The Oakland A’s are proposing an ambitious plan for a new waterfront ballpark just north of Jack London Square. It would include an intimate stadium surrounded by high-rise buildings, and a gondola from the downtown Oakland BART station that would shuttle fans over the I-880 freeway. The team is also proposing to re-develop the Coliseum site in East Oakland. KQED’s Tara Siler and Nina Thorsen discussed the announcement, which was made Wednesday at the A’s headquarters and at www.oaklandballpark.com.
Tara Siler: Describe what this stadium would look like — they’re calling it a "jewel box" — what does that mean?
Nina Thorsen: Well, it's small — 34,000 seats. That’s much smaller than the Coliseum, smaller than the Giants’ AT&T Park, in fact it would be one of the smallest in Major League Baseball. It’s intimate, as you said — all the seats are close to the field, it doesn't have the big foul territory or the high upper deck of the Coliseum. It's a very contemporary design. It’s nothing like the retro brick ballparks such as AT&T that have been fashionable for the last 20 years, although there is a subtle homage to the Athletics’ original home in Philadelphia, Shibe Park. There are some neat features like a “harbor bath” — a swimming pool just outside the ballpark — and a green roof perimeter, so you'd be able to walk in a park-like area all the way around the roof level of the stadium. Some of the iconic Port of Oakland cranes that are on the site now would be incorporated into the design. And there'd be some terraced areas where fans without tickets would still be able to look into the ballpark from outside, sort of like the rooftops that overlook Wrigley Field in Chicago. The idea is it would be a destination and a public space, even when there isn't a game happening.
Siler: What are the A’s saying about this idea for a gondola — how is that going to work?
Thorsen: The gondola is one solution to the problem of how to get people from BART down to Jack London Square and the ballpark, because there’s a freeway and railroad tracks in the way. So this would be an aerial tram that would go from downtown, over the freeway and the tracks, and possibly terminate at one of the port cranes that are being incorporated into the stadium design. But my sense is the gondola isn’t a make-or-break aspect of the design. If it doesn’t work out, or even if it does, there will be other transit alternatives. But this is definitely going to be a transit-first ballpark, not like the Coliseum surrounded by surface parking lots. The A's say there are more than 10,000 parking spaces within walking distance of the stadium already, but relatively few will be built as part of the ballpark development.
Siler: How real is this proposal? The A’s have floated several stadium ideas over the years, and the last one, near Laney College, was shot down almost immediately.
Thorsen: It seems very real — time will tell, and of course there are a lot of things that could crop up in the course of the environmental impact report and the design process. But what's different this time is that the major players were all at the table for this press conference. Literally at the table — team President Dave Kaval, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Nate Miley, president of the Oakland City Council, Larry Reid, and president of the Board of Commissioners for the Port of Oakland, Ces Butner. So they've all signed on to the concept.
A lot of details remain to be fleshed out — for example, would the A's buy out Alameda County's share of the Coliseum property, or would the city buy the county out and lease the property back to the A's? But Mayor Schaaf said the relationship between the city and the team is closer than it has ever been. “It's like we're dating exclusively,” she said. “We're not looking anywhere else. We're in a courtship right now.”
Siler: So if this relationship works out — how much is this project going to cost?
Thorsen: The A’s are not saying yet. There are too many variables for them to have a firm figure. But they have committed repeatedly to the position that all of the ballpark and the Coliseum redesign will be privately funded by the A's and their development partners. Taxpayers would not be contributing anything to the project directly.
Siler: And what would be the vision for the Coliseum property — because there was also talk about rebuilding a stadium on that site?
Thorsen: The idea is adaptive reuse, keeping the footprint of the current Coliseum baseball diamond itself, taking down the ballpark around it, so it would become a place for youth and community baseball. The rendering shows an area of outdoor amphitheater seating around it, so it could be used for different community events and gatherings. They envision keeping Oracle Arena where it is and revamping it for concerts and public gatherings. The A's Kaval said that in the neighborhood meetings that the team has hosted along with councilmember Larry Reid, who represents East Oakland, people repeatedly said they didn't want a Wal-Mart or something like that to stand on the ground where the Raiders and A's and Warriors have celebrated so many championships. “We heard from so many people in East Oakland,” Kaval said, “that people want to have pride in what's at the Coliseum site — ballpark or no ballpark.”
That said, there would be commercial development on the greater part of the Coliseum site beyond the current ballpark — it's part of how the team would expect to finance the ballpark operations. The plan shows housing, both affordable and market-rate, office, retail and a tech campus. But there would also be a lot of green space that, in part, is intended to help insulate other parts of East Oakland from the effects of rising sea levels.
Siler: What’s the next step in the process to getting this stadium built?
Thorsen: On Friday, the A's will start the CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] process, which will take a year even in its expedited form — it was fast-tracked by a bill passed by the Legislature a few months ago. And while that environmental impact process goes on, they will work out the details of financing and ownership with the city, the county and the port, and work on the details of the design. If all goes well, they hope to have the new stadium ready to move in for Opening Day 2023. The A’s will continue to play at the Coliseum until then, so the major components of that reuse plan would have to wait, but Kaval said they might start some parts earlier if it doesn’t impact stadium operations or parking.