How the Pirates Should Spend Their Russell Martin Money

Pittsburgh Pirates potential free agents

Russell Martin is gone. But perhaps for the Pittsburgh Pirates he is gone for the better.

Russell Martin leaves PiratesThe Pirates offered Martin a four-year contract to stay in the ‘Burgh, according to Travis Sawchik of the Tribune-Review, and I must think it was in the area of the Cubs’ $64 million offer to the departed catcher.

So it goes. Baseball is a zero sum game — chalk it up as a plus for the 2015 Blue Jays and a minus for the 2015 Pirates.

But then the Bucs can turn the crisis into opportunity.

Let’s get into the mind of general manager Neal Huntington and spend $64 million a different way. Let’s make the 2015 team better and ensure the future of the team is strong. Let’s diversify our portfolio.

What do the Pirates need? Mostly pitching and help at first base. In order to get an accurate view of our money, we’ll use the always-pretty-good crowdsourced (CS) contract projections from FanGraphs, adjusting them up or down a million or two as I see fit.

Start with the, um, starters…

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Parking and Traffic for New Pitt Stadium? No Problem (Part III)

If you’re new to this series, please check out Part I (discussing my two-stadium solution for Pitt football) and Part II (my concept for the new stadium in the middle of Oakland).

Okay, you all caught up? Let’s move on to parking and traffic. How exciting!

Currently, Pitt sells 10,000 student season tickets to its home schedule at Heinz Field. Let’s bump that up to 13,000 at New Pitt Stadium, since part of our purpose is to improve the football experience for students. That leaves 28,000 seats for the general public.

Okay, some back-of-the-envelope math as to how we are going to get all these people to a Saturday game.

  • 11,000 students walking from campus
  • 2,000 students driving (hey, Pitt kids often go home for the weekend)
  • 6,000 public fans walking/transit/biking/taxi
  • 22,000 public fans driving

If you tack on 1,000 extra people driving and parking (staff and gameday workers), that means New Pitt Stadium will need parking spaces for about 25,000 people.

Only counting the 25 largest lots and garages, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and UPMC own more than 10,000 parking spaces within one mile of my proposed New Pitt Stadium.

Here is where the math gets easy:

Could it really be that easy? Yes and no. The parking exists to support New Pitt Stadium, the issue is how much event parking Pitt would be able to access. Let’s dive in deeper:

Pitt- and CMU-owned parking

new-pitt-stadium-parking

The stadium site is in green and blue. The largest Pitt and CMU lots/garages are in red. UPMC lots/garages are in purple.

If you’re running a university, you need far fewer parking spaces on a Saturday than you need Monday through Friday. Obviously. Students and professors and staff and all that.

We also want to ensure football cars don’t take up spots on the street and in smaller lots. Businesses and other institutions still operate on Saturdays in Oakland, and they need their own spots for patrons, employees and residents.

Luckily for us, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon have built plenty of parking for their weekday needs. Counting only the 16 largest garages and lots between the two schools, there are 5,400 parking spaces available in Oakland within one mile of New Pitt Stadium.

For example, New Pitt Stadium would be directly next to the 934-space Soldiers & Sailors Garage, one of the largest parking garages in the city (attention: boosters and donors), and a 7-minute walk from CMU’s 328-space Dithridge Garage. You know the big CMU garage on Forbes Avenue, next to the football field? That one has 822 spaces, about a 15-minute walk or short shuttle ride to the stadium.

Already, I’m impressed. Pitt and CMU already own more than 5,400 spaces within walking distance of the stadium, compared to the mere 2,000 walking-distance spaces Tulane has available for its new stadium. In all, Pitt and CMU own or lease 7,800 spots in Oakland, according to the university’s recent master plans.

Under my plan, Pitt would need only to construct one new parking garage: a 500-spot garage to replace some of the spots lost to the stadium site. Perhaps the garage could be build on the Panther Hollow lot (already home to 108 spaces).

Now let’s scare up some more spots from UPMC.

