Warriors, City Make Stadium Plans Official -- But "Nothing" in Writing Yet

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Art Zendarski
Is this the real thing? Is this just fantasy?
The city and the Golden State Warriors held a press conference today on Piers 30-32 -- and everybody came. The mayor! The lieutenant governor! The police and fire chiefs! Rose Pak! The starting power forward! A platoon of laborers who moved shrubberies to strategic locations! Everybody!

Whether the breathtaking arena everybody was gathered to announce will come, too, is a different matter. When asked what guarantees, in writing, the Warriors have signed with the city, Jennifer Matz, the head of the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development, laughed. "Nothing!" she said. "Nothing!" she said again, still laughing. The images you see illustrating this story, Matz notes, aren't "schematics." They're "watercolors." As if to emphasize this point, the artist, Art Zendarski, walked up and introduced himself at that very moment. His images -- which are beautiful -- are by no means a guarantee that a future arena will look just so. If it ever progresses beyond his easel. "Design is a process," said the artist. 

What's certain, however, is that a lot of very rich, very powerful, and very connected people are going to be pushing this project. Warriors co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber both promised that, five years hence, this stadium was going to be built. "It can be done. It will be done. It's going to happen," assured Lacob. "We will play here in 2017," added Guber. "Take that as a promise we're going to fulfill. We're all in."

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Warriors co-owners Joe Lacob (left) and Peter Guber bookend NBA Commissioner David Stern and Mayor Ed Lee.
(Asked later how he could take on such a daunting project, Guber, a film mogul, spun the conversation to the difficulties of producing Rain Man and Gorillas in the Mist, the plotline of which he described as "a woman falls in love with a gorilla.").

Team and city executives lauded the proposed private financing for the stadium, which is expected to top $500 million; Lacob noted that the team has been in the Bay Area for half a century and it may require another half-century to pay that sum off. Mayor Ed Lee boasted that this would be the most transit-friendly stadium yet wrought. Well, it better be. Both the terrain and surrounding infrastructure will not allow for much in the way of parking.

The team estimates it will take $75 million to $100 million to reinforce decrepit Piers 30-32 to the point where construction could even begin (the recently fizzled America's Cup deal called for some $92 million). To put it another way, one needs to spend $100 million before starting to spend money.

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Everyone got into the act today. Even Officer James Funk.
The scary proposition of pouring dollars into a crumbling pier has driven away would-be developers in the past. But all sides are, naturally, optimistic that this won't happen once more. Unlike, say, the folks who built Candlestick Park, the Warriors ownership knows exactly what it's getting into. They looked at potential spots down the road at Seawall Lot 337 (Lot A behind AT&T Park) and Pier 50 before seizing on Piers 30-32. ( NBA Commissioner David Stern noted that a proposed joint development deal in the vicinity of the San Francisco Giants' ballpark fell through. If any representatives of the Giants were in attendance today, they were not easily spotted.).

Matz says the Warriors' eyes turned to Piers 30-32 in the months since Larry Ellison's America's Cup Event Authority abruptly withdrew from its planned development on the site.

As was the case with Team Ellison, the Warriors have been offered Seawall Lot 330, across The Embarcadero from Piers 30-32, in return for the team's heavy investment. That plot was appraised at $25 million two years ago and will soon be reappraised. Seawall Lot 330 is already zoned for development such as condos or office space, but just what the Warriors might put on the spot may be unknown even to the ownership group.

Building a waterfront arena could be even more of a process than assembling a playoff-caliber basketball squad. Lacob and Guber -- who, notably, held their first press conference as Warriors owners in San Francisco, not Oakland -- already promised to do the latter. This did not come to pass.

Yet the contest that officially went public today is a whole other ballgame. In order to have the privilege of spending some $500 million -- on the heels of buying the Warriors for a record $450 million less than two years ago -- the team must win the approval of the Port Commission, Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the State Lands Commission, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors -- among others. Multiple reports, permits, environmental impact reports, and other such documents will be generated. Additional watercolorists may be necessary. Pushback by concerned parties is a certainty.

The city hopes to submit to the Board of Supervisors a preliminary agreement that includes a study of fiscal feasibility by Labor Day. At that point, the Budget and Legislative Analyst's office will have a crack at it -- and then the number-crunching will begin in earnest.

But today, none of that drudgery was on the agenda. Today was happy talk and jersey photos, and gorgeous ethereal schematics -- er, watercolors -- of an arena on the bay.

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