Golden State Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have proven to be effective stewards of the franchise, quickly discardiong the lack of direction that typified the Chris Cohan era and coming up with a coherent long-term plan. The Warriors look like a playoff team, seem to know how to appeal to prospective free agents, and have real goals. Things are looking up.
One of those long-term goals is building a state-of-the-art arena on San Francisco Bay. When the project was announced in May 2012, it looked like a somewhat sure thing with the full backing of city government. Then, after several new designs and increased efforts from various advocacy groups, the plan began to see more challenges without obvious answers from the design team and Warriors front office.
Those anti-arena efforts have worked, at least in part, because the Warriors have now put their arena plans on hold. From Phil Matier and Andrew Ross for the San Francisco Chronicle (via SFist):
The Golden State Warriors are putting their goal of opening a waterfront arena in San Francisco by 2017 on hold for a year - and maybe longer.
"It's about getting it right, not about getting it done fast," said Warriors President Rick Welts.
In the past 20 months, the team has produced three rough designs in an attempt to come up with one palatable to its prospective waterfront neighbors and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which must approve the deal. In the meantime, cost estimates for preparing Piers 30-32, on which the arena would sit, have doubled to $180 million.
The Warriors' acknowledgement that a 2017 opening won't happen comes just days before arena opponents are expected to turn in more than 15,000 signatures for a measure that would require the Warriors - and any other developer - to win voter approval to exceed current height limits along the waterfront. The deadline is Monday. [...]
Meanwhile, the team is in talks to stay at Oracle Arena in Oakland beyond the 2016-17 season.
The Matier and Ross article includes comments from San Francisco mayor Ed Lee on how proponents always expected voters to have a say in the arena decision, but it's hard not to see this news as a blow to the Warriors' aims. While the original 2017 estimate may have been an optimistic one, it never would have been set as a goal if the team and city hadn't believed it to be an attainable date. The year delay, which could become much longer and possibly turn into a way to overhaul the project, figures to buoy opponents' spirits and impede any momentum that exists for the arena. The Warriors may still be becoming a more popular and well-run franchise, but this represents a loss for the organization.
However, it's not clear that the Warriors made any crucial mistakes here apart from floating the idea in the first place. As I explained in November, San Francisco is currently in the midst of a series of related disagreements over the future of the city, in both philosophical and material terms. With the current tech industry boom leading to massive raises in rents and costs in a city that already had one of the highest standards of living in the country, there's a growing sense that San Francisco is losing any semblance of a middle class and losing touch with its cultural and activist roots. That feeling has only become greater in the last few months, with protests against tech company shuttle buses turning into a common sight. Residents inclined to look skeptically at rapid changes to the city feel as though they need to take a stand. (I include myself in this group, if only in spirit.)
The Warriors played in San Francisco from 1962 to 1971, so it's not as if they have no history in the city or aren't a major part of the Bay Area sporting landscape. But they're also not an established part of San Francisco culture in the same way as the Giants or 49ers, and the latter will play now its home games in Santa Clara (about an hour south) with little hand-wringing from SF residents. With the arena plans having much in common with another, failed scheme for a waterfront development, Lacob (who built his fortune in venture capital) and Guber (a Hollywood producer) read more like development-foucused interlopers than San Francisco lifers with the city's best interests at heart. That's an oversimplified characterization, to be sure, but immediate impressions matter in such a contentious atmosphere.
It's possible that the Warriors had to put these plans on hold simply because current San Francisco cultural disputes would never allow this arena project to unfold in the overwhelmingly positive manner that the franchise wanted. This idea did not just represent a state-of-the-art arena, but a triumphant return to San Francisco for a basketball team looking to become one of the NBA's leading organizations. That messaging could never work if much of the city seemed against their very existence on the waterfront. The delay could at least allow the team to assess other options or wait for a time when San Francisco appears more open to a waterfront project. This is not the right moment for this project, and part of having a long-term plan involves delaying instant gratification for greater long-term gains.
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