Lowell Cohn: A’s stadium deal spurs uncertainty

Today, the Alameda Board of Supervisors meets to vote on the proposed 10-year lease for the Oakland A’s at the Coliseum. Everyone expects the vote to be a slam-dunk approval - and pardon the mixing of sports metaphors. There are no slam dunks in baseball, but there will be a slam dunk on this vote.

But in sports, as in life, things never are entirely clear. The A’s have agreed to play in the Coliseum for the coming decade with certain contingencies. They must stay a minimum of two years, which kind of leaves an eight-year gap if you do the actual math. It’s funny how 10 years easily morphs into two. If the A’s take the two-year option (Door No. 2) and leave Oakland early, they would owe an annual penalty of $1.6 million. That is known as an escape clause.

Funny thing the A’s have nowhere to escape to. This is where the two guaranteed years appear to stretch way into the future. Lew Wolff, the A’s managing partner, has made it clear until he’s blue in the face, until he gets laryngitis he wants to stay in the Bay Area. He has no interest in Vegas or San Antonio or Jasper, Wyoming.

He tried and failed to move locally, tried and failed at Fremont and San Jose, and now he’s back to where he started, that stretch of land next to Highway 880, that stretch of land abutting the BART Station. And that’s where he’s likely to stay

Wolff used to be adamant about wanting out. Not anymore. Remember that old Stones’ lyric, full of wisdom: You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes well you might find/You get what you need.

They wrote that for you, Lew. The Coliseum may be just what you need.

Old Lew is so Stones-wise he’s lately allowed the possibility of building a new park at the current site. This is nothing less than a seismic shift in his thinking. His attitude about that part of Oakland used to be, in a word, “Feh!” Even commissioner Bud Selig, who used to dump on Oakland, says the new agreement is an important step in keeping the A’s in Oakland.

Imagine that, keeping the A’s in Oakland with a fancy new retro yard.

The whole concept seems simple, except it isn’t. You must factor in the A’s co-tenant, the Oakland Raiders. The teams share the one facility, the Coliseum being the only dual major-league baseball/football stadium in America. Outdated to the max.

Raiders’ owner Mark Davis, son of Al, also wants to remain in Oakland at the current site. His heart’s desire is to knock down the current monstrosity and build a state-of-the-art football venue. He would prefer to have this site for himself - see you later, Lew. But he can live with the A’s nearby. He’s said that.

He envisions a Kansas-City-like arrangement, a football stadium right next to a baseball park. Come one, come all. While busy workers construct a new football stadium, the Raiders would find a temporary home. Davis says that. He could play at Levi’s Stadium if he has the stomach to be Jed York’s tenant.

Which leads to a question. Where do the A’s play while the current Coliseum turns to dust?

Wolff told me he never would stand in Davis’ way of building a new football stadium. Wolff wants to be Mr. Nice Guy. Wolff, too, could find a temporary field while all that work goes on. AT&T Park, anyone? Business sure makes strange bedfellows. And Wolff, in a strange change of direction said, yes, he also could imagine having a two-stadium arrangement at the corner of Hegenberger Road and 880.

So Lew and Mark could be pals, could work and play well together. Except for a few things.

Davis isn’t content with two spanking new sports palaces on the current site. He wants more. He wants something called Coliseum City, an 800-acre village with hotels and restaurants and office buildings. It might even house a bowling alley. It would be a giant play land and it would help finance the Raiders to afford top-tier free agents. And the anchor tenants would be the two sports teams. You can see where Davis is coming from.

Wolff isn’t so sure. He may want the two stadiums, but without all the bells and whistles of Coliseum City. Oakland City councilperson Rebecca Kaplan believes the lack of agreement on Coliseum City can be negotiated. She sees this as a multi-step process. She may be right.

Davis wants significant movement on Coliseum City by the end of this summer - which isn’t so far away. If he’s not satisfied - well, he’s not saying what he’ll do. But he’s a businessman and he may pull out of the whole deal and move the Raiders elsewhere. He’s not threatening to do this, but it’s an obvious option.

I phoned Davis and asked his response to the A’s pending 10-year lease. He didn’t want to address the matter. “It’s football season. We’re undefeated,” he said.

So where does all this leave Oakland? Hmm. The A’s almost certainly will stay in Oakland for a decade, maybe longer at the current site. They may even build a cozy new ballpark by the buzz of the freeway. They really have nowhere else to go.

The Raiders may stay at the current site and build their own venue - they can put up half a billion bucks and need another half billion in outside funding. But Davis’ desire for Coliseum City could throw the whole thing into confusion for him, for the A’s, for Oakland - it is, after all, such a long shot. And the Raiders could end up leaving the Bay Area, yet again.

There is only one sure answer to this enormous dilemma. We refer to yet another song lyric: Fairytales can come true, it can happen to you.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at

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