently played on a team called the A’s. (Yes, that’s him to the right.) But one should not let this excitement lead us into making a decision that could cost the City in the long run. Ball parks bring crime, litter, and traffic along with the glory of having a professional sports team. And one needs to remember that this is not just about a ball park. It’s about a ball park, 3,150 homes, and over 500,000 square feet of retail [1]. All three of these items will generate significant traffic and demand for city services.

While it’s possible that a Ballpark Village could function well and improve Fremont’s financial situation, the current proposal is fraught with numerous potential problems and uncertainty. Unless a proposal can be developed with clear, funded resolutions to the key issues facing the ballpark, I don’t believe the City should go forward with the proposed project.

The Original Plan for the Proposed Site

Cisco Systems originally purchased this tract years ago with the intention of building a high-tech development facility on it. This development would be consistent with the Fremont General Plan, which puts commercial developments on the outskirts of the city, to the south and west. The project would have brought large numbers of high-paying jobs to Fremont.

After the dot-com implosion in 2000, these plans were abandoned, and the space has remained empty, its future unclear. Cisco has stated that it no longer has any plans to develop this land.

The Ballpark Plan

Around 2004, Fremont’s county supervisor Scott Haggerty made a proposal to Oakland A’s co-owner Lew Wolff: a massive retail/residential complex surrounding a custom-designed, high-tech ballpark, brimming with logos from the likes of Apple, Cisco, eBay, and Intel, which would present an advertising windfall for the taking. The revenue generated could finally make the A’s permanent postseason contenders [2]. Mr. Wolff ran with the idea, and the rest is history.

The Risks

Below are outlined some of the specific problems I see with the proposal. In looking at these, one might think that I’m definitely against the idea of the ballpark. That’s not the case. I simply believe that it would be irresponsible for the City not to thoroughly analyze and discuss all of the potential problems that a project of this size could bring.

Traffic, parking, and transit options – Stadiums create very intense traffic and parking demands. The solutions that have been mentioned to date are still problematic.

1. On-site parking – The existing stadium proposal calls for 9000 parking spaces at the stadium itself, with another 2000 spaces available within a mile (though the space for these is already allocated for other development projects). The thousands of other attendees will have to figure out some other way to get to the stadium.

2. Trains – There is a set of tracks (Union Pacific / Amtrak / ACE) located 0.8 miles from the proposed site. Both Amtrak and ACE have expressed opposition to building a depot at this location for the purpose of supporting the ballpark. They cite multiple problems, including single-track lines (from Auto Mall in Fremont all the way to San Jose), conflicting schedules (especially for ACE trains, which end the day parked at the end of the ACE route near Stockton), and requirements to negotiate new access schedules with Union Pacific, which owns the tracks. There is currently not enough rolling stock on these lines to accommodate baseball game traffic. In any case, 0.8 miles is farther than most people would be willing to walk.

Another difficulty with train access is that the two train stops to the south of the site do not have significant parking areas. People would have to use another form of transit to get to the train station. Studies show that adding transfers to a transit trip greatly reduce the likelihood of people taking transit.

3. BART – The existing Fremont BART station is five miles from the stadium site [4], requiring buses or shuttles to carry people to/from the stadium on city streets. Although the planned Warm Springs station is closer (1.5 miles away), it’s not expected to be operational until 2014. Funding for this extension is still uncertain. The current proposed completion date of 2014 [6] could easily be pushed back.

4. Buses/Shuttles – Assuming that a significant number of the 32,000 attendees try to take mass transit to attend games, the city will need a fleet of 30 to 40 buses to move all these people from BART to the game site. AC Transit, which operates the bus lines in Fremont, would be the likely service provider. However, AC Transit has been steadily removing local routes throughout the area over the past couple of years [7]. It is not at all clear that they would be willing to manage this service. If not, what agency will hire the drivers, maintain the buses, etc.? There is also the not so trivial question of where would the bus barn be located.

In view of the various problems, there is a high probability that most people will drive to the stadium and fight for available parking spots. Anyone who has been on I-880 in Oakland near the beginning or end of a ballgame there has seen the gridlock that occurs on the freeway and city streets. Congestion would ultimately hurt attendance as well as sales revenues for the nearby retailers (e.g. the Fremont Auto Mall).

