By Dale Tafoya
Now that the A’s season is over, I expect to hear some important news sooner than later about the team’s future home. On October 11, Judge Ronald Whyte tossed out a majority of the claims made by the City of San Jose in its lawsuit against Major League Baseball. The problem for San Jose is that the San Francisco Giants have owned territorial rights there for over twenty years.
Peter Magowan, former managing general partner of the Giants, along with a group of investors, purchased the franchise in 1993 and started building AT&T Park in 1997 on the condition that territorial rights to Santa Clara County was part of the deal. Lew Wolff and majority owner John Fisher also purchased the A’s in 2005 with the understanding the Giants owned territorial rights there. In fact, after the purchase was announced, Wolff was quoted in the LA Times as saying, “…we’re going to honor the territorial rules, and that's the end of it." That’s why the Giants will likely maintain territorial rights to the Silicon Valley.
Last week, I reached out to Oakland Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan and inquired about the city’s plans for the A’s. “We’re so proud of the A’s on their season and we’re committed to keeping them right here in Oakland,” wrote spokesman Jason Overman in an email. Since the A’s lease at the O.co Coliseum ends on December 31, he also indicated that they’re feeling positive and optimistic about negotiations, though “they’re obviously a work in progress.” The A's have played at the O.co Coliseum, the last multi-purpose stadium, since they moved to Oakland in 1968.
Last Tuesday, the Oakland City Council approved a 12-month negotiating extension for the Coliseum City project. The project, which could potentially include sports, hotel, entertainment and retail venues, appears to be drawing serious interest from investors. The feeling, however, is that the proposed massive redevelopment in East Oakland, is geared more toward keeping the Raiders, likely the anchor tenant. Of the three professional sports teams in Oakland, the Raiders have been the only one that has expressed interest in staying.
That was confirmed that night in a press release from Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan regarding Coliseum City: “It will provide the Oakland Raiders with the world-class stadium they deserve…” However, the city is also offering the proposed Coliseum City site to the A’s and Major League Baseball as a possible location to build a new ballpark.
“Regarding the Oakland A’s, this development is a positive step toward building a new Oakland ballpark for them as well,” wrote Sean Maher, communications director at the Office of the Mayor, in a press release on Wednesday. “As Mayor Quan has stated previously, the City of Oakland is offering the Oakland A’s and Major League Baseball two viable, exciting sites for a potential new ballpark: Coliseum City and Howard Terminal. At both sites the City has site control and investors prepared to help move a development forward whenever the League and the team make their choice.”
The buzz, however, is that the City of Oakland has focused its attention on a downtown waterfront ballpark for the A’s at the Howard Terminal. The focus now is cleaning up the 50-acre site just north of Jack London Square. In fact, a spokesman to Mayor Quan has confirmed to me that the site has also attracted a “great deal” of interest from investors.
Not that Wolff has showed any signs of changing his stance about a new ballpark in Oakland or selling his team. But despite his obsession for the South Bay, Oakland is working behind-the-scenes to prove to Major League Baseball that a state-of-the-art new ballpark can happen on its grounds. Wolff can choose to keep renting at the Coliseum and keep the A's in limbo or reconsider the pair of sites in Oakland. Or he can keep waiting, waiting and waiting for permission to move his club to San Jose, which likely will never happen. The frustrating part of this mess is that it has divided the fan base. Commissioner Bud Selig, besides forming a blue-ribbon committee to explore the A's ballpark dilemma over four years ago, has refused to make a decision. According to Selig, before he retires on January 24, 2015, he’s confident he’ll find a solution. Oakland has brought two sites to the table. A’s attendance has increased each of the last four years.