So I said in Friday’s post that if we were to build a new stadium for the A’s in Oakland, the best place to do it would be near the Coliseum. Of course, the question is kind of academic, because the A’s aren’t going to stay here, but that doesn’t mean we need to leave the Coliseum area a total wasteland forever. In fact, all the things that makes it an excellent location for a ballpark also make it perfectly primed for other kinds of development.
So, the ballpark village proposal that A’s owner Lew Wolff unveiled back in 2005 is often described as being in the Coliseum parking lot. It wasn’t, it was adjacent to the parking lot, just north of the Coliseum, starting at 66th Avenue and bounded by San Leandro St., High St., and 880. The original rendering looked like this:
If you’re having trouble getting a sense of where that is, here’s what the area looks like now:
It would be an improvement, no? Now, that plan never worked out. Some (including me) believe that was because Wolff never had any intention of making it work in the first place. The less conspiratorial explanation would be that the cost of acquiring all the parcels in the space was just too high.
Changes in the real estate market since 2006 mean that the land acquisition cost would be significantly cheaper today. That, of course, wouldn’t change the fact that there are a number of light industrial businesses in the area that would have to be relocated if anything were to be built there. This shouldn’t present too much of a barrier, since Oakland is lousy with available industrial property, but it is something to consider nonetheless.
So getting the site together would take some effort. It would be more than worth it. There are few sites in Oakland so well-positioned for development, where you could assemble this much land relatively easily, and that have such excellent access, by both freeway and transit.
Oakland has a lot of great things going for it, but one thing we definitely don’t have are adequate hotel rooms or a decent conference center. The Convention Center at the Marriot downtown is dank, awkward, dated, and generally just straight up sad, and totally inadequate for most conference needs. The City Council wants to up the hotel tax by 3%, but knows that doing so will bring in only a paltry $3 million a year because we have so few hotels. Our inability to accommodate conventions and large numbers of visitors means we lose out on millions of dollars in potential revenue every year.
Now, we could solve both these problems by building a nice new convention center along with some more hotels. There’s no room downtown to do that, but there’s plenty of space in East Oakland. I’d love to see a plan to develop this “Coliseum North” site as a hotel/conference/entertainment complex. Since there’s no existing “neighborhood” to speak of, you’d have almost total freedom to invent the character of such a development from scratch.
An airport-proximate hotel and conference center would boost visits to Oakland and would dovetail perfectly with one of those entertainment complexes that most cities have but Oakland is sadly lacking. I’m thinking of something like Houston’s Bayou Place or Los Angeles’s Hollywood & Highland Center (although the latter is a bit more upscale than I envision for Oakland). But you all know they type of place I’m talking about. They have a couple of moderately upscale, high capacity restaurants, theme restaurants, maybe a movie theater, a bland nightclub or two, and some kind of non-music based adult entertainment option – Bayou Place has a pool hall, Hollywood & Highland has a Lucky Strike (I would love a Lucky Strike in Oakland!). And then some kind of medium sized theater space.
Those sorts of businesses don’t mesh with the character of downtown Oakland, and they wouldn’t fit into the new Jack London Square, next to Miette and a new Daniel Patterson restaurant, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a place for them in Oakland. They’re non-threatening to tourists, a draw for suburban types, and have much higher sales than the smallish restaurants popping up all over town, which means more revenue for the City. Also, this type of project would generate enormous numbers of those much-sought after jobs.
There’s a couple barriers to my vision, but none are insurmountable. One, the site isn’t that close to the Coliseum BART station, and you’d probably need to build an infill station like a mile away. But if freaking Dublin can have one, I don’t see why we can’t. Two, the land has train tracks running through it. Again, not an insurmountable problem, but working around it limits flexibility in site design to some degree. Finally, the area is zoned industrial. The City could easily rezone the area, but whether the political will to do that exists is questionable.
Now, there’s nothing about this sort of development that would prohibit a ballpark – in fact, one would fit in perfectly. But the great thing about it is that it would work equally well without one, and the inevitable departure of the A’s wouldn’t damn the revitalization effort whatsoever. The City doesn’t need a final project or developer in place to make a commitment to redeveloping the area – they can move forward with land acquisition anytime they want, start looking for interested parties, and put the final pieces in place later, just like they did with Uptown.