In the context of the Haren trade discussion, notah8er brought up something that I've been thinking a lot about lately myself.
Namely, what effect (if any) will the respective crises in the economy as a whole, the real estate sector, and the mortgage and credit sectors have on Wolff's plan for the ballpark village in Fremont?
I will freely volunteer that I have no economic training or expertise (ask my accountant and my probation officer for confirmation of that), and the collective A's ownership is far wiser and more accomplished than I am, but I think it's quite clear that there are some significantly bad national trends right now that only look to get worse.
Obviously, the Bay Area will continue to remain one of the last holdouts for real estate value-retention. And Lew was never going to be targeting subprime candidates for his townhouses anyway.
As pressures increase on the margins of those protective hedges, though, it would seem to highlight what I have always thought were some signal weaknesses of the ballpark village marketing plan:
- The distance of the site from employment centers, the lack of access to public transportation, and the lack of any plan for funding or implementing capital roadway improvements
- The size, saturation, and growth potential of the baseball-fan market in the Bay Area (and that's ignoring the quality of the A's on-field product and its impact on the brand between now and 2012)
- Wolff's relative lack of experience in planning large residential projects (most of his experience is in resort and commercial properties)
- Intensive/exhaustive environmental review processes that always would have required changes in the plan (and for which Wolff, from all public statements, never seemed prepared for)
Basically, the sales pitch for one of these townhouses would be: live right next to a massive sound-and-light-polluter, on a strip of quasi-urban sprawl with neither the cultural benefits of a "real" city nor the solitude/serenity of a cloistered green suburb, and with a guarantee of a nightmarish (and frustrating due to its short actual length) commute in any direction.
What's more, the idea of dropping a hotel into the midst of all this -- with no easy access to the convention centers in SF or the South Bay, and no real area draw outside of the baseball season (and even then, only for the Yankees and Red Sox games, in any appreciable amount) -- has always seemed misguided to me.
So -- to my uneducated, jaundiced simian eye, it looks like a building project that already faced significant challenges to succeed, and was counting on a lot of things going right that now look unlikely to.
Much like the A's on-field prospects for 2008 looked to Beane two days ago.
I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Fremont plan scaled way, way back from its initial planning in the next couple years. If it even comes to fruition at all , or if Wolff even still remains a partner.
But, as I've said, I'm speaking off the cuff and without any real expertise in the underlying issues.
So, school me, AN'ers. Tell me how and why I'm wrong.