Judging by the many comments on the open thread, and the many e-mails I’ve been getting about it, it’s clear that people want to talk about the A’s. So here’s a space for you to do just that.
So, in case you live in a cave or something, here’s some background. The Oakland Athletics are a professional baseball team who have been playing in Oakland since 1968, when they moved here from Kansas City, where they had previously moved from Philadelphia. They play at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, which is just about one of the most unpleasant places to see a game I’ve ever visited. The neighborhood sucks, it’s ugly, the circulation is unbelievably bad. It deserves an award for being so inefficient. Also, the lines at the concession stands are insane and it is not unusual at all that you have to wait like forty-five minutes for a beer, and I have no idea if that’s a function of inept workers at the Coliseum or somehow related to design, but in any case, it is ridiculous.
Anyway, the team’s ownership has been wanting an alternate location for some time now, and to that end, the City of Oakland commissioned a report back in 2000 on possible sites for a new stadium from HOK Sport, who ended up identifying four possible sites in Alameda County: Uptown Oakland, between 18th and 20th and MLK and Telegraph, the Howard Street terminal, between Linden and Jefferson just north of Jack London Square, the Coliseum parking lot, and Fremont, north of the New United Motor plant.
Former City Manager Robert Bobb was hell-bent on the Uptown site, but that location never panned out because the City was busy negotiating with Forest City to build apartments at the site. The City Council and then-Mayor Jerry Brown have taken a lot of heat for pursuing the Uptown Apartments instead of a ballpark at Uptown, but the criticisms are somewhat unfair, since A’s owner Steve Schott made it clear repeatedly that he wasn’t interested in an Uptown ballpark, at least not if he was going to have to pay for it, and really preferred Santa Clara County anyway. So I’m not really sure what people think the City should have done. Bobb wanted to use redevelopment funds to finance the stadium, but it’s hard for me to see Oakland residents being particularly eager to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars of public money for the purpose.
Then in March 2005, the team was sold to a new group. Billionare John Fisher provided most of the cash, but named developer Lew Wolff managing partner. A few months later, Wolff unveiled a proposal for a potential new site just north of the Coliseum. The proposal was pretty neat – a 35,000 seat ballpark with a hotel overlooking the field. The stadium would have been an anchor for a larger retail and residential development which would have financed park, and all told, Wolff wanted 90 acres in the area.
The plan never progressed beyond a largely conceptual stage, due to problems with land acquisition, and with Oakland officials citing Wolff’s disinterest in working with the City as the problem. A talk Wolff gave to the San Jose Chamber of Commerce in August 2006 seemed to back this up, as he told them that he had been trying to broker deals for territorial rights in Santa Clara County, but had failed. This wasn’t a particularly surprising revelation, but confirmation that Wolff had in fact trying to get rights for San Jose since even before he bought the team and at the same time as he had been talking about the Coliseum north spot gave further weight to suspicions that he had never been serious about staying in Oakland in the first place.
A few months later, Wolff announced that he had reached an agreement with Cisco to buy 143 acres to build a ballpark in Fremont. I’ll skip the details on that, since this is an Oakland blog, and all you really need to know is that now, two plus years later, Fremont plans have officially been abandoned (PDF).
So where does that leave us? I said last week in the open thread that I’m convinced the A’s will end up in San Jose, and I remain so. San Jose has a lot to offer, including but not limited to an eager group of politicians, ample potential for corporate sponsorship, and a mostly acquired ballpark site adjacent to a multi-modal transit hub with an already certified EIR. The obstacle to a San Jose move is that the City lies within the Giants’s territory, and the Giants are more than reluctant to cede those rights to the A’s. Fortunately for San Jose advocates, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has implied recently that he’s willing to consider transferring the territory rights to the A’s over the objections of the Giants, a decision that would require a vote of 3/4 of MLB team owners. Most observers believe that Selig would not have indicated the rights change was a possibility if he was not already confident he had those votes.
Marine Layer has written a better overview of the current situation than I possibly could, so I encourage interested readers to head over to the New A’s Ballpark blog to get all the background. With respect to potential sites in Oakland, the Coliseum parking lot is by far the best, but people are welcome to use the comments in this thread to toss out their own ideas. Potential locations that I’ve heard mentioned lately include Broadway Auto Row (which is, frankly, delusional), Laney College athletic fields, Oak to Ninth, the Oakland Army Base, the Central Waterfront, and Mandela Grand. Aside from the problems of cost and land acquisition, any new ballpark would need to have excellent access both from freeways and public transit. Potential locations not currently served by high capacity transit would need enough excess capacity on nearby roads that some kind of BART-stadium connection could be built, whether that’s light rail (unlikely) or a BRT-like solution (more likely).
Certain local politicians are now claiming that the cancellation of Fremont plans mean a new stadium in Oakland is an option. I see this as insane, and frankly, I’m forced to question the priorities of any City Councilmember who would choose to devote any energy whatsoever to pursuing a freaking ballpark in the face of the enormous fiscal crisis facing the City, as well as their judgment. During his 2006 Mayoral campaign, Ron Dellums called the notion of keeping the A’s in Oakland a “flight into fantasy,” and he was right. The bottom line is that the team’s ownership isn’t interested in Oakland, and while that may suck, there’s really nothing we can do about it.
The A’s will end up in San Jose, but if you want to dream, feel free to share your thoughts about possible Oakland locations in the comments. In my fantasy, they’d go to Sacramento and we’d get the River Cats.