Despite Oakland review of A’s ballpark plan today, scouting of Las Vegas sites to continue

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Jeff Chiu / AP

The sun sets June 11 over RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., during a game between the Athletics and the Royals. A key vote by the Oakland City Council, scheduled for today, could determine whether the sun will set on the A’s days in Oakland.

Tue, Jul 20, 2021 (2 a.m.)

The Oakland A’s have tried for nearly two decades to get a new stadium in the Bay Area.

The latest attempt could take a step forward today when the Oakland City Council is asked to approve a term sheet for a $12 billion proposal, which calls for construction of a billion-dollar waterfront stadium around mixed-use development and give the A’s the new build Major League Baseball has ordered them to find.

Those orders also have brought franchise officials the past three months to Las Vegas to explore relocation, including meetings with elected officials and touring potential sites. Of course, stadiums are expensive and require public contributions — like the $750 million Clark County pledged toward construction of the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium through a hotel tax increase to lure the Raiders from the same worn-out RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland that could bring the A’s here.

It’s uncertain where public monies would come from in Las Vegas to construct a baseball stadium for the A’s. And the plan Oakland officials are voting on today for a 55-acre waterfront site called Howard Terminal proposes financing partially through an off-site tax district, the terms of which the city and organization can’t agree on.

So, even a yes vote today — which would simply allow the sides to negotiate their respective financial obligations — won’t derail the A’s to Las Vegas possibilities. In fact, A’s president Dave Kaval said team officials would return to Las Vegas Wednesday to continue assessing potential stadium sites in the area.

“This late in the game, we’re realistic about what can get done,” Kaval said. “They may not share our vision. We have a bold and visionary plan, but we can’t do it alone. The City Council will vote and we’ll see what happens. This has basically been going on for 20 years.”

It’s no secret that the A’s have a poor ballpark situation. The coliseum is widely considered to be the worst in baseball. Minor league venues, such as Las Vegas Ballpark, home to the A’s Triple-A affiliate, have more player and fan amenities.

Though other ballpark proposals have come and gone through the years, the A’s believe the Howard Terminal site proposal is its last and best chance to secure a future in Oakland, where the franchise has called home since 1968. While hardball — sometimes bitter — negotiations between municipalities and pro sports teams have hardly been uncommon in the United States in recent decades, Oakland officials and A’s brass seemed as far apart as ever as recently as last week. Kaval said they were $500 million apart in financing models.

The relationship is so strained that Oakland City Councilwoman and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan wonders if the A’s “have any intention of building a ballpark in Oakland.”

“Right now, we don’t know if the A’s are trying to make it work in Oakland,” Kaplan said. “Maybe they’re just bad at interpersonal communication. We don’t know. I know I am fully committed to acting in good faith and I know my colleagues are, too.”

Though numerous details would need to be worked out, a couple of major hang-ups remain, Kaplan said.

Part of the financing plan for the ballpark area development — which would include residential, commercial and office spaces, along with green spaces — would come from at least one infrastructure financing district. Those types of public-private partnership plans allow tax revenues to be paid back to a developer for infrastructure costs over a number of years.

The city only wants one of those while the A’s would like at least an additional district. There’s also a question, Kaplan said, about how much of the added residential space would be used for affordable housing options. Kaplan said the team had requested a “waiver” that would sidestep a law that would require certain affordable housing options.

“My full commitment is to move forward in good faith,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan said some of her frustration toward the team had to do with how Kaval has communicated the team’s stance through social media.

Through his Twitter account this month — he has nearly 26,000 followers — Kaval has said “Howard Terminal or bust” and he’s also tweeted photos of himself meeting with company officials in Las Vegas.

Kaplan also said she didn’t appreciate that Kaval announced on Twitter in April that the team expected the City Council to vote on a term sheet agreement before it recessed for the summer.

“The fact that the spokesperson (for the A’s) is behaving in a way that, I think every observer now thinks, is inflammatory is not the behavior of a person serious about getting a deal done,” Kaplan said. “I’ve dealt with a lot of developers on big projects. They can be aggressive and demanding, but the behavior here is outside the norm of what is a good-faith negotiation.”

Kaplan went so far as to call Kaval’s tweets “silly,” but she stopped short of saying that the relationship between the team and the city couldn’t be mended.

“If this development provides jobs, revenues and has a transportation plan that works, I shouldn’t vote against it because of their silly tweets,” Kaplan said. “I think there is clearly a path forward. I believe in mending things, but if you’re like ‘Hey, baby, I want to marry you,’ but then you fly to Vegas to hook up, you shouldn’t marry somebody with that.”

As the drama in Oakland continues to unfold, Kaval said the most recent trip by team officials to the Las Vegas area to scope out potential ballpark sites was fruitful.

He said team officials were impressed by Resorts World, the new $4.3 billion casino and entertainment playground on the Strip, and encouraged by the possibilities the north Strip area could provide.

He said his team learned more about a site near Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue owned by Phil Ruffin, the billionaire owner of Treasure Island, and a site east of the Strip controlled by UNLV. The A’s also met with Henderson city officials July 8.

“We got a little more detail about sites in Henderson,” Kaval said. “Henderson is such a vibrant and growing area of Southern Nevada. It’s certainly in the mix.”

Kaval said he still wanted to dive into various data sets to see if and how the valley could support a MLB team, which plays 81 home dates each season. Kaval said the dynamic between the tens of millions of visitors the city receives annually and local baseball fans was intriguing.

He said the team had commissioned an analytics firm to help study the Las Vegas area. The Dallas-based company, Legends, has worked with numerous pro teams and colleges and universities and did work for the Raiders as it planned its move from Oakland.

“We’re still hopeful the (Oakland) City Council will vote to affirm all the hard work we’ve put in these past few years,” Kaval said. “If it’s a no vote on our plan, that’s effectively a no. We’re super serious about this effort in Southern Nevada. We wouldn’t be here every two weeks if we weren’t.”

For now, Kaval said, there are close to two-dozen viable ballpark sites in Southern Nevada, but officials here might have to move quickly to dwindle that number and zero in on concrete plans before other cities swoop in with their relocation offers.

Speaking to reporters last week from Denver during festivities surrounding the All-Star Game, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the A’s could consider a “broader array of cities” than just Las Vegas for possible relocation.

“The Oakland process is at an end,” Manfred said. “There are really crucial votes that are going to take place over the next couple of months, and that’s going to determine the fate of baseball in Oakland.”

Manfred in May gave the A’s permission to explore relocation possibilities. To date, Kaval has said the team was only exploring those possibilities in Southern Nevada.

Kaplan said last week that she didn’t want to put a percentage on how likely it was that the A’s would remain in Oakland, even if the council votes to approve the term sheet today. She said she’s seen some encouraging unity between the two sides in recent weeks, though the affordable housing waiver remains an issue for her and other council members.

“I don’t live in Nevada so I don’t place bets, but this can be made to work,” Kaplan said. “The fight is about an existing housing law that applies to everyone. They want a waiver on the housing law. If (the A’s) are saying to Major League Baseball that they have to let them leave Oakland because they refuse to follow existing housing laws that every developer in Oakland follows, that would be an astounding role for MLB to be playing in America.”

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