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MLB to A’s: Feel free to leave Oakland

New Oakland Athletics Ballpark Renderings May 2019

The Oakland A’s should explore relocation if there’s no resolution to their proposal for a downtown waterfront ballpark, according to a statement released today by Major League Baseball.

“MLB is concerned with the rate of progress on the A’s new ballpark effort with local officials and other stakeholders in Oakland,” MLB said. “The A’s have worked very hard to advance a new ballpark in downtown Oakland for the last four years, investing significant resources while facing multiple roadblocks. We know they remain deeply committed to succeeding in Oakland, and with two other sports franchises recently leaving the community, their commitment to Oakland is now more important than ever.”

Staying at the Coliseum site is not a viable option, according to MLB: “The Athletics need a new ballpark to remain competitive, so it is now in our best interest to also consider other markets.” 

That stance was echoed by Oakland Athletics President Dave Kaval in an email to fans: “The time is here for a decision on our future, and it is unclear to us and MLB whether there is a path to success for the A’s in Oakland.” 

The Athletics proposed a $12-billion development at the downtown Howard Terminal waterfront site. The proposal, first unveiled three years ago, calls for a Howard Terminal waterfront development that, according to the team, will feature $12 billion in private investment, including a billion dollars for a new 35,000-capacity ballpark to replace the Coliseum. The development would also include 3,000 units of affordable housing, as well as 1.5 million square feet of office space, 270,000 square feet of retail space, a 400-room hotel, and an estimated $450 million in community benefits. The team is asking the city for $855 million in infrastructure improvements. Last month the A’s warned it was time to either decide on approval or rejection of the plan from the city, demanding a vote from the City Council.

Popping up in recent years–albeit with widely varying ranges of realism–has been mentions of Nashville, Montreal, Portland, Las Vegas, Charlotte, and Vancouver as potential MLB host cities or expansion sites. (One other option that’s sure to pop up: the team is likely to make another run at San Jose and persuade the Giants to relinquish or sell territorial rights.) This is not the first time Manfred has mentioned relocation in the context of the Oakland A’s; back in 2019 he brought up the potential move of the Athletics to Las Vegas officials should the team not build a new Bay Area facility. (He later walked those comments back.) A Nashville group has done the most in lobbying and planning for Major League Baseball, but none of these markets has the combo of a solid ownership group and advanced ballpark plan. Assuming the A’s are not sold, half of that equation is solved. With the MLB approval, the process starts immediately, according to Kaval:

“We’re going to immediately start working with the league on exploring other markets and working hand in hand with them to identify which ones make the most sense and pursuing that right away,” Kaval said. “We need to keep our options open. People know, we can’t even keep the lights on here at the Coliseum.”

“The future success of the A’s depends on the new ballpark,” A’s owner John Fisher said in a statement. “Oakland is a great baseball town, and we will continue to pursue our waterfront ballpark project. We will also explore MLB’s direction to explore other markets.” 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a supporter of the waterfront ballpark development, reiterated that support in a statement: 

“We share MLB’s sense of urgency and their continued preference for Oakland. Today’s statement makes clear that the only viable path to keeping the A’s rooted in Oakland is a ballpark on the waterfront. We have made great strides with the Governor’s certification and release of the EIR. Now, with the recent start of financial discussions with the A’s, we call on our entire community – regional and local partners included — to rally together and support a new, financially viable, fiscally responsible, world class waterfront neighborhood that enhances our city and region, and keeps the A’s in Oakland where they belong.” 

Opponents of the downtown waterfront site, including industrial firms who would be displaced or impacted by the development, say the best place for the A’s is at the Coliseum; the A’s currently have half ownership in the site and are negotiating to buy the other half from Alameda County. In a statement, the East Oakland Stadium Alliance–a group with a large number of members representing shipping firms impacted by the ballpark development–argue in a statement issued today the Coliseum site is the best location for a new ballpark given its proximity to freeways and mass transit:

The City of Oakland and its residents should not be pressured by threats from the Oakland A’s and Major League Baseball into a bad deal that involves handing out hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund a massive real-estate development.

The Coliseum location is the ideal place to build a new stadium, as it already has freeway access, public transit, and more than enough space to create a ‘ballpark village’ that could revitalize East Oakland. Despite 50 years of history and four World Series victories, John Fisher and the A’s are now telling East Oaklanders without any explanation that East Oakland is no longer good enough.

The A’s can stay in Oakland. If they focused on rebuilding at the Coliseum, which is already approved for a new ballpark village, there wouldn’t be a need to make threats aimed at compelling the city to give away public resources to support a luxury development complex in the region’s industrial jobs center. We want the A’s to stay in Oakland but not at the expense of thousands of blue-collar workers, or the health and safety of Oakland residents. While the Oakland A’s have claimed to be ‘Rooted in Oakland,’ after openly exploring moves to Fremont, Portland, San Jose, and Las Vegas over the past two decades, we now see that their roots in Oakland are shallow.

RELATED STORIES: Oakland A’s: Time to move forward with new ballpark; It’s MLB expansion time again, with another Portland ballpark plan unveiled; Nashville MLB effort adds another big name: Darius RuckerManfred Discusses MLB Expansion; Is Nashville a Contender? EIR draft details benefits of new waterfront Athletics ballpark; A’s prevail in Howard Terminal lawsuit; still, construction likely delayedSierra Club: Build A’s ballpark at Coliseum site, not Howard Terminal;

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