What It Will Take to Make the Howard Terminal Ballpark Project a Home Run for Oakland

rendering of howard terminal ballpark

Photo rendering by BIG Architects, courtesy of The City of Oakland

The Howard Terminal Ballpark Project presents an enormous opportunity for the City of Oakland. Located just next to Jack London Square, the $12 billion project would convert a no-longer-used terminal at the Port of Oakland into a new 35,000-seat waterfront ballpark for the A’s surrounded by thousands of units of new housing as well as retail shops, offices, and open space. The project has the potential to knit Howard Terminal into the fabric of Oakland and bring significant foot traffic to Jack London Square.

 

However, the project also could create challenges for Oakland. In the short term, construction of new homes, offices, and retail spaces could make accessing existing businesses more difficult. In the long term, residents in adjacent West Oakland and Chinatown could be displaced. The ballpark will bring an influx of people to a largely industrial area that is not currently prepared for them, creating congestion, safety risks, and potential disruptions for the Port of Oakland.

 

Figuring out how to realize the pros and mitigate the cons of the ballpark is a fraught issue for Oakland. Over the past few years, the city has lost the Raiders to Las Vegas and the Warriors to San Francisco, making the A’s the only major professional sports team in Oakland. Now the A’s are thinking about relocating. Frustrated by an outdated stadium and low fan turnout, the team has implored the city to help the team build a new ballpark at Howard Terminal.

 

The project faces a long road to approval and completion. So far, the Oakland City Council has approved a nonbinding term sheet outlining project specifications and has certified its environmental impact report (EIR). In addition, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) has voted to remove Howard Terminal from port designation, opening it up for other types of development. To get this project across home plate, Oakland and the A’s must finish negotiations and reach a final development agreement outlining affordable housing requirements and identifying the parties responsible for covering the cost of offsite infrastructure developments. The project also must be approved by and acquire permits from multiple local, state, and environmental bodies, in addition to garnering final approvals from Oakland’s Planning Commission, Community and Economic Development Committee, and City Council.

 

SPUR’s Advocacy as the Project Has Progressed

SPUR has been following the Howard Terminal process closely. With the goal of ensuring that the project is a win not only for the A’s but, more importantly, for the City of Oakland and its residents, we have provided input on planning, housing, and transportation-related activities at significant points in the project’s journey:

 

  • November 2018: The Oakland A’s announced their intention to build a new ballpark at the Howard Terminal site within the Port of Oakland.
  • February 2021: The City of Oakland released a draft EIR for the ballpark project. The EIR, required under California’s Environmental Quality Act, studied how development of the ballpark could impact the environment.

 

During the draft EIR’s public comment period, SPUR expressed belief in the ballpark project’s potential to be a physically and economically significant project for Oakland. However, our letter noted the complex issues raised by the Howard Terminal’s location and urged the project team to consider its effects on adjacent neighborhoods and port operations, transportation modes, the environment, and affordable housing goals.

 

  • July 2021: The Oakland City Council approved a nonbinding term sheet for the project, providing a potential outline for a final development agreement. However, the A’s expressed dissatisfaction with the term sheet, which was influenced by City Council amendments, and negotiations over the project continued. A final term sheet will be voted on by the City Council when the city and the A’s reach an agreement.

 

Prior to the vote on the term sheet, SPUR submitted comments to the Oakland City Council. We reiterated support for the project but encouraged the city and the A’s to identify off-site infrastructure financing and to clearly respond to nearby communities’ project asks, which were developed in a year-long process. We again expressed our belief that the project could be a catalyst for long-desired transportation improvements and urged the project team to prioritize rail safety and public transit improvements. We also broached the need for racial and economic justice considerations: Given Howard Terminal’s proximity to West Oakland and Chinatown, the project must ensure that these areas face no residential and economic displacement.

 

  • February 2022: Following the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the Oakland City Council voted to certify the EIR for the ballpark project.
  • June 2022: BCDC voted to approve the A’s request to remove the Howard Terminal site from port designation. With this vote, BCDC agreed that the site is no longer needed for port functions and can be used for development of a ballpark. This approval was essential for the project to move forward.

 

Before this vote, SPUR sent a letter to BCDC supporting removal of the port designation from the Howard Terminal site, given the assessment of BCDC and port staff that Howard Terminal is not essential for the port’s growth. We took the opportunity to reiterate our unaddressed concerns regarding lack of clarity about project financing, prioritization of public transit improvements, development of housing at a range of prices, and inclusion of broad community input.

 

  • In December 2022, SPUR submitted a letter directly to the Oakland A’s in response to a presentation on the ballpark project’s current status and plans.

 

How the Project Can Be a Success for Oakland and the A’s

Our December 2022 letter detailed the issues that need to be addressed in the final development agreement.

 

  • Identify funding sources for off-site infrastructure improvements to ensure that the city can finance the needed enhancements without withdrawals from the General Fund. The ballpark should be financed in a way that doesn't take away from the city's capacity to meet the needs of Oakland residents.
  • Consider creative and alternative uses for planned office space given the increased popularity of remote work and the decreased need for traditional in-person workspaces.
  • Limit impacts of the ballpark’s development and activity on Port of Oakland operations. The A’s and the port should work together to ensure mutual long-term success.
  • Articulate the project’s community benefits, including affordable housing, well-paying jobs, and infrastructure and environmental improvements. We recommend that the final development agreement thoroughly incorporate the year-long community benefits outreach process that was undertaken by the city and the A’s. In particular, the project team should engage with the communities of Chinatown and West Oakland, which are most vulnerable to environmental health concerns and displacement risks. We also recommend place-keeping measures and an economic inclusion strategy to foster the communities’ longevity.

 

SPUR appreciates the work that the City of Oakland and the A’s have done to improve the project and move it forward. The recently published Transportation Guide demonstrates their commitment to planning for significant increases in human traffic to the site. We hope the guide’s goals are properly financed and implemented.

 

We are monitoring the A’s plan to develop affordable housing on and near the project site. The plan calls for 15% of housing built on the site to be deemed affordable. In existing neighborhoods near the ballpark site, the plan calls for the A’s to develop or preserve housing units equal to 20% of the total onsite units. This plan should be prioritized in the initial stages of the project’s development to ensure that those who work within the project area have adequate and realistic housing opportunities.

 

At this point, negotiations between the A’s and the City of Oakland are in extra innings, and an agreement must be reached soon. The ballpark project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the city that could enliven Oakland’s sports culture and provide opportunities for Oakland’s residents. We are excited about the possibility of an A’s ballpark at Howard Terminal and will continue advocating for the project to deliver SPUR’s vision of equity, sustainability, and prosperity for the City of Oakland.

 

For further questions about SPUR’s work on the Howard Terminal Ballpark Project, please reach out to SPUR’s Acting Oakland Director, Ronak Davé Okoye, at rdokoye@spur.org