Ghost(ing The) Town

You may have noticed that before the 2023 season started, the A’s signed veteran reliever Jeurys Familia. Like many older players on the current roster, Familia is at the back end of his career. It’s worth pointing a couple things about the pitcher:

  1. He came from the Mets in July 2018 as a rental, available when the Mets gave up on a mediocre season and Familia was up for free agency.
  2. Familia didn’t pitch terribly for the A’s, though he did little to distinguish himself. As usual, the A’s got to the wild card game and lost, this time to the Yankees.
  3. After Familia became a free agent in the offseason, he reunited with the Mets that December.

From the time Familia was traded to the A’s on July 21, 2018 to when he re-signed with the Mets (December 14), the following events happened in the A’s ballpark process.

  1. A’s introduced Bjarke Ingels Group as the lead architect for their ballpark planning effort (8/23)
  2. A’s retained Brad Schrock of HOK as a ballpark consultant (8/30)
  3. Oakland filed lawsuit against Raiders and NFL after the team announces departure for Las Vegas (9/5)
  4. Howard Terminal officially unveiled (11/28)

In both cases, the timeline represents the same four months of activity. Now consider what has happened so far this year on the Howard Terminal front after a fairly uneventful 2022.

  1. Sheng Thao succeeds Libby Schaaf as Mayor of Oakland. (1/4)
  2. $182 million federal grant effort for offsite infrastructure strikes out (1/10)
  3. A’s lawsuit against Schnitzer Steel fails (1/19)
  4. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says A’s focused on Las Vegas (2/15)
  5. Silicon Valley Bank collapses (3/9)
  6. A’s win against EOSA’s appeal in EIR certification lawsuit (3/30)

Four months haven’t elapsed yet since the beginning of the year, but enough has happened that we can all agree that the recent track record is mixed at best. The point is that a lot can happen in 3-4 months, whether we’re talking about a journeyman reliever’s first tenure in Oakland or a long slog of a ballpark effort. It may feel like there is little progress, which at a glance appears correct. What felt like a steady march towards inevitability now feels like a brick wall. And on that front, all I can say is that… you’ve been lied to.

From the beginning, both the A’s and the City haven’t been upfront about how much everything’s going to cost. The A’s pushed Howard Terminal with gleaming renderings in late 2018, hesitant to give a price tag. As they encountered resistance and skepticism, they crowed about the total development being worth $12 Billion, as if that would sway anyone sitting on the fence. But the infrastructure cost was largely kept under wraps by both the A’s and the City, going from $180 million to $300 million to $600 million and up in four years. The only documentation we have explaining the cost is the term sheet [PDF] the A’s drew up in summer 2021, which explained that the cost of offsite infrastructure and community benefits would be $860 million. Those numbers haven’t been adjusted yet for 2023 market realities or 2027 projections, and should be a major cause for concern. How can you go from $180 million or $300 million to $600 million? You can’t blame inflation for all of that rising cost. Someone wasn’t being straight with A’s fans and Oakland residents.

Casey Platt and Brodie Brazil broadcast a mutual therapy session

The simple fact is that there is no deal yet at Howard Terminal. No term sheet, no DDA (disposition and development agreement) for the BCDC to approve, and most importantly, little movement from either side. Remember that the A’s put together the term sheet that the City rejected in summer 2021, with the City saying that they would take care of the offsite infrastructure and community benefits. To put it mildly, for a cash-poor city to put the onus on itself is a recipe for failure. 

Then again, consider that Oakland is in this position thanks the cumulative effects of the pandemic. The pandemic cancelled and rebirthed the 2020 MLB season in a truncated format with zero tickets sold during the shortened regular season. The pandemic created a whirlwind of unprecedented economic activity around prevention of transmission, detecting Covid infections, and living with the disease. Then when that whirlwind faded, the world was left with inflation and a society struggling to come to grips with it. The economic windfall that briefly filled the state’s coffers is gone. The economy itself is still fundamentally good for now, with eyes on the Fed in its efforts to walk a tightrope to contain inflation while also trying to prevent a recession.

None of the extraordinary economic activity seen over the past three years was predicted. It was also irreplicable. I can’t blame the City of Oakland for attempting to turn the pandemic’s lemons into lemonade. Everyone knew, though, that whatever was happening was unsustainable. It was a gold rush, incompatible with the glacial pace of municipal financing. So when Oakland was denied the federal grant earlier this year, it felt appropriate. 

