Warriors' arena plan plagued by reality

Warriors' arena plan plagued by reality
February 5, 2014, 8:45 pm
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Warriors brass remain optimistic that they can build the first "world-class multi-purpose arena" in San Francisco, despite mounting financial and political concerns. (AP)

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OAKLAND – So the audacity barrels on undiminished, the Warriors still cocksure about finishing this double marathon, at the end of which would be not a finish line but the most distinctive arena in the world.

Oh, it's a triple marathon? That's OK. They're still running.

Wait, it could be a quadruple marathon, with an Ironman triathlon in the bonus round? That's OK, too, because their shorts and shoes – and wallets – are up to the challenge.

The men of Warriors ownership and those who represent them are approaching Mile 1 of the race this month and conceded that finishing this monument by 2017, as they initially projected with promise-like certainty, was indeed too ambitious – as had been opined by practically everyone outside the team's executive offices.

In short, what may have been news to co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, and to a lesser extent team president and COO Rick Welts, was not news to the rest of us.

“I think we're going to get there,” Welts said Wednesday. “We all think we're going to get there. We are full-speed ahead to get there, but there's no way to predict what every day is going to bring from now to 2018.”

Any such predictions would have to consider local history, which is rich with plans that died before the raising of a shovel or the sampling of soil.

[POOLE: Warriors lack championship toughness]

Those living in the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley triangle have for nearly 50 years seen big dreamers boasting limitless energy end up going away exhausted. There has been, since the 1960s, a total of one completely new sports facility.

Meanwhile, dozens of dreams and schemes and plans and designs have been wrecked by the rising tide of a vocal citizenry considered too political or too cantankerous or too uncooperative or just plain unwilling to throw their cash into a pot in possession of the wealthy.

Yet the Warriors press onward. They do so without blinking at the cost (they're ready to cover it) or shopping for potential alternatives (only at very last resort, which means they may have to).

“We're just resetting for 2018,” Welts said Wednesday. “What absolutely isn't the case is that we've slowed down anything. We've had meetings Sunday and we had meetings (Tuesday). This is full-speed ahead, as quickly as we as can do it.

“But there's no short-cutting the process in San Francisco.”

Well, no, there isn't. But we knew that. The Warriors also knew that, but maybe not as emphatically as they are learning.

The $70 million initial estimate to repair the area at Piers 30-32 has grown to about $180 million. And Welts concedes that's conservative. The Warriors are working up quite a sweat plowing through layers of governmental, regulatory and environmental bureaucracy. Those layers are so endless it's as if they are designed to force surrender.

This development also faces opposition from those addressing economic inequality, a very hot issue in San Francisco. A petition with more than 20,000 signatures was submitted this week on behalf of those fighting to place on the ballot a measure regarding height requirements on the waterfront.

The current limit is 40 feet; the latest plan for the new arena puts it at 125 feet high.

“I guess I understand why people are a little big skeptical that the Warriors are willing to go 100 percent on this,” Welts said. “But we are. We're in. This is my other full-time job, with Joe and Peter and a whole team of people working only on the arena and surrounding development.

“We actually think this is going to be something great for the people of San Francisco. For whatever reason, this city has never been able to build a world-class multi-purpose arena.”

It's easy to see why Lacob and Guber, 39 months into their ownership, are fascinated with this project. Anyone who has seen the sketches must acknowledge it makes for stunningly gorgeous art. It would be no less identifiable, from anywhere in the world, than the Transamerica pyramid.

But the obstacles keep coming, and if one should fade away two others will spring up. California is a tough build, the San Francisco-Oakland area particularly difficult.

Lacob and Guber are veteran business executives. They knew this job was tough when they stepped to the starting blocks. Welts knew it was tough when he joined them. It has only gotten tougher.

Give them credit for keeping their eyes on the prize. But, yes, there is plenty of skepticism – and plenty of history that explains it.