It isn’t the ready-made site.
It isn’t the most picturesque site.
But the A’s picked the best site to build their new ballpark.
Tuesday, A’s president Dave Kaval announced in a letter to the Peralta Community College District that the team’s preferred site to build a new privately financed, 35,000-seat ballpark is right next to Oakland’s Laney College.
We’re still in the earliest of early stages when it comes to building a ballpark — no deal has been made, a preference has only been stated.
There are countless things that can impede the A’s from opening up a new ballpark south of Lake Merritt in the spring of 2023, but Kaval was astute in making that site his top choice.
Let’s establish that I have a bit of bias here — Kaval picked my neighborhood. I live next to Laney College. Not within walking distance close — I’m throw-a-baseball close. The new ballpark (if built) will be almost literally in my front yard. While I’m certainly concerned about rent prices going through the roof, I do enjoy short commutes to work — it’s one of the reasons I moved into the area.
The Lake Merritt BART stop that’s across the street from Laney is an incredible hub that had to be at the heart of the A’s reasoning to choose the site.
From my BART stop, I can get into San Francisco without having to fight bridge traffic, or get to Berkeley without having to drive, or skip 880 when heading to San Leandro to see family. Those three places: 20 minutes, max. It’s a coup.
Oh, and the South Bay is accessible via 880 (a block south of Laney College) and Amtrak (less than a mile walk from Jack London Square station).
You’d be hard pressed to find a better axis in the East Bay, and that’s exactly what the A’s need around their new ballpark. Say what you will about the Coliseum’s looks, but it wasn’t hard to reach. The A’s couldn’t be regressive on that front.
And while the area around Laney College could use a little love in places, there are some great bars, restaurants, and shops already in place. The neighborhood is quintessential Oakland.
It’s not a perfect site: it won’t rival AT&T Park with the awesome water-front views the Howard Terminal site promised — instead of Rickey Henderson Cove, we’ll get a nice shot of 880. It won’t have the familiarity and copious parking that rebuilding the Coliseum would have provided, either. But the Laney site is significantly easier to reach via public transportation and car than Howard Terminal (Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s preferred site), and the area has so much more potential to turn into the desired “ballpark village” than the Coliseum area. (Besides money, there’s a big reason so many Coliseum City proposals failed — you can’t recreate Fenway Park or Wrigley Field in a giant parking lot.)
More importantly, there are serious concerns about gentrifying the working class neighborhood around the building site, which currently houses some administration buildings.
Kaval wants to have a walkable area with bars, restaurants, and stores around his new park. The neighbors (I’m sitting this one out) don’t seem too keen on that idea.
“We have extreme concerns at the heart of it, we can’t have it here without deeply impacting Chinatown and Eastlake,” Alvina Wong, Oakland organizing director at Asian Pacific Environmental Network, told the Bay Area News Group. “It completely changes the cultural fabric.”
The fears are understandable — the ballpark can easily represent another wave of gentrification in Oakland.
Those are concerns for Kaval, the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees, and the city to debate. There’s no doubt that discussion will be spirited and arduous. No one, even Kaval, can say with certainty if those talks will result in a new ballpark for the A’s, either. Right now, I’d say the odds are probably not in the A’s favor.
But that’s down the line. All three of the sites Kaval shortlisted had problems and opposition, and the losing two should still be available if the Laney College site falls through. (You know the Coliseum will be…)
But you can’t hedge your bets before you start playing the game, and the Laney site is far and away the best choice of the three for the A’s to build their new park. You can’t skip that because it’s going to be too difficult — there’s no place in the Bay Area where building a new ballpark isn’t next to impossible.
The A’s have made it clear they are going to stay in Oakland. They showed goodwill when the Warriors never entertained staying in The Town and the Raiders played games with city hall.
Now we’ll see if Oakland wants the A’s.
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