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Warriors Arena Talk With Rick Welts

Last month Rick Welts gave an in-depth talk about the Warriors' new San Francisco arena to CMAC, the California Music and Culture Association.

Thearon W. Henderson

This post is long overdue, but better late than never. Last month, I had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by Steven Lee of CMAC (California Music and Culture Association) at SupperClub, where they invited Golden State Warriors President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Welts to come and discuss the ramifications of the Warriors new arena slated for 2017, on the local community.

Welts was accompanied by Ellen Warner, VP of Development of the Warriors, who is overseeing the arena project. Also present was PJ Johnston, Warriors arena spokesman, who seemed to have every possible statistic or number about the arena ingrained in his brain. Below is a transcript of the talk, but I also first got a chance to ask Warner the two most basic questions Dubs fans might have:

  1. When does construction on the arena start?, and
  2. Who's paying for it?

There's 362 some-odd steel piles that will lay down the foundation of the currently decaying Pier 30-32 and that will begin in 2015. The Warriors are paying for the redevelopment of the pier and the arena that will sit on the new site. Some estimates had the city of San Francisco's previous task of not letting the pier crumble into the Bay at $40-60 million. Estimates for the arena are well over $100 million. Warner said that the Warriors could recoup some of the cost from tax reimbursements, but they won't own the land. They're mostly doing this "just because". And you'll see from Welts's transcript that it definitely feels like the Warriors are doing SF a favor.

With that, below is the transcript. I've highlighted some of the more interesting things in bold. I must preface by saying that the transcript isn't perfect, I didn't research and confirm everything, and it took me a few hours to do, so this is what you get for now (imperfect journalism). There's plenty of other information about the Warriors arena out there, just Google it. There should be design enhancements to be announced by the Warriors at the end of next month, April.


I’m here with Ellen Warner. Ellen is the VP of Development of the Warriors. I get to make the promises and it’s her job to actually get this going, so she’s got a lot harder job than me.

So what we want to do is to share the vision of the project for you. If there’s any group that we hope feels as excited as we do about this, I hope it’s the people in this room. I think for the entertainment and events community for our city, this is going to be an extraordinary addition.

I am new to the market, but not new to this business. I’ve been involved since I was sixteen years old -- and I’m not going to tell you [inaudible] because that would make me sound really old -- but I can tell you that in the world of arenas and sports, people have always looked at the San Francisco market with bewilderment. How is it possible that this amazing city that has so much to offer, culturally, entertainment-wise, technology-wise, has never had a world-class multi-purpose arena?

There is no city half of the size of the city of San Francisco in the United States, that does not have a facility like this -- not as good as this one, but a facility like this. So when our new ownership took over the Warriors... Those of you who know, the history of franchise: it was one of the original franchises in the NBA, born in Philadelphia, relocated to the Bay Area, played many years in San Francisco before moving to its current location in Oakland. We’ve played in beautiful venues like the Cow Palace. Believe it or not, it’s a very little known fact that the Warriors played two years in the Civic Auditorium. That’s true. And of course now we’re in Oracle Arena. We have a lease that expires in five years and last May, along with Mayor Lee, Gavin Newsom, the Commissioner of the NBA, Joe Lacob, Peter Guber, our owners, we got up and announced on this site that the Warriors want to be playing basketball in a new, privately funded arena for the 2017-18 NBA season.

So, that’s sounds like a lot of time. It’s not. We are using everyday wisely. We have a lot of processes to go through. We are absolutely embracing that process. We’ve had over a hundred community meetings of various sizes at this point already. The design is being influenced by the input we’ve received.

There are a couple of things about the project itself, for those of you who are familiar with Piers 30-32. This one is actually maybe a little better [grabs a placard showing a bird’s eye view of the arena relative to King Street and AT&T Park]. You can see the Bay Bridge here, AT&T Park here. This is a little closer version of the site plan [points to original placard of bird’s eye view of Pier 30-32). Thirteen acres on the Embarcadero, extending out over the waters.

As we said, right now, an eyesore; it’s a parking lot that’s literally crumbling into the bay but we are proposing to bring this back to life, in what I hope you’re gonna find, in a new and exciting way. The centerpiece, certainly, is the new multi-purpose venue. Smaller than the one we’re playing in now. We are vying for 17,500 seats as opposed to the 19,500 seats that we have, very much designed for basketball and for music. Those are really our two drivers.

