Bay Cities Dreaming of a Baseball Bailout

Getty Images

Like every major city in California, Oakland has a budget problem.  So does San Jose.  Throw in Fremont, too, for that matter.  All see at least a partial solution in the Oakland A's.

This week, Oakland took its turn to woo the A's, their home-town team that's looking for a new stadium -- both in Oakland and in surrounding cities.

After the A's had the worst home attendance in major league baseball last year, managing partner Lew Wolff is looking for a new home.  San Jose is his first choice.  Fremont is making new overtures.  But Oakland mayor Ron Dellums says the A's would fit more naturally into a brand new baseball-only stadium along Oakland's waterfront. 

"Baseball is synonymous with Oakland," Dellums said.

For any city to embrace building a new ballpark, though, they need to prove that the economics make sense. Dellums, and his counterparts in surrounding cities, believe a new A's ballpark could be a key piece of the city's economic recovery.

Dellums pointed to a study projecting that a new stadium would create jobs and add $2.6 billion dollars to the city's economy over the next 30 years. The icing on the cake: The report projects that the increase in property values around the stadium would generate an additional $930 million in property taxes.  In a city trying to close a $42 million budget deficit, that's a compelling argument. 

Opponents have plenty of ammunition, too.  How much of the $500 million dollar cost of a new stadium will be paid for by public funds? 

There are similar concerns in San Jose.  The A's would pay for their new stadium, but San Jose might spend $72 million to provide the land for the ballpark while the city is grappling with a $116 million deficit of its own.  City officials make an economic argument similar to Oakland's.  Having the A's will help in the long run by bringing jobs and millions of dollars to the local economy,  they say. 

Then there's Fremont.  A budding courtship ended not so long ago when the A's Wolff got mixed signals from the community.  But that was before the NUMMI manufacturing plant was shuttered by Toyota, costing thousands of people their jobs and badly wounding Fremont's tax base.  Now, Fremont officials are trying to rekindle the romance, offering a baseball stadium as the center piece of a new development on the old NUMMI property.

This may seem like the wrong time for any city to be asking its citizens to make an investment in a professional baseball team.  But advocates can point to another city in the Bay Area as an example of what can happen. 

The people of San Francisco weren't entirely on board when the city made land available for what is now AT&T Park.  More than a decade later, the stadium has helped transform South Beach to a destination neighborhood with high rise condominiums, research centers, parks and restaurants.  It used to be an area that locals ignored, populated by old warehouses and abandoned piers. 

Oakland envisions new vitality along its waterfront.  The A's are the key.  Dellums says the team can write more history by staying in Oakland. 

"The A's are in first place," he said this week, "and as the old adage goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it." 

Contact Us