The Warriors want to relocate and build a new arena in San Francisco. This surprises no one, except maybe that one guy in the upper deck at Oracle Arena who was cheering Joe Lacob instead of booing him lustily back in March.
As that one guy (at least theoretically) said Monday: "I was happy when Joe and Peter Guber bought the Warriors because I thought they wanted to create more championships, not more Bay Bridge traffic."
Ever since Lacob and Guber held their 2010 introductory news conference at a San Francisco hotel rather than in Oakland, there was little doubt where they eventually wanted to be. On Tuesday, they will indeed announce plans to build an arena on Piers 30 and 32, on the Embarcadero around the corner from AT&T Park.
But let me offer Mr. Lacob and Mr. Guber four words of caution. They are also four words of hope for those who want the Warriors to stay in the East Bay:
Ain't gonna be easy.
History is a good teacher. And in this case, history tells us that building any new sports facility in the Bay Area is a very hard thing to do. Building such a facility in San Francisco is double trouble. Building such a facility on the water in San Francisco is triple trouble. There are so many special interests, public and private, to satisfy. Monday, it took a single phone call to find one of those interests.
"It's a really risky proposition to build a structure on a waterfront pier that is not necessary to have built on a pier," said David Lewis, executive director of Save The Bay, the largest regional organization that monitors and protects shoreline development.
Lewis, like the rest of us, has seen no specific details of the Warriors' proposal. But he cited a litany of projects that have been proposed for San Francisco's piers over the years that were ultimately scuttled because of environmental and waterfront neighborhood concerns.
"And the fact they failed is good news for the public," Lewis said. "They would have interfered with people's enjoyment of the bay. The priority for piers is maritime use, for things that can't be built inland. A nine-story indoor arena is not one of those uses. The Giants' ballpark is on the water. The difference is, people can look out from the seats and enjoy the bay or walk alongside it because the facility allows that kind of interaction. No one inside an arena will be able to see the bay."
Lewis already has spoken with Port of San Francisco officials and others about the Warriors' proposal. He wants Save The Bay's voice heard before any arena project is approved. You can expect other voices to be raised in similar protest. The apartment dwellers across the Embarcadero, for instance, might be upset about losing their bay views. And you have to figure the Giants will weigh in with issues about possible conflicting dates that would create traffic/parking nightmares.
Yet even if the Warriors' arena proposal is moved off the piers, perhaps to the Mission Bay area south of AT&T Park in cooperation with the Giants, the project is still no slam dunk. There's a reason San Francisco has never been home to a major first-class arena. Once more, just ask a history student. Len Shapiro is one of them. He can tell you about a promising sports arena effort that failed miserably in the 1970s.
Shapiro then was serving as public relations director for the California Golden Seals hockey team. After joining the NHL in 1967, the franchise had struggled to draw fans at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. But after San Francisco hotel tycoon Mel Swig purchased the Seals in 1975, he had the bright idea of moving them across the bay to ... that's correct, a downtown arena.
Swig figured he could assemble private financing and build on his preferred site, the current location of Moscone Convention Center. Back then, it was a designated redevelopment area the city was seeking to revive.
"I remember Mr. Swig sent me and Munson Campbell, our president, down to Third and Mission to check it out," Shapiro said Monday. "We went down there very early in the morning with this tape measure that was, like, 600 feet long. We were measuring the city blocks to see if an arena would fit there."
An arena would fit, they discovered. But the idea went nowhere as competing interests in the city, private and public, thwarted the project.
"Mr. Swig thought he had enough political clout to get it done," Shapiro said. "He didn't."
A year later, the Seals moved to Cleveland. That wasn't even the first arena swing-and-miss in San Francisco. In 1947, owners of the Ice Follies -- then headquartered at the city's smallish Winterland rink -- unveiled plans for a 12,000-seat arena to be built near the intersection of Market and Duboce streets. Once more, neighborhood people and politicos squashed the project.
In an ongoing theme, you can move ahead 42 years and look up one of the Giants' failed ballpark efforts, which included an arena component. It was supposed to be built at Seventh and Townsend Streets and seat 20,000 for concerts, 18,500 for basketball. The big sports facility company, Spectacor, was supposed to own and operate the building. Both that 1989 ballpark plan and arena plan went nowhere.
Supposedly, this time around, the San Francisco politicians and Mayor Ed Lee are all in favor of the Warriors' vision. We'll see if that support holds when constituents and environmentalists start filing objections.
So take heart, Oaklanders and East Bayers who want the Warriors to stay a while longer. At best, Lacob and Guber are staring at many years of jumping through hoops to get their waterfront building. At worst, they will join the list of San Francisco arena talkers who never actually became San Francisco arena builders. It's a big club.
"They've been trying to do it since 1947," Shapiro noted.
He can't remember what he did with the tape measure.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5092.