For quite a while, one thing about the City of Oakland's vision for "Coliseum City" has been certain, at least in concept: its actual layout and physical characteristics. The complex, as renderings have consistently shown, is expected to be dense, using high-rise hotel, apartment and office complexes alongside at least one "anchor" building — a sports venue — that creates an actual gameday experience for attendees, as opposed to the in-and-out, arrive-game-leave sequence that fans currently partake in.
But A's owner Lew Wolff, who has expressed renewed interest in the project in the past several months after years of referring to Oakland as a stadium non-starter, told the Bay Area News Group something different last week:
"Parking is a key issue for us," Wolff said. "We want surface parking surrounding the ballpark wherever we build it unless we're in the heart of a downtown."
To say the least, "surface parking surrounding the ballpark" is not a good thing to have in the middle of what, supposedly, is a high-density, urban development. Not a downtown, per se (incidentally, newballpark.org has a cool post analyzing Coliseum City's role as an alternate "downtown" for Oakland here), but an urban center that is far more than a building in the middle of a parking lot. Parking is good — most renderings of the project show a big parking lot in the project area's far south end, along with additional parking along the north side (a small sliver of the current, main parking lots north of the Coliseum).
Obviously, ballparks that rely on cars as their main mode of transportation aren't a huge issue of themselves. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium in the LA metro area both ranked in the league's top five in attendance last year, and going to games at each park is a fine experience, albeit not a downtown/urban one.
But the Coliseum is obviously different — the A's have trouble drawing in large part because of the lack of attractions in its vicinity. Coliseum City's entire promise is that it would create a destination area in East Oakland. If there are bars and restaurants for fans to frequent before and after games, that changes the area's entire dynamic. If there are thousands of tourists, workers and residents in newly developed hotels, office spaces and apartments, there's a massive group of people who can buy tickets at a whim and walk a few hundred feet to the ballpark.
I'm honestly not sure how the revenue comparison — parking vs. development — pans out in the long term, assuming Wolff's concept is still to finance ballpark construction using revenues from the surrounding Coliseum City development. Obviously, though, a huge part of financing the new ballpark would be the actual revenue from the ballpark, i.e. ticket sales and everything that goes along with ticket sales (merchandise, concessions, etc.)
Attendance is simply not going to be as high at a stadium surrounded, as it is now, by railroad tracks, a freeway, and parking. Again, there are real revenue numbers from potential Coliseum City developments and from projected parking demand that aren't available, at least to the public. But it's very hard to imagine a scenario where a state-of-the-art stadium in the same entertainment desert as the Coliseum does much better once the thrill of the park itself wears off.
But prioritizing parking itself over development and attractions that could turn Coliseum City into far more than a parking lot with a sports venue sitting in the middle makes no sense at all.