Will it be ‘aye’ for ‘A’s’ ballpark plans?


Oakland Athletics stadium update March 2021 Image: Oakland Athletics & Bjarke Ingels Group

With the release of the City’s draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) recently, the next big step has been initiated towards securing the Major League Baseball (MLB’s) Oakland Athletics new ballpark in Oakland (US).

Oakland Athletics reported that the release of the document was expected in 2020, but the whole process got delayed as the United States is still not out of the COVID-19 veritable death trap. The report provides an analysis of plans for the ‘A’s’ proposed new 34,000-seat stadium at Howard Terminal near Jack London Square. The project also envisages building 3,000 homes, as well as 18 acres of new parks and open spaces all around the area.

The Oakland Athletics, often referred to as the A’s, are an American professional baseball team based in Oakland, California (US). The Oakland Athletics compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League West division. The team plays its home games at the 63, 132-capacity Oakland Coliseum.

The ‘A’s’ new venue plans would create the 35,000-seat ballpark and mixed-use development with up to 3,000 residential units, up to 1.5 million square feet of offices and up to 270,000 square feet of retail uses.

A news release sent out by the ‘A’s’ President Dave Kaval stated, “The Athletics are the last professional sports team in Oakland. We employ thousands of Oakland and Alameda County residents, local businesses, the City, and the County derive significant economic benefits and revenue from our games. While the release of the draft EIR is a great milestone, it is imperative that the City Council take a vote on the project this year. We look to the City for their support and partnership to keep the ‘A’s’ in Oakland for generations to come.”

Kaval added that the development will have the highest environmental standards of any project in California history. He said the project is “bigger than baseball” with what he called “no showstoppers” in terms of why the project can’t be built.

The ‘Oakland Athletics’ further reported that the ‘A’s’ are taking what they describe as a “transit-first approach” to the proposed ballpark. With a focus on expanding methods of public transportation and adding pedestrian bridges and walkways in the vicinity, the club hopes to cut down car trips to the stadium by
20 percent.

Earlier this month, the Alameda County Superior Court set aside a lawsuit filed against the ‘A’s’ by a coalition of shipping, trucking and steel companies in January this year that claimed the club had not met the criteria to be certified for an expedited environmental review that was listed under California’s AB 734 law.

The next step now is a 45-day period for public comment on the EIR, the ‘A’s’ are also working to reach an agreement for the project with the City of Oakland. The club hopes to get the development to a vote with City Council and the Port of Oakland later this year, where an approval could give the ‘A’s’ the go-ahead to begin construction for a possible 2024 opening.

However, the target date of opening day 2023 for the new stadium seems a remote possibility as the US is still caught in the COVID conundrum. By the end of 2021, it is expected that a clear picture will emerge as to whether the project will be ‘aye’ or ‘nay’.

Schaaf support

ABC7 News quoted Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf as stating, “The ‘A’s’ are our last major league team in Oakland. We need to keep them. This is how they see their future in Oakland and they are willing to pay for it. This is a privately financed ballpark that is very important to me. Oakland has made some pretty bad deals in the past with sports teams, this is not one of them.”

The ‘A’s’ had been mulling on Howard Terminal as a possible site for years before November 2018, when the official plans were unbolted.

The plan, supported by Schaaf, includes the ballpark, shopping and housing.

Schaaf added, “This report is actually going to create a legal obligation for the ‘A’s’ to make certain improvements. We really want to make sure that the ballpark is not going to impede our port traffic. We love our working waterfront. We know it’s our economic engine. This report looks at very specific ways to keep that engine chugging along.”

The whole development could act as a game changer on the road to keeping the ‘A’s’ in Oakland in a long envisioned waterfront ballpark with room for 35,000 fans.

The EIR must examine the stadium’s potential effects on the environment and identify any mitigation measures.

ABC7 News quoted Schaaf as further stating, “The next step in the process is people now have a couple of days to comment on the Environment Impact Report. There are going to be several public hearings. Please come chime in. Look at what has been recommended. Let us know whether you think this ballpark on the waterfront is a good idea. Oakland cares so much about being a model of environmental stewardship.”

