Coliseum renovation for baseball?

Lew Wolff was profiled in the current edition of Athletics magazine. It amounted to a short biography, with some time at the end devoted to how Wolff sees the A’s future. Much attention has been paid to the following passage:

We continue to respect the desire of the Raiders for a new football-only venue, while we of course would like to play in a new or vastly improved baseball-only venue.

New or vastly improved? Wolff referred to a renovated Coliseum recently, perhaps only in passing. This sounds like a renovated Coliseum is a real option. But is it?

When most A’s fans think about a rebuilt Coliseum, what they think about most is the old Coliseum, pre-Mount Davis. Knock down the concrete eyesore in the outfield, bring back the bleachers and ice plant, fix up some stuff in the old Coliseum and the A’s are set. Which would be true – if this was 25 years ago. We’re in 2015, and the bar has been raised. Removing the football seats isn’t going to bring in casual fans, the attendees that come to Oakland so inconsistently and infrequently. In California, renovation works on old theaters, where wood and accents connote charm and warmth. A hulking stadium once known as the Oakland Mausoleum has no warmth. It would still lack a purpose-built ballpark’s intimacy. And for Oakland and Alameda County, they’d be stuck with $100 million in remaining debt and nothing to show for it. There is a bright side, however. If the A’s took over the Coliseum after the Raiders left, the A’s could claim and repurpose the Raiders’ locker room, eliminating the legacy clubhouse’s plumbing and sewage issues for good. City and County would still be stuck with the debt, but at least they wouldn’t have to pay the Raiders’ ongoing operating subsidy at the Coliseum, worth $7 million a year.

Cost of return to early 90’s Coliseum: $150 million ($50 million in improvements, $100 million in outstanding debt)

Another option could be to repurpose Mt. Davis and replace much of the old stadium, since Mt. Davis is the newest part of the Coliseum. I posted such a concept six years ago to little fanfare, which is exactly what I expected. It’s exactly the compromise plan that you might think it is.


It’s sort of the Two-Face of ballparks. The top level of Mt. Davis would be removed, seats replaced on the lower and club levels, plus remodeling of the concourses and suites. New seating decks would be built behind a relocated home plate and first base line. The mezzanine and club levels of the old Coliseum would remain since they fill needs: a restaurant in the outfield and additional seats. The new scoreboards could be assembled into one extremely wide (36′ high x 290′ wide) or large (72′ x 145′) display. No additional major infrastructure other than a revamped field drainage system would be needed. Of course, some issues regarding the sight lines from Mt. Davis would have to be resolved, partly by rearranging the lower bowl and adding new seating options.

Cost of repurposed Mt. Davis-based baseball stadium: $350 million for the A’s, including $100 million Coliseum debt.


A new, bespoke ballpark on the Coliseum grounds is the preferred option for A’s fans and MLB. Is it for Wolff and Fisher? Sure, as long as it pencils out. The idea that Wolff pitched last year was that there was a way to privately finance a ballpark while also addressing the debt by taking it out of the public’s hands. Unfortunately that concept has been hit with two huge doses of reality.

Issue #1 is that it’ll be hard to service the debt of the new stadium and the old stadium using all private sources. Right now Mt. Davis costs low eight figures to service, but imagine if that debt wasn’t serviced by relatively stable sources like taxes, instead paid by stadium revenues. Financing costs would balloon, making an already expensive project even more expensive. That’s why I found it curious that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf seems resigned to having the public sector pay off the debt. To go that route would be significant reversal, as one of the goals of Coliseum City was to find ways to wipe away the albatross.

That leads to Issue #2. The sale of the (public) Coliseum land could turn into a political third rail thanks to protests by East Oakland and housing activists. Wolff, like many other developers, is finding that the economics aren’t quite right for a market value project at the Coliseum, where the higher prices are needed to subsidize other project components like the stadium. Even if the pricing worked out, the same aforementioned activists would raise hell over potential gentrification. When the Coliseum City process started, there was an acknowledgement that the various public and private partners would have bargaining chips to play. Slowly, each of those chips is being taken away. We’ll soon be down to the basics: building a stadium privately, with no help.

