The Fremont Athletics 

How the deal went down, and why it was inevitable

Page 3 of 7

Where's the library?

Scott Haggerty thought Fremont was being stiff-armed. Haggerty is the consummate Fremont booster; he was raised there, he represents it on the county Board of Supervisors, and he has a tight relationship with its mayor and longtime Fremont police chief, Bob Wasserman. Haggerty affectionately calls Wasserman his "father on earth." But in mid-2001, Haggerty was livid. He believed Bobb and Rios were rigging the HOK study.

"They had a clear bias and an agenda in making sure the A's stayed in Oakland," recalled Haggerty, who at the time was chairman of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority. In fact, it looked as if HOK was going to bypass Fremont entirely until Haggerty insisted that the architects analyze a large piece of vacant land near the NUMMI plant, not far from the planned new BART station at Warm Springs.

HOK liked the Fremont spot and selected it as the East Bay's third-best site, but the results were largely forgotten by the summer of 2003. Then, when Bobb resigned on July 1, 2003, Haggerty attempted to revive his hometown's prospects. "I think that Fremont has always been the site of choice for many," he told the Fremont Argus a day later. "And the fact that ... nobody is stepping to the plate to build a new ballpark in Oakland will greatly increase Fremont's chances." Four months later, the A's hired a man who would make the county supervisor look prescient.

Lew Wolff joined the A's in November 2003 as vice president of venue development — corporate jargon for "new ballpark guy." Wolff had made a name for himself in real-estate development, particularly in San Jose, where he built the San Jose Park Center Plaza and the San Jose Fairmont Hotel's new tower. He also was no stranger to pro sports. He once owned minority stakes in the Golden State Warriors and the St. Louis Blues hockey team, and controlled a piece of the Skydome, the home of baseball's Toronto Blue Jays. In the early 1990s, he also helped try to bring the Giants to the South Bay.

Wolff's extensive ties to San Jose, in fact, fueled speculation that he would attempt to move the A's there. But in May 2004, baseball Commissioner Selig reaffirmed the Giants' territorial claims on the South Bay. "We do respect territories ... and territories are well defined ... and everybody knows that when they buy a team," Selig said. Translated, it meant that the A's would have to find a new ballpark in their own territory — Alameda and Contra Costa counties — or move out of the Bay Area. Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties belonged to the Giants and were off limits.

Wolff, who had invited Selig to the press conference, has been close pals with the commissioner since the 1950s when the two were fraternity brothers at the University of Wisconsin. At the press conference announcing the Fremont move, Selig joked that in college he never would have predicted Wolff would become a wealthy businessman. "To quote my mother, 'He was never going to amount to a row of pins,'" Selig said, smiling. Wolff quickly retorted, "The commissioner was always in the library. It took me three years to find where the library was."

But once Wolff began working for the A's, it didn't take long for him to find the second-place finisher in the HOK study — the Oakland Coliseum parking lot. In a July 2004 team report, Wolff said the A's were willing to spend $100 million of their own money for a new $400 million stadium there. Three months earlier, Wolff had told Haggerty at Massimo's that Fremont was not going to happen.

But Wolff, who did not return phone calls to his spokesman seeking comment for this story, soon learned that Oakland city officials would not help the A's finance a new stadium next to the Coliseum. The Raiders' deal had made sure of that.


Poisoning the water

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, America's cities prostituted themselves for the rich owners of professional sports teams. From coast to coast, cities spent billions building new stadiums, trying to steal teams from one another or hold onto the ones they had. Oakland and San Francisco were no different. Both went deep into debt to build taxpayer-financed stadiums — the Oakland Coliseum, which lured the A's from Kansas City, and Candlestick Park, constructed for the newly arrived New York Giants. But as the century neared its close, all that whoring was about to end.

The changing tide began with Al Davis, who sowed widespread distrust in 1982 when he jilted Oakland. By the early 1990s, the Giants' owners experienced the sea change for themselves. They had threatened to relocate to the South Bay, but voters called their bluff, turning down four publicly financed stadium proposals. The backlash was not lost on East Bay politicians. They knew they could no longer dangle taxpayer money in front of sports teams.

That's why politicians such as Don Perata, Ignacio De La Fuente, and county Supervisor Mary King were so eager to promise that the Raiders deal would cost the public nothing. And that's why, when their promises turned out to be wildly off base, the A's chances of obtaining public dollars for a new stadium were spoiled forever. "It all flopped," said Noll, the Stanford sports economist. "It was clear that the Raiders' deal poisoned the water for Oakland politicians."

By early 2005, after De La Fuente made it clear that using public money for an A's stadium was out of bounds, Wolff began working on a plan to finance one privately. He decided to build a "ballpark village," featuring a new stadium surrounded by a mini-city of single-family houses, condos, restaurants, bars, retail, and a hotel. He planned to use the profits from the houses and condos to pay for the stadium.

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