February 22, 2024
"I'm very much in favor of getting to the developments so we can create positive new memories for East Oaklanders," said Councilmember Kevin Jenkins.

OAKLAND — The A’s have no plans to part with an ownership stake in the Oakland Coliseum, even though the franchise no longer believes the property is fit for professional baseball.

A’s President Dave Kaval rejected a purchase offer Thursday in a letter to the African-American Sports and Entertainment Group, which a day earlier had proposed acquiring the team’s half-ownership share of the 155-acre Coliseum complex.

The local, Black-led group is in negotiations to buy the other half of the site from the city of Oakland, with plans to transform the baseball stadium, nearby arena and vast concrete parking space into a new hotspot for retail and nightlife — a $5 billion venture.

But the group has found itself in an unusual relationship with the A’s, whose billionaire owner John Fisher appears to believe the Coliseum real estate is worth holding onto as a failsafe for his dreams of a Las Vegas ballpark, or perhaps as a future revenue stream.

“While we appreciate AASEG’s efforts to acquire and redevelop the Coliseum site, we are not interested in selling or otherwise disposing of our interest in the Coliseum at this time,” Kaval wrote in a letter to the group’s co-founder, Ray Bobbitt. “Thank you for your understanding.”

How would an impasse between the two sides be resolved? The legal pathway isn’t immediately clear, but it’s no secret at City Hall — according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions — that there’s a legal option on the table.

That option would be to seize the Coliseum site from the A’s through eminent domain, a process in California law that allows government agencies to wrest away properties from private ownership, even without permission.

Under the law, the city must first prove that its attempts to negotiate a purchase of the property were unsuccessful and that acquiring the site would be in the public’s interest.

Disgruntled Oakland Athletic fans take out their frustration by throwing rotten tomatoes at pictures of team owner John Fisher, team president Dave Kaval and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, Friday, May 12, 2023, in Oakland, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Is that a realistic path? Oakland’s power players aren’t shying away from the discussion.

“Eminent domain is a very specific legal proceeding and has very specific terms under which you can activate it for good reason,” said Leigh Hanson, chief of staff to Mayor Sheng Thao, in a recent interview.

Claiming land for ventures that serve the public, such as building a stadium, is a common practice across the state.

In 2018, a restaurant and some privately owned tennis courts in Santa Clara had their leases forcibly broken when the city sought to build a retail and entertainment complex across from Levi’s Stadium. The redevelopment entered its first phase last year.

Inglewood’s efforts to build out public transit to the SoFi Stadium and a forthcoming arena have also involved uprooting dozens of businesses near those venues.

A key difference, though, is that obtaining land for the public’s benefit does not often entail transferring it to new private ownership — in this case, the local sports group, which plans to eventually buy the city’s half for $115 million.

“If Oakland wants to do this, they can probably figure out a way to do it,” said Roger Noll, a Stanford sports economist who has followed the A’s situation closely. “It may be that they would end up having to own it themselves, and they’d change the lessee from being the team to this other group.”

Bobbitt and other AASEG cofounders declined interview requests, citing the city’s insistence that they do not speak to the media during negotiations.

Hanson said the group’s leaders have not broached the topic with Mayor Thao’s office, while Councilmember Kevin Jenkins, whose district includes the Coliseum, directed questions about eminent domain to the city attorney’s office, which did not provide a comment.

“My biggest thing is that I don’t want the site to remain vacant and blighted,” Jenkins said. “I’m very much in favor of getting to the developments so we can create positive new memories for East Oaklanders.”

>