Why a Waterfront Ballpark Makes Sense

The plan for a new A's stadium at Howard Terminal would likely help continue the revitalization of downtown Oakland.

In recent weeks, A’s co-owner Lew Wolff has indicated a renewed interest in keeping the team in Oakland rather than moving it to San Jose. Specifically, Wolff has begun to focus on the possibility of building a new ballpark within Coliseum City — a massive mixed-use development to be erected on public land currently occupied by the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Arena. But while Wolff’s apparent change of heart is good news for A’s fans who don’t want the team to leave, a rival proposal to build a waterfront ballpark near Jack London Square likely would be a better idea for the city.

The waterfront ballpark plan, which is being pushed by a group of Oakland business leaders and team boosters, involves building a privately financed 38,000-seat stadium at Howard Terminal on Port of Oakland property. The site is close to downtown and is readily accessible. It’s not far from the 12th Street BART station and is only a few blocks from AC Transit lines and the free Broadway Shuttle. It’s also right next to the Oakland ferry terminal and is just a short walk from the Amtrak station. Plus, the surrounding neighborhood features plenty of parking on weeknights and weekends.

But, more importantly, its proximity to downtown would help the continued revitalization of Oakland’s urban core. In fact, privately financed baseball stadiums — and basketball arenas — make financial sense for downtown areas because of the large number of events they host each year. A new A’s ballpark would feature at least 81 home games, plus other events at the site, that promise to draw a total of about 3 million fans every year. And many of those fans are people who may not otherwise visit downtown Oakland. (The port is interested in providing the property for the ballpark because Howard Terminal is being phased out as a shipping operation, and a stadium would help revitalize the port’s real estate properties in Jack London Square.)

As such, ballpark patrons would provide a financial shot in the arm for bars, restaurants, and retail throughout Oakland’s downtown and waterfront areas. And since many of the establishments that stand to benefit are small, independently owned businesses, a waterfront ballpark also would fit better with the city’s shop-local ethos. The Coliseum City project, by contrast, is being fashioned after LA Live in Los Angeles, and thus will likely attract chain retailers owned and operated by large corporations.

A new privately financed basketball arena at Howard Terminal also makes sense for the same reasons. At fifty-plus acres, the site is large enough to accommodate both a baseball stadium and a new basketball facility for the Golden State Warriors. Plus, an arena would host at least 41 professional basketball games a year, along with concerts and other events. So it, too, would help revitalize the area. A new football stadium in downtown, by contrast, wouldn’t have as much impact because it would host so few events: The Raiders play only eight regular-season home games a year.

Although the Warriors’ owners seem intent on moving the team to a waterfront site near downtown San Francisco, Oakland city leaders would be smart to begin talks with the team about a new arena at Howard Terminal. After all, at least one of the Warriors’ owners, Joe Lacob, is reportedly interested in being part of an effort to buy the A’s and build a new ballpark on Oakland’s waterfront, according to knowledgeable sources. (Lacob declined to talk about the issue with the Express. Warriors co-owner Peter Guber told the Los Angeles Times that he’s not interested in buying the A’s, but declined to comment as to whether Lacob is.)

According to sources, Lacob is part of one of at least three groups that have expressed interest in purchasing the A’s and building a ballpark at Howard Terminal, as the Express first reported on its website last week. Wolff responded by telling the Oakland Tribune that the team is not for sale. He also dismissed the Howard Terminal proposal as being unfeasible, but then hinted that he and his partners might be interested in keeping the A’s in Oakland after all, at Coliseum City.

In short, the revelation that other wealthy investors are interested in buying the A’s and building a new ballpark in Oakland seems to have forced Wolff’s hand. Over the past several years, he has repeatedly told Major League Baseball (MLB) — and the rest of the world — that there are no viable locations for a new A’s stadium in Oakland. But it’s now obvious he can no longer make that claim.

Moreover, his plan to move the A’s to the South Bay is dead in the water. A judge recently short-circuited a lawsuit filed by the City of San Jose against MLB that sought to allow the team to move. In addition, court documents in the case revealed that Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig rejected Wolff’s proposal for a new ballpark in San Jose last June. The league has repeatedly refused to okay the proposed move because the San Francisco Giants own the territorial rights to the South Bay.

Wolff seems to finally understand that his team is going nowhere — hence, his renewed interest in Coliseum City. And while a downtown ballpark makes more sense for Oakland, the Coliseum City development would also provide positive outcomes for the city. The huge project will generate thousands of jobs and produce millions in tax revenues for Oakland. As a result, it would help the cash-strapped city pay for much-needed services and social programs that endured devastating cuts during the recession. Plus, the project is much farther along than Howard Terminal: It already has deep-pocketed investors who have publicly come forward to say that they’re interested in financing it.

In other words, Coliseum City is a worthy project. It just won’t do much for Oakland’s downtown.


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