The City of Oakland has been through this before—the owner of a local professional sports franchise announces they’re moving the team out of town, leaving the Coliseum for a state-of-the-art facility somewhere else.
In 2006, it was the Oakland A’s baseball team. The A’s owner, Lew Wolf, wanted to build a stadium in Fremont, and held a press conference along with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announcing the team would build a new stadium on 143 acres by the year 2010. But that project was abandoned in 2009, and later efforts to move to San Jose have also stalled. Major League Baseball officials have yet to give the OK for the team to leave. Six years later, they’re still here.
Now it’s the Golden State Warriors who want to exit the Coliseum for fresh digs in San Francisco. On May 22, the Warriors’ owner, Joe Lacob, announced that after 41 years, the Warriors would be crossing back over the bay to their original home city, and a new $500 million palace to be built on Piers 30 and 32. The plan is for the new arena to open before the 2017-2018 season.
Until that actually happens, though—with all the related red tape, financing and bureaucratic maneuvering—Fred Blackwell, Oakland’s Assistant City Administrator, won’t count out the chance that the Warriors will remain in the East Bay.
“Our experience tells us a press conference doesn’t necessarily lead to a new facility,” Blackwell said. “We’ll continue to pursue the Warriors until there’s actually a facility at Pier 30 and 32.”
Part of the reason for Blackwell’s hope is centered around a project city officials rolled out in early March that’s being called “Coliseum City.” The ambitious two-part proposal includes new stadiums for the A’s, Warriors and the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders. The project would also build new hotels and retail space, as well as more office space for high-tech firms, in the Oakland Airport Business Park, which is across the freeway from the Coliseum and on the way to the Oakland airport.
The city selected Oakland-based JRDV Urban International to manage the project, and its team includes HKS Sports and Entertainment, a stadium developer, and Forest City Real Estate Services to develop the office and retail space.
If construction is completed according to the plan, the Coliseum City project will cost north of $1 billion, Blackwell said. Most of that money would come through private investors, he added, which is how the Warriors are funding the proposed arena in San Francisco. But while Lacob pledged $500 million in private money to finance the San Francisco arena, Oakland never received the same offer for the Coliseum City project, according to Blackwell.
“With that kind of commitment [from the Warriors] all Mayor [Ed] Lee had to do was point them in the right direction,” Blackwell said. “Mayor Quan has received criticism for lack of a plan here for the Warriors, but frankly, she offered more and worked harder on this than San Francisco had to. There was just a different bar.”
While the entire Coliseum City project will likely take decades to complete, Blackwell said, getting an arena built for basketball could be finished in a much shorter time frame, similar to the window the Warriors have now to build in San Francisco.
In early March, the Oakland City Council allocated $3.5 million to get the project started, and Blackwell said city staffers have begun working on the environmental review process, which he said would take between 15 to 18 months. After that, construction of a new arena would take 18 to 24 months, Blackwell said, meaning a basketball arena could be completed well within five years.
“That’s a time frame I think is consistent with what the Warriors have laid out over there,” Blackwell said, “and something I think is more doable on our end than in San Francisco, to tell you the truth.”
There are also potential challenges with the Warriors’ proposed site in San Francisco, Blackwell said. He worked for the City of San Francisco for more than seven years, the last four as the executive director of the city’s Redevelopment Agency. Building along the waterfront is complicated, with many environmental hurdles to overcome, Blackwell said. And the location, which he acknowledged is “beautiful,” makes building an arena more expensive.
“It’s a pier that’s dilapidated and deteriorated,” Blackwell said. “A substantial investment is necessary over there in order to bring it up to the state where it can provide adequate foundation for something like an arena.”
For many Warriors fans, emotions are mixed. Christopher Dobbins, an OUSD school board member and the president of Save Oakland Sports, a grassroots group of fans committed to trying to keep all three teams in Oakland, said that announcing they’re going to move five years before they do “alienates” East Bay sports fans. “It’s tough, on the weekend I didn’t even want to wear my Warriors stuff,” said Dobbins, a Warriors season ticket holder.
Jon Shahvar, a longtime Warriors season ticket holder who grew up in Walnut Creek and now lives in San Francisco, said he’s worried average fans will get priced out if the Warriors build a fancy new arena in San Francisco and hike up ticket prices. “The crowd at the Warriors games has always been real lively, almost like a college atmosphere for a basketball game,” Shahvar said. “They’re getting this new stadium now that will cost X amount of dollars, and ticket prices will go up, and to me that means more snootier fans will be there.”
Even with these potential problems, the Warriors have alerted Oakland officials that they are exclusively negotiating with San Francisco now, and plan to leave when their lease expires at the Coliseum in 2017. The Warriors public relations staff did not return a phone call and e-mail requesting comment.
Even if the Warriors do leave, the Coliseum City project will move forward, Blackwell said. And the project will move forward even if the A’s are allowed to build a stadium in San Jose and move out of the Coliseum, and possibly if the Raiders leave as well. The leases for the A’s and Raiders both expire years before the Warriors’ does—in 2013—and Blackwell said officials from both teams and the city have discussed the plan since it was rolled out. The plan is also not contingent on new facilities for pro sports teams—while Blackwell said the Coliseum City plan is “more dynamic” with the teams, the office and retail part of the plan will continue even if the teams all leave.
The Raiders have shown the most interest in being a part of Coliseum City, Blackwell said. “We’ve had a couple meetings with them, and they’ve been very interested in the Coliseum City concept,” he said. “We plan to aggressively pursue the Raiders at that site.”
But if all three teams do in fact move in the next few years, even that won’t mean the end of Coliseum City. On the contrary, Blackwell said, the project would be even more necessary if the two stadiums next to 880 are vacated in the next few years.“If we were to lose one, two or all franchises, it would make it even more important for us to do the kind of planning we’re talking about for that area,” Blackwell said. “Because then we’d really be in need of making sure we’re putting that important land to the highest and best use.”