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Why The A's Want Their Ballpark — And A Whole Lot Else — Downtown

With several ill-fated attempts at a new ballpark behind them, the Oakland A's are looking to score with their latest proposal.

Their plans for a waterfront ballpark in the city's iconic Jack London Square represent only the latest — but arguably the most ambitious — attempt at making a new stadium central to a much larger mixed-use project. The organization's current proposal calls for up to 1.77M SF of commercial development, as many as 3,000 homes, a 400-room hotel and a new performance venue, all slated for Howard Terminal.

Oakland A's Ballpark
A rendering of the A's plans for their ballpark-anchored mixed-use development.

For the A's, who have toughed out the last few decades from their dilapidated East Oakland playing field, making their new stadium part and parcel of a much larger downtown development is especially crucial to their success, A's President Dave Kaval said. 

The team and its fans have suffered through several prolonged swings and misses this century, from the threat of legal challenges and community opposition killing designs for a Fremont ballpark to plans for a San Jose ballpark falling through. More recently, the organization's hopes for a ballpark near Oakland's Laney College were dashed by the school's board.

But to Kaval and the A's, who point to progress like securing an agreement to lease Port of Oakland-owned land, the purchase of half the Coliseum site and a key environmental impact report (due, perhaps fittingly, on Valentine's Day), the organization is on the right track.

“You’re seeing more real estate development around ballparks, I think, partially because what’s next to these ballparks really matters," Kaval told Bisnow. "You can see that where we currently play. There’s nothing next to it, and that makes it very hard to attract fans, especially younger fans, to our venue."

The A's plans for development at Howard Terminal and redevelopment at the Coliseum site also present their fair share (some critics would say superabundance) of risks, including environmental and port business concerns as well as city council's reluctance to cede control over the Coliseum parcel

So the next ballpark for the A's, who have struggled amid Major League Baseball's declining and aging attendance statistics despite recent winning teams, isn't leaving much to chance. The project would follow a string of other North American professional sports teams seeking to create what are commonly billed as destination locations, says University of New Haven Sports Management Chair and professor Gil Fried.

Coliseum Site Redevelopment
A rendering of the Coliseum site mixed-use redevelopment.

To justify increasingly expensive ticket prices, "you have to have more than just the sporting event," Fried said. “The idea is, wealthy people who will be coming have disposable money, so let’s leverage that as much as possible.”

In Atlanta, for example, after 20 years of baseball at Turner Field, Braves ownership partnered with JLL on the new SunTrust Park stadium, a project that encompassed a mixed-use district dubbed The Battery Atlanta. Surrounding the Braves' 41,000-seat ballpark are over 500 apartments, a hotel, 350K SF of retail and restaurant space, and Comcast's nine-story headquarters.

At SunTrust Park and other destination locations, attendance and the site's other real estate uses support each other, according to JLL Sports and Entertainment National Director James Renne. He points to AEG's development of Staples Center and adjacent land purchases in the then-undeveloped area of Los Angeles as the precursor for a trend that has greatly accelerated over the last five years.

“This becomes a revenue source and it adds to the bottom line of the team if it controls the real estate around the venue," Renne said. "You sort of have a multiplier effect. Almost every new venue in the last five years has some sort of ancillary component to it.”

The residential and office components of Boston's The Hub on Causeway, a partially complete, 1.5M SF mixed-use project next to TD Garden, are easier to lease up given the allure of sharing a workplace or home with the Bruins or Celtics, Fried said. Plus, commercial real estate in general has become an attractive way for team owners to diversify.

"Their focus is on how to generate as much money as possible, not just in the sports context but also outside of that," Fried said. "I think we’ll see more and more of these initiatives.”

Partially as a result of this interest in diversification, the real estate aspirations of the A's have taken a step further than those of other franchises. The organization also hopes to redevelop the site and surrounding land of its current ballpark, sans any professional sports. While they negotiate with the city for half of the land surrounding the Coliseum, the A's haven't specified much about what they plan there, except saying they plan market-rate and affordable housing, retail, plenty of recreational space and a possible tech campus.

The site itself would be able to accommodate a broad array of uses, St. Regis Properties President Sam Remcho said. 

“It lends itself to really any product type because of its location," he said. "From a multifamily perspective, your access to transportation is pretty much as good as it gets.”

On top of financial support, the A's Coliseum area redevelopment also provides ample space to meet community benefit requirements of their new ballpark, even if the two sites are six or so miles apart, Kaval said. 

The Battery at SunTrust Park Atlanta
A rendering of the $700M Battery at SunTrust Park Atlanta.

"I think any responsible development, even if it's just the ballpark, has to include areas like workforce development, affordable housing and community benefits that think broader than the specific ballpark," he said.

"Once you start that back road, you think, 'Hey, for us to be successful, to be able to build at the waterfront, we need a plan for East Oakland.' We've heard it loud and clear from the community groups and from the city, 'We don't want you to turn your back on the east. You're one of the longest-standing businesses in East Oakland.'"

Some have argued that the A's, who have said in the past their Coliseum redevelopment would help fund their new ballpark, should take the simpler route an build where the team is already located. That is particularly pointed criticism considering the site's available transit opportunities in the traffic-choked Bay Area.

“The Coliseum has excellent access," W. Purcell Commercial Property Services President Bill Purcell said.

"They have their own freeway, the [Amtrak] station, the BART station and access to the airport. All of the transportation tissues are at the Coliseum, and Howard Terminal doesn’t have any of these,” he added.

With the closest BART station about a mile away from Howard Terminal and the walk itself far from ideal, the A's and the city likely need to craft a comprehensive traffic plan reliant on tax-funded city support, Purcell said. A recent traffic study conducted by Oakland's transportation department estimates that game days at the A's planned Jack London Square ballpark would inundate the area with about 10,000 cars, a massive influx for an area with very little parking and stressed roads.

Still, even with the need for a transportation plan, as well as a clean environmental review, likely subsequent litigation, amendment of the general plan and development agreement with the city, Kaval and the A's hope to break ground on their waterfront site next year and for Opening Day 2023 to be at Jack London Square, likely in front of new and old fans alike. 

“For millennials that want to live and work in areas that are adjacent or close to these entertainment districts, having a location that’s walkable, bikeable, on the water and with ferry access to San Francisco is very appealing," Kaval said.