With Likelihood of a Delay at Howard Terminal, Coliseum Site is Again a Player

For the first time, the Oakland Athletics have said a 2023 move into a new stadium may be pushed back thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus. That may mean a reconsideration of building at the current Coliseum site.
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We wrote a couple of weeks ago about how the A’s were going to have to push back their planned 2023 opening for a new stadium at Howard Terminal.

No one from the organization would talk about it on the record then, but in an email with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Scott Ostler, the club’s vice president of communications and community relations, Catherine Akers confirmed at least the possibility of a delay.

“The timeline may be adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Akers wrote.

Before that, the A’s focus, as stated repeated by A’s president Dave Kaval, was squarely on a 2023 new facility opening at Howard Terminal, which is just north of Oakland’s Jack London Square.

But the first shovel hasn’t been put in the ground at Howard Terminal. There are lawsuits pending, suits that can’t be quickly adjudicated with California courts slowed by the social distancing needs in place thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

A’s majority owner John Fisher and Kaval are attempting to build a privately financed stadium at Howard Terminal, but getting loans finalized – which was expected to be relatively routine when the year began given Fisher’s net worth and the state of the economy – will be much more difficult with the American economy thrown into a state of flux due to the pandemic and state and local shutdowns.

Fisher, whose money comes mostly from the Gap, Inc., stores founded by his father, has seen many Gap stores closed, although the company is in the midst of a phased reopening of 800 stores across the country.

There are other money issues, too. The A’s have deferred payment on the Coliseum rent, $1.2 million. It was due in April, but the A’s cited a clause in their lease allowing deferment with the facility not being available.

If the 2023 date to move into a new facility was to be reached, the A’s would have to start building by January. It’s clear that’s not going to happen.

There are those inside and outside the organization who see Howard Terminal becoming a non-starter. There has always been the Coliseum as a fallback site for a new park, and it’s looking better. They wouldn’t be the first team to build in the parking lot; Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park) was built in the late 1990s in the parking lot of the Kingdome, where the Mariners continued to play until the new site was ready.

“I wonder at what point they’ll decide it’s much easier to get a new stadium built on the current site,” one organization insider said. “Howard Terminal was going to be tough before the pandemic. Now, I just don’t know.”

The decision will come down to baseball vs. real estate. For the baseball product to be maximized, a new stadium would, theoretically, create new revenue streams that would allow executive vice president Billy Beane and general manager Dave Kaval to increase payroll. For baseball, that can’t come soon enough. Matt Olson at first base and Matt Chapman at third base, starters Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas could be the cornerstones of what could be an Oakland powerhouse.

To keep them together, the A’s, generally in the bottom quarter of MLB payrolls, will have to spend more. Chapman, Olson and Montas are all arbitration eligible in 2021 and free agents as of 2024. Manaea’s free agency comes up in 2023. Two men expected to help anchor the rotation down the road, A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo, aren’t free agents until 2026.

So, the A’s baseball side needs the stadium ASAP. And that probably means a Coliseum site. It has room to build, no organized opposition to a new facility there and easy access to I-880 and BART, neither of which can be said for Howard Terminal.

If it’s just about real estate, the A’s can wait out the process at Howard Terminal. It could be a nasty wait.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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