OAKLAND — The Oakland A’s, who for five decades built an iconic legacy of baseball and community at the vast concrete Coliseum it called home, have agreed to buy land in Las Vegas and build a new stadium there, team officials confirmed Wednesday.
The team, in a statement, said it was nearing a “binding agreement” that could all but end its long and storied tenure in Oakland, which now stands to lose its last major professional sports franchise after departures in recent years by the Raiders and Warriors.
Fans of the A’s — who are mired in one of the worst starts in team history — had been anxious to hear if the team and Oakland city officials were making progress to reach a deal for a massive ballpark and housing development at the city’s waterfront.
But those hopes appeared to be dashed after the Nevada Independent first reported on Wednesday that the team was in advanced talks to construct a $1 billion stadium in Las Vegas, where the A’s had long threatened to move if a deal weren’t reached in Oakland.
The clock had long been ticking for the the city and team to finalize a deal, but news of the binding purchase agreement on a 49-acre site near the Las Vegas Strip appears to show that time has finally run out.
And shortly after the news broke, Mayor Sheng Thao confirmed that negotiations for a deal at Howard Terminal were dead.
In a statement, the mayor said she was “deeply disappointed that the A’s have chosen not to negotiate with the City of Oakland as a true partner, in a way that respects the long relationship between the fans, the City and the team.
“The City has gone above and beyond in our attempts to arrive at mutually beneficial terms to keep the A’s in Oakland,” Thao said in a statement. “In the last three months, we’ve made significant strides to close the deal.”
“Yet, it is clear to me that the A’s have no intention of staying in Oakland and have simply been using this process to try to extract a better deal out of Las Vegas,” Thao added. “I am not interested in continuing to play that game – the fans and our residents deserve better.”
The planned development – a 35,000-seat waterfront ballpark, plus 3,000 new homes, massive retail and other commercial space, hotel units and more – divided residents who didn’t want to lose their hometown baseball team but worried the city would be on the hook to invest millions in the site.
The A’s arrived in Oakland in 1968 and shared a home at the Coliseum with the Oakland Raiders, a rocky relationship that ultimately ended when the Raiders departed — in foreboding fashion — for Las Vegas.
Dave Kaval, the team president hired in 2016, had promised to keep the team rooted in Oakland, despite widespread suspicion among fans that billionaire owner John J. Fisher did not ultimately intend to keep the team in town.
Previous plans weighing new stadiums in Fremont, San Jose and even elsewhere within Oakland came to naught, but fans had clung to hope after a November 2018 announcement of a possible waterfront stadium at the Howard Terminal site, not far from Jack London Square and the city’s warehouse district and port.
Anticipation of a potential deal at Howard Terminal had hung in the balance for months, with neither the city nor the A’s giving indication about where negotiations stood even as both sides blew through the team’s self-imposed November deadline.
The development was expected to cost billions and raised all sorts of questions about the viability of the site next to an industrial port and whether the A’s could guarantee that some of the eventual housing would be affordable.
Oakland poured hundreds of millions of outside grant dollars to renovate nearby roads so that A’s fans and residents could easily access the eventual development.
Still, for months there was no word on where negotiations stood, even as the team blew past a self-imposed deadline to reach a deal by the November election.
In January, the city lost out on a mega grant worth $182 million grant that would have been crucial to holding up its end of the public infrastructure costs.
The team’s lease at the Coliseum expires in 2024, but ironically the A’s now share property rights at the complex — including the Oakland Arena and surrounding parking lots — after purchasing its half from Alameda County in 2019.
In the meantime, the baseball team once celebrated for its on-field success in the 1970s and, more recently, its pioneering embrace of sports analytics, has become one of the laughing stocks of professional sports over a perceived unwillingness to pay its star talent.
The A’s lost the first six series in a season for the first time ever, stretching back to the 1901 Philadelphia Athletics. After losing Wednesday to the Cubs, their seventh straight loss, the A’s dropped to 3-16, the worst record in baseball.
