Imagine the mid-60’s. You’re driving on Highway 17. There’s a flurry of construction near Hegenberger. Terminal 1 at Oakland Airport opened. The tumult (and the joy that comes with six world championships) of the 70’s was still in the distance. Oakland was hitting the big time!
Starting tomorrow the Coliseum may only have one tenant, the A’s. That lone team announced its intention to leave last month. What will be left of the Coliseum complex?
Coliseum originally under construction
In the picture above you can clearly see all of the notches in the lower bowl. The Coliseum started out with the Raiders as its first tenant. Seating risers mounted on steel plates could be moved around to suit football or baseball, which came in 1968. There were actually two different configurations for football: one for the overlapping baseball and football months where the gridiron ran from home plate to center field, and the “permanent” first base-third base configuration. The notches allowed the football field to fit the bowl, and are still in use today.
Knowing that the notches are part of the charm of the Coliseum, it’s curious that the A’s and BIG released the following rendering of a mostly deconstructed stadium.
Coliseum reimagined as amphitheater
The distinctive corner notches that would normally exist in the regular football configuration are gone. The notches at the foul poles remain along with a redone backstop notch, making this ampthitheater-Coliseum in some ways more of a true ballpark than the Coliseum ever was.
Closeup of redone Coliseum baseball configuration with arena in background
So… what happened to championship plaza? In this vision, the plaza is gone along with the plaza and upper decks, replaced by a grove of trees. It hardly makes sense for a city that’s about the spend significant effort to preserve its football history and tradition to simply cast that history aside. Now I get that these sketches are very preliminary, but they show a certain blindness to Oakland sports history. Even though the Raiders are leaving and no replacement is in sight, it doesn’t make sense to keep this baseball configuration when the A’s aren’t going to play many (one per year? any?) games there while so many fans also want football. Or if they can’t have football, they’d like a reminder of what once was. If this is the future of the Coliseum, it should reflect the venue’s rich history: football, baseball, concerts, monster truck shows, all of it.
Looks like a park, feels like a cemetery
Look at the outline of the Coliseum field above. There’s the plentiful foul territory and the backstop notch. I was surprised to find that also intact is the misshapen outfield wall, once euphemistically called the “Jagged Edge.” It’s the last remnant of a to-be demolished Mount Davis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that the concrete east stands are gone, but the outfield wall was never an architectural highlight. I suppose that it too is an important part of history, so perhaps it should remain. Unlike my previous argument for the notches, the jagged edge was a by-product of design choices made with the 1995 renovation. If anything, bring back the Bash Brothers-era outfield fence and dimensions.
Around the amphitheater are a lot of nice amenities. As Oakland doesn’t have a large urban park, and maybe this could work despite its distance from downtown. Yet check out the nomenclature. Meadow. Lawn. Soccer. The Hills. Youth Sports Academy. Job Training. Soccer (again). No “football” to be found. A few tennis and basketball courts. The term Community bumps up against the Nimitz Freeway. It all speaks to a sort of whitewashing/greenwashing of sports in Oakland. Toss in some “affordable housing” and facilities that should help East Oakland residents, and Bob’s yer uncle.
I remember back to Frank Deford’s write-up of the Coliseum complex in Sports Illustrated, marveling at how things have (or haven’t) changed in the years since. Consider this pearl of wisdom:
The teams all have come so fast that, among other things, Oakland has neglected to support them. People in Oakland tend to gloss this over.
In 1968 there was a bonanza in the East Bay. In 2018 the teams are in a hurry to leave.
A narrative has emerged recently in which Raiders fans looking to place blame for the Raiders’ departure say it’s the A’s fault for “squatting” at the Coliseum. The argument is not based on any facts or real evidence. All the A’s asked for in their lease extension was for 2 years to make plans for their own eviction if the Raiders put together a bona fide stadium plan of their own. That never happened. And if we’re being honest, Mark Davis would’ve been a fool to turn down $750 million in stadium subsidies from Nevada. Such a gift was not awaiting him in Oakland ever.
These days attention is turning to having Howard Terminal become the centerpiece for another civic revitalization effort, while the A’s, being the last team standing in Oakland, negotiating control over the Coliseum land and reaping the benefits. When I first heard that was the plan I was incredulous. It’s hard enough to build one big development in the Bay Area. Now Oakland wants to hand the keys for two of them to the A’s? The East Bay Times’ recent editorial captured this sentiment well, a sentiment that will undoubtedly grow in the coming months.
Comparison of new large real estate developments
The A’s don’t plan to build out the Coliseum per the Coliseum City plans. It would be nice to have for future development. Even if there’s no new stadium, or even if the old one becomes the Oakland Mausoleum. Just think of it. The A’s could have control of 170 acres, entitlements to 8,000 homes and some 4 million square feet of commercial square footage – in two separate, high-profile locations. To the victor loser goes the spoils, I guess. For the A’s, the spoils are being able to have the East Bay all to themselves. They can dictate what kinds of development can occur at the Coliseum complex, including another football stadium.
I asked A’s President Dave Kaval about the A’s plans for the Coliseum. He ruled out building a ballpark there. Kaval’s response:
We’re still following the entitlements for the Coliseum that were approved for Coliseum City. We have to build up the areas at the Coliseum to deal with sea-level rise.
That led to the obvious follow-up question: Is there a Plan B?
You know we’re the Oakland A’s, we’re all about Plan A. We think we’ve done a lot of community outreach and we’ll do a lot more.
After the backlash suffered with the Peralta plan, I don’t blame the A’s for trying to cover all of the bases this time. I have to wonder if the world – nay, the Bay Area – is moving too fast for them.