What Is Happening In Oakland? A Ballpark Roundup

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

I have no idea.

But even if you don't follow the A's stadium saga closely, you've probably seen a lot of movement on the stadium front in the past few weeks. Normally AN doesn't cover this stuff on a per-development basis, at least in part because of the phenomenal job Rhamesis Muncada does at newballpark.org, a site that he's run for several years dedicated to the A's quest for a new home. Most of the info in this post can be found on his website, but here it is, all in one article, in case you stopped paying attention for a month and now have absolutely no idea what's going on.

It began in November, when the San Francisco Chronicle's Philip Matier and Andrew Ross reported that Major League Baseball was looking into the possibility of forcing the A's to play their home games at AT&T Park, since the A's and the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority were unable to reach an agreement on a lease agreement. The JPA had effectively been trying to stiff-arm the A's into signing an unfavorable lease since from their vantage point, Lew Wolff and John Fisher had no other option but to take what they could get at the Coliseum. In my opinion, MLB commissioner Bud Selig made the only impactful move we've seen him make throughout this entire saga — he threatened to have the A's play their games in San Francisco, which destroyed any leverage the JPA thought it had. A week or so later, Wolff and the JPA agreed to a new 2-year lease at the Coliseum that let the A's keep their very team-friendly concessions deal, one of the contested issues throughout the negotiation.

Another bit of activity was City of San Jose's lawsuit of Major League Baseball being passed up to a federal court, a moderate blow to MLB's hopes of entirely shutting down the lawsuit and escaping with their century-old federal antitrust exemption unscathed. This was a definite win for the City of San Jose, but its practical implications could end up being negligible; the lawsuit could be tied up in courts for years to come, and with the A's current situation at the Coliseum, maintaining the status quo for a decade is unacceptable.

In entirely separate news, a group of Bay Area political and business figures announced a proposal for a baseball stadium near Jack London Square, at the site of Howard Terminal within the Port of Oakland. The initial renderings are absolutely gorgeous — the park faces the water, retains several of the iconic shipping cranes and integrates them into the area beyond right field, and has open plaza space beyond the outfield walls from which fans would be able to enjoy the waterfront.

Unfortunately, the site has huge feasibility concerns. One is the potential cleanup of accumulated toxic waste that would have to be performed before a ballpark was constructed, which could hugely add to the infrastructure costs. Another is the existing Union Pacific freight rail infrastructure that runs through Howard Terminal and Jack London Square. Fans would have to cross tracks to get from Downtown Oakland to the ballpark, and while trains typically are traveling at slow speeds, it's still a major concern. It's not unprecedented — at Safeco Field in Seattle, fans cross heavy rail tracks to reach the venue — but it's another hurdle that the A's would need to jump to make the site work.

Another issue is the fact that parts of the site are potentially under the jurisdiction of the SF Bay Conservation and Development Commision, which would heavily restrict development and make it extremely difficult to get a ballpark built. newballpark.org came out with a fantastic post that points towards the BCDC's jurisdiction not encompassing the actual footprint of the ballpark, but the land would still be tightly constrained.

Potentially the biggest issue for the Howard Terminal Site is transit accessibility. Currently, the closest BART Stations are 12th St and West Oakland, each of which is located roughly a mile from the ballpark. But let's be honest — unless some major safety improvements are made, most people aren't going to want to walk a mile from either station to Howard Terminal, especially West Oakland. There have been discussions of a potential infill station along the San Francisco-Richmond line, which would allow for a one-seat ride from anywhere in the system to a new Jack London Square station, but the station would be a solid five blocks from Jack London Square itself. BART stations are also prohibitively expensive — think nine figures — and with current ongoing projects in San Jose, East County, the Oakland Airport, and potentially Livermore, BART might have bigger fish to fry. There have also been plans to develop an Oakland Streetcar that runs from Uptown to JLS via Broadway, which would bridge the BART-to-ballpark gap much like MUNI does in SF with its N-Judah and T-Third services along the southern Embarcadero. Unfortunately, those plans seem to have stalled.

Amtrak's Capitol Corridor does have a stop at Jack London Square, but trains don't run late enough at night to be a viable transportation option on weeknights. The one piece of good transit-related news is that the Oakland Ferry Terminal is just a few blocks away from the proposed site, providing easy access to the park from San Francisco, Alameda, Vallejo, and potentially San Rafael or elsewhere in Marin.

So that's Howard Terminal — it would be beautiful, but it's a nightmare infrastructure-wise and could cost over $1 billion in total, once it's all said and done. I wouldn't rule it out, but it would probably take some help from the City of Oakland infrastructure-wise and an ownership group willing to put a lot of money into it, descriptions that obviously fit neither the municipality nor Wolff/Fisher.