Hospital Garages

UPMC’s 10 largest parking garages/lots in Oakland make up 5,000 spaces. The Presbyterian and Montefiore garages alone have more than 2,000 parking spots, and UPMC is planning to add 900 more spots to those garages by 2023.

Let’s make an assumption here: UPMC will soon have about 6,000 parking spaces in Oakland. Can Pitt reserve 2,600 of those spaces for event parking five Saturdays every year? Can they reserve 500 spaces of the new 1,500-space garage at the VA Hospital? Let’s say so and add those in.

Among Pitt-, CMU- and UPMC-owned parking facilities, we have reserved about 9,000 event parking spaces within walking distance of the stadium. But there are more out there.

Day-of-Sale Shuttle Garages

Because Tulane had so few on-campus parking spots available for their new stadium, their parking plan required 8,600 park-and-ride lots for fans, mostly in the university-owned pediatric hospital north of New Orleans and the Superdome.

New Tulane Stadium

Tulane also had to fit its new on-campus stadium (Capacity: 30,000) into a tight spot in a busy neighborhood.

Pitt won’t need so many park-and-ride spots. But the university should reserve such spots for out-of-town fans who did not reserve parking in advance. Parking these fans outside of Oakland and shuttling them in would reduce traffic in Oakland on game days.

For instance, directing Parkway East and West drivers could be directed to the Pittsburgh Technology Center garage (470 spaces) and Second Avenue lot (253 spaces) south of campus and take a 10-minute shuttle ride to the stadium.

And even though I hate to say it, the best park-and-ride lot for drivers from the north would be… Heinz Field. Maybe Pitt alums feeling nostalgic for the bus rides from campus to the North Shore can park there and hop aboard.

Again, not many park-and-ride lots are needed, given our plan of 8,500 event parking spaces near campus. But if a game sells out, it may behoove out-of-town fans to leave their car off campus instead of battling gameday traffic on the streets of Oakland.

What About the Traffic?

Four policies will do a lot of good to reduce traffic in Oakland on football game Saturdays.

1. Fans must purchase their spot in advance to park in a Pitt, CMU or UPMC garage.

tulane-parking

Large print on parking passes allow staffers to direct drivers more easily to their garage.

From the Tulane stadium traffic study:

“The best solution for eliminating traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods is to adopt a policy of no cash parking in and around campus, period. Force all parkers to pre-purchase their parking ahead of time and anyone else should be pushed out to the park-and-ride lots.”

Such a policy would reduce the number of cars cruising for cash parking garages — there would be none. If Pitt mails free permits to donors and urges other season-ticket holders to purchase their spots before the season, thousands of fans will drive into Oakland with no doubt as to their parking destination.

2. Free transit passes for fans who purchase advance tickets.

Pitt and CMU already provide free transit passes for their students — both a perk for students and a policy that reduces traffic and parking shortages in Oakland.

The same plan can work with fans. When Pitt mails tickets to season-ticket holders and advanced purchasers, include a free transit pass good for the day of the game. If that fan lives near a bus line that can take him into Oakland, it’s a chance for him to travel to the game without having to pay for parking.

3. Include specific directions on the parking passes.

Give fans turn-by-turn directions to their garage. Tell them: ignore your GPS, this is the best way to go.

Give fans turn-by-turn directions to their garage. Tell them: ignore your GPS, this is the best way to go.

This again is from the Tulane plan. They included turn-by-turn directions from the fan’s address to their parking spot, optimized to reduce congestion on streets near the stadium.

“This will greatly reduce confusion, and the ‘circulating’ traffic, creating a more smooth ingress and egress,” the plan read.

If fans follow the directions instead of their GPS, they will spend less time on the road and clogging up busy intersections.

4. Plan events several hours before and after the game.

Pitt should try to reduce the amount of traffic in the hour before kickoff and the hour directly after the end of the game.

