Oakland Athletics announce a plan for a plan to build a new ballpark, but they have a long way to go

OAKLAND — Almost exactly a year ago — on Dec. 6, 2017 — the Oakland Athletics’ chosen site for a new ballpark fell apart. The Peralta Community College District shut down a proposal to build a stadium on its grounds near Laney College.

On Wednesday morning, the A’s unveiled another stadium plan — their third in the last decade and a half (including the abortive plan to move to Fremont) — and another set of artist’s renderings of a proposed stadium, this one at Howard Terminal.

Mayor Libby Schaaf was there, careful to remind the media that this was the first time she and the other stakeholders — Nate Miley (Alameda County District 4 Supervisor), Cos Bunter (President of the Board of Port Commissioners), A’s president Dave Kaval and Oakland City Council President Larry Reid addressed the stadium together, publicly.

“Please,” Schaaf said, “just note that.”

The plan — which includes a redevelopment of the Coliseum site — has elements of San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Petco Park and the redevelopment of the Kezar Stadium site. Both parts of the plan are environmentally forward-thinking. But, with no price tag, no concrete dates (save for a 2023 opening) and scant details on who will pay for what (save to say it will all be “100-percent privately financed,” according to Kaval, or that infrastructure “could be” a public-private partnership, according to Schaaf ), Oakland fans can be excused for feeling a bit circumspect.

Asked whether the A’s will be buying the Coliseum site — turning what was once part of Oakland’s Killing Fields when Reid first arrived in the early 1980s into Oakland’s version of Central Park or Golden Gate Park — Kaval equivocated, while coining the phrase “adaptive re-use” to describe the project instead of answering the question. He was asked again.

“We are in conversations with the city and the county on the Coliseum property,” Kaval said. “We worked with the city on an [exclusive negotiating agreement] that was executed in May, and we continue that process and look forward to a positive resolution.”

Miley, the chair of the Joint Powers Authority for the Coliseum and Oracle Arena, said that the county had been in conversations with the A’s “for quite a long time,” on the A’s acquiring their interest in the property.

“Those details are still being worked out,” Miley said. “The A’s would step into the county’s position, working with the city to develop that location, and ensure the eventual development of the property at Howard Terminal.”

Schaaf added that the city and county are negotiating the city buying out the county’s interest in the Coliseum site, a valuable piece of transit-rich public land.

“Those talks took a very positive turn this very week,” Schaaf said. “That is another path towards simplifying the ownership structure of the Coliseum land so that development can happen.”

It is Schaaf’s hope that there is a city-county deal, as opposed to an A’s-county deal, which would enable the city to sit down, as a single owner, and deal with the A’s. Still, nothing’s decided.

The A’s signed an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Port of Oakland in May. That process, Kaval said, is halfway through, and they hope to have an actual option agreement by the first quarter of 2019.

“They’re in an agreement, so it’s like we’re dating, exclusively,” Schaaf said. “We’re not looking anywhere else. We’re in a courtship right now, and so that’s the period under which we actually develop the details of a potential, actual development.”

Dating. Not married.

Translation: Nothing’s been signed. No actionable deals have been reached. No ink is drying. No shovels are getting dirty. Just a lot of hypothetically, potentially, possibly, theoretically, grammatically, syntactically, ecumenically, spiritually hoping.

Schaaf, for her part, had always hoped Howard Terminal would be the end (pun firmly intended) result. There’s a lot of history at the Coliseum site, sure, but it’s also a painful reminder of the two teams that will be leaving in the next two years, as the Raiders head to Las Vegas and the Golden State Warriors move to the Chase Center in San Francisco. It’s also in a neighborhood that is firmly on the margins in deep East Oakland.

The secondary project proposed by the A’s would have Oracle turn into a (not very good) concert venue. The original Coliseum diamond will become Oakland’s Kezar: The field will remain, but the superstructure — the one on which the city of Oakland still owes $20 million every year until 2025 (thank you, Ghost of Al Davis) — will be demolished. The parking lot so jealously guarded by Marc Davis will be turned into pastures, lawns and trees, with the original wetlands restored to prevent flooding due to sea level rise.

