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With A’s in play, what comes next?

New Howard Terminal rendering (2)

Just because the Oakland A’s are free to leave the Bay Area doesn’t mean the team will leave the Bay Area. Here’s a look at what could come next, including more negotiations with Oakland city officials.

We’ve all heard this story before: MLB team hits roadblock with municipality over progress on development of a new ballpark. Team announces announces they are free to move or, in the past, open to discussions of contraction. In most cases, municipality and team come to an agreement.

But not always. In fact, we’ve seen this same game plan implemented in 2019, when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred 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.) Since then Manfred has been in communication with Las Vegas officials–though, in all fairness, “communication” can mean all sorts of things, and we don’t know if Manfred was actually discussing relocation with Mayor Carolyn Goodman or if he was merely responding to regular entreaties, so take the whole Vegas angle with a huge grain of salt.

In fact, MLB teams rarely move, even if threats surface regularly. In Oakland, fans and business leaders say there should be some high level of negotiations regarding the team’s proposal for 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.

Now, there have been lower-level negotiations over the scope of the project when it comes to community development efforts. But the City Council has yet to consider the big issues–something the A’s want–and will not be any time soon, according to council members:

“It’s not gonna happen, certainly you’re not gonna have my vote if you’re gonna rush me to do that. I’m going through a budget process now and certainly the information whether it’s environmental issues, the transportation issues, the cooperation with a community, it’s not there,” Councilmember Noel Gallo said.

City councilman Noel Gallo says he loves the baseball team but his responsibility is to the people of Oakland. At this time he’s not ready to vote for a waterfront ballpark.

“The financials aren’t very clear, the way it stands you’re asking the city of Oakland at this time to put in $900-million just for the infrastructure and at the same time there’s a lot of push back within the Port of Oakland with some of the businesses that are there and some of the community members but at the same time, I have a site is completely ready to rebuild the stadium over the Coliseum,” Gallo said.

In Tampa Bay, Manfred’s act is seen as a warning that the Tampa Bay Rays could be next. The Tropicana Field lease will be up before you know it–currently set for 2027–and with little visible new-ballpark action either in Tampa or Montreal, Tampa Bay’s future will likely come up next. From the Tampa Bay Times:

In that sense, the Oakland situation could almost become a hindrance to the Rays. If the stadium deal blows up out there and the A’s really do consider leaving town, it could take a wannabe market off the boards. And there are only so many cities that have the population, the demographics and the money to build a stadium, as well as not infringing on some team’s territorial rights.

Ultimately, the lesson here is that time is shorter than you might think.

When you consider the amount of time it takes to build a stadium, and the number of years remaining on Oakland’s lease, it’s not inconceivable that MLB could deliver a similar threat in Tampa Bay by 2024.

Meanwhile, cities that have been seeking an MLB team say they’re watching what happens with Oakland–but don’t necessarily think they’ll land the A’s. In Nashville, John Loar of Music City Baseball doesn’t think his city has a shot with the A’s, but might with an expansion team or a relocated Rays:

Major League Baseball has always said there’s going to be no conversation about expansion until Oakland and Tampa get resolved,” Loar said. “I think this is one step in that direction. It potentially opens the door for relocation here in this market and I also think it’s one step closer in the conversation of expansion.”…

“I don’t think Oakland comes to this time zone. If there are two expansion teams I think one will be in the West and one will be in the East or in the South. The South is a great market, Nashville is a top market, in my opinion. This just shows that unless a city is willing to support its team they’re probably going to go to a market that will.” 

The response in Portland was a little more muted:

Tuesday’s development was met with giddiness by baseball fans in Portland, and tempered enthusiasm by the Portland Diamond Project, a group working to bring an MLB team to Portland. Craig Cheek, the founder and president of the Portland Diamond Project, did not respond to a request for comment from The Oregonian/OregonLive. But sources close to the situation said the group was not surprised by Tuesday’s development in Oakland, and that it continues to “grind every single day” to bring a team to Portland, even if it has been notably quiet in recent months.

“We are proceeding humbly, but with confidence,” one source said. “We think compared to the other cities that are always mentioned, we’ve got the most to offer.”

RELATED STORIES: MLB to A’s: Feel free to leave Oakland; 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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