Dave Kaval

A's Howard Terminal ballpark plans seem to actually be rooted in Oakland

A's Howard Terminal ballpark plans seem to actually be rooted in Oakland

If the Oakland Athletics genuinely want to make the Howard Terminal stadium – for the moment known as Howard’s End – a building made in keeping with the people it is intended to serve, it will have gun turrets that open onto the façade behind center field at AT&T Park. You know, just for a laugh.
 
It is, however, enough that unlike their other attempts to leave the Coliseum, they didn’t decide to colonize the land before entering into negotiations to obtain it.
 
Indeed, that’s the takeaway from a long-on-drawings/short-on-details presser at the A’s headquarters Wednesday. The A’s did not declare Howard Terminal to be part of their empire, but they are talking to the City of Oakland and Alameda County about a grander scheme in which they buy the Coliseum to develop it, and buy the Howard Terminal site upon which to put their new ballpark.
 
So we’ve got talking, and the talking point is that talking is good. At least it’s better than they’ve done all the other times they’ve tried to relocate themselves without anyone else’s permission.
 
After enough false starts and foolish assumptions over nearly two decades, the A’s finally took that first nervous step toward actual self-sufficiency in the place they have reluctantly called home for most of the last 50 years. Given a choice between the Terminal and the Coliseum, they are trying to get both – one for playing, both for paying.
 
Indeed, the selling point, from A’s president Dave Kaval (owner John Fisher was “out of the country,” according to an A’s spokesperson), Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, supervisors Nate Miley and Larry Reid and port authority rerpresentative Ces Butner, was that everyone is talking with one goal in mind – namely, not to look foolish in making this grand plan work.
 
There are still rough guidelines – to get the working plans in place by the end of 2019, including the cost to the A’s of buying and/or leasing both sites, to hire shovels by end of 2020, and to throw the first pitch in 2023.
 
But the talks between all the groups have not yet reached the granular stage at which everyone finds out of this is financially doable, financially logical, or financially appealing. It’s as if they decided that being in the same room over and over is worthy of a press conference.
 
Of course, since they hadn’t even achieved that in the past, maybe it WAS worth a press conference.
 
The moving parts involved are daunting enough. The A’s want the land at the Coliseum to create revenue to help them offset the cost of the Terminal, especially the land cleanup. The county wants to be out of the stadium business entirely. The city wants to make sure the Coliseum fits into a grander scheme to re-energize East Oakland while using the baseball team to spice up an underused piece of waterfront property. And Major League Baseball, which has a similar plans-but-no-shovels issue in Tampa/St. Petersburg, wants a sense that all this interlocking dithering is finally done and that the A’s can aim toward, well, something.

[PHOTOS: A's plans for Howard Terminal ballpark, Oakland Coliseum project]
 
And all this negotiating and bureaucratic hoop-jumping has to come off in roughly the next 13 months so that the next 39 months can be devoted to building a thing that looks like part park, part mall, part shire, part railyard and part ski lodge.
 
Between those dates, there is more to be resolved than any participants on the dais is ready to roll into actual details – because none exist.
 
If this sounds like the next incarnation of the Peralta disaster, there is this much. The A’s actually didn’t declare victory before the battlefield had been ascertained.
 
And if all this is done . . . talking, signing things, digging things, piling things atop each other, the works, by 2023, then Fisher can hope that it all works after it is built and that the A’s can finally be a bitcoin elephant to rival the cash cow across the bay.

But first it must be built, and this is a grandiose enough project as it is, making a ballpark a shopping hub on land that will cost billions to be detoxified while making the Coliseum into a more amorphous community center for East Oakland. It is a huge financial commitment that the A’s say will be 100 percent privately financed, which means that the projects won’t be paid for decades. The Giants needed 17 years to pay off a working gold mine with a lot smaller capital outlay, so the Fishers (or whomever owns the team next) are not only rooted in Oakland but affixed and bolted to it.
 
Kaval wouldn’t touch the matter of cost because without saying so, the team’s position is that if they’re paying, they don’t have to do any of the saying. But there is a question of what they aren’t paying for (infrastructure) that Schaaf said gets into state legislation and potential redevelopment resources.
 