We expect there’ll be something in the neighborhood of 200 events over the course of any calendar year. Only 45 or so of those events will be Warriors games. That’ll be 17,500 people. But the vast majority of the other events are of a size smaller than that. There are the family shows that have to bypass San Francisco now. There are the concerts that have to bypass San Francisco now, go to HP or go to Oracle.

We’ve also challenged the architects to do something that we hope they are very successful in doing. And that’s doing the best job that’s ever been done in taking a building of this size and reducing its size for other events. Events in the 6,000- to 8,000-seat capacity area.

We’ve actually even -- this is the main entrance which will enter you right at the main concourse level, but we have a completely separate entrance down in this corner which we’re calling our theater entrance which will take you into this kind of building-within-a-building that will be that smaller-size facility. The other real beneficiary of this is the hospitality and the hotel industry, probably our -- and I’m quote [inaudible] from San Francisco Travel -- this is the biggest void that our Visitors’ Convention Bureau has when trying to attract major conventions to the city of San Francisco. We don’t have a place where 15,000 or more people can gather indoors, not worry about weather [inaudible] the centerpiece of the convention that meets a venue of that size.

So, needless to say [inaudible] the Visitors’ Convention Bureau, hotel community, and the hospitality community, who have many of the same interests as you do, in getting more people to come to the city and spend money enjoying all the great things that we can provide: food, entertainment, and info. I think what really surprised a lot of people at first was the architectural team that we picked. We have paired with San Francisco-based company AECOM, who has more experience doing these types of sports venues than any other firm in the country. We’ve paired them with a company called Sonetta, an Oslo-based architectural firm, very well-known here in San Francisco [inaudible] ...American clients.

Sonetta as you know here is involved in the spectacular expansion of SFMOMA and they have also two other little projects out there like the World Trade Center Memorial, the redevelopment of Times Square. They actually have a lot of experience very high-profile public buildings on sites that are off the water. [inaudible] ...combined with nuts and bolts knowledge of what a sports/entertainment venue needs to be [inaudlble] the architectural team very well.

The other thing is out of that thirteen acres, over fifty percent is going to be new publicly accessible space. Again, you can walk, ride your back, or run around the entire perimeter of the site. There’ll be slow work-in-progress different areas, [inaudlble] a major plaza [inaudible] ...lots of green space. The whole project is set back from the Embarcadero. This is 600 feet away from the Embarcadero itself, so I would contrast that with AT&T Park which literally sits 25 feet off of King Street.

Here, what the architects have done, by placing the arena far in here, preserved spectacular view corridors that frame the Bay Bridge. And we have a lot of excitement about the views that we’re actually going to be creating here. Probably the most distinctive architectural element about the project is an exterior ramp. It will be a publicly accessible space and that’s a ramp that you’ll actually be able to walk all the way around the arena to a location probably over here where [inaudible] provide what we think [inaudible] one of the few must-have postcard views of the Bay Bridge in city of San Francisco. [Points to other placard] This is a way you can envision sunrise in the Summer of 2017 over San Francisco Bay. I think the other one we have over there will give you at least a feeling of what that exterior ramp would look like if you were inside the facility itself.

So with that, I’d like to open it up to any questions that you might have...


Q: You’ve mentioned before that you’re interested in promoting community programming and that you’re not going to hire one specific promoter to do all of your bookings, is that correct?

[inaudible] The answer is, that’s our plan. One of the frustrations in the way we are organized right now is we play in an arena that’s owned by the city of Oakland and the county of Alameda. They hire a management company, which is currently AEG, they hire a concessions company and they hire staff that everyone thinks works for the Warriors but none of those people really do. We’re trying to provide a great customer experience. Going in, our plan is to manage this building. They’re our employees, responsible to us. We’re responsible for the experience that people have coming there and to handle all the bookings of all events that take place here ourselves. We’re not looking to align ourselves with one of the management concert companies. Everybody’s welcome and that’s an important [inaudible].

Q: How do you anticipate the Warriors drawing participants and fans to the neighborhood? How will it affect the local economy?

I guess a couple things I didn’t mention is we are also, in addition to the arena, putting 80,000 to 100,000 square feet of retail. Retail primarily from leverage that supports activities in the arena itself. The city is always considering anyone willing to undertake the extraordinary costs of rehabilitating these piers that’s had an opportunity to develop [inaudible] directly across the street.

