The coronavirus may have slowed the Oakland A’s pursuit of a new ballpark at the Howard Terminal site on the San Francisco Bay, west of downtown Oakland, but it hasn’t dampened their commitment.
The ballclub is “still 100-percent committed” to what may eventually become a more than $2 billion mostly privately-funded, multi-use project on two sites that sit six miles apart, even if the ballpark’s opening is delayed well-beyond the 2023 season as originally anticipated, A’s president Dave Kaval told Sportico in an exclusive interview.
“We love our plan down there for the ballpark itself, as well as the adjacent residential and retail areas around it,” Kaval said. “We think it can be a positive economic catalyst for Oakland and the waterfront, the same thing that happened in San Francisco with Oracle Park.”
The home of the San Francisco Giants cost the club $357 million of its own money. It turned 20 years old this year, and has already been paid off. Few folks remember it took two decades and votes in three different cities from concept to the first game in the then-new facility.
Similarly, John Fisher and his family bought the A’s in 2005 for $180 million, and the quest for a new park has traveled locally since then—from Fremont to San Jose to the current Coliseum grounds and on to the Howard Terminal. That 54 acres of pavement was once a port of delivery for pineapples shipped from Hawaii and currently is inhabited by the carcasses of truck compartments, just north of famous Jack London Square.
In San Diego, it took nine years from concept to the 2004 opening of Petco Park, at the cost of $456 million, $153 million contributed by the San Diego Padres.
“The city did pretty well,” said John Moores, the former Padres owner who piloted the project. “It made two or three times the debt service on the bonds. It’s been pretty phenomenal. It exceeded anything we would ever have thought. I’m sure the Giants have the same story.”
In Oakland, the plan now is for the A’s to redevelop the Coliseum area into a mixed-use project around Oracle Arena, with the ballpark being reduced to a baseball field surrounded by green space, apartments and retail outlets.
That 120-acre parcel where the A’s have played since they moved west from Kansas City in 1968 is jointly-owned by the City of Oakland and County of Alameda and cost $25.5 million in 1960s dollars to build out. The County has already sold its portion to the A’s for $85 million, and after a lawsuit and some acrimony, negotiations have just begun with the city. Starved financially dealing with the coronavirus crisis, the Oakland City Council voted late last month to explore selling at a similar price.
It’s a gargantuan project on the two sites, that includes a 34,000-seat stadium with a roof-top green space designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group, a firm headquartered in New York and Copenhagen with no prior ballpark design experience.
The team is still determining the overall cost, but Fisher has an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion while the team is valued at $1.1 billion, so there are resources, but yet no partners. If it happens, the timeline from concept to first game will also be close to 20 years. The 2023 projected opening now seems problematic at best.
“We’re just taking it quarter by quarter. It’s really up to the city,” Kaval said. “It’s how they prioritize the timing of the project and its approval. So, obviously, the COVID has affected the timeline. But the project is not at a standstill. It’s important to know we’re making progress, too.”
There’s always opposition to these projects. For example, in San Diego, former city councilman Bruce Henderson filed 16 nuisance lawsuits, taking each of them to the State Supreme Court, losing at every level.
“They were very effective, and they cost us a ton of money,” Moores recalled. “We lost two years. [The lawsuits] never had a chance to succeed, but that wasn’t the point.”
Last week the Sierra Club in Northern California sent a letter to the Oakland City Council saying the A’s project wasn’t environmentally sound and urged the club to build at the Coliseum. Kaval objected, citing the fact that the A’s will privately mitigate any environmental damage on the Howard Terminal property, plus build the stadium four feet higher to accommodate the anticipated rise of the sea level by 2100.
“This is a very positive green project,” he said. “It’s environmentally very forward. It’s greenhouse grass neutral. It’s going to improve the air quality in west Oakland. We’re taking a marine terminal and turning it into 18 acres of open park space. That’s a big win for the community. And to do it on private dollars? That’s another big win for everybody.”