Monday, February 27, 2012

The Curious Case of Fremont

A's owner Lew Wolff once had a vision -- a ballpark in Fremont. Fremont is at the southern end of Alameda County, still in the A's assigned MLB territory. The ballpark, to be built in an area termed Pacific Commons, never got as far as a shovel in the ground due, according to the team, to community opposition. Part of this  opposition was led by NUMMI -- then a large auto manufacturing facility in Fremont which would have been located close to the ballpark. In 2009, NUMMI's general counsel K. Kelley McKenzie had this to say in a letter to the city:

From the outset, it is hard to imagine how NUMMI could continue to operate with a ballpark immediately adjacent to it. The traffic congestion from a ballpark would seem a sure barrier to on-time delivery of parts needed for production.

On April 1, 2010, NUMMI closed. However, the A's threw in the towel on their plan in Fremont in February of 2009.

The thing is, with NUMMI not in the picture, a huge opportunity for the A's opened up. The NUMMI plant and surroundings. The NUMMI/Warm Springs area numbers an astounding 850 acres and even today, with the electric car manufacturer Tesla occupying a portion of the old NUMMI plant, 450 acres are "vacant and underused" according to yesterday's San Jose Mercury News. The other real kicker is that BART is -- actually, definitely -- extending to Warm Springs. The Fall of 2015 will see BART trains in Warm Springs. There is no dedicated funding source or definitive timetable for when BART will come to downtown San Jose -- the area the A's want to build in.

The city of Fremont even pitched the A's and sent a letter to MLB regarding the NUMMI site when the Toyota/GM venture shut down. Here is former Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman to the Chronicle in January of 2010:

"We've had a lot of calls from people interested in developing the plant, but so far no one's come forward with a pocketful of money," said Mayor Bob Wasserman. "But we think the ballpark could be a catalyst for development out there."

What Really Killed Fremont?

Jumping back to 2009, the Chronicle wrote that community opposition drove the A's away:

Merchants at the adjacent Pacific Commons shopping center and officials at the nearby Nummi auto plant protested the plans, saying the increased congestion on game days would severely harm their businesses.

When the A's considered another site, near the proposed Warm Springs BART extension, neighbors complained about the inconvenience of parking and traffic problems, as well as the potential for crime.

Flash-forward and you find out that this isn't entirely true. Wolff himself in May 2010 ruled Fremont out in his comments to Matthew Artz of the Tri-City Beat:

...Fremont isn’t an option for the A’s, because the team can’t finance a Fremont ballpark without the ability to sell entitlements to build the 3,150 housing units that were part of the original ballpark village plan.

“The entire activity in Fremont was based on the ability to sell residential entitlements,” he said.

And Wolff doesn’t anticipate the market supporting the magnitude of housing envisioned in the ballpark village plan. “I think we missed our opportunity,” he said. “We have to be in an existing downtown.”

The funny thing here is that Wolff has not once presented a financing plan for the downtown San Jose ballpark. You can look at the site and see that it is scarcely big enough for a major league-sized ballpark, let alone any sort of "baseball village." Is San Jose going to grant him entitlements in other parts of town?

The sad thing here is that Wolff, in his February 2009 farewell letter to Fremont, noted that: became increasingly clear that our ballpark project faced significant delays ahead and I could not, in good conscience, continue to lead our team down this path.

That was 2009. It's 2012 and the A's have nothing but delays ahead to build a stadium in the Giants territory of San Jose with no stated financing plan other than Wolff telling us he has one.

BTW -- Tesla wouldn't mind the A's being neighbors.

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