San Francisco waterfront arena opponents declare victory after Golden State Warriors shift plans to Mission Bay

Thearon W. Henderson

Opponents of the Warriors' proposed waterfront arena declared victory yesterday after San Francisco media outlets reported that the franchise has purchased a site in the city's Mission Bay neighborhood instead with the arena slated to be completed by 2018. But rather than a defeat for the franchise, the move might be the most logical business decision for the franchise if still disheartening to East Bay fans.

Not long after John Cote of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Golden State Warriors had abandoned their plans to build an arena on Piers 30-32, the San Francisco Waterfront Alliance sent out an email announcement to its supporters declaring victory in protecting the waterfront from further development.

We have exciting news to share with you!

The Golden State Warriors just announced they are abandoning their plans to build their massive arena, retail and luxury high rise condo & hotel tower on Pier 30-32 and Seawall Lot 330!  The new arena instead will be built in Mission Bay on a 12 acre site at 3rd and 16th Streets.  To read the breaking news, please click here.

"This is a spectacular victory for the people of San Francisco," said former Mayor Art Agnos, a volunteer for the San Francisco Waterfront Alliance.  "We protected our Bay and waterfront while at the same time gained a basketball team for our City in the right location.  This shows the value of community involvement and active participation in developing plans for the future of our waterfront and City."

We want to thank you so much for all your support and dedication! Without your efforts we would not be celebrating this victory today!

On behalf of the entire team at the San Francisco Waterfront Alliance, we want to express our gratitude for volunteering your time, donating money and joining with us!

Sincerely,

San Francisco Waterfront Alliance

http://www.sfwaterfront.org/

To the extent that the Alliance's organizing efforts managed to achieve the end goal of preventing building on the waterfront, this will probably be framed as a romantic case study of what an empowered democratic citizenry can accomplish when well-organized. However, it was not necessarily a victory achieved by overpowering or even exhausting their opponent - it's moreso about the Warriors conceding terrain made too difficult to fight on in favor of a much more accommodating situation.

As described by Randy Shaw of BeyondChron.com, higher turnout in the upcoming election might have helped to defeat the Waterfront Height Limit Initiative aimed squarely at stonewalling the Warriors legislatively despite reports to the contrary - though a contentious topic wrapped in up in a broader local discourse about how the city's land should be used, it's not inconceivable that the Warriors could've scored a victory at the ballot box. But the prospect of continuing to fight that measure along with other potential challenges that would inevitably crop up made the move to Mission Bay far more practical, as Warriors owner Joe Lacob described in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami.

I think we could’ve gotten the other one (at Piers 30/32) done, I really believe that. We did a lot of polling, and we could’ve won. But there was opposition–lawsuits and everything–that could’ve held us up for a while. This has a much easier and simpler regulatory path. Much. There’s no state land jurisdiction, there’s no port jurisdiction, there’s no BCDC jurisdiction, there’s no army corps of engineers jurisdiction...And we have height limits that go to 160 feet, so we don’t have a problem there. You just start adding all of these things up and as a businessman, as someone who’s responsible to my share-holders, to my other co-owners, to our fans and to everybody, it just became a much more practical thing to do.

With the number of financial and legislative barriers to the waterfront project potentially rising, we can credit the Warriors' opponents for successfully making the project too costly to pursue thus making it a war no longer worth fighting. Yet from the Warriors' business perspective, the combination of the costs at the piers and the availability of the Mission Bay plot make the change of venue more of a logical decision than a demoralized retreat.

As widely reported now, Salesforce originally bought the Mission Bay property in 2010 with the intent to build its own campus there. Yet, as described well by Rhamesis Muncada of NewBallpark.org, Salesforce was looking to sell part of the property to UCSF before agreeing to a deal to occupy the Transbay Tower. If there's any doubt about how eager Salesforce was to pass the property on, perhaps a generous donation to UCSF tells the story as reported by Adam Grossberg, Lisa Pickoff-White and Mina Kim of KQED News.

Not only will the Warriors own the property outright, but owner Joe Lacob says the team will privately finance construction of the stadium.

"It might be the first time that there's been a clear entire private funding of not only construction but also the land," Zimbalist said. "It looks like Mr. Lacob is going the extra mile to get this deal done. And perhaps breaking new ground in terms of private financing."

If the Warriors' new neighbor, UC San Francisco, has any concerns, a $100 million donation to the university from Salesforce's CEO Marc Benioff may have helped.

Whether a stroke of luck or brilliant strategy to create their own luck, Lacob & Co. were ultimately able to take advantage of Salesforce's circumstances to create a win-win-win scenario for all involved: while the waterfront project opponents celebrate a victory (that includes a sports owner taking greater responsibility for financing a sports facility), Salesforce shed a burden they were looking to get out from under, and the Warriors - in something of a middle ground compromise with a city full of debate about land-use - still get their San Francisco arena on land they'll own rather than lease without really making public transportation access any less convenient. We can criticize the ownership for not making good on the original promise, but as Muncada suggests, the transition to the plan B was about as smooth and well-planned as a businessperson could hope for.

For East Bay fans who wanted the Warriors to remain tethered to Oakland, this news might feel like a bit of a blow: the move to San Francisco is all but certain at this point, if delayed until 2018, and the potential novelty value of making the trek across the bay for a waterfront "sports entertainment experience" no longer exists. As the team returns home from their first round split in L.A. with the Clippers, the playoff atmosphere of Oracle Arena could make ownership's persistence in moving across the bridge even more disheartening as Oakland continues its fight to keep its pro sports teams.

For more on the Warriors' intended move to S.F., check out our storystream following the unfolding story.

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