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Oakland A’s Slow-Pitched Plan For Waterfront Ballpark

There is a groundswell of support for the Oakland Athletics to get a new stadium.

Major League Baseball is treating it as a priority, saying the league can't move forward with expansion plans for new teams until the A’s and Tampa Bay Rays get updated facilities. The Oakland Coliseum, the team’s current home, was built in 1966, standing in contrast to the region’s newer sporting venues: San Francisco’s Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors, opened in 2019, and the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium opened in the South Bay in 2014. The San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park, completed in 2000, recently underwent renovations.

And having lost the Raiders to Las Vegas in 2019 and the Warriors when they moved across the bay, Oakland residents are hungry to retain the Major League Baseball team. According to a 2018 poll by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, 74% of respondents supported the A's getting a new stadium in the city.

But the pursuit of a new stadium has been met with many challenges since the team began eyeing the Charles P. Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland as a possible site in 2005. 

Details about where and when the team will build its new stadium have been slow to solidify. The current plan would entail redeveloping a 55-acre stretch of industrial waterfront for a major mixed-use project. However, the process, which formally began in 2018, has been hindered by several competing factors, and its targeted 2023 completion is at risk.

A rendering of the A's proposed waterfront ballpark

The project is an enormous one, and attempting to complete it amid the coronavirus pandemic has created additional uncertainty about the timeline. In addition to an “equity-centered” Community Benefits Agreement process involving over 100 community stakeholders giving their input, the project entails a massive interagency coordination with approval required from the city of Oakland, Port of Oakland, Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and the State Lands Commission. There is also opposition from groups like the East Oakland Stadium Alliance that want to see the A’s remain at the Coliseum. The organization posted results from a third-party survey of 500 Oakland registered voters indicating that 62% wanted the A’s to remain at the Coliseum. Other community members want another site like Laney College, as was previously considered.

“I hope that the A’s stay in Oakland, that they’re here for the long haul,” said Pelosi Law Group principal attorney Alexis Pelosi, a local land use lawyer who has been following the planning process and remarked on the project’s high level of complexity. “You couldn’t find anyone who says that they don’t want to see the A’s stay in Oakland.”

The plan calls for a stadium situated right on the harbor that could hold up to 35,000 people. Surrounding it would be up to 1.77M SF of commercial development, as many as 3,000 residential units, a 400-room hotel, a performance venue that would hold up to 3,500 people and improvements to aging infrastructure.

On the western border is Schnitzer Steel, leading to the rest of West Oakland’s waterfront occupied by the Port of Oakland and industrial seaport uses. Howard Terminal was used as a maritime container terminal until 2014 and is now truck parking, container storage and a longshore training facility. The A’s reached an agreement with the Port of Oakland to purchase Howard Terminal for $156M in June 2019.

The area's industrial nature has led to concerns about the project potentially impeding maritime activities, and it would require environmental remediation. A number of lawsuits ensued last year reflecting competing interests in the seaport lands. In March, Schnitzer Steel, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, the Harbor Trucking Association and the California Trucking Association brought a lawsuit against the A’s over plans to conduct a streamlined environmental process. In August, the A's filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Toxic Substances Control for allegedly failing to enforce pollution restrictions for Schnitzer Steel's facility, which is the largest metal-shredding operation in the state.

On the eastern border of the A’s proposed site is Jack London Square, a waterfront shopping and entertainment district often bustling with foot traffic despite the temporary shuttering of many stores during the coronavirus pandemic. If the A’s plan came to fruition, it would connect with Jack London, forming a long stretch of active waterfront uses for the general public. 

“Sometimes we forget that Oakland is a waterfront city because there are relatively few places for the community to actually come down and access and enjoy the waterfront,” Jack London Improvement District Executive Director Savlan Hauser said. “So this will really open up an area that’s currently off-limits to the general public.”

Hauser, a CBA Steering Committee member, said the waterfront stadium could supply important amenities such as publicly accessible open space that have taken on a new level of importance during the pandemic, though the project wouldn’t likely open until current public health regulations are lifted.

“It could be extraordinarily transformative for us to bring so many more people down here to our neighborhood, going to the bars and restaurants before and after the game, having all the employees in the area,” Hauser said. “Our waterfront neighborhood has been chronically disconnected from the rest of downtown because of the freeway division, but we think that the stadium will be a significant draw that will bring so much more foot traffic and activation in our neighborhood and also invest in additional infrastructure and transportation solutions that really could benefit everyone, improving connectivity and safety issues on our streets.”

A fence separates Howard Terminal from the waterfront boardwalk connecting Jack London Square.

The city of Oakland’s Planning Department released the Notice of Preparation for the Draft Environmental Impact Report in November 2018, with public comments due in January of the following year. Although release of the DEIR has taken unusually long, it may be out in February. The next CBA Steering Committee meeting will be on Feb. 27, postponed from Jan. 23.

“The Covid-19 pandemic appropriately shifted the focus of the city, port and A’s to addressing the dire needs of our communities,” A’s spokesperson Catherine Aker said in an email to the San Francisco Business Times. “This delay has impacted the opening of our new ballpark.”

The A’s declined to comment to Bisnow.

The A’s had to defer rent payment for the Coliseum due to the ban on large gatheringsBisnow reported in May. Major League Baseball lost between $2.5B and $3B in 2020 due to fewer games played and there being no fans in the ballparks, the Athletic reported.

While the pandemic applied the brakes on much of the planning process in 2020, several community meetings were held with stakeholders and residents via Zoom to gather recommendations about what community benefits should be delivered by the project.

According to city of Oakland Stakeholder Engagement Lead Veronica Cummings, this is the first time that data on race and equity has been used to develop a CBA, a priority given the history of racist public policy, redlining and, more recently, gentrification and displacement in West Oakland. Cummings is the author of the Oakland Race and Equity Baseline Indicators Report, which provides data on racial disparities.

“From our perspective, it is of the utmost importance that there be a robust, legally binding community benefits agreement that addresses the needs of affordable housing for low-income working families and that there be strong job standards, including local hiring for workers who are disadvantaged and [face] barriers to employment,” East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy Senior Campaign Director Liana Molina said. “We don’t believe that the city and the port should approve this project if there’s not a strong community benefits agreement.”

In addition to impacting the MLB, the pandemic has created concern about the viability of multifamily, office and hotel uses, at least for the near future. Molina said that the city and the A’s had been asked on multiple occasions to present the project’s financial pro forma, but it isn’t yet clear if and when it will be disclosed. 

“San Francisco doesn’t have a working port; San Francisco has a tourist port,” Molina said. "The Port of Oakland is a major economic engine for the region, so if we’re willing to potentially risk that industry over the long term, then it better be worth it in terms of community benefits. The project must guarantee a significant percentage of affordable housing units for people who are working-class Oaklanders. It better create a substantial quantity of living wage jobs for people who are on the economic margins.”