But wait, a twist! Lew Wolff told reporters on Monday that while he thinks the Howard Terminal site is a non-starter, he believes a ballpark on the current site of the Oakland Coliseum might make more sense. It's a strange softening of his notoriously anti-Oakland refrains from most of the past decade. And as newballpark.org pointed out, it's potentially a simple matter of dollars and cents. Oakland real estate prices are skyrocketing right now, and Wolff might believe that there's money to be made by building a ballpark, along with numerous residential and commercial units, at a "Coliseum City" complex that already has great transit connectivity and freeway access.

While Wolff never explicitly said that he has a renewed interest in the Coliseum City site, this could be a sign from Wolff that he's ready to play ball with Oakland. Alternatively, it could be an attempt to force San Jose to sweeten the pot, since MLB apparently denied the A's request to move to San Jose on grounds independent of the territorial rights situation back in June. Bud Selig might not like the concept of a ballpark that uses virtually zero public resources to cover its construction costs, as it sets a precedent for cities around the country that they don't have to pony up to subsidize hugely successful professional baseball clubs.

Now for the bigger twist: today, multiple Bay Area media outlets, mainly the East Bay Express, started talking about the possibility of an ownership group headed up by Peter Guber and Joe Lacob — the current owners of the Golden State Warriors — buying the A's and pursuing the Howard Terminal site.

If true, this is potentially huge. Oakland's famously inept Mayor Jean Quan has been claiming for years that many high-level businesspeople from the East Bay are willing to step up, buy the team, and help finance a stadium at one of Oakland's proposed sites. It's always been assumed that she's referring to Clorox CEO Don Knauss, who has shown no interest in doing either. As a matter of fact, Knauss moved hundreds of Clorox jobs from their headquarters on 12th Street and Broadway to Pleasanton, which has hurt him in his quest to show his investment in the Oakland community, which he cites as a principal reason he wants the A's to stay. The same goes for T. Gary Rogers, formerly the CEO of Dreyer's, along with developer Doug Boxer, son of California's junior Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. In short, Quan's claims have always been completely toothless, until now.

The Lacob/Guber involvement is weird on a few of levels. The first is that the pair has taken a lot of flak recently from the East Bay community over its plan to move the Warriors across the Bay, from Oracle Arena to a site just north of AT&T Park at Piers 30-32 in San Francisco.

Personally, as a Warriors fan and an East Bay resident, I have mixed feelings about Guber and Lacob's desire to move the team to San Francisco. On the one hand, the Warriors have what is quite possibly the NBA's best fanbase. They've averaged near-capacity crowds throughout the past 15 years, even though the team has made the playoffs only twice in that span. The Warriors are currently fifth in NBA attendance, having sold out their season so far. But at the same time, San Francisco is a world-class city with a multitude of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the South of Market just blocks from the site of the proposed arena. The population is larger and the average income is higher, and the neighborhood is vastly safer and better-established. The bottom line is that San Francisco makes the most sense both as a central Bay Area location that fans from the four major Bay Area regions can access easily, and as a location for an NBA team.

However, Lacob and Guber's desire to move the Warriors doesn't necessarily mean that they don't see Oakland as a viable major-league market. As a matter of fact, the phenomenal response they've gotten from Warriors fans may have served as evidence that there are fans from the East Bay and elsewhere that are willing to attend games in Oakland.

There's more, though — Guber is a minority owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I don't see this as a huge issue; he'd likely rather be a full owner in Oakland than a minority owner in LA.

While Lacob and Guber have yet to publicly acknowledge their interest, here's an interesting tidbit from the East Bay Express article: remember those gorgeous depictions of the Warriors' waterfront arena in The City? The architecture firm commissioned to create them was Manica Architecture, a design studio of David Manica. He used to work for HOK Sport, which is now known as Populous, the firm that designed basically every major sports venue you've ever heard of, including AT&T Park, Wembley Stadium, Soccer City Stadium, Citi Field, the London Olympic Stadium, and many more MLB and NFL venues. Anyway....the firm that came out with those fantastic depictions of a waterfront park at Howard Terminal? Manica Architecture.

So there you have it. Lew Wolff wants to move the team to San Jose, but territorial rights issues aren't going to let that happen. The lawsuit is in the pipeline, but won't make an impact on the situation for several years if it makes an impact at all. Wolff doesn't want to stay in Oakland, but he might be open to settling for a new development at Coliseum City. Jean Quan might actually have something to back up her typically brash, baseless statements all of a sudden, because Joe Lacob and Peter Guber might want to buy the team! The issue there is that Wolff/Fisher don't want to sell, but everybody has a price.

Something's gotta give, but that's been the case for five years. The good news, at least, is that it seems like we're finally moving toward a resolution one way or the other, something that probably hasn't been true since Wolff's plans for a Fremont ballpark fell through. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out, but for now, Oakland might be back on the map.

Update, Thursday Morning: Peter Guber says he has no interest in buying the A's or getting involved in the Howard Terminal project. He did decline to comment about Lacob's status, but, according to the LA Times, said it would be "categorically incorrect" to say that Lacob might be interested. Weird stuff all around, but the project would be very much alive even if one of those two is seriously involved. Whether Lacob is actually seriously involved is an entirely different discussion.

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