Thursday, April 17, 2014

Are the A's Really Interested in a "Long-Term" Lease in Oakland?

The A's and the 10-year Coliseum lease extension talks are an interesting PR/community relations tactic by the team. In theory, signing a long-term lease to stay in Oakland should be great news for those that hope to keep the club in town, and zooming out, those who hope to keep the franchise in the Bay Area. However, the lease talks are really meant to serve as an ultimatum and are a very clever game of "chicken" with the city and Alameda County.

Oakland and Alameda County know that the likelihood that both the A's and the Raiders will stay in town and have new stadiums built -- without public assistance -- is slim. As recently pointed out, the Raiders, unlike the A's, actually have expressed potential interest in building in Oakland. The site they are eyeing, however, just so happens to be where the Coliseum is located.

San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy recently detailed the Catch-22:

If Oakland agrees to do what the Raiders want and the Coliseum comes down, then the A's would obviously have no place to play. On the flip side, if Oakland agrees to an extended lease with the A's, that would clearly make it impossible to satisfy the football franchise's desires. 

The pro-Oakland line of thinking at this point says that if the A's were forced to vacate the Coliseum, they could temporarily relocate while a new park is built by the waterfront. Setting aside the feasibility temporary accommodations, the Brooklyn Basin proposal is nothing more than a series of beautiful sketches. There is no financing in place to build the park and no will from the current ownership to make the project happen. There is zero chance that the A's are going to privately finance a ballpark to serve as the crown jewel, and a major revenue generator, for an outside group. One can look at what the Giants and Cardinals are doing to see why ancillary development is critical. (Worth noting is that in San Jose Wolff has office and hotel holdings.)

Could the A's owners sell? Possibly, but the league would require an extremely well-capitalized ownership group. Such an group will only materialize when a definitive new stadium path emerges. Only the craziest of crazies could see a long-term future for the A's at the Coliseum. Sure, it has its quirks and a rich history, but the sightlines are often terrible (Mount Davis), the amenities are few and the old-time (Wrigley/Fenway) charm lacking. It is one thing to agitate and commission some CAD drawings, it is quite another to secure upwards of $500 million in financing.

The White Knight Isn't Coming

Let's also be realistic about Warriors owner Joe Lacob. He's not going to buy the A's unless: A) Brooklyn Basin is actually feasible; and b) he is cut in to the project. Signature Development of Oakland, connected both to Doug Boxer's Let's Go Oakland group and the nascent Oakland Waterfront Ballpark LLC (housed in the same building, on the same floor and operating out of the same suite in Oakland) is the real driver of Brooklyn Basin and Lacob, like Wolff/Fisher, isn't going to buy a team without a longterm profitability path. The real question, unanswered and unposed to date by the media, is does the Chinese investor group behind the Brooklyn Basin project, Zarsion Holdings Group Co., have any interest/desire to build a ballpark or buy the team?

Notable in all of this is the role of Doug Boxer. Boxer is helping Lacob's Warriors-to-San Francisco relocation efforts, while spearheading the, occasionally active, stay-in-Oakland group Let's Go Oakland. Could one of Mercury News columnist's Tim Kawakami's "sources" regarding Lacob's interest in the team be Boxer? While it was an interesting story, there is simply no substance to the rumors. Kawakami's quotes from Lacob, for an article posted earlier this month had no context and were drawn from an email exchange last December.

One Last Shot

Matier and Ross' article detailing the A's interest in a long-term lease extension noted a key caveat: the lease will need to contain an escape clause should the Raiders Coliseum-based stadium materialize, leaving the A's homeless.

Wolff noted,"There's a clause (in the proposed lease) that if the Raiders build a new facility, with some notice we will evacuate."

The article also made clear that the Raiders are the priority. Here's Coliseum Authority board member Chris Dobbins, "We want to lock the Raiders in before we make a long-term deal with the A's."

Where might Wolff want to move to in Oakland if we assume the waterfront is out? He told Oakland Tribune reporter Matthew Artz in December, "[The ideal site] would be where we're at right now. On land controlled by (the city and county)." So, in other words, the Coliseum complex.

Sure, the "Coliseum City" concept includes new baseball and football stadiums, but -- again -- you can sketch out anything, financing is another issue. The news and then retraction of the Prince of Dubai's involvement was telling. If a real roster of investors was in place for this massive project, surely this sort of rumor would not emerge.

From Artz's Oakland Tribune article on the 11th:

Appearing on 95.7 The Game, Quan said that the developers working on Coliseum City "are partnered literally with the prince of Dubai, who is next in line to lead Dubai. And they have capital."

And, then, from Artz's follow-up piece later the same day:

Quan refused to discuss her comments Friday, but acknowledged through her spokesman, Sean Maher, that the crown prince had not partnered on the deal. 

Maher said one of the developers does have connections to high-ranking officials in Dubai, "but that the crown prince of Dubai is not involved in the Coliseum project."

Keep in mind, this was the mayor herself, not a "source" or a spokesperson. Such a gaffe necessarily lends doubt to the project's viability.

What Wolff and Fisher really want is one last chance to force relocation to either San Jose or somewhere else. If keeping the Raiders forces the A's out -- either now or years down the line -- Wolff can claim that he has nowhere to go and push once more for San Jose.

Wolff's quote may read like this, "We have literally nowhere to go in Oakland. We tried to stay in the city and, ultimately, keeping the Raiders was their choice."

1 comment: