MISSION BAY — As he stood on a platform overseeing the city beneath him, Warriors rookie forward Jordan Bell saw numerous sites that made him smile.
Bell observed a handful of cranes moving heavy materials. He admired the various construction workers on the ground moving from one place to another. Then he saw a sign that read, “Future Home of Champions,” a fitting message that defines the Warriors’ mission statement and explains the purpose for all the activity.
This week, Bell became the first Warriors player to tour the construction site of the team’s new home at Chase Center beginning in the 2019-20 season. After taking a nearly hour-long hardhat tour to soak in the views and gain a better understanding of the arena’s progress, Bell playfully raised his hands to the sky.
“It’s pretty cool,” Bell said as he eyed the architecture. “I’m intrigued in seeing how it’s coming together right now. Every angle I get, I see the arena differently. I think it’s going to come out really well.”
Others on the Warriors said they feel the same way.
Warriors president Rick Welts reported that Chase Center remains on pace to open on the fall of 2019 as announced when breaking ground on Jan. 17, 2017. Peter Bryan, the Warriors’ vice president of construction and development, added “we have hit all of our scheduled milestones.” In late November, steel erection work started on the site. On Nov. 2018, Bryan and Welt said Chase Center and its adjacent facilities will have a roof as well as glass and metal panel that will protect the structures from rain.
Lastly, Warriors senior vice president of business development Brandon Schneider offered a prediction that could upset those in the Big Apple.
“Some people say that Chase Center will be the Madison Square Garden of the West Coast,” Schneider said, before delivering his punch line. “We like to think that Madison Square Garden will become the Chase Center of the East Coast.”
Should sports fans eventually view Chase Center as the World’s Most Famous Arena?
“It’s halfway in jest,” Schneider said, chuckling. “But we think Madison Square Garden is a world-class venue, and Chase Center will be as well. We think every tour is going to come here. This will be something to come to nationwide as how they want it built.”
Climbing through hurdles
As he sat in his office at the Warriors’ practice facility in downtown Oakland this week, Welts appeared relaxed as he addressed the arena’s progress. That hardly described his emotions nearly 5½ years ago when Welts, former NBA commissioner David Stern and other executives accepted an invitation from late San Francisco mayor Ed Lee to build a venue on Piers 30-32. Then, Welts believed the Warriors would unveil their next arena there beginning in 2017 after playing in Oakland fulltime since 1971.
Soon, the Warriors encountered too many roadblocks to count.
“I like you too much to share all the pain,” Welts joked.
So here is the Cliffs Notes version: Political problems emerged over public financing. Regulatory challenges loomed over the arena being built over water. Logistical concerns arose over the feasibility of using public transportation to and from the arena. The Mission Bay Alliance, which represents UC San Francisco donors, stakeholders and faculty, opposed the construction over the arena’s presence possibly disrupting access to its hospital and emergency rooms.
Mark Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, eventually called Warriors CEO Joe Lacob and informed him he had a four-acre site in Mission Bay that was ready for construction. The Warriors privately financed the project that costs about $1 billion, meaning that taxpayers will neither pay the bill and the Warriors will reap all the profits. The project also coincides with the creation of a 5.5-acre public park on the waterfront across from the arena, both to address environmental concerns, offer more picturesque views and provide another source of entertainment before and after events.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a California Environment Quality Act report that showed the city’s plan to build a new central subway. A judge ruled in the Warriors’ favor after the Mission Bay Alliance filed a lawsuit, and the court of appeals later upheld the decision.
Through all those headaches, Welts said the initial delay in the project’s approval is “probably the reason we’re starting and able to open in 2019.”
“We’ve had a very long period of time to plan this,” Welts said. “Because of that, the planning was not condensed to a shorter period of time when maybe more things could’ve gone wrong and we didn’t understand everything about the project. It has been absolutely flawless.”
Will the Warriors feel the same way once Chase Arena presumably opens for the 2019-20 season? According to a recent report in the San Francisco Chronicle, Tutor Perini Corp. said the Central Subway System will not be completed until 2021 because of “infrastructure delays.”
“It would certainly be disappointing to us,” Welts said. “That would initially present to us more of a challenge.”
Nonetheless, Welts said he has received conflicting information on whether that delayed timeline will happen. Welts added the mayor’s office quickly informed the Warriors that the Central Subway System still remains on pace to finish by the end of 2019. Either way, Welts said the Warriors have outlined contingency plans for both scenarios.
Best-case scenario: Chase Center’s unveiling coincides with the Central Subway System’s. Then, fans can get off at the Powell Street BART station and transfer on the Central Subway System underground at the same location. Welts said those fans will “literally end up 300 feet from our foot door.”
Worst-case scenario: For however long Chase Center operates without the Central Subway System as a transportation option, fans can get off the Embarcadero BART station and then take a ride-sharing service, taxi or Muni to the arena.
Fans have other options besides using public transportation.
