With the announcement that the Laney College site for a new Oakland Athletics ballpark is off the table, team management has four options on how to proceed in a post-Coliseum world. We look at all four.
To say that the Athletics front office was blindsided by the decision of the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees to discontinue negotiating for a new ballpark is probably an understatement. The team had mapped out a process to solicit input from stakeholders in the project – students, faculty, local business owners – but that process was cut short by the board of trustees, who directed Chancellor Jowel Laguerre to discontinue talks.
This leaves the Athletics with four viable ballpark options unless the whole site-selection process is re-opened: pursue a Howard Terminal site, work on a Coliseum renovation plan, tear down the Coliseum in favor of a new ballpark, or move the team.
While Oakland politicos love the idea of a new A’s ballpark at the Howard Terminal site, most unbiased observers do not. Yes, the views would be spectacular on the waterfront, but the location is a terrible one: no BART access, limited freeway access and parking options, and no local attractions. The location solves a problem for the city of Oakland, but does not really solve the Athletics’ ballpark situation.
Renovating the Coliseum is being discussed as a serious option, to the amazement of many. When the Oakland Raiders depart for Las Vegas, the Athletics will be the only serious option as a main tenant. Turning the Coliseum into a baseball-only facility will be a challenge. The circular cookie-cutter design never worked very well for baseball to begin with, with many of the suites and much of the seating far off the action. You’d need to rethink the entire ballpark seating arrangement—and probably reconfigure the entire first level of the seating bowl—to enable a great ballpark experience. There are plenty of issues with the ballpark when it comes to infrastructure (remember the raw sewage backing up into the clubhouses?). And you’d need to look at tearing down Mount Davis to provide a better view as well as a better ballpark game-day experience. That gets to be a complicated process.
And if you’re tearing down Mount Davis, why not tear down the whole Coliseum? It is, arguably, economically obsolete and not architecturally significant. A lot of history was played out there between the Raiders and the Athletics, but there are ways to commemorate that history without keeping the ballpark intact. Indeed, if you look at the Coliseum area as a blank slate after the Warriors and Raiders depart, with 120 acres available for redevelopment, you can easily see a future that combines a new Athletics ballpark with new development. The blueprint is easily copied: it’s no secret that SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves, has been economically successful right out of the gates, boosting team revenues while laying the groundwork for more economic success down the road with associated development. The Coliseum site is already set up with mass transit and freeway access. With associated development, a new ballpark turns into a true regional destination, not just a baseball facility. If you look at the most successful ballparks – SunTrust Park, Coors Field, Target Field – local development is a key to that success.
But let’s say a deal for a ballpark and development at the Coliseum can’t be reached. (Indeed, any new deal would need to forego revenue from electronic billboards on the freeway – potentially a big deal for a developer.) Let’s say the A’s ownership get tired of the local political battles and sees the upcoming end of MLB revenue sharing designed to address Oakland’s ballpark shortcomings. (Yes, this is coming in 2021.) There is then only the option of moving the team, either on their own or via a sale to Portland interests. (We are using Portland as an example, as MLB probably would frown up the move of a team to the Eastern time zone in the form of Montreal. Las Vegas would work, too.)
That would be a sad day for Athletics fans, who have supported their team through some very lean periods. Of course, it would be a happy day for Portland or Las Vegas fans. We’re not going to get into a debate about whether Oakland is large enough to support Major League Baseball, and we’re not going to explore whether MLB should force the San Francisco Giants to give up Santa Clara County and the potentially lucrative San Jose market as part of its territory. Under present circumstances, A’s ownership really only has two realistic paths to pursue – and one does not end well for Athletics fans.
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