This is a far more complicated project than the Giants or Warriors ever had to navigate, and is in fact closer to the byzantine dealing that got the Raiders to Las Vegas. And remember, nothing is done until it is done, as the Denver A’s, Fremont A’s, San Jose A’s and Laney A’s can attest.
 
In other words, today is a celebration of a plan being put to paper and the promise of hundreds more meetings. What makes it special, if special is the right word, is that the plan says “Oakland” on it, the first time that's occurred since the Haas family sold the team in 1995. It isn’t the same as the team and the town being in love with each other, but it is an acknowledgement that as the only options either has, they are finally and mutually attracted. Or as Schaaf put it, "We're dating exclusively."
 
And if the dating leads to a full-on engagement, pre-nup or even vows, those Oakland stadium gun turrets may one day be aimed properly.

A's plan Howard Terminal stadium, Oakland Coliseum site redevelopment

A's plan Howard Terminal stadium, Oakland Coliseum site redevelopment

The A's believe they’ve finally found their new home in Oakland.

The organization announced Wednesday its plan to build a 34,000-seat waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal near Jack London Square. If everything goes to plan, construction would start in late 2020, with the stadium opening in the spring of 2023.

[PHOTOS: Howard Terminal ballpark and Coliseum site redevelopment renderings

"I think the urban downtown location right on the waterfront is really a game-changer for the A's and for Oakland," team president Dave Kaval told NBC Sports California. "It's just a tremendous site. Having the connection to the water, the connection to Jack London Square, it's a tremendous location for a ballpark."

The plan describes the new privately financed ballpark as the centerpiece of a new waterfront district featuring housing, restaurants and small businesses that will create an active scene even on non-game days.

"The No. 1 principle is really that this is bigger than baseball," Kaval emphasized. "This is something that can really help transform Oakland, deal with a lot of the challenges the city has had over the years, and bring economic vitality, job opportunities and housing opportunities as part of this ballpark neighborhood. We're really excited to do that."

The A's also plan to redevelop the current Coliseum site, keeping the original baseball diamond while building a large park, along with new housing, office developments, restaurants and more. Oracle Arena, which the Warriors will vacate after this NBA season, would be repurposed as an events center.

"We've been there 50 years," Kaval said of the Coliseum. "We have a great sense of the importance of that development on the future of East Oakland. ... We wanted to honor East Oakland. We wanted to make sure it was part of the plan, and there wasn't a thinking we were abandoning that part of the city."

Kaval admits a great deal of work still must be done before the A's can move forward with their plan. Over the next 120 days, the organization hopes to reach an agreement with the Port of Oakland and begin an Environmental Impact Review process, among other tasks.

"2019 is going to be a really big year for us in terms of getting the final approvals," Kaval said. "We're going to work on our port option in the first quarter and hopefully get that finalized. We're going to work on a development agreement with the city of Oakland. We're working hand-in-hand with the mayor and the city council on that. ... We also are taking the other step of moving forward with the California Environmental Quality Act, which is a process that takes about a year to get your environmental clearances.

“So these are some big milestones that we're going through right now, and we felt it was important to give a progress update to the community and to our fans on where we are, and also show people our vision for an amazing ballpark on the waterfront."

While the Howard Terminal site presents its share of challenges and the A's already have faced some pushback, Kaval is confident all sides can work together to overcome any obstacles.

"We have a great partner in the city and in Mayor Libby Schaaf, and also in the port commission," he said. "We're working very closely with them to evaluate the challenges and come up with plans and be solution-oriented. Whether it's transportation, whether it's building a new neighborhood around the ballpark -- things like housing, including affordable housing, commercial real estate, bars, restaurants -- really create a district like you have around AT&T Park. That's an important part of the vision because it's going to mean the ballpark is more active and it's a better destination even on non-game days."

[RELATED: Complete A's offseason coverage]

Of course, Kaval is well aware that A's fans have seen these types of announcements before, only for them to fall through. Just last year, the A's believed they had a deal to build a new ballpark in downtown Oakland near Lake Merritt, but the Peralta Community College District landowners suddenly halted talks.

