This past week, we saw an embarrassing war of words take place in public between members of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Joint Powers Authority (JPA) and A's ownership over a proposed lease extension to keep the A's in Oakland beyond next season. Warring press releases that contained apparent factual errors and vague threats highlight how both sides are at fault in this negotiation becoming a circus — and how, once again, it is the A's fans who suffer.
Prior to last week, A's managing partner Lew Wolff had publicly stated his desire for a ten-year lease extension that could theoretically keep the A's in Oakland until 2024. However, Wolff will most certainly require an escape clause — which would allow the team to move to San Jose if that becomes possible — in any lease he signs. On the other side, members of the JPA have hinted they do not want to include such a clause in any lease, and may go so far as to require Wolff to commit to Oakland indefinitely. Making things more complicated, JPA officials say the A's owe $5 million in back payments, which the A's firmly dispute. While none of the lease-term offers have been made public, last week's war of press releases concluded with the A's vowing to cease all negotiations indefinitely.
With this bickering taking place, there was an interesting wrinkle that gave some A's fans hope. County Supervisor and JPA board member Nate Miley asserted that the A's are "seriously exploring" building a new ballpark at the Coliseum site, saying "the A's are reviewing financials and are determining whether they can put together a deal on the land." Wolff declined to comment on Miley's claim, but if there is any truth to this statement, then it's clear that both sides should find agreeable terms to keep the A's in Oakland as quickly as possible.
Even without a lease in place beyond next season, the A's will likely be in Oakland for the foreseeable future whether the current owners like it or not. Lawsuits related to the A's' move to San Jose sit in federal and state courts, and the chances of the A's moving south are less likely by the day, if they aren't already dead. Wolff's veiled threat to create a "temporary ballpark" for the team to play in was greeted with skepticism and seen more as a leverage move than a real plan.
While proposals for building new facilities at the Coliseum remain nebulous, another group is in the early stages of studying the viability of a downtown waterfront site at the Port of Oakland's Howard Terminal. In March, the port commission approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with a group of local business leaders to allow preliminary studies on the feasibility and costs of building a ballpark on the site. While this work is being done without the blessing of the A's, it is also free of any connections or oversight from the JPA and the other Coliseum tenants. Wolff has gone so far as to completely dismiss the site based on his own assessment but won't publicly share those findings or pursue standard feasibility studies that would be made public. Regardless, his willingness to have the A's continue to play at the substandard Coliseum will provide plenty of time for this other group to tell Wolff if a waterfront ballpark is feasible long before any new lease runs out.
Although the waterfront site has a multitude of unknown costs related to site preparation and infrastructure improvements, on top of required government approvals, there have been several news reports about possible suitors for the A's franchise. Multiple prospective ownership groups are reportedly interested in buying the team, keeping them in Oakland, and building a new ballpark. If San Jose's legal wrangling to get the team to move south fall flat, the day may soon come when the A's' current ownership has had enough and finally gives up its pursuit of Silicon Valley's gold and decides to sell the team.
But while the A's remain "stuck" for now in Oakland and the Coliseum JPA rolls out press releases, the A's fans once again are the losers. We see the team we love embroiled in a drama that perennially distracts from great performances on the field, while getting us no closer to the new ballpark the team deserves.
If there is any potential to have the A's' current owners keep the team in Oakland, the JPA should immediately work to find any possible solution while being upfront to fans and taxpayers alike. Likewise, if the A's' owners have any real intention of finding a ballpark solution in Oakland, they should work with the JPA to pursue it, instead of using press releases to cut off negotiations at any perceived slight. Rather than waste energy on battles fought through the media, both sides should sit down and find real solutions that work for all involved.
It should come as no surprise that A's fans are absolutely sick and tired of these types of games being played with the future of their team, and only hope that someday they can focus on the only game that matters: the one on the field.
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