Ballpark update: Selig speaks, A's agree to lease, Howard Terminal is dead

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the United States are safely into the knockout stages of the World Cup, we can talk about baseball.

You thought it was bad when the A's and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority couldn't agree on a lease extension, didn't you? Well, now it's worse — the two parties can't even agree on whether they've agreed. Let's get the backstory first, though.

Wednesday began with a rather strangely timed announcement from Bud Selig, via the MLB Public Relations Twitter account:

I commend the Oakland Athletics and the JPA for their efforts in reaching an extension for a lease at O.co Coliseum. The agreement on this extension is a crucial first step towards keeping Major League Baseball in Oakland.

I continue to believe that the Athletics need a new facility and am fully supportive of the club's view that the best site in Oakland is the Coliseum site. Contrary to what some have suggested, the committee that has studied this issue did not determine that the Howard Terminal site was the best location for a facility in Oakland.

That announcement was strangely timed because it came out before the A's had released any official comment on the matter. Lew Wolff followed up soon enough, though, and took Selig's last paragraph a step further:

"Howard Terminal as a potential ballpark site has been and is totally rejected by MLB and the A's," Wolff said in an email to The Associated Press." -ESPN.com

That's a big statement. But first, trouble in paradise, straight from the mouth of Oakland mayor Jean Quan.

We are still negotiating, so were surprised by the announcement of an agreement. We plan to meet (Thursday), continue negotiations, and hope there will be an agreement soon.

Wolff, Selig, and the A's think that a lease agreement has been reached. The City of Oakland doesn't agree. And while this specific disagreement isn't going to end up killing an A's lease extension at the Coliseum, it is emblematic of the conflict the two sides have been embroiled in for the last several years. Both Wolff, Quan, and their respective counterparts have used the media as a tool throughout this entire process, sometimes successfully and sometimes in ways that ended with self-humiliation. It's very troubling that the two sides can't agree — even when speaking to journalists — whether they've reached a lease agreement. But it's also a very representative day in the life of the search for a new baseball venue in the Bay Area.

The lease will get done, likely in the next few days or weeks, and Wolff has said multiple times recently that such an agreement is the first step to beginning discussions about building a new park in Oakland. But it will also impact fans in the short term — one of the most contentious issues in lease negotiations was the funding of a new set of scoreboards, which will end up being built regardless of who foots most of the bill.

But there was other news yesterday, a few short quotes that will likely put an end to calls for a new ballpark at Howard Terminal, a few blocks north of Jack London Square on the banks of the Oakland Estuary. Wolff has always rejected Howard Terminal as a feasible ballpark site, and now he has backing from Selig. It's a reasonable position — the site would have cleanup costs well in excess of $100 million, there's troublingly little public transit infrastructure within a mile, and fans would have to cross active and frequently used freight and passenger railroad tracks to reach the ballpark from Downtown Oakland.

So Howard Terminal is dead, once and for all, and both Selig and Wolff have made clear statements pointing to a new stance: The current Coliseum site isn't just the most viable site for a new ballpark in Oakland. It's the most viable site for a new ballpark in the entire Bay Area.

Focus shifted toward East Oakland and away from the Estuary long ago, but Wolff and Selig's statements yesterday likely provided a final nail in Howard Terminal's coffin. It's too bad, because a ballpark along the waterfront could have been as transformative for that part of Oakland as the construction of AT&T Park was for San Francisco's South of Market and Mission Bay neighborhoods. But the project was always an ambitious one, and turning to a site that currently hosts three professional sports teams and has fantastic freeway and rail connectivity seems like the prudent thing to do.

A new ballpark at the current Coliseum site is a project with potential, whether it's part of the highly touted "Coliseum City" plan or Lew Wolff's own venture. There are some issues with the Raiders, who have also determined that the site they presently occupy is the one they want to build a new venue on. The site is geographically big enough for two venues, but the financial pie that comes with redeveloping the site might be too small if the Raiders and A's are forced to share it.

More on the current Coliseum site's potential for redevelopment and new venue reconstruction tomorrow, including the implications the current Oakland mayoral race might have, the different ways a redeveloped Coliseum lot could shape up,

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