Thursday night update: The USOC has selected Boston's bid as the one it will advance to the international selection process. Welp.
In a surprising last-minute move, Bay Area planners have added the Oakland Coliseum site as a potential location for a proposed Olympic Stadium that would serve as the center of the Bay Area's bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
This is a potential game-changer — in a nutshell, the International Olympic Committee put 0.7 billion pounds toward the construction of venues and infrastructure preparation prior to the 2012 Olympics in London. That's about $1.1 billion U.S. dollars, and if a well-heeled investor had come forward and offered $1.1 billion dollars to help build out Coliseum City, ground would have been broken yesterday. Then there was money from England's equivalent of the U.S. Federal Government, hundreds of millions from sponsors, more from the broadcast rights, and then local government money (alright, that part might not be realistic in the Bay Area).
To put it more bluntly, when a region hosts the Olympics, it is paid to do three things: build state-of-the-art sports venues, improve transportation infrastructure, and add hotel capacity. That sounds like something Oakland could take advantage of.
The decision makes so much sense it's tough to believe it actually happened. Previously, the bid had centered around a proposal for a temporary stadium in Brisbane, just south of the San Francisco city limits. The stadium would have been along Highway 101, nowhere near BART and only somewhat near Caltrain, generally inaccessible to the majority of the transit-riding tourists who'd be in town for the games and useless the second the closing ceremonies finished.
The Coliseum site is a polar opposite. The benefits of the site are obvious, with immediate access to BART, Capitol Corridor, and a direct rail link to Oakland International Airport, plus freeway access and a location in the heart of the Bay Area's urban core. Moreover, since the site actually has long-term potential, the stadium could be built out initially as an Olympic stadium, then later converted to either a baseball or football venue.
That's exactly what happened in 1996 with Centennial Olympic Stadium, which was built out as an 85,000-seat venue capable of hosting track and field events and anything played on a rectangular field. It later became Turner Field, home to the Atlanta Braves.
The move has a plethora of potential implications for the A's, some more direct than others.
There's the obvious, ideal scenario: Oakland goes full 1996 Atlanta and builds a track-now, baseball-later stadium. That's obviously not an optimal solution for the A's, who would like to move into their new venue sometime before 2025 or 2026. It begs the question of whether Oakland could build a baseball venue in time for, say, 2018, then convert it to an Olympic Stadium and move the A's to AT&T Park for a year before they move back the year after the Olympics.
The more likely and logical scenario is building a stadium around a rectangular field that the Raiders could move into whenever it's ready. That venue would need far less extensive modifications between a track configuration and an American football layout. But an Olympic Stadium as a Raiders venue could still help the A's, particularly if it's financed by the IOC or other external interests.
Coliseum City is a much more appealing development option if one venue is paid for, and don't forget the cost of the infrastructure improvements. The IOC could help pick up the tab for a Coliseum BART revamp, utility relocation, and maybe even more ambitious projects like creating more efficient service to San Jose and Sacramento, which would also somehow figure into the bid (other metro areas often host soccer matches and serve other roles when the Olympics are being hosted elsewhere in their country).
So say that the IOC (effectively) buys the Raiders a shiny new stadium, buys Oakland a revamped BART station and freeway upgrades and pays for the development of a few thousand housing and hotel units on the site to serve as a temporary Olympic Village, which will afterward be converted to some mix of luxury and affordable apartment units. Numbers for a joint undertaking between the Davis and Wolff/Fisher ownership groups suddenly make plenty more sense when the only thing that needs to be financed is an anchor tenant capable of bringing thousands of people to the development almost 100 times per year. Any ideas?
All of the above is a markedly optimistic outlook, of course. But even if the housing construction isn't paid for, or Oakland and the Bay Area get drastically less money than London did from the IOC, this could still be an inflection point for the East Bay.
The Bay Area is unlike other metro areas, especially American ones, in that relatively little large-scale construction would be needed to pull of hosting the Olympics. There will be three NBA-caliber indoor arenas in 2024, at least four state-of-the-art football/soccer venues, three international airports and a solid spine of transit connecting it all.
For years and years, we've passed breaking point after breaking point in the A's/Raiders/Oakland venue saga. This is yet another potential paradigm-shifter, but as we've seen before, complete inaction at a supposedly critical juncture means nothing.
The Bay Area faces stiff competition in even being the bid that the United States presents to the rest of the world, as Los Angeles, Boston and Washington, DC are submitting bids as well. The USOC will decide which bid to submit tomorrow, so if this post has you feeling optimistic, don't worry; that'll probably pass within 24 hours.