How Raiders lessons are impacting Athletics' Oakland ballpark project

How lessons from Raiders are impacting A's ballpark pursuit originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Sheng Thao would have preferred to get a binding vote on Howard Terminal during her time as District 4 Council Member.

“It’s a little disheartening, but I’m optimistic to make sure that we keep the A’s in Oakland,” Thao told NBC Sports California in a recent interview.

But that chance may become even more personal if she is elected as Oakland’s next Mayor.

“I would step in as a leader who is pretty straightforward,” Thao said. “I’ve gotten deals done that have been decades old.”

“I would approach this the same way. Bringing people to the table, having conversations around what he minimum requirements look like. Not playing games on either side.”

Thao has not been directly involved in the City’s negotiations with the A’s, and does realize there will be a brief lag in early 2023, while a new Mayor and several fresh Council Members are caught up to speed on the last two years of Howard Terminal.

“That’s a total reality,” said Thao. “We have to onboard everybody, catch everybody up. Give the history. And this will all be done in closed session, if that’s possible.”

One of their biggest challenges will be bridging the gap in offsite infrastructure costs for the project. A gap that, with inflation, feels like a moving target.

“These grants wouldn’t come to the city if it weren’t for this specific project,” said Thao. “I do believe that does leverage, and give the city leverage for how we fund the infrastructure outside of Howard Terminal.”

“I have to remind people - these monies are actually dedicated for Howard Terminal infrastructure improvements, and if we didn’t have Howard Terminal, we’d have to give it back.”

If state and federal grants do not satisfy what is currently a nine-figure gap, there could be other creative funding options to move the project forward. Thao strategically won’t reveal what those avenues are, but says none would look like how the Oakland Raiders took advantage of Oakland in the 1990s.

“It’s a totally different development, however, you have to learn from past mistakes,” said Thao. “We didn’t have the strong language in place in regards to the strong backstops.”

“If the money is already secured from state and federal funds, I think we can move forward in a sense that we would figure out how the gap is filled. But I do not feel comfortable moving forward with anything that does not have those strong backstops. We’ve seen what that has cost residents with the Raiders.”

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In the bigger picture of this project, several other approvals are required between the state and county. But Oakland’s unreached agreement with the A’s, and ultimate binding vote approval could be the last significant hurdle to Howard Terminal.

“I do believe that is the biggest bottleneck," Thao said. “I’m really frustrated because I do feel the current city administration and Mayor have been hyper-focused on Howard Terminal, with the sense in telling us they’ll have something by September.”

“To see they haven’t actually gotten that much headway, to receive a draft proposal, it’s frustrating.”

Thao is willing to be patient if time means getting a better-secured deal done. But wants to make clear that it has to be the right deal for Oakland.

“I’d be a 10 out of 10,” Thao said. “With 10 being the strongest support. All things considered, and there’s so many things to consider.”