Let’s take this Saturday for example. Say Pitt were playing Georgia Tech on campus for homecoming instead of at Heinz Field. For a 3:30 kickoff, the goal should be to get as many fans on campus as possible by 1:30 p.m. and in the stadium by 3:00 p.m. (we want to be mindful of foot traffic in and out of the stadium too).

Pitt could offer family tailgates, fan fests and band performances on campus as early as 11:00 a.m. Then inside the stadium, early-arriving fans can get discounts on food and Pitt merchandise to encourage folks to be in the building by 3:00 p.m.

Give Pitt fans an all-day football experience and lower congestion.

Give Pitt fans an all-day football experience and lower congestion.

After the game, partner bars and restaurants can offer food and drink deals to Pitt ticket holders (subsidized by the university) in order to keep fans from immediately rushing to the parking garage and causing traffic congestion in the streets.

Offering fans the opportunity to enjoy a full day on campus, as well as reducing congestion on game day? That’s a win-win, and it would help create the fun atmosphere and buzz that building an on-campus stadium is all about.

Of course, this is all a plan for the year 2014. Maybe the future will make a New Pitt Stadium easier to plan for. The mythic Spine Line rail expansion between Downtown and Oakland could become reality. Some brainy CMU student could come up with a new driverless transportation system that would make event parking unnecessary. Who knows what the future will bring?

We’ll wrap this all up tomorrow as Part IV examines how other schools have paid for new stadiums over the last decade. Until then, I leave you with a quote from the company that performed the traffic study for Tulane, a school that also had citizens concerned about neighborhood congestion and lack of parking for an on-campus football stadium.

“In short, we do see some associated risks with the plans and operation of the stadium and campus at this time,” the study for Tulane read. “But none of them are insurmountable by any means.”

Not insurmountable? That’s good enough for me.

New Pitt Stadium site concept… and a heck of a view (Part II)

(If you missed Part I, I highly encourage you to read it before continuing with this.)

I want to tell you the story of a college football program.

This program has had success through the years (nine championships), but fortunes are not as good as they once were. Fans remember the good ol’ days — successful seasons at the stadium on campus. Sure, it was too big and past its time, but the best times the program ever had were when they played there. But the university had to tear it down to make room for new buildings, and who needs a big football stadium on an urban campus anyway?

So the team moved to an NFL stadium. Of course, it’s a grand venue. Better than most schools in the conference have. But the atmosphere is lacking. College fans can’t fill up all those seats. So while it is nice to have NFL facilities, some fans see this team (right in a football-lovin’ region) and think, “wouldn’t this all look better if we were back on campus in a smaller stadium?”

The school put plans in motion for a new stadium on campus. Of course, it is a crowded area. Neighbors of the university were rightly concerned: How will you deal with the traffic and noise? Where will everyone park? Aren’t you already playing in a perfectly good stadium? Why is this necessary?

The neighbors’ qualms were taken into account, and the university offered new plans to address those traffic, parking and noise issues. And the stadium looks great! It is compact and fans get great sightlines close to the field. Did it solve the team’s attendance problem? No. Only winning will do that. But nowadays, 27,000 fans look better when they fill 90% of the seats instead of 33%.

That is the story, so far, of Tulane University football.

————————————————————–

Check out Tulane University's new on-campus stadium after years in the too-big Superdome.

Check out Tulane University’s new on-campus stadium after years in the too-big Superdome.

I will grant you: Tulane’s story is not identical to Pitt’s story.

Those nine championships? Conference championships, not national ones.The attendance struggles? Caused by being a laughingstock, not just a disappointment (think four bowl appearances in the last 30 years). And Tulane certainly is playing in a less-renowned conference now; they would never need 70,000 seats unless they were playing LSU.

Most of the facts about Tulane and Pitt, however, are congruent. If you don’t believe me, go back and read the story again. Tell me how Pitt is that much different.

So with that story in mind, I present my site proposal for New Pitt Stadium.

New Pitt Stadium Within Oakland

In the heart of Oakland, there is space for a football stadium that suits Pitt’s needs.

