Last week was marked by the revelation of new information on the latest effort to bring Major League Baseball to Portland. While news about a group of backers behind the push and potential ballpark sites prompted speculation about Portland’s chances of obtaining a team, there is still plenty to resolve before relocation or expansion could be considered. That includes the ongoing ballpark searches for the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays, two teams that face distinct challenges to remain in their current markets.
The A’s and Rays have been working for years to replace their respective homes, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Tropicana Field. More recently, the efforts of both teams have gathered more attention, but for different reasons. While the A’s are looking to stay in Oakland but have not settled on a site, the Rays have found a desired site in Tampa but must overcome obstacles relating to cost and funding.
Last September, the A’s appeared to have new momentum when they named a site near Laney College as a preferred choice for a new ballpark. Any traction gained by the team seemingly halted in December, however, as the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees ceased discussions over the proposal. That site is not completely off the table in the ballpark search, but more recent reports seem to have the A’s taking a longer look at the Coliseum complex and Howard Terminal.
The waterfront Howard Terminal is favored in some circles for its setting and proximity to downtown Oakland, but access issues are among the many concerns surrounding the site. If the A’s view obstacles at Howard Terminal as being too much to overcome, the Coliseum could then stand as the top contender.
The Coliseum has its own advantages, including existing infrastructure and plenty of room for surrounding redevelopment. Those factors have also made it a target for other parties, as car manufacturerer Tesla and sports entrepreneur Mark Hall have been linked to all or part of the site. The A’s have made a pitch to purchase the site–essentially offering to pay off outstanding debt on the Coliseum and adjacent Oracle Arena in exchange for the property–but the more immediate development will concern negotiations between Oakland and Alameda County. County supervisors recently voted to enter negotiations with the city to have it purchase the county’s stake in the 130-acre site. Having the city as the sole owner could simplify negotiations for future development at the site, but discussions with the county will ultimately determine whether that becomes the case.
Meanwhile, the Rays face a set of challenges that are completely different. The team has its preferred site in Tampa’s Ybor City, announcing in February that it will pursue a new ballpark on a 14-acre site north of Ybor Channel. A move from St. Petersburg to Tampa would potentially put the Rays in a more centralized location for boosting fan and corporate support, but a new ballpark there is far from certain.
The team and Hillsborough County–the two parties currently expected to be the biggest contributors to the ballpark–have not publicly revealed a cost estimate or funding plan. On the county side, tourism tax dollars is viewed as a funding option, but that revenue source is not enough to cover the ballpark’s cost. For the Rays, the issue has been whether they can generate enough revenue to support their stake in the ballpark, which has prompted calls for increased business support for the team.
Looking at the situations facing the Rays and A’s, it is clear that the two teams have started on a path that keeps them in their current regions, but neither is a certainty. That brings us back to Portland, where Portland Diamond Project backers have bid on potential ballpark sites. Led by retired Nike executive Craig Cheek and former Portland Trail Blazers (NBA) announcer Mike Barrett, the group has emerged with a plan to bring MLB to the Rose City with a focus on two sites for a new ballpark, including the current Portland Public Schools’ headquarters and the Esco Industrial site, which once was home to the former home to pro baseball in the city–Vaughn Street Park.
The newfound sense of momentum has fueled speculation about Portland’s prospects for landing a team, as the city has long been eyed as a future MLB home. However, both sites present their own challenges, and it remains to be seen whether the group has the financial wherewithal to land a relocating or expansion team.
For now, it would seem that relocation talks for the A’s and Rays are off in the distance–if either actually gets to that point–and MLB is unlikely to pursue serious expansion plans until their ballpark situations are settled. Portland, Montreal, San Antonio, and a host of other cities could present themselves as viable candidates for relocation or expansion when the time comes. For now, however, the focus is on the A’s and Rays and whether they successfully end their longstanding ballpark pursuits and remain in their current markets.
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