Months ago I pleaded with the A’s to start communicating more regularly with the public on the state of the ballpark effort, if only to give fans some confidence in the effort. With MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s answers to questions about Oakland during the current postseason, it appears that the A’s are relying on Manfred to be the credible source. Might as well, since Manfred isn’t (yet) reviled the way A’s ownership is among many locals.
Before I get too far into Manfred’s role, let’s reset the situation. The A’s and Raiders both positioned as preferring the Coliseum for their prospective Oakland stadia, which put the City of Oakland in a bind. The A’s pledged to look at other sites in Oakland in case a football stadium pushed them out. While the A’s are more-or-less bound to Oakland, the Raiders have put a lot of effort into a glitzy venue in Las Vegas. Raiders owner Mark Davis has also flirted with Los Angeles, San Antonio, even San Diego if the Chargers vacate for LA.
In August A’s majority partner John Fisher brought staff with him on a tour of Howard Terminal, Oakland’s best hope for a waterfront downtown ballpark site. No findings have been released, with John Hickey’s article referencing how Howard Terminal remains a difficult proposition due to cleanup and infrastructure costs. There’s also a mention of Brooklyn Basin, but given how the developers for that project weren’t able to pick up a key piece of land that now effectively splits the project in two, it’s highly unlikely that something will magically open up for a ballpark there.
That brings us to Laney College, which sits between Howard Terminal and the Coliseum physically and perhaps also in terms of rank. I tweetstormed about Laney in April. The important thing to note about Laney is that it’s actually two sites separated by E. 8th Ave. The north site is familiar to most as the Laney College athletic fields The south site is the collection of Peralta (Laney’s district) administration buildings. Laney was studied as part of the 2001 HOK presentation, and at first glance it would seem to be a highly favorable location. The land is mostly fields with few structures and is publicly owned. It’s close to Lake Merritt BART and there is some – though not much – parking to the west.
Unlike the Port and City, who have public land reserves to draw upon, Laney/Peralta have their facilities concentrated among 50 acres straddling Lake Merritt Channel, and they have shown little interest in disposing of any of that land. A planning document published in 2011 showed that the college wants to expand, mostly into the undeveloped parking lot in the southwest corner. Coincidentally, this is where the Raiders’ pre-Coliseum home, Frank Youell Field, was located.
Making a ballpark work at Laney College would require a multi-phase approach because the facilities would continue to be in use for significant portions of the development cycle. If the Laney fields become the site, it’ll be up to the college to figure out how to accommodate practically the entire outdoor athletic program. There’s no obvious place to relocate them. Some might look to a land swap with the Coliseum, but that wouldn’t make sense since the fields would be five miles away, nearly as far from the campus as Merritt College. If the Peralta site is chosen, the administration offices and support for all four campuses in the district would have to be relocated. Perhaps a solution could include a large parking structure with offices atop. That could help serve parking needs for Laney, Peralta, and the A’s. It could also be crazy expensive on its own.
There will be more time to ruminate on sites known and unknown. For now let’s get back to the commish. There’s a lot there to support the notion that Manfred is pushing Lew Wolff and John Fisher towards a solution in Oakland and holding them to account. That’s good PR for baseball in Oakland. Then there was another quote from Manfred about Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf that caught me off guard:
‘The Mayor in Oakland has made it clear to me that baseball is her first priority. She would like to keep both teams, but baseball is her first priority. And I think that’s a good spot for baseball to be in.’
Schaaf has gone to great pains to never express any outright favoritism between the A’s and Raiders, though she has admitted that the sheer number of games the A’s play (82 vs. 10 for the Raiders) is a better economic driver. And there have been whispers that she has backed the A’s privately, biding her time until the Raiders eventually leave. Of course, there’s no guarantee that “eventually” will ever happen, so she has to keep Oakland in play for a football stadium despite a funding gap that is no closer to resolution since the issue was raised during the Quan administration.
Now comes word that Manfred is walking back his assertion about Schaaf, though neither of their respective offices have made any statements to that effect yet (2 PM PT). Given the lack of such statements, it seems that Schaaf is not getting any serious blowback. It also confirms a certain journalistic truism:
Messaging is tough, though not as tough as getting a stadium privately built in California. Manfred wants to accelerate the process regardless of the restrictions placed on the A’s. His vague timeframe of “within the next year” follows similar statements made by Wolff and Oakland pols. It’s likely to slip. No one would be surprised if it did for myriad reasons. That said, Manfred’s desire to get a site picked is a tactic designed to inevitably put the ball in Oakland’s court. Oakland and the A’s have to this point skated on the dual-dilemma scenario with the Raiders. Manfred’s shaking the tree is meant to put some pressure on both team and City. He can do that directly with Wolff and Fisher. He can’t do that to Oakland, not until there is a site and some level of commitment. The key is Manfred’s admission that he’s not sending anyone to Oakland full time to work on the project. In the past that was either Manfred or Bob DuPuy acting on Bud Selig’s behalf, or Eric Grubman doing the same type of field work for Roger Goodell.
When that site is decided, Manfred will turn around and say to Schaaf, Look at all I’ve done for you, I got the owners in line, there is a site and a plan,what are you going to give baseball? By give I mean the pledges of infrastructure, land, or whatever is needed to offset the enormous investment Wolff and Fisher will have to undertake to build a ballpark. That’s when messaging gives way to dealmaking. It’s a better tack than what the NFL is doing as it looks more generous. Will it ultimately be more successful? Hell if I know.
P.S. – Laney’s in the news, but remember, the A’s still consider the Coliseum the #1 for now. We’ll see if their study changes their assessment.