When the Oakland A’s changed ownership from Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman to John Fisher and Lew Wolff in 2005, with a push from then MLB commissioner Bud Selig, it appeared the franchise would stay in the Bay Area.
After all, Wolff said he wanted a new ballpark in Oakland.
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Spin ahead 18 years. Wolff long ago sold his A’s stake, and Fisher has agreed to buy land in Las Vegas for a $1.5 billion ballpark to house his team. Fisher is also seeking $500 million in public funds from the Nevada state legislature to make it happen—so leaving Oakland is not yet a foregone conclusion.
Still, the A’s look like they’re moving. It didn’t have to turn out this way. Joe Lacob, the owner of the four-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors, and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson both said they could have solved the ballpark issue in Oakland by now if MLB had allowed Schott and Hoffman to sell the team to either of them back in 2005.
“Joe Lacob would have bought everything,” Jackson said last week in an interview. “He’d have bought the A’s and look at the job he’s done with the Warriors?”
Selig at the time declined to endorse either of those bids, engineering the $180 million deal that concluded with Fisher and Wolff—Selig’s fraternity brother at the University of Wisconsin—buying the team.
Ever since, the A’s have been caught in a fruitless chase for a new stadium. But the problems of building a new ballpark for the A’s in the San Francisco Bay Area proved complex and multifaceted. Here’s a timeline:
2004: Santa Clara County
Schott had a spot in Santa Clara proper, amid the high-tech money in Silicon Valley. The problem? The San Francisco Giants owned the territorial rights to Santa Clara County, and thwarted the bid. Walter Haas, who owned the A’s in the 1980s, had ceded those rights to the Giants when they had sought their own ballpark vote in Santa Clara. The Giants still hold those rights.
Wolff signed an agreement with Fremont, 20 miles south of the Coliseum and well within the A’s territorial limits. The A’s bought land for a 32,000-seat stadium from Cisco Systems, which agreed to a 30-year naming rights package as part of the deal. But local opposition among residents and government officials scuttled the project, with Wolff claiming the A’s had spent $80 million for naught.
2011-16: San Jose
The A’s dipped back into Giants territory with the same result: No. This time, the ask was a five-acre ballpark project in downtown San Jose. During years of contentiousness between the A’s and Giants’ ownership, including a failed antitrust lawsuit, the Giants refused to budge. And this time, Selig, who retired as commissioner in 2015, declined to help the A’s. A blue-ribbon MLB committee met for years but never made a public recommendation.
2016-17: Laney College
The San Jose collapse meant the end for Wolff. He resigned as the club’s managing partner and ballpark point man, replaced by Dave Kaval, who successfully built a soccer stadium for the San Jose Earthquakes, also owned by Fisher. Kaval took over as club president, but his first foray, a 35,000-seat ballpark at a college in downtown Oakland, was disastrous. The site was picked, plans were drawn, but opposition from the community and student body was strong. The school’s board of trustees nixed the deal mid-negotiations, “shocking” Kaval, who had to punt.
2018-2023: Howard Terminal
With their lease on the Coliseum expiring at the end of the 2024 season, the A’s choice was the current Coliseum site or a parcel on an aging port terminal—now used for cargo container storage—west of downtown Oakland and within walking distance of Jack London Square. The A’s purchased 50% of the Coliseum property from Alameda County and began negotiations for the rest of it with the City of Oakland, which still owns that property. The A’s chose Howard Terminal, and the pursuit was going well until the pandemic hit in 2020. In 2021, the Oakland City Council voted for a preliminary Howard Terminal term sheet and negotiations began, but they stalled a year later as the Council had problems finding sources to fund infrastructure costs without putting Oakland taxpayers at risk. The A’s declined to absorb those costs. An election for a new Council and mayor this past November also delayed voting to affirm the project.
2022-?: Las Vegas
MLB’s current commissioner, Rob Manfred, gave the A’s the option of studying a move to Las Vegas. Kaval and Fisher explored Vegas for land to develop for a ballpark. The A’s were put on the clock by a clause in baseball’s new Basic Agreement, which gives them until Jan. 15 to resolve their ballpark situation or lose access as a receiver of revenue sharing if they remain in Oakland. The A’s pursued at least three sites in Vegas, an exploration that ended this past week with the announcement they’d made a binding agreement to buy land for a ballpark just north of Allegiant Stadium. The negotiations in Oakland are on hold, with Mayor Sheng Thao originally saying the community had no interest in participating in the process so the A’s could “extract a better deal out of Las Vegas.” The next day she said Oakland would be interested in reopening negotiations. But that’s not likely unless a Las Vegas deal craters. Kaval said the club’s attention right now is on Vegas, where the pursuit of public funds from the Nevada state legislature has begun.
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