— SF Examiner Sports (@sfexsports) January 26, 2019
OAKLAND — Conspicuously placed in a corner of Jack London Square, during Friday’s FanFest, on the way north as Oakland Athletics fans moved up Water Street to the stage where execs, players and coaches would participate in various Q&A sessions, was a small, glass gondola.
The cabin— an exemplar from the Oakland Zoo’s gondola system — didn’t fit more than eight people, but next to it, visible as families of A’s fans stepped in and out, was an artist’s rendering of an even larger, 35-person cabin. That’s what will ferry as many as 6,000 fans an hour from Washington and 10th, over the Nimitz Freeway and into Jack London Square, where they’ll walk up Water Street and to Howard Terminal, the location of Oakland’s proposed ballpark.
“This is a stone’s throw from where we are right now,” A’s president Dave Kaval said, pointing to a rendering of the arrival station as he spoke in one of the Regatta conference rooms just off of Water Street in Jack London Square.
The gondola, designed by the same firm that designed the A’s 34,000-seat jewel box stadium unveiled months ago — the Bjarke Ingles Group, will cost $123 million, and be completely privately financed, just like the stadium. Continual maintenance costs would also be borne by the team, and have been taken into account. All this, despite the fact that the perennially-cash-strapped A’s are also seeking to buy the Oakland Coliseum site — parking lot and all — to turn it into a park and community space.
“We did a comprehensive analysis both in its economic feasibility, as well as its ongoing costs and maintenance, and those are things that we included in the ongoing costs,” Kaval said. “That is really important. We’ve seen other systems that have been deployed, especially in South America. They have a lot of systems that are 10, 20, even 25 years old, and they’ve held up extremely well. They’re extremely safe.”
Those systems, as well as those in Europe, aren’t all privately financed, nor are they all publicly financed. There’s a mix. Most ski resort systems are owned and maintained by the resort operator. Some in South America are publicly-owned means of public transit, such as in Medellin and São Palo. The Los Angeles Dodgers, too, are planning on adding a gondola from Union Station to Dodger Stadium to provide more public access. This gondola will be have much shorter ride than those, and be on a much smaller scale, at less than three quarters of a mile.
“We anticipate about a million people using this,” Kaval said. “Some of the systems in South America have up to 20 million people using it.”
Reaction from the city of Oakland has been positive, Kaval said.
“We had this system, the gondola system, as a variant of our CEQA process, which started in November, so this is being analyzed, the environmental impacts, the mitigations, the infrastructure, all the pieces, as part of our plan to roll out the ballpark by 2023,” Kaval said, referring to the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires public disclosure of environmental impacts of potential projects, and requires state and local agencies within California to adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts.
“It’s been positively received. They’re supporting it through the CEQA process, because it actually is their process. We’re hopeful, by the end of the year, it will have cleared, and we can actually move forward with groundbreaking.”
According to the Bay Area Council Ecomonic Institute, the gondola — which would run year-round — could generate $685 million in local economic benefits over a 10-year span. The cabins themselves could be branded for the city, the team or corporate partners.
Kaval said that $400 million in local economic benefits would come just in tax dollars, $265 million from the operation of the system and $17 million from the abatement of time for commuters. There are several different pricing models for the ride. Season ticket holders may get to ride free on game day. Tourists may be charged a different price than a local rider, a model that’s utilized in London, as well as other cities around the world.
“It’s not only something to reach the ballpark,” said Kaval, who has visited such systems in London, New York and Portland. “It’s also something that will run every day of the year, to provide that connection between downtown and the waterfront … It’s kind of like a tourist attraction. They draw people to the location. The views are tremendous.”
The three-minute, half-mile ride would offer panoramic views of downtown Oakland, as well as the waterfront, the ballpark itself, Alameda and San Francisco, and take riders through a circular oculus 200 feet off the ground — what Kaval called completely unique, a monument and a signature item — as they glide down towards the new ballpark district. On non-game days, the speed could be slowed to allow riders to take in more of the surrounding view. Kaval likened the it to riding the cable cars in San Francisco.
“The view itself is really a part of the experience,” Kaval said. “People could come to Oakland and ride the gondola, from a tourist perspective, which is something I think for all the small business owners and people here in Oakland, it’ll be a great thing.”
Kaval ran a computer-generated simulation that took the viewer from one gondola station, just two blocks from the 12th Street BART station near the convention center, over Old Oakland, to the other station at Washington and Water. The club and the Bjarke Ingles Group initially had thought about dropping fans off mere steps from the stadium itself, but both before and after games, it would have created too much of a queueing problem.
Instead, riders will take a three-minute walk through shops and restaurants up to the stadium, arriving beyond center field, which will feature a retractable batter’s eye that will go up for games and batting practice, but down when not in use.
The pinch point for the project would be postgame exfiltration. At 6,000 passengers an hour, the gondola works just fine for the hours-long buildup to a game, but not so well when fans want to leave and get home quickly.
“Since the gondolas are always running, it’s not like you have to wait in line to go on a 12:15 or a 12:25 option,” Kaval said. “The ability to see it constantly moving I think allows people to queue and get on in an easier way, although, we envision that if 6,000 people take that, it’ll be wildly successful. This is one of many ways people are going to get to and from the ballpark.”
Kaval cited ferries, bikes, Lime and Bird scooters and the traditional drive-and-park attendees as alternative means of transportation to games that could ease the prospect of postgame gondola congestion. There will also be new, enhanced bike routes to and from the stadium itself, Kaval said, adding that, as of now, there are more than 10,000 parking spots in and around Jack London Square — nearly the same as the Oakland Coliseum has now.
“Anyone who’s sat in traffic here in the Bay Area realizes there’s a need for new, creative transportation options, and this is one, especially since it’s privately financed, that is very appealing to the civic leaders,” Kaval said.MLB