The City of Oakland and an Oakland A's booster club have put forward two new ballpark sites in the Jack London Square area. The sites, which have never been fully considered by the team, are at Third and Oak streets and in an area west of Broadway, between the railroad tracks and Interstate 880, according to three knowledgeable sources. Major League Baseball's special task force on the A's is aware of the sites and has analyzed them, according to the sources, raising hopes among East Bay boosters that the team might stay in Oakland after all.
Mayor Ron Dellums is poised to reveal the new sites publicly and plans to urge Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and the A's to begin negotiating in earnest with the city, the sources said. The two new sites are among four that the city and A's boosters are pushing. The other two sites are the Oakland Coliseum parking lot and the Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland, also west of Broadway in the Jack London Square area. However, A's co-owner Lew Wolff has already analyzed the Coliseum parking lot and the Howard Terminal sites and dismissed them as unfeasible.
Proponents hope that the two new sites will short-circuit Wolff's attempt to move the team to San Jose. Wolff has maintained that he has exhausted all possibilities for a new ballpark in the East Bay and, as a result, he should be allowed to relocate to San Jose, despite the San Francisco Giants' territorial claims on the South Bay. But if baseball's task force finds that one or both of the new Jack London Square sites are viable, then it could force Wolff to change course and reexamine Oakland.
Selig appointed the three-member task force earlier this year to make a determination on whether Wolff was right — that there were no viable sites in Oakland or anywhere else in the East Bay. Selig, an old college buddy of Wolff's, then later asked the task force to also examine San Jose, according to the sources. One of the sources said the task force also has looked at Fremont. Wolff abandoned his Fremont plans in February after some members of the community spoke out strongly against both of his preferred sites.
It's not clear, however, when the task force will complete its work. Some believe it may happen before baseball's ownership meeting in early 2010. But Selig spokesman Mike Teevan said there was "no timetable" for when the task force would be done. The task force includes Corey Busch, a former Giants executive, and Irwin Raij, a lawyer who was closely involved with the Washington and Miami ballpark proposals.
Teevan said Selig likely would not make the report public when it's completed, although he added that the commissioner may reveal some of its findings. Teevan also said that the task force has not disclosed to the commissioner what it has discovered so far.
At first, it looked as if the task force was embarking on a whitewash because it reportedly was going to review only ballpark sites that Wolff and the A's had previously examined. That looked to be especially true when Selig asked the task force to also analyze Wolff's favored spot in San Jose. But then the mayor's office and Oakland boosters changed the game by stepping in and presenting the task force with the two new sites.
A ballpark at either site could provide a huge boost to Oakland. Both would provide significant economic synergies with the planned dining and entertainment district in Jack London Square by adding two to three million new visitors a year to the area. In addition, both sites are in close proximity to mass transit. The Oak and Third site is not far from the Lake Merritt BART station, while the west of Broadway site is within walking distance of both the Oakland City Center and West Oakland BART stations. Both are also close to I-880 and I-980, although parking in both areas could be a challenge.
Both sites also could provide views of the hills and San Francisco Bay, along with the estuary. One drawback is that parts of both are in private ownership, so the city's help may be required to purchase the property. If that were to happen, the city could use redevelopment money, so its debt-ridden general fund would not be affected. Mayor Dellums declined to comment for this story through his spokesman, Paul Rose. However, the mayor may hold a press conference on the topic as early as this Thursday.
It's widely believed that Wolff had been counting on the task force's report as a validation for his plans to move to San Jose. If both the task force and the team could convince the rest of baseball's ownership that there were no other viable spots in Northern California, that could persuade owners to abrogate the Giant's territorial rights to the South Bay. However, the new Jack London Square sites could change that equation.
In addition, recent news out of the South Bay raises questions as to whether San Jose residents really want the team. As first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, a recent poll revealed that San Jose residents are evenly split on the team moving to their city — 45 percent in favor versus 44 percent opposed.
Finally, it should be noted that a story last month in the Chronicle misidentified one of the two new sites and placed a third one in the wrong part of town, according to the sources. The story identified one of the new sites as being in East Oakland on Howard Street, across the Nimitz Freeway from the Coliseum. However, the sources said the actual site is in Jack London Square, west of Broadway, between the railroad tracks and I-880. (Full disclosure: That site would apparently force this newspaper to move out of its brand new home.) The Chronicle also mistakenly placed the Howard Terminal in East Oakland, across from I-880. In actuality, it is west of Broadway on the estuary in Jack London Square.