I’ll tell this story until somebody yells at me for being repetitive, but every word of it is true: When I was growing up, there was nothing more depressing than going to watch the Oakland A’s at the Coliseum, and that’s because it was just so much better than Candlestick Park. It was exponentially better. That place was all my family and I had ever wanted from a ballpark. The weather was better. Public transportation took you right there. When you were facing center field, you saw open space instead of concrete. You could watch the danged game when walking around the concourse.
It was perfect.
The current Coliseum is ... less perfect now. The Raiders ruined the baseball-friendly features, and the stadium decayed embarrassingly. After years of proposals and renderings, though, it looks like the A’s are finally moving forward with plans for a new ballpark that looks like it’s going to be a complicated, ambitious mess. It’s like an American Ninja Warrior course of bureaucratic and logistic difficulty, with chasms and swinging pendulums and floating platforms.
There have been three plans in play for an A’s ballpark for a while now. The first was a park at the current site, which has public transportation and infrastructure already in place, but is in a systematically depressed area that is unlikely to attract the kind of neighborhood development that ballpark proposals like to tout. The second was a park that needed land from a community college, which told the A’s to get bent.
This current plan at Howard Terminal was the third, and it was supposed to be untenable. Public transportation was one of the biggest hurdles, as was the weather, which was described to me as “Candlestick Park-like.” The weather is why the renderings up there aren’t facing the water, though that doesn’t quite save the park from everything the Bay Area can throw at it. We’ll get to that.
- The A’s buy up the current Coliseum land and turn it into a tech-and-housing hub, while keeping Oracle Arena a place for concerts and events*. This satisfies a mandate for a community-forward project, which was essential for a city and county that was hosed by the Raiders.
- The A’s build the ballpark on a different, waterfront site with private financing, though presumably with a bunch of tax breaks and quiet promises from Oakland and Alameda County to spend money on necessary infrastructure. (Just a guess.)
- The A’s also build a GIGANTIC FREAKING GONDOLA to shuttle people from public transportation to the ballpark.
* That is, a place where you can spend $80 to listen to Iron Maiden sound like they’re playing through 100,000 Teddy Ruxpins at max volume. Not that I’m bitter.
The plan has so, so much going for it. Gondolas may sound like science fiction, except that’s just our American bias showing. They aren’t just for ski resorts, and the new one at the Oakland Zoo works great (most of the time.) A gondola can alleviate some of the problems created by the ballpark’s distance from Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).
The location is also a plus. Not only is it on the waterfront, but it’s near Jack London Square, a very nice collection of shops and restaurants. And tumbleweeds. But the new park would be a way to help fix that, see, and I’m rooting for it. I’ve always liked Jack London Square*.
* It’s a place where I got to spend $20 to be 20 feet away from Charlie Hunter. Not that I’m bragging.
The design of the ballpark and the efforts to make it a part of a downtown environment are also a plus. Nobody knows if the trend of migration into cities will continue, but it’s definitely not slowing down. This is exactly the kind of ballpark that young urban professionals (young-urbs, I call ‘em) dream of.
I am all in on this ballpark and the location.
There are, uh, some hurdles, of course.
The gondola seems delightful and, for all the talk about how BART isn’t close, there’s a train station within a mile. Opponents of AT&T Park pooh-poohed the convenience of a close train station, saying that it was overly optimistic to expect out-of-towners to ride a train in, but it’s popular way to get to the park. There’s a nearby, too.
The A’s park could have a big problem with traffic, though. Interstate 880 is a hot mess during commute hours, which would affect at least half of the home games. There’s also no easy way to get thousands of cars in and out of the area. Getting there now involves a freeway exit that spits you out into the city about nine blocks away. That area can’t handle a slow, viscous trickle of vehicles without serious infrastructure improvements likely to be paid for with public money. That means a public battle.
Don’t forget that apocryphal Mark Twain quote about Bay Area weather, which was “The coldest winter I’ve ever experienced was a summer in BOOOOO, YOU SUCK, LASORDA! YOU SUCK! GET OUT OF HERE!”, unless that was my dad telling me about the Mark Twain quote in the middle of a Giants game in 1983. Whatever, the point is that while Oakland isn’t San Francisco, that part of the Bay still gets cold and windy.
“We know the weather’s better (at Howard Terminal) than at AT&T,” he said. “We’ve studied it, we have a report, it’s clear. The key thing about the weather in the East Bay is you’re not subjected to the fog. ... There is more wind at the Howard Terminal site than at the Coliseum. We’ve done a lot of work comparing (Howard Terminal) to the Coliseum. The ambient temperatures and thermal comfort (at HT) is pretty similar to where we currently play.”
I’ll repeat the description that I heard from someone knowledgeable about the study: it’s not that different from Candlestick Park, wind-wise. The A’s park would be warmer, certainly, if only because Norway is warmer than Candlestick, but it would still be extremely windy.
The politics and bureaucracy
It’s hard to explain just how badly the city and county were screwed by the Raiders. Taxpayers still owe $20 million in debt to be paid every year until 2025 on the abysmal Coliseum renovations that were a part of luring the Raiders back from Los Angeles, even though there won’t even be an NFL or NBA team there as of next year.
And that’s before you get to the part where the stupid Raiders ruined the A’s outfield. It was a great ballpark, I swear!
So there will be less patience for the sort of sleight of hand that other teams have succeeded with in the past to get the venues they’ve wanted. There’s the ‘ol we-won’t-get-any-rent-from-you-using-our-land trick, or the don’t-worry-about-sharing-parking-revenues-with-us trick, or ... really, just dig through this site and knock yourself out reading about all sorts of tax-skimming hocus pocus. They’re always so creative! Even the “entirely privately financed” AT&T Park needed a little nine-figure help. There’s also the environmental impact report to worry about.
This all means there won’t be a rug that the A’s can sweep their problems under. There are still angry people in the Bay Area who will make it their life’s mission to steal the rug, burn it, and pee on the ashes. The bulk of the financing will be private, and that’s a big point in the proposal’s favor. But it’s still going to be tough to execute without any hitches.
As a baseball nut who lives 15 minutes away from the site, I’m ecstatic and I hope this plan happens. As a frugal baseball nut who likes having a reasonably priced ballpark for my family, I’m a little sad. And as someone who has been following the A’s ballpark saga for a long time, I’m more than a little skeptical.
A dozen years ago, the A’s held a press conference to announce a new ballpark in Fremont, south of Oakland. Bud Selig was there. Everything was rosy. The ballpark proposal looked gorgeous. The plans for the surrounding area were ambitious. And the whole thing was going to be tricky as hell. It took three years before the A’s gave up.
This proposal looks better, and it would help turn the A’s into a financial powerhouse, the kind that one of the richest areas of the country can afford to support. And it would be awesome for baseball fans, just so indescribably awesome.
But if you’re in the mood for this whole mess to be settled, hold a good thought until that first shovelful of dirt is tossed aside.