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.