Oakland ballpark backers tout waterfront site
Imagine AT&T Park flanked by giant shipping cranes - that's pretty much the vision A's boosters have for a 38,000-seat ballpark at the Port of Oakland, just west of Jack London Square.
The $500 million waterfront ballpark is being proposed by a team led by Clorox chairman and CEO Don Knauss and former Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream boss T. Gary Rogers - with the blessing of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
"It's one of the two sites we promised Major League Baseball we would offer, and it will be available early next year," Quan told us Friday - the other being the current Coliseum site.
"Trust me, Oakland is hot now," Quan said, "and a lot of developers would love that (waterfront) site if it doesn't become a baseball stadium."
The Save the A's effort also includes at least two other prominent figures, development consultant Doug Boxer (son of Sen. Barbara Boxer) and Mike Ghielmetti, whose Signature Development Group wants to turn Oakland's Brooklyn Basin into housing, retail shops and parks.
The idea is to entice A's owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff to join the plan - or, failing that, to get Major League Baseball to see Oakland as a viable spot for a new ballpark and kill the A's hopes of moving to San Jose once and for all.
"The group envisions itself as a caretaker during the period it takes to get the A's to come to the table," said one knowledgeable source, who asked not to be named because of the delicacy of the talks involving MLB.
Team waiting on deck
Our source added that the ballpark backers aren't "looking to jockey for ownership" of the A's. However, if Fisher and Wolff aren't interested in the ballpark idea, we're told, leaders of the stadium effort will form a new ownership team that would be ready to step up to the plate.
The group will soon ask the Port of Oakland to give it control over the 50-acre Howard Terminal site. It says it has raised enough money to start an environmental review and get the regulatory approval process going, and it's come up with drawings of what the stadium might look like.
Project backers say the ballpark requires only 14 acres, leaving ample space for retail development or other uses that would help pay for a stadium, as well as parking.
And though it's too early to say if public money would be required, there has been talk of the port providing the land for the ballpark at nominal cost in hopes of spurring economic activity in the area.
To call Wolff skeptical of the Howard Terminal idea, however, would be an understatement. "It would be easier to build on Treasure Island," he told us.
"All I care about is getting a new home for the A's in the best possible circumstances - and under any circumstances, Howard Terminal would be as close to impossible as anything," Wolff said.
He wasn't willing to give an instant replay of all his objections, but in the past he has pointed to toxic wastes that will require an expensive cleanup and the difficulty of persuading the state to agree to a non-maritime use of the site. Wolff also has noted that the land is tied up in a long-term lease.
But the ballpark group contends that most of Wolff's fears are outdated or wrong.
The last leaseholder, SSA Marine, was recently allowed to bail from Howard Terminal to settle a lawsuit in which the company accused the port of giving a competitor better terms.
That cleared the way for the port to open the property for new bids. It has received three competing maritime-related proposals, but our sources expect the port to find that Howard Terminal is no longer suitable for such uses because they provide limited financial return.
On the other hand, a new stadium drawing more than 2 million fans a year to the waterfront could be the engine needed to help turn around the port's long-struggling Jack London Square and neighboring properties.
"Not only is it the most viable site, but it's also a phenomenal site," one booster said of Howard Terminal.
The site is along the Oakland Estuary's inner harbor, just more than a mile from both BART's West Oakland and 12th Street stations. Ballpark backers think another BART station could be added a couple of blocks from the terminal, along the existing tracks above Fourth Street.
The terminal is also within blocks of Interstates 880 and 980.
Port Commission member Bryan Parker, who is running against Quan for mayor, said the panel is obligated to see whether the terminal can still be used for maritime purposes. But the commission also needs to "look at opportunities - including but not limited to the A's situation - that can be transformative from an economic perspective," he said.
Quan has been pitching a new A's ballpark as part of an ambitious "Coliseum City" complex she envisions on the site of the current Coliseum complex along I-880. Privately, however, the mayor has been talking up the waterfront plan for months - and it's the one idea that seems to be gaining traction.
So, batter up.