It's official: Lew Wolff wants to build a baseball stadium in Oakland. He wants to finance it privately (well, he's never said that he'll finance the infrastructure privately), and he wants Oakland government officials to hear it straight from him.
In a letter sent July 15 to Oakland City Administrator Henry Gardner, Wolff lays out the case for allowing his ownership group to develop the Coliseum complex, all while making nice with Oakland city officials. He also made sure to repeat his claim that as soon as the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and the Joint Powers Authority approve the contentious new 10-year lease agreement for the A's to stay in Oakland, he'll begin conversations in earnest regarding a new ballpark in East Oakland, on or near the footprint of the current Coliseum.
So it seems that at long last, Wolff has tired of his massively negative public perception. He might never be the type of owner who effectively engages a fanbase and ties his face to the team's identity, and he doesn't need to be.
But much of the letter is spent dispelling common myths about the Fisher/Wolff ownership and the almost-approved new lease for the A's at the Coliseum. Wolff also tears apart the Raiders' recent claims that they'd like to tear down the existing Coliseum following the 2015 baseball season to begin construction of a new NFL venue, exposing it as the fabricated distraction it is. All of a sudden, Lew Wolff is trying to win the PR battle in Oakland. And this letter might be the most pro-Oakland thing Lew Wolff has ever done. Some highlights (all emphasis is Wolff's):
I must admit that I am perhaps more agitated than I need be, but the piing on of fabrications and outright lies is getting beyond me and my partners' tolerance.
...in today's world it must be recognized that the reliance on public funding is either unavailable or very limited. I have fully recognized that reality and have not once said or assumed the desired new A's ballpark would rely on or seek public funding.
Henry, as I have expressed to you, to Mr. Miley, and to the JPA, after the lase extension is signed I will immediately re-evaluate the possibility of a new, modern ballpark to be located on JPA property here in Oakland. In fact, we already have been looking, with cooperation from the City and County, into the bond costs and JPA operating costs to determine if we can present an offer that would vastly reduce or even eliminate the annual City/County subsidy and allow us to develop and control our own destiny-which I must do for the A's to be a viable Major League Baseball organization.
Wolff made sure to emphasize his own track record of successful development enterprises, and overall credibility as an owner:
We are finishing a new, 17,000-seat soccer stadium situated adjacent to the Mineta San Jose International Airport, are working on ancillary, adjacent development as well, and are doing all of this without a cent of public funding.
Among the more snarky tidbits re: the Raiders was this one:
We did not own the A's in the mid-1990s when the Raiders returned ... We do know, however, that the project was extremely expensive and led to the JPA assuming a massive debt-load. The A's did not benefit from that renovation...
...the scoreboard project the A's will undertake as part of our lease extension includes a second scoreboard for the Raiders' benefit. This is something we do not need for baseball purposes and is of significant cost to us. But it will be useful to the Raiders during the remaining years of their own tenancy alongside us in the Coliseum.
So what's the problem?
Basically, Lew Wolff doesn't want to build Coliseum City. It's not his project, it's not necessarily a development centered around the A's and a new ballpark, and perhaps most importantly, it's probably never going to materialize. This letter is a not-so-subtly veiled recommendation: dump the Raiders, give me the land, and let me build.
The message has been sent, and hopefully received. It's time for Mayor Quan and the Oakland City Council to grow up and act decisively, instead of considering the painfully fruitless chase of two rabbits they've been engaged in for years. Act now and they keep the bigger rabbit; wait another few years (likely less) and they'll lose them both.
They can choose, at this point, which team to keep — the one that hosts at least 82 events per year, or the one that never hosts more than a dozen. They can choose the team that covers operating costs at the Coliseum and pays $1.5 million annually to play there, not the team that pays nothing into operating costs and plunged the city and county into huge debt, which remains nine figures strong to this day.
Entering into exclusive negotiation with Wolff and the A's would send the Raiders the only message they need, and hopefully send Raiders owner Mark Davis scampering, team in hand, to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, where they're very welcome. That stadium is fully capable of hosting the Raiders, located with good access to transit from the East Bay (Altamont Commuter Express, Capitol Corridor, VTA Light Rail, etc.), and for the numerous Raiders fans who come to games from the South Bay and Los Angeles, slightly more convenient. And all of that is aside from the venue itself, which outclasses the Coliseum by, say, 50 years — 1964 to 2014.
The Raiders' departure would solve the biggest remaining roadblock between Wolff and a new ballpark: Mark Davis would not longer be hovering around, making ludicrous claims about wanting to tear down the Coliseum in 17 months, despite, say, a half-billion dollar funding gap between him and his own new venue. Say what you will about Lew Wolff, but nobody has ever doubted his ability to actually finance a baseball stadium once he gets development rights on a site to his liking.
For once, Wolff is being proactive, actually making his intentions clear and being straightforward about what he needs and wants. If only Mark Davis could do the same - admit that the money for a new NFL stadium in Oakland simply isn't there and won't magically materialize.
The Oakland City council, too, needs to put all its energy behind getting Wolff the rights to work with the Coliseum site on his own terms.
Lastly (and least importantly), corporate talking heads a la Don Knauss need to stop creating counterproductive public distractions by touting plans for Howard Terminal. Not only is Knauss unwilling and unable to finance a new park near Jack London Square, he isn't even willing to finance a study of that site's viability - he's ponied up $50,000, which is to say that he's done nothing.
But Oakland, for the first time in a while, has a very real, realistic shot at a new baseball stadium and a revitalized parcel of land surrounding the Coliseum BART station, a huge shot in the arm for a city that is already well on the upswing. It's crunch time.