If a new A’s ballpark can stay reasonably priced, there are ways for it to be financed by Wolff. Like the Giants, there will be some annual set aside for debt service that impacts payroll. Lean years could become extremely lean thanks to the mortgage. The A’s could work a deal with MLB to ensure that they stay on the list of revenue sharing recipients in the next CBA. It would be a reasonable request given the A’s being pigeonholed into Oakland.

Regardless of the difficulty, a new ballpark has to be what MLB and Rob Manfred want for the A’s and Oakland. The old compromises don’t die. They evolve and transform. That’s the new reality.

50 thoughts on “Coliseum renovation for baseball?

  1. I think there could simply be an issue where there is not enough money to pay for a new ballpark in Oakland but the renovation options are also expensive and weak. Reconfiguring Mount Davis for baseball and giving fans a lovely view of…Route 880 traffic? This is what MLB has done by locking the A’s into Oakland instead of letting them pursue a workable plan in San Jose. Maybe a discombobulated, unsatisfactory $200 million renovation of the Coliseum is what MLB deserves, given how it has treated the A’s.

  2. A Colisem renovation is fine as a relative short-term solution. But the inevitable is bound to happen, this team needs a new stadium. I see a renovation as a stall tactic until Oakland or some other city can support the A’s in about 10-15 years. Can you imaging going through this all over again?

    ML – If an renovation happens, you should consider securing “” domain.


    • Yes, renovating the arena has not turned out to be a permanent solution for the Warriors. 18 years later and they want to leave for a new building. It’ll be the same thing with an A’s stadium renovation.

  3. I say new or nothing. The A’s need a new baseball only home, anything short of that is kicking the can down the road yet again. It would be nice to see it in our lifetimes.

  4. A partial rebuild/renovation of the Coliseum will work to a football field shaped configuration, but not to a baseball field configuration. Mt. Davis, the newer portion of the Coliseum, could easily be retained mostly as is with renovation. It’s elongated straight design fits exactly into a football field configuration. The original 1966 Coliseum bowl would have to be completely replaced from scratch. The circular shape of its original grandstand is less than ideal for either baseball or football. For this reason, a partial rebuild/renovation of the Coliseum makes the most sense for the Raiders to do, and not for the A’s.

  5. FWIW, a renovation could be MLB’s way of telling Oakland, “You don’t want to help pay for a new ballpark, then you won’t get a new ballpark. Just another renovation like the arena. How’s that working out for the Warriors? They sticking around?” This enables MLB to keep the team in Oakland for the time being without enduring cries that it is abandoning a struggling city in time of need. A Band-Aid solution…Of course, all this presumes that the NFL throws its hands up in the air first and just gives up and moves the Raiders out of town for the same reason: No public support for a new stadium.

    • @pjk, A proposed renovation of the Coliseum for the A’s would not provide the same future leverage that the renovation of the arena had done for the Warriors. Oakland officials know all too well that MLB is committed to keeping the A’s in Oakland. As for the NBA, they are not holding the Warriors to just the city of Oakland part of the Bay Area.

    • @ pjk
      I’m not sure if that’s an equal comparison, the Warriors aren’t leaving Oakland because they have problems with the renovated arena (for the most part), they are leaving Oakland, because it’s not San Francisco.

      • Which is why the Mission Bay arena project failing would not necessarily lead to the Warriors building in Oakland. The Warriors owners have shown 0 interest in building in Oakland. When the Embarcadero site wasn’t happening in SF, they went looking for a new Frisco site instead of returning to Oakland. Who knows? If Mission Bay doesn’t happen the Warriors owners may even decide to kick in $100 million to San Jose’s arena and play there, instead.

      • @ pjk
        You could be right, but San Jose (like Oakland) is not San Francisco either. I also don’t think they would want to move further from the middle of the Bay Area, being that they are the only NBA team in the market. But, to your point I think they would have to try and fail four to five times to consider Oakland.
        Hay their owner was looking at H.T.? Like you said who knows?

