A looming political battle and the prospect of slogging through a Byzantine San Francisco regulatory process could have been enough for the Warriors to abandon their ideal vision for a waterfront arena. But instead, the death knell was a mere phone call.
That call came about six weeks ago, when Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff phoned Warriors CEO Joe Lacob, said team President Rick Welts.
Benioff had a piece of land to sell, and he wanted to know if the Warriors were interested. His company’s plans for the site had been jettisoned now that it was gearing up to occupy half of the future Transbay Tower.
The Mission Bay site had been eyed by the Warriors before, team spokesman Nathan Ballard said, but the cost had been too prohibitive.
Still, that was before the waterfront arena’s costs kept jumping and the plans ran into the political and planning logjam that is San Francisco.
Thus, negotiations for Mission Bay began.
“It was a very high-level, spirited negotiation that got us to the right place in the end for both proprietors,” Welts said.
Those negotiations were no guarantee of a deal until everyone signed on the dotted line. That only happened Saturday night after the Warriors beat the Los Angeles Clippers in their playoff opener, Welts said.
As for the price tag, Salesforce and the Warriors signed a nondisclosure agreement. But Welts did admit that, “This will actually be a more expensive site for us than Piers 30-32.”
Until recently, the franchise was readying itself for a long fight over the waterfront site. That included contending with Proposition B, a June ballot measure that if passed would require voter approval to increase height limits on waterfront developments — something the Warriors would have faced.
“As recently as a couple weeks ago, we were putting our political team together,” Ballard said of the team’s planned political fight for the waterfront arena.
The day before the deal was announced — when calls were being made to the likes of Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Linscheid and former mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom — Welts was giving the news to several erstwhile political opponents, and in person.
First he had breakfast in Potrero Hill with former Mayor Art Agnos, a major opponent of the waterfront arena site.
“He was kind enough to say, ‘You had a big influence’” on the decision to move the arena, Agnos said of Welts.
Then Welts headed to North Beach for coffee with another opponent, former District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin.
“People will be surprised what a productive relationship I have with each of those guys,” Welts said. “I think they are happy with the outcome here.”
LEE’S ‘LEGACY PROJECT’ CHANGES
Mayor Ed Lee — who called the waterfront arena his “legacy project” when it was first announced in May 2012 — was told about the deal’s completion just last weekend, according to mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey. However, Lee had known about the Mission Bay option for “some time,” she added.
“Once it became a serious option, the Mayor’s Office was actively collaborating,” said Ballard, adding that Lee’s office has been involved for “several weeks.”
The political dimension of the waterfront project, among other things, helped push the decision to buy the Mission Bay property, but it was not the only factor.
“Our owners didn’t lose sight of their true goal, which was to bring the Warriors to San Francisco,” Ballard said. “The goal was not to become a lighting rod or focal point of political discourse in San Francisco. We were prepared to deal with that world, but that’s not why the owners ultimately decided to make the move to San Francisco.”
COST AND CONSTRUCTION
The cost of the Warriors’ new Mission Bay arena is unknown at this time — the original waterfront arena plan was pegged at $1 billion — but the Warriors estimate construction will begin in the next couple of years on an 18,000-seat venue much the same size as the original building.
The team is aiming to start the 2018-19 season in the new arena, which is one year later than it originally planned to be playing games in The City. The arena will be located along Third Street between South and 16th streets.
Now, the privately financed arena will be on private land, much of it already entitled for office and retail. What’s more, the arena will not be leased, which would have been the case on the waterfront.
Another shift is that waterfront project upgrades would have been financed by condominiums right across The Embarcadero from the arena.
For now, team President Rick Welts said, the next step is to complete an arena redesign.