Chase Center will have 950 on-site parking stalls, 2,400 stalls near AT&T Park and 6,000 additional parking spaces within a half-mile of the arena. They will have a bicycle valet that can store up to 300 bikes. They will have a dedicated pickup and dropoff zone for ride-sharing services and taxis. The Warriors and city planners have discussed the possibility of a ferry service being available.
With Chase Center holding 18,064 people, Welts expressed optimism any congestion issues will be less severe than anything experienced at AT&T Park, which holds up to 41,915 fans.
Meanwhile, the Warriors have calculated how long it will take for fans to arrive at Chase Center from each BART station. Using Google maps that accounted for typical traffic on Wednesdays at 6 p.m., the Warriors have found that a ride from an East Bay BART station will take an average of 15 minutes longer than it would to arrive at Oracle Arena. Interestingly, the Warriors calculated it would take fans 25 minutes to get to Chase Center from the West Oakland BART station, as opposed to 23 minutes to Oracle Arena.
The Warriors argued the estimated times might decrease when accounting for fans leaving much earlier before the game and later after the game because of the arena’s onsite retail stores and restaurants.
“It’s much more manageable in terms of the number of people that we’re talking about accommodating,” Welts said. “It’s on us, in partnership with the city, to make sure that whatever the circumstances are when the building opens, even if it’s just a temporary situation, that we may make it as good as we can make it.
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“It makes things a lot easier”
It appears the Warriors have the same mindset with what this will mean for their players.
Currently, the Warriors practice in downtown Oakland about 15 minutes from Oracle Arena. When the Warriors begin playing at Chase Center, they will practice at a facility adjacent to the arena. The Warriors staff will work onsite, too.
“That’s a big change,” Welts said. “The locker-room facilities, the training facilities, all of the amenities will be part of the player campus that will be something they’re experiencing every day. It’s not just on game days and not just on practice days.”
What happens to the Warriors’ current practice facility in downtown Oakland?
“That is a really good question that I’m not ready to answer,” Welts said. “But we have some news coming. I’m not exactly sure what the timeline of that will be. But we actually see this facility where we are sitting in downtown Oakland as something we want to maintain once we have moved our primary office facilities to San Francisco.”
Welts said the Warriors intend to finalize more definitive plans “certainly within the next 12 months.” Bell does not need that much time, though, to understand the implications, even if his view of the new practice facility amounted entailed seeing steel structures surrounded by dirt. As Bell noted, “If you want to live close to the practice facility, now you don’t have to choose.”
“That’s great. You get a better feel for how our sweet spots are on the floor. I know for me personally, I have different spots on the floor at the practice facility than the actual facility,” Bell added. “I think it’s good to have it here. You just go in and go to the regular arena and shoot whenever you want.”
Bell likely shares the perspective of all players that he mostly remains concerned if the Warriors will win at the same pace at Chase Center as they have at Oracle Arena, which holds a slightly higher capacity of 19,596 fans. After enjoying a “totally different” fan atmosphere at Oracle Arena than what he encountered at the University of Oregon, Bell wondered how the environment at Chase Center will compare to his current workplace.
“I want to see if it can get as loud as Oracle again,” Bell said. “When we get things going at Oracle, it gets really loud. It definitely affects the way we play and definitely affects the opponent the way they play. When Oracle gets super loud, it’s kind of hard to play in there.”
The Next Step
As the Warriors prepare for their move, Welts stressed that “we’re not forgetting about Oakland.” Since launching the Oakland-themed “Town” jerseys in early November, the Warriors touted that jersey has accounted for 34 percent of their sales through their website. Welts added the Warriors will continue to hold events in Oakland, including player promotional appearances and work with the franchise’s community foundation. Welts plans to offer other details soon.
While the Warriors maintain they will still keep some of their roots in Oakland, a virtual tour of Chase Center suggests a new atmosphere than what Oracle Arena offers. Chase Center will offer more suites then Oracle Arena (136 compared to 84), broader width on the main concourse (30 feet vs. 20 feet) and upper concourse (20 feet vs. 12 feet) as well as the number of retail stores and restaurants (up to 29 vs. 0). Inside, the Warriors will have concessions that mirror local favorites, including Hot Dog Bills, Bakesale Betty, Sam’s Chowder House, Tacolicious and Big Nate’s Barbecue.
The virtual tour showed that the club suites and theater boxes offers a full kitchen, bar and living room area with multiple big screen TVs. While the courtside lounges provides only a big-screen view to the live television feed instead of a view of the court, it takes an average of 15 seconds to walk to the designated courtside lounge seat. Thus far, Schneider said the Warriors have sold 42 of 44 club suites, 25 of 32 court-side lounges and 30 of 60 theater boxes.
Details are not available on ticket prices, but the Warriors have offered a membership program to purchase season tickets that are fully refundable after the 30-year membership term. The Warriors are also offering installment plans to spread out payments, while also allowing fans to sell or transfer their membership to others.
While the Warriors are expected to benefit from such added revenue streams, they also plan to host 200 events per year, possibly including future NCAA tournaments and NBA All-Star Games.
Much work awaits before then, though. As Bell surveyed the landscape, though, he saw a sign that basically summed up what the construction site suggested.
“The future is here.”