Back in 2017, I was in the minority who thought the best location for the A’s to build a new ballpark was the Oakland Coliseum site, and nothing that has happened since has changed my point of view. Fast-forward to 2021, and the A’s are taking the position of “Howard Terminal or bust,” putting all their eggs in a basket whose obstacles include issues around the Port, parking, transportation, toxic soil, Schnitzer Steel, affordable housing, neighborhood opposition, and…sorry I can’t keep track of all the reasons the project may ultimately fail. Presumably, the A’s would rather move to Las Vegas than build at the Coliseum site and really, who wouldn’t prefer a tourist town that gets to 117 degrees in the summer?
But whenever the Coliseum site is brought up, it is quickly dismissed with the simple phrase “not viable” — as if there just aren’t enough potential fans, or potential revenues, to make that site work for development that includes a new ballpark. And I am here today to remind everyone of what complete and utter baloney that is.
My vision of the Coliseum site, back in 2017 and still today, was roughly as follows, with the caveat that I don’t know precisely what can fit on that exact space (which is a vast 120 acres). I envisioned a new baseball stadium the existing arena, and one preserved parking lot, accompanied by a Scandia Family Fun Center (or comparable equivalent), a couple restaurants, a network of walking/jogging/biking paths with grass and trees on either side, flanked by affordable housing units as part of a “Coliseum Village” that would be a logical destination for families, diners, concert goers, sports fans, dog walkers and fitness enthusiasts alike. Attractive, accessible, and with appealing destinations for real families and real community members — the very people who happen to make up the A’s fan base.
There is a reason the Coliseum site is not a destination in its current form. No one gets out their iPhone to google “asphalt parking lots near me”. The fact that people don’t go there now doesn’t tell you whether people would go there if they actually had reasons to.
Meanwhile, my vision for a ballpark was for at least a 40,000 seat stadium because the idea should be to make games accessible to your actual fan base, which includes poor and working families and not just wealthy individuals and wealthier corporations. The goal shouldn’t be to price out ordinary fans by creating demand with low capacity and then jacking up prices to make profits on the margin. The goal should be to sell tens of thousands of tickets to the Yankees series and fireworks nights, and to offer “cheap seats” any fan can afford for any game, while still bringing in sufficient revenues from those who can pay more.
All of this vision gets summarily dismissed by the A’s in 2 words: “Not viable.” And yet what do we know? We know that back in 1990, when the A’s played in an already decrepit Coliseum, under the guidance of ownership who invested in the team and in the community the A’s drew 2.9 million fans. Now I am supposed to believe that if the A’s had a brand-new ballpark, in an attractive setting surrounded by appealing sights and venues, the team could only hope to draw 10,000 fans a night? Of course they could draw 3 million fans a year. Or more. Just as plenty of people would undoubtedly flock to an attractive, and conveniently located (by freeway, BART, or on foot if you live there), site of appealing destinations.
It is nothing short of exasperating to reflect on the fact that had the team opted, in 2017, to build at and develop the Coliseum site, even with the pandemic they could reasonably be ushering in their new ballpark in April, 2022 – a full season before Matts Chapman and Olson are due to hit free agency. And groups such as the one headed by Dave Stewart have lined up to buy the remaining half of the land for the express purpose of developing the land to keep the A’s rooted not just in Oakland but even at the Coliseum.
So Why Not?
So what is the real problem? The problem is simply excessive greed. The Coliseum site has, in fact, a very high floor as a development venue. What it doesn’t have is a high ceiling. In other words, developing at the Coliseum site would in fact make millions and millions in profits and/or value — it just doesn’t have the potential to make billions and billions like a downtown or waterfront project can. Why make millions from black and brown people who bleed green and gold when you can make billions by squeezing them out and catering only to the hoity and the toity?
Extreme greed is what causes you to pass up millions and millions in the pursuit of billions, to try to skirt around the affordable housing the city is absolutely right to insist upon, to try to squeeze a square stadium into a round piece of land when 120 acres are just sitting there adjacent to a major freeway and BART station, waiting for the proper commitment and development.
“Not viable” really just means “We could only make millions and millions and we want billions — or we’re going to leave because we’re not ‘rooted in Oakland,’ we’re “rooted in greed.’” It’s a disgusting attitude that frankly belongs in Las Vegas and not in the great community of Oakland.
And while the Oakland city council may have failed the community time and time again around sports, when they ask the A’s to honor city and state laws around affordable housing, when they say the A’s should build and develop right where they are and not in the port’s backyard, this one time they are right on.
Developing the Coliseum site, and building a ballpark there with sizable capacity and affordable tickets, is not only viable, it is a high floor/low ceiling option that would be profitable for its developers and fantastic for A’s fans as well as for the city and community of Oakland. No one who is “rooted in Oakland” would even consider going to Las Vegas instead; only someone “rooted in greed” would even let such a notion pass over his forked tongue.
There is no question the A’s desperately need a new ballpark. But what the A’s don’t actually need is a new location. I felt that way 4 years ago, and today I am only more convinced. Greed is a deadly sin indeed.
Note: I don’t claim to be an expert on land development nor on ballparks. I would welcome a rebuttal from Dave Kaval and would gladly publish it, unedited, as a sequel to this article.