The A’s plans to build a 35,000-seat ballpark in downtown Oakland near Lake Merritt were derailed on Wednesday when the community college district that owns the land suspended talks with the baseball team.
The abrupt move “shocked” the A’s, who hired a design team for the ballpark last month and were supported by Jowel Laguerre, District Chancellor of Peralta Community College, who had extolled the benefits of working with the team.
But at a closed circuit Tuesday night, the College District Board of Trustees ordered Laguerre to end its talks with the A’s, a decision that Laguerre announced on Wednesday morning and that was immediately hailed as a victory by students and faculty members stubbornly opposed the team’s plans to move next door.
However, Laguerre later suggested to The Chronicle that there is still hope of a ballpark in Laney: “I would never say the door is closed. The decision is to end the engagement. That’s all. Who knows what the future may bring? … We have realized that it is best for us to pause, examine our needs, and then look for possible partnerships that could be aligned with our mission. “
Nonetheless, the A’s, whose leaders have worked with neighborhood, business, and religious groups in the area to build support for a ballpark they hoped to open in 2023 seemed to see the trustees’ decision as a defeat.
“We are shocked by Peralta’s decision not to make progress,” said a statement from the A. “We just wanted to have a conversation about how this works for all of Oakland, Laney and the Peralta Community College District. We are disappointed that we will not have this opportunity. “
It’s unclear what the team’s next step will be. A’s president, Dave Kaval, previously told The Chronicle that there would be no Plan B if the ballpark near Laney College didn’t work. City officials, meanwhile, have largely remained silent about the team’s plans to build a ballpark in Laney.
In a statement to The Chronicle, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said he wanted talks to continue on a location in Oakland.
“We applaud the efforts of the Oakland A’s over the past year to engage the community in an open dialogue about their new ballpark,” said Manfred. “Today’s news comes as a surprise and we urge the Oakland leaders to join the conversation again.”
Major League Baseball officials have long viewed the location of the A’s current home, the Coliseum, as optimal because of the optimal infrastructure and proximity to freeways and BART. You may be more inclined to help the team build a ballpark, especially if the time it takes to complete a stadium is shorter.
When he directed Laguerre to end talks with the A’s, the trustees told him to focus on what is best for the college and its students and faculties. Trustee Nicky Gonzalez Yuen said the board had “clearly” told the chancellor to end talks with the A’s.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that for one thing, as a district, it’s really beyond our capabilities,” said Yuen, adding that he was speaking for himself. “We didn’t have the capacity to study this carefully. Second, the likelihood that it would become something that would benefit Peralta was very slim. … And third, there were still so many unanswered questions about the impact on the local community. “
The A’s plans to build a ballpark on 15 acres near Laney College met fierce opposition from a number of community groups and Laney College students and teachers. The attorney for the Peralta Federation of Teachers Local 1603 and members of the Associated Students of Laney College both voted against the ballpark.
Chris Weidenbach, co-chair of the Laney College English Department, said when baseball plans are actually canceled, “We’re thrilled.”
“A ballpark would massively disrupt all of our lives and the educational mission of our college,” he said.
On Wednesday, a coalition of lecturers and students who opposed the ballpark demanded a firm promise from the Chancellor that the A’s plans were “completely off the table”. The Stay the Right Way coalition wanted to march to the Chancellery that afternoon.
“This is a victory for all of us who have worked to make Laney and Oakland places where working-class colored workers can thrive,” said Alvina Wong, a coalition member. “The Peralta Board of Trustees did the right thing by putting the interests of Laney students and the surrounding communities first. We have to know that the Chancellor is also committed to this and will not try to revive this stadium plan next year. “
Kaval had promised to work with students, teachers and residents on a charitable plan that would include workforce training, affordable housing and other offerings. The team said the ballpark is privately funded by its owners.
Near Lake Merritt and Interstate 880, the site the team plans to build a ballpark on is primarily owned by the Peralta Community College District. The city and the Union Pacific Railroad also own part of the land.
Oakland politicians had only lukewarm support for the team’s preferred location. Mayor Libby Schaaf wanted the Howard Terminal baseball stadium to be built along the waterfront in Jack London Square. City Council President Larry Reid hoped it would stay on the Coliseum site in his East Oakland borough – land he and other proponents called “shovel-ready” because the environmental impact and other necessary plans were finalized years ago.
On Wednesday, Schaaf reiterated its support for the team to stay in Oakland.
“Oakland remains determined to keep the A’s in Oakland,” Schaaf said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that the discussion with Peralta ended so abruptly, but we are more determined than ever to work with the A’s and our community to find the right place in Oakland for a privately funded ballpark.”
By 2020, the A’s will likely be the last remaining professional sports team in Oakland. The Raiders decided to move to Las Vegas after winning a lucrative publicly funded stadium deal from Nevada, and the Warriors are moving to the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco, where an arena is under construction.
Whether the A’s move to another location in Oakland or try to continue working with the college district remains to be seen.
At a meeting of the Coliseum Authority Board last week, Reid said Kaval had told him that private funding for a ballpark on the Coliseum site was not feasible. The agency’s executive director, Scott McKibben, said Kaval had told him the team estimated annual sales of $ 240 million if it stayed on site, but $ 325 million if it moved downtown next to Laney College is being relocated.
After hearing about the college board’s decision, some city council members, including Rebecca Kaplan, said they should work with the team on a deal at the Coliseum right away.
“This location could house a new ballpark with shops, bars, restaurants and hotels to create a vibrant and thriving environment,” Kaplan said in an email.
Proponents of the site next to Laney College said it would be a boon to the Peralta College system, whose financial reserves are rapidly shrinking.
Long-time A fan Steve Stevenson, the 1-2-3-4 Go! Records in Oakland, strongly supporting either of the two downtown locations, said he was disappointed with the college district’s decision, which he described as myopic, but he didn’t think it would force the team to leave town.
“It looks like the Peralta System could use a deep pocket partner with an incentive to help them thrive. (The A’s) basically asked people, ‘Tell us where to write checks,’ ”Stevenson said. “The Colosseum is a bad choice. Maybe it will be at the Howard Terminal. Hopefully there is a secret plan C. “
The Chronicle’s author, Susan Slusser, contributed to this report.
Kimberly Veklerov is the author of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @kveklerov