Sport collides with shipping in battle over proposed Oakland Ballpark

It’s finishing ninth in a clash between the shipping industry and baseball’s Oakland Athletics.

With less than two years left on the lease at their run-down home stadium, the A’s face tough decisions in their year-long search for a new stadium this summer, including whether to move out of the state. The effort has resulted in a city waterfront showdown between two business communities with vastly different claims to Oakland’s identity and future.

The latest effort to keep the A in California is with a regional environmental body and the Oakland City Council scheduled this summer to either allow the team to build a new stadium on a piece of waterfront land near the city’s downtown, or as Team managers warn, send the A’s packaging.

“We’ve invested so much in Oakland, we haven’t given up,” said David Kaval, president of Oakland A. “But we have to lead the table. We cannot afford losses.”

Most opposition comes from a shipping industry, which sees the plan for a 34,000-seat stadium and hotel and condominium development on a piece of industrial land in the Port of Oakland as a misguided project that would eat up space in the country’s eighth-largest container port for imports. They say it would worsen the congestion that has stalled US supply chains and make it harder for American exporters to get their goods overseas.

The Port of Oakland sides with the A over the shipping groups, arguing that the Howard Terminal site is an awkward and underutilized property that is now used primarily to hold overflow containers.

Several shipping companies sued the A’s, the City of Oakland, the City Council and the Port itself on April 4, demanding the stadium plan be dropped on environmental grounds.

The situation is complicated by the area’s unyielding geography, with Oakland being hemmed in by the water on its west side and the hills rising rapidly on the east.

The A’s see salvation in the kind of sports and entertainment developments created in places like Baltimore, Detroit and Washington, DC that have brought new energy and taxpayer dollars through the redevelopment of industrial areas. San Francisco offers a finished example right across the bay with its retro-style stadium for the National League Giants along a waterfront that was once lined with piers for the fishing and shipping companies that powered the city’s economy decades ago were of central importance.

Baseball officials say the current A-home at the nearly 60-year-old RingCentral Coliseum, a austere stadium known for years as the Oakland Coliseum, built in a nondescript area off a freeway south of town, doesn’t offer expected amenities in modern sports facilities.

The team, which spent years scouting locations and at one point seemed determined to move to nearby San Jose, is focusing on a 50-acre port lot that hasn’t seen full-time cargo handling for nearly a decade. The plans include a 400-room hotel, 1.7 million square feet of commercial property, and 3,000 apartments and condominiums.

Proposed designs for the site include retaining two massive container cranes that would tower over the property.

The dramatic setting belies real-world concerns, say shipping officials, who fear the tens of thousands of fans who could flock to the area on match days would disrupt trucks and trains moving around the port. Cargo handlers say day-trippers on boats hoping to catch a glimpse of games from the water could block cargo ships from approaching nearby working docks. And they fear residents of the new waterfront homes will complain about noise, pollution and other inconveniences that come with living next to a working port.

Cranes used to load and unload cargo at Howard Terminal, pictured in 2018,


Photo:

Ben Margot/Associated Press

“Many people are counting on the port’s future to be what it is today: a shipping community,” said Ed DeNike, president of SSA Containers, which handles a majority of the containers entering and leaving Oakland. “The question is, does the city really want a port? There are people who feel they don’t.”

Oakland is a hub for the nation’s agricultural exporters and has served as a relief valve for importers during backups at the nation’s busiest container complex, 400 miles south in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Like many US seaports, it has been swamped with cargo during the pandemic. Its container yards are so full that Howard Terminal is used as a temporary storage and staging facility for thousands of boxes.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and the Port Authority support the A’s plan to build on the water. They say the terminal land is too small and the water too shallow for good use at sea.

Ms. Schaaf, a Democrat who was once the port’s director of public affairs, says prime waterfront land should not be used as a “parking lot” and that other unused areas of the port could serve as overflow areas.

Danny Wan, the port’s executive director, said the terminal country needs hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investments, including toxic cleanup and sea level rise protections, which no shipping company would spend on what he calls inefficient space.

“This is a unique opportunity to take a fairly underutilized piece of land, clean it up, make it usable and make the area more vital,” he said.

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which governs the development and is made up of elected and appointed officials from around the area, is expected to vote this summer on whether to approve the Howard Terminal remodel.

Commission officials released a preliminary report this week recommending that the conversion be approved, despite a recent consultant report noting that without Howard Terminal, Oakland may not have room for container handling by 2050.

The A’s also need the Oakland City Council to approve a development agreement before the board’s July 25 summer recess. Mr Kaval said any delay after the summer could derail the A’s plans. No vote is planned yet.

The A’s are close to announcing a backup plan for a Las Vegas ballpark, Mr. Kaval said. A move to Nevada would be devastating for Oakland sports fans, who recently lost the Golden State Warriors basketball team to San Francisco and the Raiders football team to Las Vegas.

Most Oakland baseball fans seem to have already left the Coliseum. The team averaged about 8,700 fans per game last season, the second-worst in the major leagues. In mid-April, more fans came to the games to see the A’s minor league team Las Vegas Aviators play the El Paso Chihuahuas than to see the A’s play the Baltimore Orioles in Oakland.

“You can’t play in a 60-year-old and unrenovated venue and expect to have the kind of crowd that you expect from a modern facility,” Mr Kaval said. “That’s why we’re really running out of time.”

write to Paul Berger at [email protected]

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