Deciding the future of the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal and whether it might disappear to make way for a baseball stadium is in what looks like the end game of the long process.
The freight terminal is where the Oakland A’s want to build a new home to replace the dilapidated joint where they currently play. The RingCentral Coliseum has had numerous sponsor names but is generally just called the Coliseum, and its past-due date was a long time ago. Raw sewage has been known to flow into the locker rooms.
In recent days, the city of Oakland’s administrative staff has released a report on what it would seek if it were to allow Howard Terminal to become the site of the stadium. The report did not come from the City Council; that comes later. The A’s and the city will continue to discuss the issue until a formal presentation is made to the Oakland City Council July 20.
Mike Jacob is the vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, a group that encompasses numerous participants in the activities that go on at the West Coast’s ports, with shipping companies and marine terminals being the core of its activities. And as Jacob makes clear, his group is completely opposed to turning Howard Terminal into a site for the A’s stadium as well as thousands of residential units.
It isn’t the only one; for example, the local branch of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is opposed to the A’s plan as well.
As Jacob noted, Howard Terminal can handle only two ships at a time and can only accept container ships. But it also can be a site for ships that are looking for a place to berth while awaiting their next sailing, and it is a large site for truck parking, with roughly 325,000 trucks going through its gates every year.
Those are just a few of the reasons why his organization opposes turning Howard Terminal into a mixed-use development with the A’s new stadium at its heart.
The battle over the stadium is down to three options. One would be to build at Howard Terminal. The second is for a redevelopment of the Coliseum site in an area known as east Oakland, though looking at the site on the map, its location is more southeast to downtown (near where Howard Terminal is) than due east. The existing Coliseum site also houses an arena that had been the longtime home of the Golden State Warriors, who decamped for a new arena across the bay in San Francisco in 2019.
The third option? Leaving the area entirely, most likely to Las Vegas, a journey the Oakland Raiders took at the start of the 2020 NFL season.
Jacob’s group is solidly in the camp favoring the redevelopment of the Coliseum site. In an interview with a Bay Area television station this year, he said the area has “a lot of space.” However, he believes the A’s ownership favors Howard Terminal because given its location near downtown, the economic payoff from development around that site would be greater than redeveloping the existing Coliseum site with a new stadium and other uses.
But Jacob, in an interview with FreightWaves, kept his focus primarily on the impact of the loss of Howard Terminal to the logistics sector.
He said the backing that PMSA has given to a redevelopment of the Coliseum site (the group is a major backer of the East Oakland Stadium Alliance) is rooted in part in the fact that putting the new A’s stadium essentially where the existing stadium is would keep a unique feature about Oakland.
“Not a lot of cities have the benefit of having a deepwater seaport and a major league team,” Jacob said. “They have coexisted and they should keep doing that.”
Howard Terminal is now a site surrounded by water on three sides, Jacob said, with Union Pacific tracks on the fourth side. Unlike the east Oakland site, it is not served with a close-by station on the BART rapid transit system. (The BART system has a stop named “Coliseum.”)
Jacob came back to the idea of two uses that he said would disappear if the A’s stadium were developed at Howard Terminal. “As an industry and a port, we have spent decades and billions creating the infrastructure necessary to move millions of containers in West Oakland,” he said.
At the same time, the Coliseum site has been the target of the spending that includes the BART stop, direct freeway access with two off-ramps and a close-by BART connection to the Oakland airport.
“They want to put people on bikes and pedestrians and cars right in the middle of what is our intermodal supply chain,” Jacob added.
The latest development is the release earlier this month by Oakland’s administration of what it would seek if it were to allow Howard Terminal to become the site of the stadium. The report did not come from the City Council; that comes later.
According to press reports on the city’s submission, it agrees with the basic scope of what the A’s ownership has laid out previously: a $1 billion, 35,000-seat stadium, 3,000 housing units and commercial space that would include offices and hotels. It would also call for open space and a performing arts center.
The city would need to provide funds for infrastructure, with the final tab on that yet to be determined.
A point of contention is the creation of two taxing districts to cover the Howard Terminal site and the nearby area that would be redeveloped. While it may sound like a small dispute, A’s President Dave Kaval said the team “feels strongly” that both taxing districts are necessary for the project to move ahead.
The PMSA is not just focusing on its own needs in its public arguments. Even if Howard Terminal disappears, there still will be an active port near existing residential communities as well as the new one at the terminal site. And the logistics sector in Oakland is concerned that the inevitable industry vs. residential conflicts are going to drag it into civic tensions that it would rather avoid.
Current zoning creates what Jacob described as a “quasi industrial buffer zone.” But he added that would disappear with the transformation of Howard Terminal into a mixed-use development. “So the end result is that what we’re afraid of is that we end up with tens of thousands of residential units downwind from our operations,” he said. “And then it’s impossible to control those interactions.”
In the television interview, Jacob said the backers of converting Howard Terminal have said the site is “vacant.” He cited the more than 300,000 truck check-ins as proof that is not true.
He also accused the backers of not having an alternative for the activity that does go on at Howard Terminal.
Even if Howard Terminal disappears, Jacob said the logistics industry around the remaining port of Oakland will need to contend with “building what is essentially a miniature city on the edge of what we do.”
Although July 20 is the next date before the Oakland City Council, Major League Baseball has given the A’s permission to study relocation. In a statement released in May, MLB said redevelopment of the existing Coliseum site — the path favored by the PMSA — was not viable. There has been speculation that Oakland is operating under a deadline that has no more than a few weeks left. But none of the cities mentioned as possible relocation sites have a major league-ready stadium.
The current Coliseum lease runs to 2024. Kaval has been quoted as saying that a Howard Terminal stadium could not be ready before 2024.
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