Oakland Athletics new stadium: A’s fans don’t want a reboot
By Greg Milner
As talks of a new stadium for the Oakland Athletics escalate, shouldn’t we consider which site holds the most long-term appeal for fans instead of focusing primarily on where BART runs?
Transportation and infrastructure issues have always been a key component when it comes to evaluating a possible new location for the Oakland Athletics to play, but plenty of other stadiums around the country have flourished in spite of not having a mass transit system in place that dumps fans at their doorstep.
You don’t have to think too hard to find an example. AT&T Park comes to mind.
Our sister city residents across the Bay have managed to overcome the 20-25 minute walk from BART to AT&T, surely we can do the same should a Howard Terminal location come to fruition?
Opinions about where the Oakland Athletics should drop their anchor are all the rage right now among members of the Bay Area media, most of whom continue to push the Coliseum site as the safe, low-risk option.
Ann Killion, a sports columinst with the San Francisco Chronicle, touched a nerve with the fan base on Monday after dismissing Howard Terminal as a “misguided” option and urged the A’s to “start digging” at the site of their existing complex.
I respect Killion as a columnist and I’m aware that she’s been right in the thick of it with Bay Area sports over the greater part of two decades, but the arguments contained in her column fail to recognize crucial aspects of a new ballpark that fans see as hugely important.
After all, this new stadium is being built with the idea that fans will be the ones spending their money there, correct?
Killion begins her stance with arguments in support of the Oakland Coliseum site.
"“It’s historic. This is the Oakland A’s ancestral home. The other night I watched the MLB documentary on the “Swingin’ A’s.” There was the Coliseum in all it’s pre-Mount Davis glory.”"
If we’re not careful about the stadium site selection, the idea of the Athletics playing in Oakland could be history down the road.
Now, certainly the A’s are rich in tradition and the Coliseum is an integral part of the A’s past, but should the Coliseum site be where we break ground, the existing structure will be leveled.
To Killion’s point, it’s a little like saying let’s go to Rome, knock down the Coliseum, and then build a new arena on the land to pay tribute to the gladiators who once fought there.
Eliminating the Coliseum entirely only to build anew on the same soil doesn’t do much to pay homage to a dynasty from an era nearly fifty years behind us.
"“The site is the home of only the A’s, with the pending exits of the Raiders and the Warriors. After decades of complaining about a shared site between three teams and a shared-use stadium with the Raiders, the A’s finally have this prime piece of land all to themselves.”"
True. The Athletics have always expressed a desire to be free of the hassles associated with sharing a site with two other professional sport franchises.
Now that both the Warriors and the Raiders are exiting stage right, the A’s will indeed be alone at the Coliseum site… as would be the case at the Howard Terminal location.
No need for the A’s to be the ones left holding the bag at a site that has now failed three professional sports teams.
"“Access to transportation. In case you hadn’t noticed, Bay Area traffic is horrific and getting steadily worse. Aside from affordable housing, traffic is the biggest issue in the Bay Area. The Coliseum site has a BART station and two sides of freeway access. It is arguably the friendliest transportation site of any stadium on the West Coast.”"
This is easily the strongest argument Killion makes, but it still doesn’t carry much weight. The Bay Area isn’t alone in its traffic issues. Nearly every major metropolitan area in the country suffers from congestion and delays.
None of these issues keep people from living in these areas, or from attending professional sports games. I’ve never thought of attending a professional sports game as an exercise in speed or efficiency. I’m not going there to pick up a gallon of milk.
I won’t argue that freeway access or a BART station on-site isn’t beneficial, but either we are looking for an experience, or we are looking for a nice parking lot.
"“Land. The Coliseum is 130 acres of Bay Area real estate, and as we all know, there is no such thing as bad Bay Area real estate. It is a tabula rasa — the A’s can do whatever they want to develop it. Create a village around a new ballpark, with lots and lots of housing (speaking of the need for affordable housing), retail, parks for kids, restaurants, hotels. A throwback “Day on the Green” outdoor amphitheater. If the Athletics don’t do it, someone else is going to snatch up that land and develop it. You know why? See point No. 3: access to transportation.”"
“Location, location, location” is a ubiquitous statement because it’s true. Location is of the utmost importance and if the current site was the right place for the rebirth of a stadium, there wouldn’t be even a whimper of building the park elsewhere.
People want something new. They are drawn to something new. They want a new experience, a new stadium, and a new site for the team that they love. Athletics fans have had their hearts broken repeatedly by ownership for decades. This is one decision they must get right.
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We deserve the excitement and exhilaration that goes along with building a new home for our franchise. The experience that fans yearn for would be significantly diminished if the new stadium is simply across the parking lot on the existing site.
Perhaps most important, the new model for successful baseball stadiums involves creating a social experience. A place that not only accommodates the die-hard fan, but also the casual fan. If a new ballpark is to be both sustainable and profitable, casual fan dollars are a major part of the equation.
The casual fan has already demonstrated they aren’t interested in spending their money at the Coliseum. They have zero desire to be surrounded by car lots and industrial sites. Are we really going to pretend that turning 100+ acres into a new stadium, a few restaurants, and affordable housing at the same site solves this issue?
