Originally posted at East Bay Citizen.
By Steven Tavares.
The dream of building up to three professional sports stadiums at the current Oakland Coliseum complex clashed Monday with the financial realities of such a development along with hints the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors are not communicating effectively.
In a joint meeting of the two local government bodies, which partner in sharing and operating the Coliseum complex, there was consensus for additional one-on-one dialogue before they proceed with one of the county’s largest-ever land developments. Despite questions over the future of the Raiders, Athletics and Warriors in Oakland persisting over the past few years, Monday afternoon’s meeting at Oakland’s City Hall was the first meaningful discussion on the topic of new stadiums between these elected officials.
The paucity of discourse, said Alameda County Board President Keith Carson, may have left some county supervisors lacking a good grasp of the situation–not only about the several iterations of stadium plans, known as Coliseum City, but how the city and county can begin to think about paying for them. Carson said he asked for Monday’s meeting after it became clear to him some of his colleagues were receiving differing information on the specifics of the project. In addition, Carson said he was seeking to gain a finer understanding of how to pay off the Coliseum’s existing debt seen by many as a huge obstacle in managing to get even one new stadium financed and built in Oakland. “There is no understanding of where do you start from before asking where we’re going to go,” said Carson.
A $113 million municipal debt is still owed on the remodeled O.co Coliseum following the return of the Raiders in 1995, according to Alameda County Auditor Pat O’Connell. Taxpayers could be on the hook for the debt until at least 2025. The city and county also subsidize the Coliseum with an additional $10 million paid annually by each body. In addition, the similarly remade Oracle Arena still has over $90 million in debt remaining, said O’Connell.
A few county supervisors are “not really comfortable,” said Carson, with a feeling among their ranks that Oakland is leading the project’s early details and the county is merely “being pulled into decisions” rather than a situation of equal collaboration. Later, Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley raised the possibility of the city buying out the county’s share of the Coliseum Joint Powers Agreement. Miley noted there exists a distaste for the partnership among the city’s sports franchises. Oakland Assistant Administrator Fred Blackwell said Oakland likely does not have the financial wherewithal for such a transaction; however, Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan floated the idea the Coliseum City investment team could possibly buy out the county or, conversely, push control of the complex solely to the county.
In a perfect world, the first phase of Coliseum City, featuring a new football stadium for the Raiders and adjoining parking lot for tailgaters would be completed in 2018, said Blackwell. Hotels, restaurants and retail would follow, including a 39,000-seat ballpark at the current north parking lot area. Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, also a member of the Coliseum JPA, said of Raiders owner Mark Davis might not be happy with such a timetable. “We didn’t start the stadium yesterday so he’s not happy.” Though, among its three current tenants, only the Raiders have expressed a desire to stay in Oakland and should be at the top of the list when it comes to new stadiums, said Haggerty. “It’s my firm belief, we need to do everything to make sure that happens.” However, when it comes to the Athletics, Haggerty pointed to an overhead slide showing a potential ballpark for the Athletics coming sometime after 2019 and said such an announcement was detrimental to their cause to keep the baseball franchise in town. “If I were the A’s I would run that to MLB and say, ‘we’re not even on the radar.’”
Yet, there is also questions whether the Athletics—if they remain in Oakland—would even want to be included in the Coliseum City project or favor a downtown ballpark near Jack London Square at Howard Terminal, instead. “Our strategy is to show Major League Baseball not only do we have a feasible site for a ballpark, but we have two,” said Blackwell. He added, the city is not committed to either site. However, Blackwell said, the feasibility of Coliseum City is predicated on luring as much foot traffic to the complex as possible.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, whose re-election next year could partly rest on the outcome of Coliseum City project, suggests one of the sports teams might get left out in the cold. “I’m guessing it might not be three stadiums,” she said and speculated Major League Baseball might be more interested in the possibility of Howard Terminal because of its proximity to downtown. “Major League Baseball has to decide [over the Athletics next home]. They are not going to San Jose,” said Quan. “This team really belongs to the city of Oakland.”