The A’s moved a step closer to securing a new ballpark in downtown Oakland on Wednesday when the six-member Oakland Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the certification of the Howard Terminal environmental impact review following conclusion of public comment (Casey Pratt of ABC7 reported the results of the vote). The decision, which could be put to a vote by the City Council as soon as next month, moves the $12 billion waterfront development project — which would include a roughly 34,000-seat ballpark on land currently owned by the Port of Oakland in the Jack London Square neighborhood — a step closer to fruition.
Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf celebrated the vote, calling the decision “a huge win for our entire region” that “puts Oakland one step closer to building a landmark waterfront ballpark district with the highest environmental standards.” Per reporting from Sarah Ravani of the San Francisco Chronicle, opponents of the certification cited issues surrounding affordable housing (an increasingly prominent issue in a rapidly changing city), traffic congestion, air pollution, the project’s compatibility with seaport operations, and inadequate measures to deal with toxic substances known to be present on the site.
In addition to the new ballpark, the development plan for the 55-acre plot includes 3,000 housing units, a mid-sized performance venue, 270,000 square feet of retail space, 1.5 million square feet of office space, and up to 400 hotel rooms and 8,900 parking spaces. In accordance with city law, either 15% of the 3,000 housing units (450 in this case) must be designated as ’affordable’ (defined as housing that is “restricted to occupancy at an affordable rent or an affordable housing cost to moderate-income households, low- income households or very low-income households”) or the A’s will need to pay an impact fee to the city for the construction of affordable housing units elsewhere. Per a 2019 report from Sam Carp of SportsPro Media, stadium plans include a $123MM gondola system that would ferry fans between downtown Oakland and the waterfront.
Should the broader proposal move forward as planned, it would bring to an end one of the longest running stadium dramas in baseball history. The A’s have played in the multi-purpose Oakland Coliseum since moving to Oakland to from Kansas City in 1968, sharing the facilities with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders (who moved to Los Angeles in 1981, returned to Oakland in 1995, and left again for Las Vegas in 2020) for the majority of their tenure. Considered innovative and cost-efficient in the 1960s and ’70s, multi-sport ’cookie-cutter’ stadiums such as the Coliseum have fallen out of favor, and the A’s are the last major league team to play its home games in a multi-sport facility from that era (the Rogers Centre, home of the Blue Jays, has hosted the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and the NBA’s Raptors but was opened in 1989 and is qualitatively different from its earlier counterparts).
Though still sometimes celebrated for its relative affordability, a small but dedicated cadre of die-hard fans, and a baseball-first atmosphere that stands in stark contrast to the amusement-laden parks recently in vogue (season ticket-holder Jack Nicas memorably called it “baseball’s last dive bar” in a 2019 essay in the New York Times), the Coliseum has long been cited as one of baseball’s worst ballparks. In 1996, late Raiders’ owner Al Davis controversially secured $220MM in public funding from Oakland and Alameda County to build more than 10,000 additional seats in the upper deck. The structure — dubbed “Mount Davis” by A’s fans — blocked views of the nearby Oakland hills and made non-playoff sellouts all but impossible, detracting from the ballpark’s intimacy and leading to a 2006 decision to cover more than 20,000 seats in the upper deck with a tarpaulin.
In recent years, the stadium’s dilapidation has become more apparent. In June 2013, an overtaxed sewage system flooded both clubhouses with raw sewage, forcing the A’s and the visiting Mariners to share the Raiders’ locker room on a higher floor, and a September 2013 walk-off win against the Angels was marred by reports of an aberrant stench emanating from the clubhouse toilets into the dugouts as a result of overflowing toilets. In May 2019, a malfunctioning bank of lights led to a 98-minute delay in a game with the Reds, and two dead mice were reportedly found in stadium soda machine during a Raiders-Steelers game in December 2018. Former owner Lew Wolff also admitted that on at least one occasion, the Coliseum’s food service had to be halted as a result of sewage leaking into stadium kitchens.
Attempts by A’s ownership to secure a new ballpark date back to at least 2005, when Wolff made an initial proposal to build a new stadium on land near the Coliseum. Those plans fell through when the owners of the land chose not to sell, but new plans to build a park in nearby Fremont were announced in 2006. Following substantial opposition, Wolff changed tack in 2009, attempting to a secure a site in downtown San Jose. The Giants, the club’s Bay-area rivals, objected that San Jose fell within their exclusive territory, however, and in 2015 the Supreme Court declined to hear the A’s objection to Major League Baseball’s decision to honor the Giants’ objection. The A’s began (since aborted) talks to construct a new stadium at the Coliseum site in 2014 and briefly engaged in negotiations for a site near Oakland’s Laney College in 2017 before focusing its efforts on the Howard Terminal site in 2018.
Several obstacles remain to the waterfront project’s ultimate consummation, of course, but the commission’s vote does represent progress in one of two long-running stadium dramas (along with a similar situation in Tampa) cited by commissioner Rob Manfred as obstacles to potential expansion. Manfred had previously urged the A’s to explore relocation. Whether his public remarks on the matter were intended sincerely or as a means of exerting pressure on the city of Oakland, the A’s did explore the possibility of relocation to Las Vegas, even submitting a bid on the site of the Tropicana hotel and casino complex, per a report from CNBC’s Contessa Brewer. Should both cities’ issues be resolved, in addition to Las Vegas, frequently noted markets as possible expansion targets include Nashville, Montreal, Portland, Charlotte, and Vancouver, though the commissioner’s office won’t want to green-light any serious expansion talks until the league has confidence that owners won’t be better served by relocating a team unable to secure a new stadium.