OAKLAND -- After two weeks of delays, port commissioners unanimously approved a lawsuit settlement Thursday that could produce the port's first super-sized terminal and pave the way for a waterfront baseball stadium in Oakland.
The agreement ends maritime operations at Howard Terminal, which given its proximity to Jack London Square is seen as Oakland's most viable location for a new major league ballpark.
The 50-acre terminal is hardly a slam dunk to become the A's next home. There are significant environmental and infrastructure issues, and A's co-owner Lew Wolff has said repeatedly that a privately-financed stadium wouldn't pencil out at the site.
But both baseball officials and local business leaders have told city leaders that they prefer a ballpark along the waterfront rather than at the Coliseum complex. With the A's push to move to San Jose being thwarted by the San Francisco Giants, Oakland stadium boosters hope that the prospect of a ballpark and retail development near Jack London Square would convince baseball officials that they have a viable alternative to San Jose.
"There is really a chance to build something special and spectacular there," said Jim Zelinski, of the fan group Save Oakland Sports.
The settlement, which won't be finalized until the seven-member Board of Port Commissioners votes to approve it a second time later this month, stems from a battle between two well-heeled companies that operate terminals where container ships are loaded and unloaded.
SSA Terminals filed a lawsuit against the port claiming that it had violated federal shipping law by giving its main competitor, Ports America, a sweetheart deal.
The settlement allows SSA to end its lease at Howard Terminal four years before it was set to expire, take over leases at two other terminals and extend two of its terminal leases to 2022. SSA would control three contiguous terminals, which could be consolidated into a much larger terminal capable of handling the next generation of much larger cargo ships.
The settlement will cost the port $40 million in lost lease payments at Howard Terminal. Port officials say they can recoup the money over time from the lease extensions and establishment of a larger terminal.
Several port unions, which stand to lose jobs to different unions that do more work with SSA, spoke out against the settlement. "What rubs me wrong is it's all about corporate greed," said Ed Henderson of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Ports America also opposed the settlement, which it maintained would give SSA a competitive advantage.
Jay Bowden, who heads the company's Oakland terminal operation, declined to comment on the settlement Thursday, but in a June letter to the port he intimated that the company might sue the port, seeking concessions that would match those given to SSA.
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