  6. Pretty much agree with the consensus. It’s like spending the money to ‘restore’ a 1975 Ford Pinto. It’s better than the rust-bucket you used to have, but as soon as you get it out on the highway you still are stuck with a relic that has minimal ‘charm’ value.

  7. A renovation will not work for the Coli for a few reasons,

    Tearing down the top of Mt Davis is easier said than done, that alone will cost a ton of money as they need to keep the underlying suites. The extra time it will take will make this far more expensive by default.

    Not to mention the seats on lower Mt. Davis side are portable and they will need to install brand new ones and a new structure to support them as with new construction.

    Every suite wrapped around the stadium needs to be replaced and the West Side Club has a walkway where anyone can go through it, this needs to be fixed as well. Not a cheap endeavor here either.

    The concourses are too small right now except in the Mt. Davis area as it is a newer construction, there is no room to expand any of it, people are bumping into each other and it isn’t cool.

    There is no field club level either, the MVP suite behind home plate needs to be expanded big time. There should be a club level underneath 1st and 3rd base lines like ATT Park.

    This would require digging underneath the Coli, and we all know the Raiders hit water all those years ago trying to dig.

    The Coli is a “pig” and putting “lipstick” on it will not work.

    If by the miracle the Raiders are approved to move to LA then why on God’s green earth would Lew Wolff renovate?

    He would build new in the lot next to the Coli and play in the current one until the new one is done.

  8. Good luck selling the club seats on the Mount Davis side at club seat prices when they’re 46 rows away from the field. By contrast, AT&T and even the old side of the Coliseum has them 28 rows away given the overhangs.

  9. Looking at the illustrations, the A’s easiest path toward a baseball-specific facility would be to construct a temporary stadium in the north lot while gutting and amending the existing structure.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with the circular superstructure – in fact, if properly and fully utilized, a lot of ancillary stuff can be “built into the hillside” if the stadium isn’t being used on a daily or weekly basis.

    When Chavez Latrine was renovated in 2014 (About $150MM if memory serves), they ripped out roughly the front 30 rows of the lower bowl down to the angles and placed in a newer, lighter, non-concrete overlayment, and the resulting space underneath was converted to offices, training facilities and the like. If this can be done with a stadium that was initially built in 1960, then…

  10. I don’t think it will matter whether is renovated or torn down for a new facility. In 20 to 30 years, its pro sports tenant(s) will complain that it is out of date and that a new facility is needed….and so it goes. 😦

  11. Oakland investing in sports teams is like taking out a new car loan when you can’t pay the rent. Any neutral study of Major League sports teams (“neutral” means was not funded by developers or a League) shows Football is always an economic catastrophe, Baseball is, with rare exceptions, at best a break-even proposition, more often a losing one. Basketball is about the best deal going; but only pays if the venue is in constant use in the off season. If private money can’t buy the land, build the stadium and then pay taxes like every other for-profit business does, why should the public purse pay for all that? If the A’s can’t pay the freight themselves, then they should find another host to feed on. Ditto the Raiders and the Warriors.

  12. I knew this would eventually happen.

    At least Wolff is giving the signs to, hopefully, Manfred and he will relent. Let the Raiders figure out a solution in Oakland and give SJ to the A’s.

    Otherwise the, um, LODGE, (need to bow, to genuflect, and utmost honor; to the elite), will keep this San Jose thing going indefinitely. Oakland A’s fans don’t need this any longer. I’ve been a fan for 40 years and don’t want this instability any further. SJ A’s fans please rejoice. Either they f*king stay or go. I am done with this. It’s just constantly back and forth. Just f*ing leave with your bs if you cannot make it work here.

    PS – this might be the expected end game of Oakland A’s fans, which is fine with me.

    • San Jose is unlikely to approve a base ball park. Heck they voted down the Giants two times.

      • The Giants were asking for SJ to pay for a new ballpark. The A’s have said they will pay for it on their own. It’s apples and oranges.

  13. Sorry for being salty but it just seems like it’s back and forth in perpetuity. Kind of hard to keep the faith with this team when there is a perennial threat to move.

    Make a decision to either stay or go. I get the mlb TR but someone should do something very soon because this is beyond ridiculous. Am I going to eat tonight? Whoa, maybe not. Ok, now we’re going to eat. Darn! No food. Wow, here comes a great meal. Crap, someone took it away.

