OAKLAND -- The Golden State Warriors' impending return to San Francisco is a blow both to Oakland's pride and its chances for transforming the Coliseum site into a sports and entertainment center.
City leaders on Tuesday downplayed the Warriors' importance to the Coliseum City vision that includes a privately financed basketball arena, baseball stadium and football stadium along with hotels and restaurants at the O.co Coliseum and Oracle Arena sites.
"Coliseum City is the long-term development project that was never dependent on any one tenant," Mayor Jean Quan said in a statement.
But sports economists, who have questioned Coliseum City's viability, said the Warriors' inclusion was vital to attracting private funds.
"The idea of a privately financed sports complex is not realistic for any component other than an arena," Stanford University economist Roger Noll wrote in an email. "And even the latter is not realistic if the arena does not have a tenant."
Jim Zelinski, co-founder of the fan group Save Oakland Sports, urged city leaders to act urgently to hold on to Oakland's teams. "We believe these franchises are civic treasures for the entire East Bay," he said. "Not only do they provide jobs, these are arguably Oakland's greatest tourist attractions."
Councilman Larry Reid, whose district includes the Coliseum site, said the city needed to turn its focus to the Raiders and the A's now that the Warriors are leaving town.
"I'm really disappointed, but I know it's a business," he said. "Given the loyalty all the fans here in East Bay have shown all these years, it was my hope that the Warriors would work with us to build a new arena, but I guess that was wishful thinking on my part."
Coliseum City emerged as Oakland's best hope for retaining all three teams several months ago when it became clear the city lacked the funds to assemble land for a waterfront baseball stadium. Oakland and Alameda County own the Coliseum land, but they need the teams to finance the stadium construction -- a prospect that seems increasingly unlikely.
A's ownership has been clear about its desire to build the team's new home in downtown San Jose, and now the Warriors have chosen to build an arena on the San Francisco waterfront.
The locations are closer to the region's top companies, which teams rely on to purchase lucrative luxury suites and club seating.
The Raiders have expressed a preference to stay in Oakland but have not come forth with plans to build a new Coliseum.
City and county officials both have kept the door open to the Warriors' staying if the San Francisco project goes awry. But they acknowledged a new arena in San Francisco would likely attract events that had been coming to Oakland. "We have to find a niche," Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley said.
There is a potential silver lining to the Warriors' leaving: It might save taxpayer money. The team pays $1.5 million a year in rent at Oracle Arena, for which taxpayers are still on the hook for $95 million in bonds.
But the Warriors will be responsible for repaying much of that debt if the team departs before 2027.
Betrayal of true fans
The Warriors moved from San Francisco into the then-5-year-old Oakland Arena in 1971, but never seemed to fully embrace the new host city, refusing to include Oakland in the team name.
Fan support hasn't been an issue recently in Oakland. The team has played to near-sellout crowds since making the playoffs in 2007.
Many East Bay fans said they felt betrayed by the Warriors' planned move, even though several said a San Francisco arena would probably help the franchise build a consistent winner.
"I think it's horrible for Oakland and the loyal East Bay fans, but if I'm just looking at it from a team standpoint, I think it's a great move," said Hayward native Bobby Sabnani. "It puts us in position to get top free agents and compete with the Lakers and Heat of the world."
Jordan Pauley, a 29-year Hayward resident, supports the Warriors' move. "I don't think it's unfair to East Bay fans. What about the fans in the Peninsula who never could make it to Warriors games?" he said. "Now people in the East Bay will have a reason to visit San Francisco, where there's a lot more you can do after a game."
Diane Carey, an Oakland resident and season-ticket holder, said she was disappointed in the team and feared the move to San Francisco would price her out of her seats.
"Bottom line is they're going where the money is," she said. "They're making it hard for East Bay fans ... and we're the best fans that the Warriors have ever had."
Staff writer Angela Woodall contributed to this report. Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.