The stadium site would be bound by Bigelow Boulevard to the west, Tennyson Avenue to the northeast, Alumni Hall and the Pittsburgh Athletic Association (on Fifth Avenue) to the southeast.

What’s there now? A parking lot, the Wyndham Hotel and the three-story UPMC University Center. That’s it. Pitt could construct its stadium by building over the end of Lytton Avenue and tearing down only those two older buildings.

New Pitt Stadium would stand directly against Alumni Hall to the east. The main structure in the way? The historic Pittsburgh Athletic Association building on Fifth Avenue. My idea would be for the University to purchase the building and retrofit it as a hospitality space for donors, boosters and premium ticket holders (plus athletic facilities and locker rooms, naturally).

Here are the main details:

  • Total seating capacity: 41,000 seats
  • Southwest Stands: 13,500
  • Lower Northeast Stand: 14,500
  • Upper Northeast Stand: 10,000
  • Southeast End: 3,000
  • Stadium Site: 6.1 acres
  • Estimated Cost: $120 million

New academic and student life facilities can be built into the northeast and southwest stands, available to students throughout the week. After all, the site is right next to Soldiers & Sailors, Crawford Hall, Langley Hall, Clapp Hall and the Cathedral of Learning. It’s not the center of campus, but it is pretty darn close.

And just as every problem can be an opportunity, here’s one: there is not enough space to have stands behind the north endzone. The opportunity? Open up the field to the Oakland community. Close Bigelow Boulevard to traffic on game days, of course, but then have the FieldTurf field open up for intramural sports and general green space. It could be a unique idea in modern college stadiums.

You can read more in Part III, including traffic and parking logistics. But for now, imagine this view from the western edge of new Pitt Stadium, which I took a picture of this afternoon.

New Pitt Stadium view

Now tell me: does this not scream University of Pittsburgh?

Solution for Pitt Football — Two Stadiums (Part I)

(Note: This is Part I of a three-part series proposing a new on-campus stadium for the University of Pittsburgh. Super long, right? But if you read this and are interested in soldiering on, check out Part II and Part III.)

Whether Pitt fans want to accept it or not, the team has an attendance problem. Or at least an optics problem.

Heinz Field was more yellow than a Terrible Towel factory last night. In front of a national ESPN audience (albeit one that was paying more attention to Jets-Patriots, the NLCS and the return of the NHL), Pitt fans were seen as unwilling to show up for a primetime game.

Don’t get me wrong: I will accept any reason you had for not attending Pitt vs. Virginia Tech on Thursday night. It was raining. The Penguins were playing. You don’t want to pay to watch a team on a three-game losing streak.

Actually, you don’t even need to give me a reason! It’s your money and time, and I won’t shame you for not spending it on college football.

But this is the problem for the University of Pittsburgh and its athletic department: In 75% of Pitt’s games over the last decade, fans filled less than 75% of the stadium.

Put another way, the vast majority of Pitt football home games see at least a quarter of the seats sitting empty. Bright yellow. It’s not a good look for an ACC program, especially when the Steelers are about to expand Heinz Field to 68,000 seats and exacerbate Pitt’s problem.

Rob Rossi of the Tribune-Review was right to bring up the issue in his column, though unfortunately he spent little space on how to implement his solution: a new Pitt Stadium in Oakland.

Some Pitt fans agreed with Rossi. Many did not. Those who didn’t most commonly replied, “a new stadium isn’t a solution. Winning is a solution.” Or something close.

That is absolutely fair. Pittsburghers will flock to see a winning football team, thus solving Pitt’s attendance issue. But back up one second. How much winning does it take to fill Heinz Field?

Over the last decade, there has only been one season in which Pitt needed 52,000 seats for more than two games — the 2009 campaign, in which the Panthers were a Cincinnati comeback away from the BCS.

So yes, winning is a solution. If Pitt can win 10 games every year, reach the AP Top 10 every year, and be a legitimate playoff contender every year, fans will fill an NFL stadium.

