A good percentage of the A’s fanbase loved the team’s #RootedInOakland campaign and saw it as a movement. In the most optimistic of terms, it would build a new ballpark which would act as a catalyst for a downtown renaissance, which happened across the Bay 20+ years ago when the Giants moved to SoMa. It would establish Oakland’s waterfront as a major tourist attraction, more than merely Jack London Square. Most importantly, it would keep the green and gold in Oakland. The term sheet submitted by the A’s even has a non-relocation agreement, the better to calm that nervous fanbase. (Many recent stadium deals have standard non-relocation clauses.)
MLB’s “good cop” routine is out the window now that it gave the A’s its blessing to explore markets outside of Oakland. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred set the price for new expansion teams at around $2.2 Billion. In doing so, he also set the price for relocating teams to new cities, which won’t have the luxury of having a newly relocated team play in an old multipurpose stadium or a souped up AAA park for a few years while they work out a MLB ballpark plan.
I’m not going to tell you not to worry about the A’s leaving. Some hypothetical mega-billionaire not named Fisher could swoop in, drop a couple of those billions on the A’s, spend even more on a ballpark plan and MLB will wave the team’s exodus through like a traffic cop. That person could also do the same for Oakland, though that’s like hoping that climate change doesn’t really exist. I am going to tell you that road to make that happen is long, steep, and not for the faint of heart. Sure, the A’s current lease at the Coliseum runs out in 2024. Can you think of a market that will have a brand-new, MLB-ready ballpark for 2025? I can’t. Maury Brown covers this in some detail at Forbes, which is worth reading because as he points out, the A’s are effectively limited to candidate cities in Western North America (Las Vegas, Portland, Vancouver, maybe Sacramento). The Eastern cities are effectively reserved for the Rays if they relocate (Charlotte, Nashville, Montreal). This prevents the two economically-challenged franchises from competing against each other for stadium deals. It also prevents most potentially awkward realignment scenarios.
Yesterday, Dave Kaval admitted that the ballpark plan’s timeline has extended to the point that an Opening Day couldn’t happen before 2027. Little explanation was given as to why. We can piece together the usual problems that we’ve identified from the beginning: cleanup, a lack of infrastructure to support it, and now, the eye-watering $12 Billion total price tag on the project. Simply put, it’s incredibly hard. There are still plenty of supporters who say it’s worth it. Maybe it is. Not surprisingly, I remain unconvinced. It was going to be hard 4 years ago, it was going to be hard 8 years ago. The A’s made some procedural progress, lacking major deal points. The Athletic’s Alex Coffey reported last night that MLB is stepping up as the muscle behind the A’s demands, which Manfred also offered to do in 2017 when the site focus was Laney/Peralta.
Despite another timeline setback, the A’s continue to push for a City Council vote on Howard Terminal before the August recess. Why would they do that, despite the proposal existing as a 6,000-page napkin sketch? The explanation is actually quite simple. Mayor Libby Schaaf made news earlier this week by unveiling her budget for 2021-23. It’s Schaaf’s last budget before she’s termed out. I won’t get into the particulars of the budget as that’s not my beat, but I will say that the A’s being urged to look elsewhere by MLB is an unwanted distraction to put it mildly. For her part, Schaaf continues to promote HT.
With the timeline extended, Howard Terminal suddenly becomes the one of the last major non-policy proposals of Schaaf’s tenure. Does she stick it out through the probably bitter end? And what of the 2022 mayoral race, whose candidates are only starting to announce their campaigns? Does Howard Terminal become a major campaign tentpole, which Schaaf hands off to her successor? What about the Coliseum as an alternative? Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan ran for mayor twice and is likely to be a candidate again. For years Kaplan has been the strongest proponent of building at the Coliseum, which the A’s ruled out in short order yesterday. There will surely be at least one candidate who will champion Howard Terminal as much as Schaaf. How much traction will that provide in what will surely be a contentious race? From a 50,000-foot view, it looks like the A’s are aware that there’s no champion waiting in the wings. Their rush to lock in the deal this summer reflects that uncertainty.