"We think we learned from that previous experience," Kaval said. "We channeled that learning and knowledge this year. We did a lot of community outreach, and we have a plan here that's not only our plan but it's really the community's plan, and it will continue to evolve as we move into 2019. ...

“We're doing everything we can, and we've had great partners on the city side and on the civic side to get this done. I think everyone realizes it's just a really great project for the Bay Area, for the East Bay and obviously for Oakland."

Kaval puts Coliseum, Howard Terminal back in play for A's new ballpark

kaval-oakland-office-stiglich.jpg
JOE STIGLICH

Kaval puts Coliseum, Howard Terminal back in play for A's new ballpark

OAKLAND — The A’s moved into some plush new office space this week at Jack London Square, with hallways wide enough to ride a skateboard through, as one team executive already discovered.

That ever-elusive search for a new ballpark site?

Still TBA.

After guiding reporters through a tour of his team’s 40,000-square foot new office Tuesday, A’s president Dave Kaval made his first public comments on the ballpark topic since the Peralta Community College District pulled the plug on his plans to build a stadium near Laney College.

“I just want to re-emphasize we’re 100 percent committed to Oakland and a location for a privately financed ballpark here,” Kaval said.

“We’ve identified three final locations. We had a preferred location, a lot of thought went into that. We just want to make sure before we make another announcement that we’re very thoughtful about how we approach it.”

Those three locations were Peralta, which seems off the table unless Laney College leaders have a change of heart and the sides re-negotiate; the A’s current home at the Coliseum complex; and Howard Terminal, which is in clear view from the team’s new second-floor office windows at 55 Harrison St.

The A’s chose this site for their offices while originally planning their ballpark at Peralta, so the proximity to Howard Terminal is not an indication that the A’s are now leaning toward that site.

But Howard Terminal and the Coliseum are back in play, Kaval confirmed, though the fact the A’s bypassed both during the original search demonstrates that they feel each has serious drawbacks. Howard Terminal is the preferred site of Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, but includes headaches having to do with infrastructure needs and environmental clean-ups. The Coliseum would provide the quickest route to completion, but the A’s reportedly have questions about whether the site can generate enough revenue to build a new venue privately.

Whatever direction the search takes, Kaval believes the A’s new executive offices are an important step in the process. The team spent between $4 and $5 million, and the massive space includes an entryway that showcases the nine World Series championship trophies in franchise history, a full gym and a batting cage for employees to enjoy.

There’s also memorabilia from throughout A’s history at every corner, including the white cleats first introduced by Charlie Finley in 1967 and the team’s original scouting report on Reggie Jackson.

Kaval compared the new-age office to those found in Silicon Valley, because he says the A’s will compete with Silicon Valley to recruit the Bay Area’s top business minds. He’s hopeful the new space also helps woo potential sponsors.

“It shows the type of environment we want to create with a new ballpark,” Kaval said, “celebrating our past, having a collaborative work environment. When people see this, they can see the vision we have for a new ballpark. It’s almost like a sampler.”

A’s chief operating officer Chris Giles rode a skateboard Monday down a long hall that connects different departments. Troy Smith, the A’s vice president of marketing, said the new office “really changes the way you view your job. It’s almost like having a brand new job.”

Though the A’s are dedicating plenty of resources to build a new office culture, they’re not as likely to spend aggressively from a baseball standpoint, at least not this season.

Factoring in guaranteed contracts, estimated salaries for arbitration players via mlbtradeumors.com, and estimated salaries for pre-arbitration players via Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the A’s current 2018 payroll sits at roughly $56.75 million.

It’s likely that the Opening Day payroll won’t crack $70 million, which would be well below the roughly $81 million of 2017. But perhaps that’s not a shock. The A’s are still likely a season away, at least, from being a true contender, and they’re building around a core of young players who are making near the major league minimum.

The good news for fans is that Kaval says he doesn’t envision the failed Peralta ballpark plan interrupting the A’s grand vision from a roster standpoint. That would suggest Oakland still plans to sign some of those young core players to long-term extensions, which front office officials have stated as a goal.