Last week the Trib’s Matthew Artz asked Oakland City Council member and mayoral candidate Rebecca Kaplan about $2,100 in donations that came from Lew Wolff, his wife and daughter. There was a suggestion of impropriety, as an Oakland law prohibits campaign contributions from any party that has done contract negotiations with the City during the prior six months. After huddling with her staff over the legality of the donations, Kaplan decided to return the checks. Wolff appeared to be unaware of the law. You may remember that Wolff donated a much more eye popping sum of $25,000 to a committee backing Don Perata’s mayoral campaign during the 2010 election, a move that may have helped cost Perata the election. Perata admitted that he wasn’t going to waste time or money trying to keep the A’s in town.
That’s a much different stance than Kaplan today, as she has staked a claim to helping save the A’s by spearheading lease extension talks. Kaplan has also supported Coliseum City, though the project is considered Mayor Jean Quan’s baby, at least politically. The now returned donations are under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, as is another $1,000 that was donated to a Kaplan committee whose fund has been liquidated under similar concerns.
Kaplan has been the frontrunner in recent polls, beating Quan in a projected ranked choice voting scenario. It’s unclear what damage the donation investigation could cause the Kaplan campaign, which is only three weeks from the election.
Matier and Ross reported over the weekend that Coliseum City is getting cozy with yet a hedge fund to potentially finance the project. The SF Business Times revealed that the target is Perry Capital, a fund managed by Paul Leff and Dan Golding. They purchased a non-voting, minority share (20%) of the Raiders for $150 million from Al Davis before his death. The fact that Perry already owns a share of the team gives the story more credence than previous stories about the Crown Prince of Dubai. Then again, let’s keep in mind the rather unimpressive amount of financial support for the project so far:
Financiers that have bailed out/not fully committed to Coliseum City: Forest City Colony Capital HayaH Holdings “Prince of Dubai”
— newballpark (@newballpark) October 14, 2014
Forest City backed out because they didn’t see the numbers working out. Colony/HayaH has purportedly been hesitant to fully commit for similar reasons. The Dubai story was just that, a story, and Perry Capital? Well, at least there’s an existing relationship there. There’s a $500-600 million funding gap that needs to be addressed. If Perry is going to assume a large percentage, they’ll want their pound of flesh in return. That could mean a larger slice of the team, though Mark Davis is reluctant to drop below a controlling percentage, which in the NFL has been 30% for a family and 10% for a controlling partner in that family. Davis and his mother own 50-51%, so there’s some room to drop. The NFL may also be looking to lower the requirements for legacy family ownerships.
It’s hard to judge based on the limited information we have, but we can assume that trading in a share of the team for a private stadium subsidy (to be paid back by a rise in team equity and development revenues) is an option available in both Oakland and Los Angeles, and perhaps in San Antonio as well. Leff and Golding have seen their investment appeciate 29% since their 2007 purchase, which seems impressive enough except when compared to the skyrocketing values of many other NFL teams. The Raiders for now are a low revenue team in a low value market, with the only obvious recourse being the construction and selling out of a new stadium. Leff and Golding could push hard and try to bring in even more partners to spread out the risk. The problem is that Coliseum City is clearly a long game, with significant profits going to pay for the stadium and ancillary development. Rental and real estate sales revenue are the prize that will take years to materialize.
The struggle to attain financing for Coliseum City highlights how different Coliseum City is from other NFL stadium development plans. The NFL and the Raiders at first wanted to focus on the stadium, with further development coming down the line and not necessarily tied to stadium loans or bonds. The league has a very sophisticated financing structure in place. It gauges the size of the stadium project, assesses the ability of the applicant team to pay for its share, and doles out loans from its G-4 program. The league also plays matchmaker, hooking team owners up with huge financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and BofA. Those banks are there to manage that funding gap, the same kind that Coliseum City is trying to fill for the Raiders. When Oakland decided to move in their own direction, the NFL decided to play wait-and-see with the project. If JRDV and the other CC principals can pull it together, the NFL can give the project its blessing and untie the G-4 purse strings. If not, Oakland’s future will look very bleak on the Raiders front. It makes one wonder why they’re going to so much trouble when there is a tried-and-true method to financing a new NFL stadium. It limits the number of potential partners in favor of a high-risk strategy with a low chance of success. And if they’re having to resort to working with a hedge fund, the usual avenues for funding may all be exhausted.
There is some historical symmetry to this effort, as the original Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Complex was privately financed after Bob Nahas and others went to some far-flung places to secure that funding. The ENA deadline is October 21, and news of a new partner may allow Oakland to extend the period six months, though such a transparent move isn’t likely to gain Mark Davis’s support. The development team has spent three years and $5 million on Coliseum City. What do they have to show for it? So far, not much beyond the 3,500 pages in the EIR.