So we’re much farther ahead, I would say, in our planning for (Piers) 30-32 than we are here but we’re definitely envisioning a lot of that retail that will be there as well. I mean this -- in our view, we are giving back a seven-acre park back to the city of San Francisco which today is a parking lot. And the activities that are going to be programmed here, I think, are going to be driven a lot by the business interests that have interests in a site like this.

We are open to the idea of relocating the city’s fireboat fleet, which is kind of represented here [points to northwest corner of bird’s eye view map]. We’re open to the idea of this being a place that ferries can directly access from Alameda [inaudible], Marin, or wherever. So I think it’s going to be driven a little bit by what the community wants.

Most importantly, which I didn’t mention, is Red’s Java House is safe. No touching that ground. [applause] [inaudible] ...get your cheeseburger and your beer and be outside [inaudible]

Q: ...I have one concern [inaudible] ...if I have to go to Oakland and go to work and there’s a Warriors game going on, I see really no type of parking or traffic mitigation. This beautiful facility assumes that everybody’s going to come by public transportation and I’m wondering what type of mitigation [inaudible] to try and get that traffic coming and going without [inaudible] impact on the community.

Well, there’s really no one who shares concerns with that more than we do, ‘cause we’re talking about investing a billion dollars into this project. If people aren’t happy getting to it and leaving it, we’ve got a really, really big problem, okay? I think we share that interest with the Giants as well. But what the city has done, to their credit, is recognize that the development -- not only, forget our development, if it never happened -- that public transportation at this structure has outlived the development that’s gone on and it’s on the Board’s [inaudible] that it’s being built today in the South of Market Area.

So the city has designated a few dollars from the MTA to lead a study, not only in the immediate area here, but the entire waterfront and present the city with a plan that will make sure that this area has the right kind of public transportation that’s needed not just for this project but for every other use along the waterfront. Right? [motions to Ellen Warner] We can expect to see a draft in the Spring. That, I think, is going to be a very important component.

There’s a limited amount of parking that’s envisioned underneath this plaza right here [audience member asks for clarification] just a very limited number of spots that actually is required to deal with what’s going on immediately in the arena itself. There are 16,000 parking places available within a 20-minute walk here. The Muni station is right here [points to the southwest corner of the map].

The BART station, interestingly if you have taken BART to a Warriors game, is equidistant -- the BART station from Embarcadero to this side is equidistant to the BART station at the Coliseum to Oracle Arena today. I would also say it’s a little more pleasant walk [inaudible] San Francisco. And we have a smaller venue.

And I want to quantify it for you. Again, the majority of events will only be at the sold-out arena. Currently at Oracle we capture every part of the profits as there’s nowhere else to park. For 19,500 people attending, two thousand more than here [points to new Warriors arena placard], the maximum number of cars we’ve ever parked is 5,000. So, reduce that by some percentage of the size here, much-enhanced public transportation and the availability, especially at night, of other parking in the area and the fact that a lot of people can watch it who can’t walk to a game now. There’s the financial district; I live three blocks from here, I walk to the Giants games, I’ve been walking to these games. So, our hope is that we’re going to greatly reduce the number of cars and the impact those cars are going to have. But we have to get that right. WE have to. It’s, it’s top of the list.

Q: One more thing, I can’t remember if you’ve talked about, you’ve said in the past that you’ve got the capacity to shrink it down to [inaudible] ...multi-use case. Can you talk about that?

Well, you know, in our view, it’s never really been done well. [inaudible] ...this idea of having an effective venue-within-the-venue. And that’s what we challenge our architects to do. Whether they do that different equipment, whether they do that by reassembling existing equipment, whether they do that with a ceiling structure, whether they do that with a curtaining structure, that’s what their job is to figure out. And so our view is that we want this to be as enjoyable a 4,000-seat venue as is it a 17,000-seat performance, but that’s a big challenge.

In our view, it’s been done okay before, it’s never been done really well. And that’s really where the vast majority of the events that will be playing here, that’s where the sweet spot is.

Q: Quick question, Rick. I’m on the Board of CMAC, and ever since you guys made your presentation to our Board, we’ve been in support of this particular project and right now. But now we’re watching it and everybody in the city is asking, and one of things we look at is the design reaction. Do you guys have design flexibility as you move in to the next stages, to respond to the design criticisms that have been raised that of a high-profile structure by the Bay?