The only snag in that plan is you would have to be delusional to think it will happen. This is not the 1970’s and 80’s. Pitt will not be a perennial championship contender in the new millennium of college football, in which every FBS school is in an arms race to make the playoffs.

Can they win? Absolutely. In fact, the program has made six straight bowl games and 11 bowls in the last 14 seasons. That is excellent! Thus, here’s the reality for Pitt: the school has a winning program, but not a championship-contending one like Oregon, Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, etc.

———————————–

Pitt needs a stadium solution that matches its reality as a program. Here is my concept: build a 41,000-seat on-campus stadium. Use it for the majority of home games, then play one or two big games each year at Heinz Field.

Look at how Stanford attacked the problem of its too-big stadium:

StanfordStadium2004

Doesn’t it look a little like old Pitt Stadium? Massive, all-bowl, bleachers, track around the field…

Well Stanford re-built its stadium on the same site after the 2005 season, and the results are stunning:

1280px-2008-1115-006-USC-Stanford-PAN

Stanford dropped the capacity down to 50,000 in its practically-brand-new stadium, and the program is far better for it. I have been there — it is an intimate venue in a beautiful setting. When it’s packed, it is loud. When it’s not full, the optics are not as bad as an empty Heinz Field.

I know you have questions. I’ll try to read your mind and guess them. Put your forehead right up on the screen.

  • Why 41,000 seats?

Two reasons.

1. Pitt has needed less than 41,000 seats for the majority of its games over the last decade.

Consider that 56% of Pitt’s home games have had a paid attendance below 46,000. Subtract 10% for no-shows to those games (which is probably generous. I would guess it is more than 10%) and you get 41,000. It is the ideal size for your run-of-the-mill game against conference foes past and present — think Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Virginia, Louisville, Connecticut.

graph

Keep in mind, this is *paid* attendance. Subtract 10 to 15 percent for the actual butts-in-seats number for most home games.

And as Pitt basketball has proven, sellouts are a good event for the program. Sellouts can become the rule for Pitt football too, instead of the exception.

2. It fits the current trend of new stadiums on campus.

Since 2003, Division I FBS schools have built 10 new stadiums. They range from 30,000 for non-BCS schools (Akron, Florida Atlantic, Tulane) to just above 50,000 seats (Minnesota and Stanford).

The average new stadium size? 39,211 seats. If you want to design in a few thousand more seats or build with the possibility to expand, that’s cool. The idea here is to build a venue that suits Pitt’s needs but is not so large that it overwhelms the Oakland neighborhood in footprint, traffic and parking.

  • Which games would Pitt play at Heinz Field?

The Panthers would only need Heinz Field’s larger capacity for one or two games each season. Only 10 times over the past decade has Pitt’s paid attendance been higher than 55,100, and 7 of those games were against either West Virginia or Notre Dame.

Sounds easy enough. Schedule Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami and Penn State games at Heinz Field. If the Backyard Brawl ever returns, put those games at Heinz as well. Have Heinz Field available for the season’s final home game if Pitt is competing for an ACC title. Even all that makes up a minority of the Panthers’ schedule, an example of why a new, smaller stadium better serves the program.

  • Why go back on campus if Panthers fans couldn’t even fill Pitt Stadium?

Look, I never attended Pitt stadium. The school tore it down when I was seven years old. From how it looked though, Pitt Stadium was built for 60,000 fans, had stands way too far from the field, and as Bob Smizik wrote in 1999, “backless seats, inadequate restrooms, insufficient concessions and invisible parking.”

New Pitt Stadium would be smaller, leaner and serve the entire university. That’s because on-campus stadium does not need to be empty the 360 days per year that the Panthers are not playing.

Look to Notre Dame as an example. The university is spending $400 million to construct three new buildings on the sides of Notre Dame Stadium. ND’s new stadium will offer “space for student organizations, a recreation center and career center… anthropology and psychology departments and a digital media center… the Department of Music… [and] some 3,000 to 4,000 premium seats for the football stadium with supporting club amenities.”

