Oakland A’s cleared to explore relocation amid ballpark impasse

The City of Oakland is facing renewed pressure to advance the Oakland Athletics’ plans for a new ballpark after Major League Baseball (MLB) stated it has permitted the team to explore relocation options.

The latest news comes with the A’s having faced long-running challenges in its bid to leave RingCentral Coliseum and move to a new stadium. MLB said in a statement yesterday (Tuesday): “MLB is concerned with the rate of progress on the A’s new ballpark effort with local officials and other stakeholders in Oakland.

“The A’s have worked very hard to advance a new ballpark in downtown Oakland for the last four years, investing significant resources while facing multiple roadblocks. We know they remain deeply committed to succeeding in Oakland, and with two other sports franchises (the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders and NBA’s Golden State Warriors) recently leaving the community, their commitment to Oakland is now more important than ever.

“The Oakland Coliseum site is not a viable option for the future vision of baseball. We have instructed the Athletics to begin to explore other markets while they continue to pursue a waterfront ballpark in Oakland. The Athletics need a new ballpark to remain competitive, so it is now in our best interest to also consider other markets.”

The A’s last month revealed details of the financial offer it has made to Oakland City Council for a new ballpark at Howard Terminal, with the total costs set to reach at least $12bn (£8.49bn/€9.89bn) when incorporating a nearby mixed-use development.

A’s president Dave Kaval provided details of the term sheet the team had submitted. The stadium itself, which will sit on the waterfront at Howard Terminal, would cost at least $1bn and will be privately financed by the team. Kaval called on fans to urge the city council to review the terms and “take action”. The team has asked the council to take a vote on the project before the summer.

In February, the A’s took what it claimed was another “important step forward” in efforts to develop a new ballpark as plans were revealed for a third major redesign of the project. The plans were revealed as the City of Oakland released the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) showing the path forward for the A’s privately financed 34,000-seat ballpark project.

The A’s currently play at the Coliseum, a stadium it used to share when the Raiders played in Oakland and for which it has a current lease deal running through the 2024 season. However, the team has long been seeking a new stadium and in November 2018 declared Howard Terminal as the site for its proposed new home.

A’s owner John Fisher said in a statement yesterday that he will follow MLB’s instructions, but still remains committed to the Howard Terminal project. “The future success of the A’s depends on a new ballpark,” said Fisher. “Oakland is a great baseball town, and we will continue to pursue our waterfront ballpark project. We will also follow MLB’s direction to explore other markets.”

Kaval echoed Fisher’s comments and maintained the team is “running out of time” at its existing home. “We’re going to immediately start working with the league on exploring other markets and working hand in hand with them to identify which ones make the most sense and pursuing that right away,” Kaval told the Associated Press news agency. “We need to keep our options open. People know, we can’t even keep the lights on here at the Coliseum.”

Kaval continued: “We’re hopeful that our really exciting plan for a waterfront ballpark that’s privately financed will be taken up by the city council. I think it’s something that is kind of a once-a-generational opportunity to re-imagine the waterfront. We’re going to continue to pursue that and we’re still hopeful that that could get approved, but we have to be realistic about where we are with the timelines.”

The A’s previously put forward plans for new ballparks that never came to fruition in Fremont and San Jose. Following the Warriors’ departure to the new Chase Center arena in San Francisco for the 2019-20 season, and the Raiders’ exit to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas for the 2020 NFL campaign, the A’s represent Oakland’s sole remaining major league franchise.

Commenting on the latest news, Mayor Libby Schaaf said: “We share MLB’s sense of urgency and their continued preference for Oakland. Today’s statement makes clear that the only viable path to keeping the A’s rooted in Oakland is a ballpark on the waterfront.

“We have made great strides with the Governor’s certification and release of the EIR. Now, with the recent start of financial discussions with the A’s, we call on our entire community – regional and local partners included — to rally together and support a new, financially viable, fiscally responsible, world class waterfront neighbourhood that enhances our city and region, and keeps the A’s in Oakland where they belong.”

Franchise relocation has only happened twice in MLB over the past 50 years. The Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers for the 1972 season, while the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005.

The A’s started life as the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901, before moving to Kansas City in 1955 and eventually settling in Oakland in 1968.

Image: Oakland A’s