    At some point things need to be shored up with no equivocation.

    Again, sorry. Perhaps sour grapes. Perhaps frustration. Perhaps that male time of the month.

  14. ML – Am I simplifying things too much by saying:
    1. build a new baseball only stadium in the North Lot
    2. Then, tear down the current and replace it with retail and other spaces that could fully take advantage of the BART location
    3. Possibly get a corporate sponsor – Chevron, Clorox, or others to partner on naming rights while also incorporating commercial space or even HQ space in the area to help the retail/residential pieces viability.

    • Not at all. Eventually I believe what you’re proposing – at least physically – looks like what will eventually be built. Naming rights sponsors could be tough to get at the right price. If Cisco’s still on board they would be the ballpark’s naming rights sponsor. If not the A’s will hold out for top dollar. That means not necessarily playing local favorites. Clorox just moved half their staff to Pleasanton. They’re leasing the building they used to own for at least another decade. And Chevron is entrenched in San Ramon in a sprawling campus, consolidating there instead of expanding out. The problem is that a little retail and office space isn’t going to come close to paying for the ballpark or filling Oakland’s goals for the Coliseum area. Everyone would have to be willing to settle for a more modest project.

  15. Home plate facing south?…

  16. Manfred is definitely bullish – full of b.s. manure.

  17. More useless repurpose and renovate the existing coliseum talk ahead of building near the water in JLS/Howard Terminal or in DTown Oakland? Sorry…but a repurpose/renovation would be just utterly dumb and a waste. However, that would fit with the cheapness of Fisher/Wolff and existing City and County leaders. SMH

  18. I hope they go back to the original bowl config, and reduce the seating capacity like US Cellular in Chicago? Reconfig the original bowl down to 30000 seats and add five thousand outfield seats. Then bring the infield in like Dodger stadium did and reduce foul territory, and bring walls in in the outfield. That would be pretty sweet.

    • Oakland’s response was due to Kephart on Monday…very quiet. Interesting.

      • @ KA
        And, perhaps in not a good way. (Interesting) Is there anything you have heard?

      • It’s because the city and county probably made a counter offer for Kephart to consider by August 21st if not sooner.

  19. Will the A’s still qualify to receive revenue sharing, in a remodeled stadium that was built back in the sixties?
    As a pose to building new one, which according to the CBA would mean they would be off of the revenue sharing program, because they have the designation of being in a large market, although they are confined to two counties out of nine within that market.

    This is the only reason, I can think of as to why Lew Wolff would even consider a remodel, which is something I would have considered unimaginable for him prior to this.

    • Still takes &500-$600M to build a ballpark. Last I checked the financials of building in Oakland haven’t changed especially if there is no ancillary development. A remodel is all they can afford if forced to stay in Oakland.

    • @Lakeshore/Neil, MLB is looking just plain foolish when they clain to consider the A’s as major market, while at the same time limiting the A’s territory to just only two counties, and including just the third largest city within the Bay Area market. Lew Wolff would never allow himself to significantly privately fund any such ballpark, either new or renovated, in their current limited territory without assurances to continue receiving revenue sharing.

      • @ IIpec

        I agree with you 100%. I should have explained my thinking a little better. I was thinking if Wolff is considering a remodel (something I don’t think he would prefer), perhaps it’s because he isn’t getting the support he needs within MLB for continuing on the revenue sharing program, if he were to build new at that site.

        BTW, sorry I meant to say two counties out of seven. I believe it’s seven.

    • @letsgoas: that data is completely false and misleading, if that data was derived from Forbes Magazine, whoever compiled it must have been smoking good weed – there is no way that franchises such as the Royals, M’s or Pirates, or even the Giants are only slightly behind the Yankees in total local tv viewership. The Yankees likely have 10 times more local tv viewers than the Royals do.