The next iteration of designs that we’ll see at the end of April, we’ll announce at that time you’re going to see, it’s already changed a lot. A couple of things that you may have read about already, we’ve actually moved the building, as it was originally envisioned, the roof may have even extended over the East edge of here. The whole building’s actually going to be moved back a little bit. What that’s allowed us to do is to accommodate -- this is the last natural deep-water [inaudible] there is in San Francisco and that will accommodate an occasional cruise ship or other large ship maybe during Fleet Week that, when the new cruise ship terminals [inaudible], it will be another place on occasion for a cruise ship. [inaudible] We heard that loud and clear. [inaudible] ...envisioned in the last project [inaudible] that is something that is important as well.

The amount of retail, we’ve actually decreased the amount of retail that we’d talked about. Originally [inaudible] up to 120,000 square feet of retail, that’s south of 100,000 square of retail. I think the programming on the pier itself is evolving based on what we’ve heard. At the end of the day we are building a 17,500-seat arena here.

Q: You guys taking it down?

Well, we’ve already taken it down 2,000 from --

Q: No, no, not the number. I’m talking about the height, feet.

Not unless you want to have an aquarium [audience laughs]. That hasn’t been presented to us yet.

Q: A lot of these nightclubs here, they get blamed for homelessness issues. They get blamed for things. I’m wondering how you’re going to secure the pier when there’s no events there. And it will be fine when there’s activity and it’s lit and I know you have to keep it open for public access, but I’m kind of worried about the neighbors blaming you guys and everybody else for the homeless encampment that might, in fact, end up in the green space.

Number one, one of the positives of this venue versus a single-purpose venue like a baseball stadium or a football stadium is, we will be programming this 200 days a year. There will be many fewer dark nights than there are at other civic venues.

The other thing is that we have to manage it, okay? We’re not telling the city, "You go use public disbursements to manage safety and other public issues on there." We’re taking on that responsibility ourselves. We think there’s some good models out there. We’ve spent a lot of time in Yerba Buena Park, which I think you would say probably has been managed very well it’s been able to deal with those issues. [inaudible] ...we understand that the overall success of the project’s going to be creating a safe place where people feel very comfortable whether or not there’s a venue going on. It’s a private responsibility. Folks might agree that it will work out better than if it was a public responsibility that we had [inaudible] tax dollars.

Q: There are promoters here that actually came out and actually are transparent to the industry. I know you’re having an amphitheater built. I want to know if you can explain to the promoters, how they can also help bring some of their great talent to this area because I think the promoters, you know, they get a bad cut but they are great promoters, they have great connections. How does your amphitheater that you are having on the site, maybe you can get them interested involving with what you guys are doing?

I wish -- you will be able to when the site is more fully designed and developed than it was in the original concept, right here that you’re talking about [points to immediate area next to the western side of the arena on the map]. [inaudible] I don’t know what the final [inaudible] ...we’re listening to community groups, we’re listening to the city, we’re listening to everybody, but the reality is we have seven acres [inaudible]

We want this to be as active a space as we possibly can within whatever restrictions, what we can and we can’t do. Certainly noise is a big issue when the Giants stadium was being constructed, the difference being that’s an open-air facility. When you play a concert at the Giants stadium you [inaudible] obviously, this is not. [inaudible] self-contained within the venue itself. But the community’s got a lot to say as to what we can do and how we can do it outside of the venue and to the extent we can make that available to create active programming there when we want to do it. [inaudible] We will always remember ground rules [inaudible] budget limitations [inaudible] but our intention is to do as much of that programming as we’re allowed to do.

Q: And the follow-up to that would be exterior space. Would it be possible for something like a daytime jazz festival or a faire that was community-sponsored of various artisans and crafts people, things of that nature that bring the community to the space, nonprofit space?

We would love it. We hope we have [inaudible] opportunity to program it that way. The only thing we’ve brokered so far is [inaudible] Christmas tree lot which will be located right here [points to southwest corner of pier] in this corner near Delancey Street. [inaudible] not to worry, you will not lose your Christmas trees. But those are the types of things [inaudible].


Here are some useful links I found... (SF Planning Commission meeting, two days later) (latest renderings)

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