The Coliseum Site Might Be Up for Grabs: What Should Happen?

By José Fermosa---The latest tenure of the Raiders in Oakland finally has an expiration date and the executive brass of the Warriors is already planning a gilded arrival in San Francisco. That leaves the still-Oakland A’s as the only professional sports franchise that can take advantage of an East Bay ripe for development and economic opportunity. A’s President Dave Kaval has promised he will announce this year where the team will build a new stadium for the team and, according to recent rumors and a recent public prediction by Mayor Libby Schaaf, that won’t be at the current Coliseum facility.

But what will happen to the area that has hosted the city’s major sporting events for fifty years? That’s a question that everyone in the surrounding community is thinking about, as it stands to be one of the most important decisions that will shape the future of Oakland.

The new A’s stadium, wherever it ends up, will likely be a part of a large complex that will bring in jobs, new housing, retail opportunities and environmental-friendly parks. But those benefits will also be needed at any new development at the old site, which currently sits on a massive 130 acres. (Anaheim’s Disneyland, for comparison, sits on only 80 acres.) 

The biggest concerns for the area by the community, for now, appears to be the same concerns locals have for the rest of the Oakland: the rise of gentrification leading to fewer opportunities for middle- and lower-class residents, and a loss of diversity and culture. 

To avoid that fate, Oakland Leadership Center Executive Director Nate Millheim says community leaders need to sit at the table with city government and any business officials interested in development. As the leader of the organization focused on providing young men an avenue for healthy sporting challenges and mentorship, Wilhelm thinks the city can’t leave behind local kids for a few rich developers and city officials just to make money. Mitigate the choice with opportunities for new jobs. 

“Important organizations like the OCO (Oakland Community Organization) need to be involved to make sure things are done fair and right. [For example], young men and women from the East Oakland/Coliseum neighborhood should be able to get jobs there,” Wilhelm says.

Creating avenues for young people to rent or buy homes below currently-skyrocketing market rates should also be at the top of the list, according to Wilhelm. He says that in the last few years, the rise of rents in the city, and East Oakland in particular, has forced many young people he serves to leave the area to Antioch, Richmond and even as far away as Manteca. And yet, the sense of community and connectedness provided by Oakland’s diversity draws them back regularly to his Center’s basketball leagues and their families residing there.

“[Yes,] there’s still a lot of poverty and violence in East Oakland, but people come back. I know some who are working full-time jobs and can’t afford Oakland. I think we’re in crisis mode. But imagine if they could still be a part of the community, have jobs, and live in the city?”

Several local organizations are already working overtime to ensure this happens. Ebase, which convenes a coalition of labor community workers rooted in East Oakland called Oakland United, has been following the development of the Oakland Coliseum and A’s stadium issue for years. One of the directors, Jahmese Myres, says that when it comes to any new stadium and the Coliseum area, the community will not accept anything less than good jobs for local residents, affordable housing, development of healthy environment areas, and affordable and accessible transit.

“We believe [the Coliseum land] is public land owned by the city and the City of Oakland, and we expect any public investment will reflect the community for whatever is developed on site,” she says.

Myres tells the Conduit they’ve been in talks with the Mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors about the development to ensure they know Oakland United’s priorities. In previous agreements with developers in Oakland, the organization representatives have referenced those priorities alongside any community agreements.

To ensure they are being heard, Ebase has gathered interested locals at “visioning sessions” to discuss their visions for the Coliseum site. Last March 6, Myres and her colleagues led that discussion at an area next to the Coliseum Bart station, producing renewed calls by residents for jobs, affordable housing, and healthy green spaces. But one major “overwhelming” priority that is often not heard or communicated well that came up, Myres says, is the need for low-income citizens to feel welcome in any facility. 

“They don’t want development [at the Coliseum site] to feel like it’s for tourists or [only] those with high income. They want it to feel like it’s part of the city, without walls, and like they can play there and can afford to do so.”

Besides a need for the community to feel directly connected to this history of Oakland and its residents, new developers in the city should expect pressure by organizations to include clauses for jobs for local union workers for construction. Using local labor, after all, is an important aspect of giving back to the community, according to Fernando Estrada, business manager for Northern California District Council of Laborers.

Estrada says 26 different trade operators, such as iron-workers and carpenters, as well as the entry-level cement and asphalt workers he represents, will be eager to be a part of any construction on Coliseum land—especially because a large percentage of those workers live in and around Oakland and will also help bring in new blood. 

“We know 50 percent of local hiring will need to take place [to get any new development in the Coliseum area] and any new hiring will help young workers because they won’t be temporary jobs,” Estrada says. Indeed, most new workers hired by firms will be able to develop many new skills during a big project and from there, will be able to have more project options as they develop their career in the trades. At the moment, Estrada has hard time bringing in new workers because of the difficult, physically demanding effort it requires. “But a big new project like a stadium or an even bigger one at the Coliseum site will grow the opportunity to work in the labor profession.”

At the moment, Estrada’s biggest concern is the potential slow pace of development. If it takes as long as the nearby Brooklyn Basin project, he says, it will delay the jobs the community needs.

But any development at the Coliseum site will probably take a while to get going, according to Oakland Authority Board President Scott McKibben. He says the sheer massive size of the site will need to be carefully considered since almost anything could go in it. For example, he says there’s a possibility that the Oracle Arena, remodeled just 15 years ago, could be torn down if a developer decides it’s financially prudent to do so. “I’m not saying [a tear-down will happen] but it will be brought into the conversation,” he says.

The most important aspect of the potential for the Coliseum site for the community and potential builders, he believes, is that in terms of location, it might be most valuable piece of land in the United States. “Sometimes, we have undersold ourselves on that value,” he says, especially since the site is right next to great public transportation, an international airport and key highways.

“I know the A’s are struggling with this [issue]. If the Coliseum complex was three miles closer and a little bit more snug to the downtown area, there’d be no question they’d build the stadium there. Because they would get to keep all the amenities they already have. It’s the old story when it comes to building housing or anything else. It’s all about location, location, location.”

Depending on which location the team selects, McKibben agrees that direct and constant communication with citizens is vitally important to the development of the site.

“When Ronnie Lott was thinking about building a new stadium for the Raiders, they [connected with community organizations], they were taking a look at what they could do with housing, setting up a foundation to help charitable organizations in town. The A’s are spending a good amount of time on doing that already.”

Anyone else thinking of building on Coliseum land should do the same.

 

 


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