Athletics' 2023 Stadium Opening Date Seems Increasingly in Jeopardy Thanks to COVID-19

John Hickey

For the Oakland A’s to open their new stadium at Howard Terminal in April of 2023, ground will have to be broken by next January.

Typically, projects the size of a new baseball stadium take about 26 or 27 months from first shovel of dirt to first pitch being thrown.

And while the A’s haven’t said anything about any change to that timetable, it seems increasingly likely that an April, 2023 debut is going to be difficult to pull off thanks in large part to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The hurdles in front of the A’s were always going to be legal, environmental, governmental and logistical. That’s true for all projects of that scale. The A’s are trying to put a 35,000-seat stadium on land on the edge of San Francisco Bay, and that kind of project was always going to be a struggle.

Now a public health crisis has been thrown into the mix, and baseball may have to wait its place in line as city, county and state governments direct most of their energy into doing battle with the pandemic.

Between a tightening of what kinds of construction can be done in a time of pandemic, the lack of a final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and pending legal battles, the A’s may need a retrenchment date.

A’s president Dave Kaval, who is trying to shepherd the project to completion, had hoped that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would be done by the end of 2019. The government wants to look at the planning, construction and operation of the project and how the project would change if the project is developed.

The EIR didn’t materialize then, and it didn't show up by the next hoped-for date in mid-February. It hasn’t materialized since, either. And while it’s not clear that the coronavirus pandemic has much to do with the slowing of the process, it certainly isn’t helping. 

Until an EIR is in place, the A’s, who struck a deal with the Port of Oakland for the Howard Terminal land north of Jack London Square contingent on a completed EIR, can’t move forward.

And even if a complete EIR was announced today and the project was given a clean bill of health, the A’s would have trouble moving quickly ahead. Bringing in construction crews is generally no big deal, but that was before COVID-19.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on March 19 putting stay-at-home orders in place for the state, but exceptions were made for essential workers. Those included “construction workers who support the construction, operation, inspection and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects, including housing construction.”

While it’s clear that workers in hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies and the like are essential, it’s not at all clear that stadium construction workers fall into that category.

And let’s not forget the legal issues. Opponents of the waterfront park filed suit on March 16 in Alameda County Superior Court seeking to block the team’s bid for a streamlined environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

In 2018, state lawmakers smoothed the path for the construction project at Howard Terminals with Assembly Bill 734. It created an exemption that would force lawsuits over the environmental impact to be filed within 270 days, if possible.

The suit, if upheld, would allow legal challenges to the project to go on indefinitely. The suit was brought was by the Pacific Merchants Shipping Association and others, many of whom aren’t anxious to have the large crowds and increased traffic from a baseball stadium that would, in their view, make the working port less workable.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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