Shopping and community education spaces would take the place of the temporary bleachers stored in the parking lots. Tech campuses and community gardens would replace barbecues and blinkering parking lot lights.

“I think there is an opportunity to do something really special with that land, where the Coliseum exists, that can really change the community that has long waited for change,” said Reid, whose district encompasses the Coliseum.

But, as with the other elements of the plan, there’s a lack of detail. There’s no firm plan on how the land gets bought, and by whom, or for how much, or if that money will somehow go towards infrastructure development at the Howard Terminal site. The officials present couldn’t answer who would bulldoze the Coliseum, and when.

“We’re still in the process of negotiating that with the county and the city,” Kaval said, before touting the A’s community engagement efforts.

The infrastructure discussion on Wednesday, too, was brief and beige. There was no color, no texture, as to how to solve challenges at Howard Terminal.

Yes, there’s a train stop within a mile of the site, and the proposed gondola — while seemingly strange to our American sensibilities — isn’t all that uncommon overseas, and could provide some stupendously amazing views of the Bay en route to its final destination. But, while the Coliseum site has its own BART station and train stop, the new location is nine blocks from the nearest exit on Interstate 880 — a snarl even in the best of conditions, not to mention adding 34,000 extra people — and the streets between there and Howard Terminal aren’t exactly five-lane avenues.

Beyond that, there wasn’t much parking shown in the renderings, and though there were assurances that, yes, there would be on-site parking, there was no talk of space count and it’s not readily apparent where it would even fit.

The A’s will start to go through CEQA — the California Environmental Quality Act which requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts — on Friday for Howard Terminal. That will take one year.

In the meantime, the club has a 120-day action plan focused on additional community outreach, an agreement with the port on a land deal and more conversations with community groups to develop a community benefits plan.

Any community benefits and public-private partnerships would be negotiated in 2019, Kaval said.

Then there will be nine months of expedited judicial review. Ground breaking would happen in late 2020.

There is no drop-dead date to move on to another plan, no deadline imposed by the club or by Major League Baseball. There’s not even any surety on how much any elements of the plan, to say nothing of the overall plan itself, would cost, and no date by which that cost needs be known.

“We’re in the process with our design team, evaluating the cost of the entire project, whether it’s infrastructure, the ballpark, the other development,” Kaval said. “That’s actually happening right now. The important step in making sure we can proceed and break ground is getting the California Environmental Quality Act done, obviously extending our arrangements and our agreements with our community benefits, and developing this development agreement with the city that encompasses that and any of the infrastructure necessary for the project. That’ll be the next step there.”

That sounds like, frankly, the very first, fundamental steps actually needed to build a ballpark. That’s not step 45 or 47. That’s step 1.

In a plan long on lofty proclamations and short on details, it was appropriate that there was something missing even with the evocative stadium renderings.

Sure, the jewel-box design looked gorgeous, ensconced within a maze of terraced ziggurat multi-use buildings (much like San Diego’s downtown hotels and luxury apartments tower over Petco Park).

As the sloping rooftop canopy park swoops down to a point at ground level, behind center field, something was missing. Sure, there was a great view from a grass pasture beyond the center field wall — seemingly a selling point — but amid the trees and the chevron-shaped lap pool water element, the picnic area and the curious lack of hand rails (safety first!), that view was unobstructed by a requirement of all major league parks: a batter’s eye.

For something so seemingly meticulously planned and designed — with even the number of affordable housing units (800) accounted for at the Coliseum site — and for such a major piece of Oakland’s future, it sent all too apparent a message: Don’t sweat the small stuff. We’ll figure it out later.

As we’ve seen before with the A’s stadium projects, that’s not too comforting a thought. I hate to quote Battlestar Galactica (that’s a lie), but this has happened before, and it will happen again.

Cisco Field in Fremont. San Jose. Laney. Howard Terminal. For the last 12 years, Oakland Athletics fans have gotten their hopes up time and time again. Is this the closest they’ve come to a new ballpark? Unequivocally, yes.

It’s not the first inning, but it’s not the bottom of the ninth, either. This grand plan can still get called due to rain.


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