Will the project pass muster?

Schaaf further commented, “These are complicated projects, as they should be, especially when they are on the waterfront. It’s a very environmentally sensitive part of our ecosystem. We have to be very careful whenever we disturb it or build there. We have to make sure any project is enhancing our environment stewardship, not degrading it. I know the ‘A’s’ are committed to that. More importantly, the City will hold them to that and this community will also hold them, to not just being good neighbors, but being good environment stewards.”

The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association has always opposed the plan tooth and nail.

“If you transform your waterfront into a tourist mecca and expensive housing – you will not have an industrial port left,” stated Mike Jacob, Vice-President and General Counsel of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.

The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association advocates on behalf of marine terminal operators, ocean-going vessels and maritime industry stakeholders doing business at US West Coast ports.

The draft report is just a small step. The shipping association is still involved with litigation over the plan and there are several more bureaucratic hurdles.

On when the new ballpark would potentially reopen, Schaaf commented, “We will have a better idea of that once the City Council approves this project. That is on track for happening by the end of this year. That’s the next big milestone that will really drive the construction schedule.”

She also said the report indicated “There are no net greenhouse gas emissions. That is a huge deal.”

The plans detailed in the EIR prioritize not impeding port traffic and more efficient truck access along with transit links to the downtown core possibly using a gondola to ferry passengers to the stadium. Bike and pedestrian bridges would arch over 880 and the railroad tracks. The entire site would be raised 5 feet to mitigate an anticipated rise in the sea level. The ‘A’s say the project would attempt to totally transfigure the industrial site into a sustainable community using no taxpayer dollars while working to redecorate the old coliseum site in East Oakland.

Schaaf continued, “The ‘A’s’ are our last major league team in Oakland. We need to keep them. This is how they see their future in Oakland and they are willing to pay for it.”

The whole development has its share of critics too as well. Public hearings for the EIR are scheduled between now and mid-April. The ‘A’s’ need full support of both the Port and the City Council to proceed.

Jacob says they will thoroughly review the Draft EIR, but adds, he already has some big concerns – “The proposed location is zoned for industrial use, and bringing in a stadium, retail stores, office space, tourists and luxury housing will create problems.”

He added, “Those are 24/7 uses that are not just the stadium, and when you invite those types of uses, especially housing, into an industrial area, those uses aren’t compatible with what we are doing.”

He says the future success of the Port of Oakland is based on its ability to grow its access to cargo and overseas markets and feels that the development will put billions of dollars and thousands of jobs at risk.

Explained Jacob, “We can’t reinvest in our operations at the Port of Oakland if our cargo can’t move, if we have increased congestion, if our vessels can’t turn around, and if we constricted in our ability to move shipments by rail. If this project moves forward and doesn’t address our ability to do business and constricts our ability to grow, then our members, who are the tenants and investors in the infrastructure of the Port of Oakland, won’t be reinvesting here.”

The East Oakland Stadium Alliance, of which Jacob is a part of, issued a statement that reads in part, “Unfortunately, this Draft EIR is also being released under an unresolved claim that the ‘A’s’ project has the authority to proceed under a now-expired fast-track process. Because there is still a lawsuit pending on this very question in the State appellate court, we are very disappointed that the ‘A’s’ and the City are moving forward with the release of this Draft EIR prior to the final resolution of this critical issue.”

Design change yet again!

Once again, the ‘A’s’ have redesigned their proposed 34,000 seat Howard Terminal Stadium.

‘SFGATE’ reported that in the latest renderings, released with the stadium’s draft EIR, the stadium will now drop to ground level in right field instead of center field. The redesign will allow people on the waterfront promenade to look into the stadium and watch the action during gamedays.

The change is the third major redesign in the ‘A’s’ stadium structure. In 2018, the stadium originally featured a diamond “jewel box” structure that was supposed to be a nod to Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, where the ‘A’s’ once played.

In 2019, the stadium because more circular, which officials said was intended to create a more intimate experience inside the ballpark, allowing splendid views of Oakland from inside the park.

‘SFGATE’ added that a rooftop park, that will be continuous around the structure, will be open to the public is still part of the proposal.

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