The Oakland A’s are heading down the homestretch in their pursuit of building a new stadium and ballpark village at the Howard Terminal site on the San Francisco Bay, west of downtown Oakland.
“We’re just focused on getting the Oakland City Council to vote sometime this year,” A’s president Dave Kaval said in a recent exclusive interview. “No more delays. We really want this voted on. We feel we have a great project. We really need to know this year, so we can make plans and open the stadium as soon as possible.”
Of course, it’s never that simple. This past Feb. 26, the A’s filed and Oakland published a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on how the still unspecified multi-billion dollar cost of the project will affect the proposed site. That opened a 45-day period for any member of the public to submit comments on the report, which originally was to end April 12 but has now been extended another 15 days beyond that.
The A’s ballpark situation has long been a critical Major League Baseball problem, along with the now dormant stadium situation in Tampa Bay. But pending litigation, the eight-member Oakland City Council could soon give approval to a preliminary development agreement, allowing shovels to be turned sometime early in 2022. Because of delays in the process caused by the coronavirus, the once-projected 2023 opening now seems problematic at best.
“Yes, once we get approval from the City Council, that’s really the last political step to move forward,” Kaval said. “We already have the Port of Oakland approval. We already have the State of California approval. So, this is really the big thing.”
Asked when he thought the vote could be taken, Kaval responded: “I’m hoping late summer or early fall, but it’s really in the city’s hands. We’re pushing them. We want to make sure everything is done in a manner that makes sense. We’ve already been working on this for three years. But that’s a question better asked of them than me.”
Welcome to northern California. A similar process unfolded for the current home of the San Francisco Giants, completed at the cost of $357 million of the Giants’ own money. That project took 20 years, and votes in three different cities, from concept to the first game in the now 20-year-old facility.
John Fisher and his family bought the A’s in 2005 for $180 million, and the quest for a new park has moved 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 dormant, inhabited by the carcasses of shipping containers, just north of famous Jack London Square.
It’s envisioned that the parcel will be home to a 35,000-seat, state-of-the-art ballpark, 3,000 apartment units, 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, 270,000 square feet of retail space, a 400-room hotel, a smaller entertainment venue to accommodate 3,500, and tons of open parks, including green space on the roof of the stadium, according to architectural plans provided by the A’s.
Advocates say the construction will revitalize Jack London Square in Oakland, much like how the ballpark in San Francisco rejuvenated the China Basin District in San Francisco, turning it into a vital business and entertainment hub.
For that reason, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff is firmly in favor of the project, in no small part because the A’s are the East Bay’s last pro sports team, given the relocation of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors to San Francisco and the NFL’s Raiders to Las Vegas last year.
“I’m excited about keeping our A’s rooted in Oakland,” the Mayor said in a statement on the day the DEIR was published, echoing the A’s own promotions about their commitment to remain. “The Howard Terminal requires the highest environment standards while giving us an opportunity to expand our entertainment district near Jack London Square, increase housing, provide good jobs, and keep our beloved waterfront working.”
The A’s have committed to fund and mitigate any environmental problems identified on the 54-acre parcel, plus elevate the entire construction project to ward off the possibility of sea level rise so close to an estuary that connects to the San Francisco Bay.
There’s still opposition to the project from within the city. A group called The East Oakland Stadium Alliance is in favor of keeping the team in a new facility on the Oakland Coliseum site, where the team has played in the same stadium since it moved from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968.
The A’s studied that possibility, but opted instead on the Howard Terminal site, pledging to redevelop the Coliseum area as well.
That 120-acre parcel where the A’s play was originally 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 stake in the land to the A’s for $85 million. After a lawsuit and some acrimony, the team is continuing negotiations to purchase the city’s portion. The Oakland City Council, its budget hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, voted late last year to explore selling its stake at a similar price to the county’s.
It’s a gargantuan project on the two sites, designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group, a firm headquartered in New York and Copenhagen that has no prior ballpark design experience.
The team is still determining the overall cost, but Fisher is worth $3.3 billion and the A’s $1.1 billion, so there are resources. If it happens, the timeline from concept to first game will also be close to 20 years.
The East Oakland Stadium Alliance was granted the 15-day extension of the 45-day period by the Oakland Planning Commission to question the DEIR, making it 60 days in total, but was not particularly happy with that result.
“We are disappointed that the city did not meet the community’s request for a 45-day extension,” the group said in a statement obtained by Sportico. “Our partner organizations, community groups, and the public fought for an extension to ensure that community stakeholders have a fair opportunity to analyze the 6,000-page report and address the potential impacts to traffic congestion, public safety, job loss, and threats to Oakland’s maritime industry, among other concerns.”
Kaval, meanwhile, says time is of the essence and is pushing for City Council approval.
“These things move at a slow pace,” he said. “You have to keep momentum and the pressure on to continue to maintain the goals. There was a slowdown with COVID, but that’s past now. We need to think about the future. This is a multi-billion dollar project. We really want to make it happen.”