OAKLAND — The elephant has left the room.
After months of speculation, the A’s announced they want to leave their Coliseum home of 50 years for new digs near Laney College, promising fans a short walk to BART and stadium views of the Tribune Tower, the Oakland Hills and Lake Merritt.
The historic baseball ballpark relocation toward downtown — something city leaders have talked about for decades — would leave the Coliseum empty; the Raiders and Warriors having already made plans to exit Oakland.
An excited A’s President Dave Kaval, in a team video released Wednesday, said the franchise “wants to build a ballpark bigger than baseball, a gathering place to bring our community together” akin to Camden Yards in Baltimore and Fenway Park in Boston.
“The weather at that location is very nice. Oakland baseball is about being in the sun,” Kaval said. “And it’s really a magnificent backdrop.”
But the team’s bold proposal to plop a 35,000-seat stadium near a community college and neighborhoods that are home to renters and a sizable immigrant population, drew a lukewarm response at best from two city leaders and immediate push back from neighborhood activists.
Kaval, in an interview Wednesdsay, cautioned the long-awaited pronouncement is no shovel-ready, done deal. It’s the start of a conversation, first on the list is a land deal negotiation with the college district and talks with neighbors who will live in the shadow of the park.
The Peralta Community College site was not on the top of the list for all Oakland politicians. Mayor Libby Schaaf was a consistent voice for Howard Terminal, near Jack London Square, while Councilman Abel Guillen, whose district includes Peralta, favored staying at the Coliseum.
At a Wednesday morning City Hall press conference, the pair said the A’s decision has its complications, mainly the potential for displacement of “vulnerable” residents of Chinatown, Eastlake and San Antonio.
The neighborhoods surrounding the ballpark location are lined with mom-and-pop businesses and a sizable population of non-English speakers. In the Eastlake neighborhood centered along International Boulevard east of Lake Merritt, 90 percent of households are renters, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Asked if she would help the A’s sell the stadium to the community, Mayor Schaaf hedged, noting gentrification concerns and saying her job is to ensure the project benefits the neighborhood.
“I’ve not said that this is the best place for the A’s but I respect that they are privately financing their ballpark,” Schaaf said. “This is the site they feel is the most financeable. But the A’s have their work cut out for them. They are going to have to convince many community stakeholders that this project is going to be good for them.”
Guillen, a former Peralta district trustee, said an informal poll he conducted in his district showed two-thirds of residents prefer that the A’s stay at the Coliseum.
Anticipating property owners with dollar signs in their eyes, Guillen is already working with the Oakland City Attorney’s Office on emergency measures, including a moratorium on demolition permits and requiring conditional use permits and public hearings for changes to properties in the neighborhoods near the proposed stadium.
“I want make sure we make a concerted effort as a city to make sure tenants know their rights and unscrupulous landlords aren’t doing things they shouldn’t be doing and taking advantage of the situation,” Guillen said.
Kaval and the A’s plan to spend the next year listening to the concerns of the neighbors about how a stadium’s footprint would impact them.
Alvina Wong, Oakland organizing director at Asian Pacific Environmental Network, said she sees no benefits.
“We have extreme concerns at the heart of it, we can’t have it here without deeply impacting Chinatown and Eastlake,” Wong said. “It completely changes the cultural fabric.”
Environmental issues at hand
Peralta’s headquarters, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and E. 8th Street, sit near a channel connecting Lake Merritt to the estuary. Kaval said he’s confident the environmental issues at the site can be worked out.
Sports consultant and one-time A’s executive Andy Dolich, who helped elevate the team’s attendance from 850,000 to 2 million during the 1980s and who more recently participated in stadium projects with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, immediately questioned the realistic long-term viability of the team’s proposed site.
By setting their visions on the Laney College site, the A’s have invited several potential complications, Dolich said. The infrastructure of the neighborhood provides challenges, because the area is near an estuary.
“Not to mention you have this thing called 880,” he said, referring to nearby Interstate 880, and how a new stadium would clog routes on and off the notoriously busy Nimitz freeway. “How’s that working?”
Dolich said he’s hopeful the A’s can overcome whatever issues may lie ahead and emphasized that announcing a desired site is a far different game that developing it.
Staff Writer Rick Hurd contributed to this report
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