Over the past two off-seasons, they have nearly completed a full teardown of a team that went to the playoffs in three straight seasons from 2018-2020, trading away All-Stars and most other contributors before they reached free agency. The buildup-and-teardown is a cycle under John Fisher’s ownership.
Their 2023 payroll of $60.2 million, according to SpoTrac.com, is dead last in MLB.
The A’s also finished dead last among the 30 MLB teams in attendance last season and are bringing up the rear again in 2023. The team’s average attendance is 11,026, and four of the first 12 home games drew fewer than 5,000 fans.
In addition, the A’s are receiving $9 million in revenue sharing this season and $20 million in 2023. Major League Baseball has said they would no longer be eligible if a stadium deal is not in place by January 15, 2024.
Thao, who took over the reins in January from former Mayor Libby Schaaf to commandeered negotiations with the A’s, campaigned for the city’s top office with markedly more skepticism toward the franchise than her predecessor.
Still, the new mayor attempted to walk a narrow tightrope in assuring long-suffering A’s fans she could reach a deal with the team without sacrificing important benefits for the city.
Among the baseline assurances she promised to seek were a guarantee that a significant chunk of the thousands of waterfront homes at Howard Terminal would be marketed at affordable prices, and that local vendors would be allowed to sell concessions at the new ballpark.
“I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished as a City, including securing a fully entitled site and over $375 million in new infrastructure investment that will benefit Oakland and its Port for generations to come,” Thao said in her statement Wednesday.
“In a time of budget deficits, I refuse to compromise the safety and well-being of our residents. Given these realities, we are ceasing negotiations and moving forward on alternatives for the redevelopment of Howard Terminal.”
Oakland Athletics president Dave Kaval did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The A’s are in their 55th season in Oakland – arriving from Kansas City after relocating from Philadelphia 13 seasons earlier. And despite a marketing slogan about the franchise being rooted in Oakland, the threat of being uprooted — or killed off altogether — has hovered over the team for most of its existence in the East Bay.
As early as 1970, two years after moving the team to Oakland, then-owner Charlie Finley reportedly explored an opportunity to take the team to Toronto. The team stayed and won three straight World Series titles from 1972-74, but after tearing down the roster, Finley had a deal in place in 1978 to sell the team to oilman Marvin Davis, who would move the team to Denver.
That deal fell through – as did a second agreement with Davis a year later.
Finley finally sold the team to a local group headed by ex-Levi Strauss CEO Walter Haas Jr., resulting in relative stability and another World Series title (over the Giants in 1989). But by 2000 the team had been sold again and was a candidate for contraction by MLB. It was around that time that then-owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann looked to San Jose as a potential landing spot, but the decade-long pursuit ultimately was blocked by MLB and the Giants’ territorial rights.
Under Lew Wolff, a plan to build a new ballpark at Fremont’s Warm Springs district, scheduled to open in 2010, was started and then abandoned. Potential stadium projects in Oakland, including rebuilding on the Coliseum site and downtown near Laney College, also failed to take root.
The Howard Terminal project was announced in 2018, but with few signs of progress, MLB gave the A’s the green light to begin exploring relocation to several cities, with Las Vegas at the top of the list.
In a social-media post shared by partner news organization ABC7’s Casey Pratt, the team called Wednesday “a difficult day for our Oakland fans and community.”
“For more than 20 years, the A’s have focused on securing a new home for the Club, and have invested unprecedented time and resources for the past six years to build a ballpark in Oakland,” a team statement read in part.
“Even with support from fans, leaders at the city, county, and state level, and throughout the broader community, the process to build a new ballpark in Oakland has made little forward progress for some time. We have made a strong and sincere effort to stay here. We recognize that this is very hard to hear. We are disappointed that we have been unable to achieve our shared vision of a waterfront ballpark. As we shift our focus to Vegas, we will continue to share details about next steps.”
Statement from the A’s: pic.twitter.com/kWKWxo8DrG
— Casey Pratt (@CaseyPrattABC7) April 20, 2023