      Even if that data were true (which it isn’t ) that would mean that teams such as the Royals, Pirates and Giants are getting hosed big time by Comcast, Time Warner, Fox, etc. (Since the Dodgers and Yankees receive over $300 mil. annually from their cable tv deals, where the Royals are near or at the bottom – under $20 mil. annually) The A’s, for example, make over double the Royals with their TV rights. That story is totally false, or it uses very misleading data.

    • Yes and whose fault is it? The cheap Fisher and Wolff who tell Billy to get rid of the fan favorite players like Cespedes and Donaldson….players that are Corp players who help sell season tickets. Their business model is asinine.

    • @letsgoas: Also, keep in mind that the Giants own a big interest in CSN locally, so they are likely involved with fudging the A’s viewer numbers – the A’s viewer ratings are likely higher and the Giants ratings are actually likely lower than reported.

      Also, this link (likely more accurate than Forbes, that source has come up with some really bizzare stuff lately) explains that the Yankees tv viewers averaged 255,000 in 2013 – way down from previous years, the Royals average TV viewer audience was 37,000:

    • The Mariners are interesting in this. They’re towards the top in both ratings and viewership yet middle of the pack in attendance and have been towards the bottom of attendance the past few years.

      I haven’t been to Safeco but I’ve heard it’s a great stadium. If there is this high of viewership, you’d think the stadium attendance would be much higher.

  20. You Fisher and Wolff fans do realize that their torturous asinine business model for the A’s is endless cycle? Even if they do get a new ballpark in Oakland They can still use the small market cheap excuse as their crutch when it comes to the revenue sharing? No guarantees they will actually spend the money to actually keep muli talented players like Cespedes and Donaldson around and that is why Fisher and Wolff need to sell to Knauss, Burbank/Lacob or Ellison even. They will continue to be cheap whether they get a new ballpark or not. Even if they were to go to San Jose where they want to be which would be considered a bigger market…even than there is no guarantee they would start spending money. Fisher and Wolff need to sell and get out!

  21. if the a’s were even to renovate the coliseum which i think the chances are slim to none would they even go the route of the above post of using mt davis as part of the left side of a “new” ballpark or would the a’s just knock down mt davis and go back to how it was pre 95?

    build back up the bleachers opening the park back up to the view of the oakland hills and make some much needed improvements to the original bowl configuration though the seats in this design would still be too far back which would be a complaint even if the raiders didn’t come back and the a’s did make some baseball only improvements in the mid 90s?

    i guess they still could fill in the foul territory with some seatings but the seats already there and the distance away from the field would be too far.

    though it could look like what shea stadium was like when it was also a circular structure with seats “jutting” out.

  22. A renovated Coliseum would likely tear down all of Mount Davis and most of the upper level of the original stadium if Wolff decides that the seating capacity in Oakland should be 35,000.

    Perhaps the biggest reason to renovate (instead of build new) is to preserve the A’s take of revenue sharing. Doesn’t the current CBA make it explicit that the A’s will no longer receive revenue sharing money if they leave the Coliseum?

    • @ Pudgie
      I think you hit the nail on the head as, I mentioned that a few comments up
      Will the A’s still qualified to receive revenue sharing, in a remodeled stadium that was built back in the sixties? As a pose to building new one, which according to the CBA would mean they would be off of the revenue sharing program, because they have the designation of being in a large market, although they are confined to two counties out of nine( sorry seven), within that market.”
      This is the only reason, I can think of as to why Lew Wolff would even consider a remodel, which is something I would have considered unimaginable for him prior to this.

    • When the current CBA is up in Dec 2016, regardless of whether or not the A’s get a new stadium there are no guarantees that they continue to receive revenue sharing. No one is going to make major financial decisions when everything can completely change in a little over a year.

      That being said, I can definitely see Wolf already lobbying MLB that as long as the current territorial rights are in place, the A’s need to be viewed as a “small market” team. As evidence for that, he could be saying that it will be next to impossible to build a new stadium in Oakland so a re-model is the best option.

      • He should be granted permanent revenue sharing, just on the TR alone. But then that would make to much sense.

  23. Hmm, this may present an opportunity to build a new stadium in Oakland for the Raiders. First time posting something, so I’m not sure if I did it correctly. I placed the link I wanted to share in the “website” field.

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