While my rant might sound like a eulogy, I will concede that Howard Terminal is not actually dead yet. Perhaps the A’s combing the desert in southern Nevada will prove as fruitless as Oakland’s checking the couch cushions for grant money. If Vegas doesn’t work out, it’ll buy Oakland more time to make HT work somehow.  If that doesn’t happen, well, the Rays eventually figured out the most practical way forward. I can only hope the same for the A’s. Or Oakland can keep trying the impossible shot.

Note: I inserted Silicon Valley Bank into one of the timelines because they were probably a leading candidate to underwrite the affordable housing component. Who knows which entity will be so bold to front that in the coming economy?

11 thoughts on “Ghost(ing The) Town

  1. What if??? What if Las Vegas rejects the A’s??? Will the Athletics be stuck with the Coliseum??????????

    • My guess is that they start looking for options outside of Oakland and Vegas. Portland was the early dark horse but got eliminated early. It’s POSSIBLE, that they can be revisited. From purely a fan and home field advantage standpoint, they would make the most sense. They’ve been trying to get baseball for the longest time

  2. Happy Easter ML! When the Lord Christ was resurrected; REJOICE! You know what else should be resurrected? MLB could EASILY solve the A’s ballpark woes without having to deal with the endless failure that is Oakland and without having to leave for the desert. All they would have to do is address some bull $hit that’s existed since the early 1990’s. If they’re willing to waive a sacrosanct relocation fee to Vegas they could do anything they want. Enjoy..

    • This is true although it seems like google is buying up every open lot in downtown SJ. That’s a hurdle that didn’t exist a decade ago. Is the location just south of Diridon station still even available?

      • With the remote work reality of tech, Google won’t be needing nearly as much office space as envisioned pre-pandemic. Heck, they might even bail completely on Diridon South! So land there probably not an obstacle. Also have spots at BART/Berryessa and underutilized Cisco properties in North SJ/Tasman near light-rail. Now, just need some political will and for MLB to finally get their heads out of their a$$es..

  3. There’s a fair amount of discussion that Google SJ would downsize from the original plans, perhaps that makes them willing to sell some land or partner to integrate a stadium into their plans. There are plenty of options space wise in San Jose but that doesn’t eliminate the main issue of the Giants wanting to keep”their” territorial rights. Without significant compensation I don’t see why they would part with Santa Clara County and we know from the last go round there is no interest from other owners to vote to change those territorial rights. So that leaves us with Manfred being willing to act which also seems unlikely.

    I would love A’s to SJ to be revived but I just don’t see how it’s remotely plausible at this point.

    • Once the courts backed T-rights, the argument was over for SJ. I think there was a mutually beneficial compensation amount. Fisher and Wolff wanted SJ for free though, so that was a nonstarter for MLB.

      • The courts never backed T-Rights ML!; it’s more that $an Jose didn’t have a case/have standing for a successful lawsuit to occur. If a renegade owner (an Al Davis type) ever challenged the T-Rights in court they would fall like a house of cards! Or said owner would get what they wanted out of MLB. But I digress.

        Probably more to do with Fisher/Wolff wanting $J for free more than anything else; who could blame them since they were going to pay for everything (land/ballpark construction) and the A’s had facilitated those rights for FREE in the early 90’s. Scott Ostler had mentioned to me in an email that the votes were there among the owners to overturn the T-Rights; most likely, as you mentioned, just needed Fisher/Wolff to agree to a compensation package.

        I wonder if 10 years later anything has changed in terms of how A’s brass views a compensation package for $J; especially with the ongoing headache that is Howard Terminal and uncertainty that is Vegas. Staying in the Bay Area would probably be ideal to a complete relocation, and if MLB is willing to waive a $1 BILLION relocation fee…

  4. Welcome to Pac-Bell Park!!! Home of the San Francisco Athletics!!!

  5. Oakland is Toast! 50 years of non functional City Government. So Stupid because a Downtown Ballpark would have revitalized Downtown and the entire East Bay. Now we will get Atrophy and Slow Death. Bye bye JLS, I give it ten years.

  6. Hey ML,

    Thanks. Thanks for everything. I guess there’s one less piece of ‘laundry’ I’ll be rooting for. Not that I didn’t have my eyes open the whole time. And I’m cynical but not hopeless even after all this. The best owner and the worst owner we ever had we’re both blue jeans heirs. Who woulda thunk it? I’ll let people who watch Succession tell me which douchebag son this one is. I do have a final headline:

    $2B Gap heir jilts Eastbay for $500M Vegas giveaway

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