The San Francisco Giants haven't corked their bat in the campaign to build their own $250 million ballpark complex at China Basin. But -- to push the baseball metaphor -- they're concealing their signs in their public relations blitz to win votes for Proposition B.
Assisting the Giants in their quest for secrecy is the Port of San Francisco: According to correspondence from the Port to the team freed by a Sunshine Ordinance request, last November the Giants shared with Port Executive Director Dennis P. Bouey and his staff the idea of building a "Music pavilion, with seating capacity of 8,000 persons" at the park.
It's not news that the Giants want to present "live music performances and other forms of live entertainment" at the park -- that is the exact language of Prop. B. Most interpret this phrase to mean that each summer the Giants would host in the ballpark a few mega-concerts headlined by stadium dinosaurs like the Stones and Pink Floyd.
What is news is that the Giants have explored with the Port the possibility of building and operating a separate, 8,000-seat, year-round music pavilion at the China Basin site. This is sure to further rile the "No on B" groups who opposed the Giants' plan, arguing that the ballpark would destroy the South Beach neighborhood by converting it into an entertainment zone.
The music pavilion scheme is mentioned in two November letters to Giants legal counsel Jack Bair from Bouey and Kari Kilstrom, a planner at the Port. (The Port is involved in ballpark planning because it owns some of the land on the site.) The letters summarize a series of meetings in the fall between the Port and the team to produce a "Project Description" for the site as part of an environmental impact report. Representing the Giants at the sessions were legal counsel Bair, former City Planning Director Dean Macris (now working for the Giants), and Giants consultant Bob Harrison.
Bouey's letter reflects the Giants' desire to run the facility 365 days a year. He writes, "Is it fair to assume the Music Pavilion could be programmed year round (i.e. even in between home games during baseball season)?"
The Giants did not contradict the Port's assumption in writing. In fact, the Giants didn't write the Port at all. According to Deputy City Attorney Julie Van Nostern, who completed the Sunshine Ordinance request for SF Weekly, there is no correspondence from the Giants to the Port on the subject. The Giants obviously preferred to present their plans orally and conduct one-way correspondence because they didn't want to leave a paper trail that could uncover their possible entertainment-zone strategy.
Giants Vice President Larry Baer downplays the significance of the discussion of a music pavilion in the Port's letters to the team.
"Could there be other uses? Yes. But we haven't made any commitment to do anything," Baer says. "Our financials are based on 81 baseball games a year."
Baer acknowledges that the team has spoken to promoters for a possible music pavilion, but insists "zero is happening" on the music front. "We would view it as not doing our homework not to look for other uses" for the site, says the Giants VP.
The Giants' plan to finance the park in part with $140 million in bonds has baffled the baseball establishment. Assuming 9 percent interest rates over 20 years, the Giants would face an annual debt service of $15.3 million to occupy the ballpark. Few Major League Baseball (MLB) franchises spend as much as $4 million a year in rent. But by building a revenue-generating music pavilion, the Giants could assuage the fears of bond-buyers and, perhaps, begin to cover that $15.3 million nut.
The key to a successful music pavilion would be the right promoter with established relationships with artists and managers. In S.F., that right promoter would likely be Bill Graham Presents (BGP), the area's dominant live-music promoter. "The San Francisco Giants aren't crazy enough to compete against BGP," says Bob Grossweiner, New York bureau chief of the trade journal Performance.
BGP says the company has offered to assist the team in fund-raising for the new park but that is the limit of its involvement at this time.
If built, the 8,000-seat pavilion would fill a niche in San Francisco's live-music market. Local promoters have few indoor venues for acts who can't fill the chasmal Cow Palace (14,500 seats) but are too popular for the Warfield (2,250).
Predicting the revenues of a music pavilion that may or may not be built by the year 2000 is chancy, but in the rosiest scenario the venue could reap upward of $35 million. This optimistic figure assumes near-sellouts at the average ticket price of $25 and about 100 shows a year; paid parking at the 5,000 Giants-controlled spaces at $5 a slot; food and booze concessions at $10 a patron; and, depending on which acts play, anywhere from zero to $80,000 worth of merchandise sold per show. Profits accruing to the Giants could be in the millions. Optimistic numbers, but no more optimistic than the Giants' projections for ballpark ticket sales.
Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist says that in addition to covering the Giants' bond debt, non-baseball revenues would have a secondary financial benefit. If and when MLB institutes revenue-sharing, Giants management could honestly declare that the team was losing money and was unable to contribute financially to the small-revenue teams.
As the March 26 date for Prop. B rolls closer, the Giants and the city need to be more candid about exactly what sort of facility they intend. After all, the team is asking for $10 million in tax increment bond financing and a rollback in zoning restrictions.
In addition to "play ball" and "strike up the band," the Giants are also mouthing the words "soup's on." Another revenue enhancer cooking at their China Basin real estate play -- and detailed in the Port-to-Giants correspondence -- is a gigantic, 58,300-square-foot sports bar/restaurant/brewpub complex that would operate 12 months a year. To give a sense of scale to this other ballpark attraction, it could seat about 4,000 patrons, which definitely is not the sort of news the residents of South Beach want to hear.