People want to feel engaged and inspired by their surroundings. Part of that can be achieved through ball park design, but the other part is reliant on the landscapes and community that surrounds the stadium. The Coliseum site fails to offer the cultural experience and connection to the city of Oakland that the Howard Terminal location will provide.
"“Shovel in the ground immediately. March will mark the 10-year anniversary of Bud Selig’s Blue Ribbon Committee to study the A’s ballpark conundrum. This year is the 22nd anniversary of Mount Davis, which effectively ruined the Coliseum as a baseball stadium. After Fremont, San Jose and the fiasco with the Peralta site, the fans are beyond exasperated.”"
The ability to start now is the worst reason to suggest any site. Athletics fans have been chasing a dangling carrot for decades. Another year or two to get through the red tape of an alternate site won’t frustrate fans as long as the location chosen is the right one.
Fans have already weathered the storm of broken promises. There’s no need to be hasty with a decision now. Athletics fans are clamoring for a new stadium, but they’re also intelligent enough to know the location has to be sustainable.
No one wants to be back in the same situation ten years from now when the shine of a new stadium starts to fade. Fans will continue to be patient for a ballpark that delivers the experience they’re looking for.
Killion also outlined several reasons why she believed the Howard Terminal location should not be considered.
"“Howard Terminal is not a “downtown” stadium, no matter what way you spin it. It’s 12 long, unattractive blocks from downtown Oakland, including a trip under the freeway and over the railroad tracks. Jack London Square is not downtown Oakland and never has been.”"
No, it’s not technically downtown, but a stadium at HT is a stone’s throw from downtown while also putting the A’s on the water, which may be even more important.
Additionally, it’s close enough to downtown that the stadium design will be able to incorporate views of the magnificent Oakland skyline. A properly developed Howard Terminal location will also help bridge downtown with the Oakland Estuary making the water feel closer than ever.
There’s nothing unattractive about the trek down Broadway or Washington to Jack London Square. There is architecture and history in those streets and a new ballpark at HT would only serve to draw more attention to the beauty of downtown Oakland.
"“Waterfront ballparks are nice, but there’s no reason to try to copycat AT&T if it simply doesn’t work. Weather studies show that the site could be as windswept as Candlestick Park was and the ballpark would not be able to face the water because that is directly west, which is not allowed by MLB.”"
Really? These are the reasons we can’t have a park on the water? Oakland fans have listened to San Francisco media sing the praises of AT&T Park being on the water for decades… but now that the A’s have the opportunity to create their own Bay jewel, there’s no reason to do so?
Bay Area residents pay a higher cost of living than the majority of the country. The reason they do so is proximity to the water and the lifestyle that creates. People want to be near the water, on the water, and in the water. There is an intangible benefit provided when surrounded by ocean landscapes. Why not capitalize on it?
It stands to reason that the Howard Terminal location would embrace this desire and provide Oakland a stadium site with lasting power.
"“Access will be difficult. The nearest BART stops are all about a mile away and an unpleasant, potentially dangerous 20-minute walk dealing with trains and traffic. The A’s have floated the idea of building a gondola to ferry customers from a station to the new stadium. Despite the ridiculous added cost of such a project, the gondola would hold only about 20 people at a time. “What are you going to do, ask people to start lining up at 3 for a 7:30 p.m. game?” one A’s insider asked.”"
Foot traffic, gondolas, and trams, oh my. Back to the access issues. As if access to a stadium is the only driver of profitability. Every stadium project faces such issues and Oakland is no exception.
The Howard Terminal site may be a traffic/parking nightmare if the expectation is that 35,000 fans are going to park right outside the stadium doors. That simply isn’t feasible at a downtown location.
It doesn’t have to be a crippling issue though. There will be kinks and snags in the short term. Expect them, but also expect people to adapt and solutions to follow.
I will say after visiting numerous stadiums across the country, I have come to appreciate the overflow lots that develop in nearby neighborhoods. These lots offer fans an opportunity to immerse themselves in the community, to get out of their cars and find that favorite restaurant or bar to visit before and after the game.
If there’s an option for the A’s to build a ballpark that is a direct reflection of why Oaklanders choose to live here, how can we go wrong? The Howard Terminal location is the perfect blend of sea, city, and mountain landscapes.
HT would put fans right in the heart of the city. Jack London Square, Old Oakland, Chinatown, and certainly downtown Oakland would all benefit from the economic rippling effect a new ballpark would generate.
The same model, already in place across the Bay, has demonstrated its lasting viability. Now Oakland has a chance to do it better. A chance to build a stadium that propels the Athletics into being the preeminent baseball team in the Bay Area.
There are those in the San Francisco media telling us to bunt and build at the existing Coliseum site. Instead, let’s swing for the fences and build the crown jewel of Major League Baseball.
Those who follows the Oakland Athletics closely, specifically this season, knows that bunting isn’t our style anyway.
It’s the Howard Terminal site that will offer A’s fans the experience they want and the location most likely to provide the long-term revenue that correlates with fielding a consistently competitive team.
With all due respect Ms. Killion, just because we can put a shovel in the ground tomorrow at the Coliseum, doesn’t mean we should start digging.