New Pitt Stadium would not be just for the athletic department, but for the whole school. Intramurals and summer concerts on the field, career festivals and parents’ weekend events in the concourses, and academic facilities on the sides of the stadium. New Pitt Stadium could be the center of Pitt campus life, expanding on the success of the Petersen Events Center.

  • Where would it go? Where would people park?

That we will explore in Part II, coming up tomorrow. But rest assured, there is space available for a 41,000-seat stadium and attached facilities.

Read Part II, with my New Pitt Stadium site concept, right here.

Love This Time, Pirates Fans

Pirates fans, these are the good times.

I know you know this, but it bears repeating — these are the times you have been waiting for as a fan, and you ought to enjoy it.

If you were at PNC Park for tonight’s game (or even watching on TV), you felt the crowd electrify when Russell Martin hit the go-ahead home run. Rob King called it “one of the most dramatic moments in PNC Park history,” and he is absolutely right. Watching the drama of September baseball finally come to Pittsburgh feels incredible.

So my request to you, Pirates fans: be grateful. I don’t mean grateful in a “you must like Bob Nutting and never criticize management” kind of way. I don’t mean grateful in a “how could you be mad at anything when the Pirates are in the playoffs?” kind of way.

What I mean is: this is the kind of September (and forthcoming October) that we saw in other cities for 20 years, and we dreamed that the same excitement could come here. Be grateful for that. Let your emotions, high and low, run wild. The next few weeks represent the pinnacle of baseball and sporting drama.

Be grateful to be a part of these new Pirates golden years. They may not last forever.

Sports are funny for many reasons. One of them: U.S. professional team sports are not a zero-sum game. They are less than a zero-sum game. At the end of a season, there’s always: 1 fan-base celebrating, 3 or 4 fan-bases being satisfied at overachieving and about 25 fan-bases left disappointed and often angry.

Why do we as sports fans subject ourselves to this losing system? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ However, we can change it within ourselves. At the end of this Pirates season, if they don’t win the World Series, go ahead and be disappointed and angry. It’s natural.

But right now? This is the fun part. This is why we root and nonsensically devote our time, money and passion to this losing system. Because right now is hope. Right now is fun. Right now is joyous. Be grateful to feel those emotions after 20 years of apathy, and lose yourself in the right now.

The One Chart that Shows Why You Should Support Lyft & Uber in Pittsburgh

This week, Pennsylvania lawmakers are expected to vote on new legislation for “ridesharing” companies like Uber and Lyft.

I have been driving for Lyft since last month and have really enjoyed my time shuttling Pittsburghers around. But even before I began using it as a part-time job, I was a satisfied customer of Uber and Lyft in Los Angeles.

That is why I urge Pittsburghers to support the full legalization of ridesharing in Pennsylvania. Three things to keep in mind:

1. Pittsburgh has the most bars per capita of any city in the United States — 12 bars per 10,000 people.

2. People in Pittsburgh are desperate for car service on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Check out this chart from Uber public relations on the number of requests they get in Pittsburgh throughout the week:

Uber Pittsburgh Requests

Guess what — those folks aren’t requesting Uber rides to go to the grocery store. They’re drunk.

3. Cab service in Pittsburgh is inadequate. I have heard sad tale after sad tale from my Lyft passengers — waiting 60 minutes for a taxi on a Friday night, waiting 90 minutes for a taxi on a Saturday night, having a taxi they requested “jacked” by someone else who had not requested it, or worst of all having a taxi they requested not show up at all.

And that’s just the areas of Allegheny County where Yellow Cab will actually drive.

I don’t know if Lyft and Uber will decrease traffic, open up more parking spots or increase quality of life (though all that is possible).

I do know that legalized Lyft and Uber will prevent many people from driving drunk in the Pittsburgh area. And that is bound to save lives.

If you’re in Pennsylvania, contact your legislator. Use the guide Uber published the other day or the form email that Lyft posted. Either way, take two minutes and support innovation in Pittsburgh that keeps dangerous drunk drivers off our streets.