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"The general idea is that in order for it be privately financed, you need an outside revenue source," said Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College in Massachusetts and coeditor with Noll of the seminal 1997 sports economics book Sports, Jobs, and Taxes. It made the case for why publicly financed stadiums make no sense for cities. Wolff, Zimbalist said, was on the cutting edge of how sports franchises are responding to cities that refuse to help pay for stadiums.
In March 2005, as Wolff began to sketch out his plan, he and his partners purchased the A's from Schott and his partner Ken Hofmann for $175 million. John Fisher, son of Gap founder Donald Fisher, became the majority owner of the ball club, but he remained in the background and allowed Wolff to be the general managing partner corporate jargon for "front man."
Three months later, Wolff heard a convincing pitch for why the best site for his ballpark village was not in Oakland. It was a huge slice of land once destined to turn a bedroom community into Silicon Valley North.
Closing the window
Scott Haggerty is a persistent man, and on June 1, 2005, he wrote to Wolff, asking him once again to "seriously consider" Fremont. A week later, Mayor Wasserman did the same thing. The two knew Wolff was getting nowhere in Oakland and that Fremont would greet him as a savior. Shortly after receiving the letters, Wolff met Wasserman, and this time he didn't cut anyone off. "He was very, very interested from the moment I met him," Wasserman recalled.
In less than a week, Wolff killed the Oakland Coliseum parking lot idea. But he gave little explanation; he vaguely mentioned concerns about building atop underground utility lines and having to negotiate with the Raiders and Warriors. The truth was that his ballpark village would not pencil out unless he had a lot of land for all of those homes and condos. The Coliseum parking lot was just too small.
In Fremont, meanwhile, Wolff sent his son, Keith Wolff, on a driving tour with Wasserman. The mayor showed the younger Wolff the property that HOK had studied, but the owner's son, who was now helping lead the ballpark project, was more intrigued with the Catellus-Cisco land. "He had never seen it before, but he already knew about it," Wasserman recalled. At 143 acres, it appeared to be the perfect size for a ballpark village, but the elder Wolff decided to give Oakland one last chance.
On August 12, 2005, Wolff unveiled his ballpark village plan publicly for the first time, saying he wanted to build it on about a hundred acres of industrial land north of the Coliseum, from 66th Avenue to High Street. The bold proposal was met immediately with skepticism. Wolff asked for no public money, but he said he would need Oakland's help relocating about one hundred blue-collar businesses that occupied the land. His plan instantly raised the ugly specter of politicians using eminent domain to confiscate private property and then hand it to a wealthy sports franchise owner.
Wasserman also attended Wolff's presentation, and said he remembered thinking it would not fly in Oakland. "His plan looked beautiful, but it was very obvious they he would never be able to do that there," the mayor said. "I was sitting there thinking, 'My gosh. That'll work in Fremont.'"
Wasserman believes Wolff probably thought the same thing, but in public, at least, the A's co-owner stayed the course in Oakland. A few weeks later, he offered to help pay the salary of a city staffer to shepherd his plan. And in December, he requested a lease extension at the Coliseum. "More than anything else, it would have extended the window toward securing a baseball-only facility in the city of Oakland," A's spokesman Jim Young explained to the Trib. "That window remains open, but it won't be forever."
In hindsight, that window was closing rapidly if it was still open at all. Wolff had been working behind the scenes in Fremont for half a year. According to a column by Mark Purdy in the San Jose Mercury News, Wolff was introduced to Cisco CEO John Chambers in the fall of 2005 by former A's co-owner Ken Hofmann. Wolff and Chambers quickly began discussing a deal for the 143-acre Cisco-Catellus property, to which Cisco still held the rights.
Then in March of this year, Wolff declared his Oakland ballpark village plan dead and said he was focusing on Fremont. Wasserman said his city and the A's already had entered into serious discussions. A few months later, in July, Wolff quietly gobbled up land near the Cisco-Catellus property. According to county records, he purchased eight acres fronting I-880. The additional land gives him 151 total acres for his ballpark village.
Finally, on November 14, at Cisco's headquarters in San Jose, Wolff, Chambers, Selig, and Beane announced the A's move to Fremont. Wolff said Haggerty had "hounded" him since that lunch at Massimo's in 2004. He said he planned to buy the Cisco-Catellus property now owned by ProLogis, a real estate development giant that swallowed Catellus last year. And Chambers agreed to pay the A's $120 million over thirty years for the right to call the new ballpark Cisco Field.
The new 30,000- to 34,000-seat stadium may open as soon as 2010. But Wasserman said he told Wolff that he would have to build it without public funds.
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