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Oakland A’s hail ‘huge win’ with Howard Terminal project vote

The Oakland Athletics and city authorities have hailed another key vote to progress the Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise’s $12bn (£9.91bn/€11.48bn) waterfront ballpark project and potentially ward off the threat of the team relocating to Las Vegas.

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) yesterday (Thursday) voted 23-2 to remove port designation from the 56-acre Howard Terminal site at which the A’s are seeking to build a new stadium and associated mixed-use development.

A vote against would have likely killed off the project. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the commissioners who voted in favour of the A’s proposal said BCDC staff’s “diligent” analysis demonstrated that Howard Terminal is not needed for port functions and that there is “adequate capacity” to handle cargo growth elsewhere. “I’m very confident the Port of Oakland’s operations will survive without Howard Terminal,” said commissioner Mark Addiego.

Oakland is seeking to avoid the A’s becoming the third major league team to leave the city in recent years. Following the departure of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors to the 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.

The A’s are planning a privately financed 35,000-seat ballpark at Howard Terminal which would also see the substantial regeneration of the surrounding area. The team intends to leave its current home, RingCentral Coliseum, when its lease expires in 2024, and has also been exploring its options in Las Vegas. Recently it emerged that MLB would not impose a relocation fee on the A’s if the franchise opts to move to Nevada.

The A’s scored another key win in February as Oakland City Council voted to approve the environmental impact report for the project, but the franchise still faces a number of other hurdles before the venture can proceed in earnest.

The Chronicle said the BCDC approval grants the A’s and the City until 2025 to enter into a binding agreement. After this point, Howard Terminal will automatically revert back to a port priority use designation.

The newspaper notes the A’s still need approvals from the State Lands Commission and the Department of Toxic Substances and Control for site remediation, and the port for a real estate agreement. The City Council will also decide on July 5 whether to gauge local feelings towards the project through an “advisory” measure on the November ballot.

The A’s are also in talks with Oakland on a final development agreement and community benefits package that will need to go to City Council for a final vote. The team is said to be seeking a final vote from City Council before the end of the year when Mayor Libby Schaaf terms out of office and two council members give up their seats as they campaign for her position.

“We’re thrilled with such a positive vote,” Oakland A’s president, Dave Kaval, told the club’s official website. “This is a very difficult approval needing super majority. To navigate the kind of byzantine organisation that is BCDC and do that successfully to get the ‘yes’ vote was a huge day for the A’s and our project in Oakland.”

He continued: “We’re really encouraging the city to schedule that (final) vote as soon as possible. Libby is only in office the remainder of the year. She’s our biggest proponent and advocate. Once she leaves, it’s going to be difficult to advance in the same way.

“We also want to build on the momentum of today. This is a great moment for the project to get through this really difficult approval. We want to show that same level of urgency with the city council.”

Commenting on yesterday’s vote, Schaaf said in a statement: “Today’s vote moves Oakland toward a more prosperous future. Our city has historically been overlooked for major economic development, but today that story about Oakland changes.

“I’m deeply grateful to the BCDC commissioners and every local resident – in Oakland and across our Bay Area region – who showed up to advocate for more affordable housing, more union jobs, and more public access to our waterfront. We will continue to work closely with our community to bring this bold vision into a beautiful reality and keep our A’s rooted in Oakland for generations to come.”

Image: Oakland A’s