OAKLAND -- For the first time in nearly a decade, A's co-owner Lew Wolff said Oakland might have a viable location for a new ballpark, but it's not the waterfront site being pushed by local business leaders -- it's the Coliseum complex.
Reacting to newly-released details of the bayfront plan, Wolff on Monday said that a stadium on Port of Oakland property looking out toward the Bay was "absolutely impossible." But in a departure from years of declaring that he had exhausted all his options in Oakland, Wolff told this newspaper, "That doesn't mean there isn't a place in Oakland where you could do something."
The most likely location, he said, "would be where we're at right now. On land controlled by (the city and county)."
Wolff's comments come with his efforts to move the team to San Jose mired in court, where anxious officials of that city are squaring off with Major League Baseball, which has rejected the current proposal to build a stadium there.
The result is a team stuck in limbo, a fact Wolff tacitly acknowledged in the interview. Rather than continue his critiques of the aging Coliseum, Wolff emphasized that the team has "an excellent relationship" with the joint Oakland-Alameda County board that runs the Coliseum complex and would like a longer-term lease than the recently signed two-year extension.
When told of Wolff's comments, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said, "I think that's progress, and we'll reach out and continue to talk to him."
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said he knew nothing about the Oakland sites other than that the city has been working on them for a very long time. "They've struck out time and time again," he said. "Now it's time for San Jose to get a chance to bat."
The A's landing spot is no clearer today than it was in 2005, when Wolff last considered building a stadium in East Oakland. After failing to secure stadium deals in Oakland and Fremont, Wolff turned to San Jose only to become locked in a stalemate with the San Francisco Giants, who control the territorial rights to the Bay Area's largest city and don't want to surrender its sizable corporate base. Major League Baseball has been mulling the A's proposal to move south for more than four years.
Earlier this year, San Jose sued to try to force the league's acquiescence by targeting its valuable exemption from antitrust laws.
Wolff's refusal to outright dismiss the Coliseum site comes on the heels of Oakland business leaders renewing their push for a privately-financed stadium at the 51-acre Howard Terminal site just north of Jack London Square.
The consortium, which includes Clorox CEO Don Knauss and developer Mike Ghielmetti, commissioned a recently-released artist rendering of a gleaming 38,000-seat ballpark overlooking the Oakland Estuary on land owned by the port. They also are working to secure control of the site and begin environmental reviews and permit applications in hopes that Wolff and his partner, John J. Fisher, will jump on board or sell them the team.
But Wolff reiterated that the team is not for sale and that his studies of the site showed that it would require an expensive environmental cleanup and present access issues with the nearest BART station nearly a mile a way.
"It may get an A in artist renderings, but it's an F in implementation," he said. "We know that we can't do a ballpark on that site."
Advocates say the environmental hurdles can be overcome and that the stadium would provide an anchor for future development in the city center and along the waterfront, where more than 3,000 homes are slated to be built before the end of the decade.
"Nothing that Lew Wolff says about the Coliseum will keep us from moving forward with our plan," one source close to the Howard Terminal group said.
In recent months, city officials in Oakland have been pitching both the waterfront and Coliseum complex as viable locations for a new A's stadium. At the Coliseum, the city is negotiating with a development group headed by real estate titan Colony Capital for an ambitious project aimed at transforming the site into a sports and entertainment hub with new stadiums, shops, homes and a hotel. However, several officials, including members of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, remain skeptical of the plan.
A's fans fighting to keep the team in Oakland were quick to note that Wolff has made prior statements that turned out not to have much relevance. In September, he said it was important that the A's have a downtown stadium, which caught people's attention because he didn't' specify that it had to be downtown San Jose.
Still his most recent comments opening the door just a little to the Coliseum complex had Oakland fans hoping that, after four years of inertia in San Jose, he was finally giving the city another shot.
"It sounds like good news," said Jim Zelinski of Save Oakland Sports. "That's the first time I've heard in eight years that Oakland could still conceivably be in the game."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.