The project proponents have tried to defuse the traffic issue by saying that the currently approved use on the site would generate as much traffic as their proposal. However, more residential development will undoubtedly mean more trips from Fremont to high-tech jobs in the South Bay and on the peninsula. This will aggravate the existing commute patterns. If this area were filled with high-tech jobs, more Fremont residents might not even have to leave town to get to work. A’s fans coming to evening games from the South Bay would undoubtedly use 880, adding to what is already a bad evening commute. Increased traffic problems would make it more difficult to bring in other business into the City. NUMMI, the City’s largest employer, has already indicated concerns about the traffic generated by the project.

Jobs – Unlike the high-tech jobs that Cisco, or other high-tech employers, would have brought to the area, the retail and ballpark jobs that this project would create are virtually all lower-paying, service-sector jobs. They’re not the kind of jobs that typically would allow one to buy a house in Fremont. Thus, these workers would likely be coming from other locales, adding hundreds of additional cars to the local freeways and parking lots.

The A’s have stated that their project will create 13,000 full-time equivalent jobs. However, this is only for the construction period. The economic report prepared by the A’s consultant [5] doesn’t provide the number of jobs that will be permanently be created.

Distribution of revenues – An analysis of economic and fiscal impacts of this project, prepared for the Oakland Athletics [5], predicts that the completed Ballpark Village project would bring roughly $19 million per year (in 2007 dollars) into the City of Fremont, assuming that housing, retail, and ballpark resources are all fully utilized. This is a questionable assumption given that many retailers are currently in a major down-sizing mode.

First, it should be noted that economic analyses such as this are simply models that claim to predict the future. If the economic downturn that we’re in continues, this would undoubtedly affect the retail sales which are a large part of the assumption.

Secondly, the study assumes that 75% of all retail sales for the project would be new to Fremont. This might be plausible for a game day. But remember that 3 out of 4 days of the year are not game days. If 75% of retail sales at the Ballpark Village on non-game days come from outside of Fremont, this would create significant additional traffic on 880. In reality, this project would undoubtedly pull retail dollars away from the existing retail centers in the City’s historic districts.

Also, let’s take a closer look at where this projected $19 million dollars in tax revenue will go. Roughly 80%, $15.6 million, will flow directly to the Redevelopment Agency (RDA), not into the Fremont general fund. Redevelopment Agency funds are used solely to pursue further development and to make payments on bond debts from previous RDA projects. They cannot be used for funding city services such as the fire department, the police department, and maintenance of roads and other city facilities. Only $3.6 to $4.7 million/year will actually be paid into the Fremont General Fund, to provide the extensive city services that this complex will require. Again, this assumes that the $19 million projection is not overstated.

An article in the Argus [8] notes that the Giants have 18 police officers for games at Pac Bell Park, 24 when the Dodgers are in town. Fremont typically has about 14 officers deployed throughout the City at any one time. We’re already having a hard time paying for these officers.

Conclusion

Before approving this proposal, the city needs to take a serious look at how to address the traffic issues, whether this development will generate enough funds to cover its costs, and whether it might not be a better idea to preserve this land for businesses that could provide high paying jobs to Fremont residents.

References

1. City of Fremont Web Page on the A’s Ballpark Village
http://www.ci.fremont.ca.us/Community/BallparkVillage/default.htm

2. “The Fremont Athletics: How the deal went down, and why it was inevitable”, 11/29/2006
http://www.eastbayexpress.com/news/the_fremont_athletics/Content?oid=306104

3. “A’s revised plan for ballpark village gets warmer reception”, 09/18/2007
http://www.mercurynews.com/southbaybaseball/ci_6932476?nclick_check=1

4. “Teams take on Cisco Field traffic challenges”, 11/11/2006
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20061211/ai_n16903807

5. ERA final economic report, 05/08/2007
City of Fremont Web Site

6. “Warm Springs Extension Project”, BART website
http://www.bart.gov/about/projects/warmsprings.asp

7. “Change Happens: June 24″, AC Transit service changes announcement
http://www.actransit.org/news/articledetail.wu?articleid=d00173cf

8. “Fremont may not be able to afford A’s”, Argus, 08/07/2006
http://www.insidebayarea.com/argus/ci_3900682

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