The news is that the Oakland Athletics have placed an offer to purchase land in what Oakland A’s President Dave Kaval called the “Las Vegas Valley.” Speculation as to where that land is has swirled. Here’s why I assert the offer is for the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, as opposed to The Mirage Hotel property.
First, while there are said to be “20 different site” options identified by the A’s, Kaval tipped his hand as to the favorite back in February of this year, 2021. According to Brian Horwath of the Las Vegas Sun, and in a post dated July 23rd, 2021, the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, owned by Billionaire Phil Ruffin, “stood out”. Kaval was quoted as saying “On the north Strip at the Festival Grounds, to have that view back down the entire Strip, that would be pretty iconic.”
But, in addition to that comment, Mr Ruffin himself was on a push to get his Festival Grounds considered as a future home for the A’s. On July 5th, 2021 it was reported that he told the The Wichita Eagle earlier that week that he was “scheduled to meet with a group of investors leading the push to bring the A’s to Las Vegas. I think they want to talk to me about my land. The good part about baseball is they have 88 home games. So, that would be a very big deal. You wouldn’t be able to find a room in Vegas if that goes through.”
The Oakland A’s relocating to Las Vegas and at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds would be the missing piece in a combination of land uses that, together, would redevelop the North Las Vegas Strip. Right now, Ruffin owns the Las Vegas Festival Grounds and the adjacent Circus Circus Hotel. The long-incomplete Fountainbleu Hotel is slated to be restarted yet again, and that’s just across the street from Circus Circus. All of that is just walking distance from the Las Vegas Convention Center, and the reason I know that, is I walked that span on the way to the groundbreaking for the Las Vegas Convention Center Expansion Project in 2018.
But those are not the only reasons I assert that’s where the A’s are headed. The pairing of two real estate billionaires, Fisher and Ruffin, leading a team of investors focused on bringing Major League Baseball to Las Vegas, would result in an exciting, “L.A. Live” style ballpark development that would effectively create a barbell-shaped flow of tourists between the North Strip and the South Strip. But there are even more advantages to the use of the Las Vegas Festival Grounds as the new home for the Oakland A’s.
Because the Las Vegas Festival Grounds consists of 37 acres of clear-space land, there’s no major building that needs to be demolished and cleared, unlike the situation presented by The Mirage Hotel (recently announced as up for sale by MGM Resorts). So, right there, the Las Vegas Festival Grounds presents a cost savings just because there’s no existing building to take down.
So, the only real problem the Oakland A’s Ballpark builders will have to deal with is one for which there are no shortage of specialists in Las Vegas to handle: the presence of the hard material called caliche. Once considered as an impediment to the building of what’s now called Allegiant Stadium, the builders used explosives to break up the material. Overall, while the Raiders Stadium was a year-and-a-half late in completion, (it was originally supposed to be finished May of 2018) it did get done.
Why Are The A’s Doing This Considering The Work On Howard Terminal?
The question here is why are the Oakland A’s going through with the Las Vegas Ballpark effort when it looks like they’re approaching the finish line with Howard Terminal Ballpark?
The simple answer to that question is because the City of Oakland wasted almost two years of time where there was no project manager, and the only focus was on legislation and community engagement, when SB 293 Skinner was signed, it was effectively left alone by Oakland. In other words, the law created by the City of Oakland and the Oakland A’s, and signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom on October 11th, 2021, was then left alone. What should have been done, considering that it was to pave the way for the use of tax increment financing, was for the City of Oakland to start immediate meetings with the County of Alameda.
Instead, the City focused only on design and community engagement, and zero on work to form a viable financing plan for Howard Terminal. For much of this time, the City of Oakland hid from public view the enormous revenue-generating potential of tax increment financing as part of Howard Terminal. On November 20th 2019, City leaders asked me not to inform a group of 90 attendees for a Chinatown Town Hall about it, even though the estimate was $1.4 billion assuming a $500 million ballpark initial cost, a 45-year-bond period, and 4 percent rate of growth in assessed value. And the Mayor of Oakland said in an interview with me that there were “drafts” but she never, and still has not, presented the draft TIF revenue projections.
Then, when the Mayor did speak on the matter at the most recent Alameda County Meeting, she said the City would seek to float a bond of just $150 million, when it was clearly evident to anyone who knows TIF, that the bond issue potential was well into the $800 million area. My take is the Mayor of Oakland was infected by the liberal / conservative lens applied to sports stadiums, and which has nothing to do with the real math associated with stadium projects, moreover the math that came with SB 293 Skinner.
If the City used SB 293 Skinner, as the A’s expected, and starting forming the Infrastructure Financing Plan in late 2019, the matter of “sources and uses” of funds would have been a settled issue. Instead, the Mayor and her staff and consultants collectively did nothing until Mayor League Baseball expressed concern with the slow pace of the project in late March of 2021.
The reason for this was, as the Mayor said to me on two occasions, the City of Oakland had not done redevelopment and tax increment financing in some time, and was learning. The trouble is she told that to a person who has served as expert consultant to the cities of Oakland, San Francisco, and Emeryville, and private consultants, on the matter of tax increment financing, and learned how to do it as an intern with the Oakland Redevelopment Agency in 1987. From that, I created a complex spreadsheet for Oakland projects and the City re-hired me as consultant in 1988. On top of that, I wrote about TIF for years, and going back to my column in The Montclarion in Oakland between 1993 and 1996.
But, with all of that, the Mayor of Oakland never turned to me for guidance and was bent on proving a staff that did not have the intellectual chops to do the work, did. To this day, why she did this is beyond me. But between Mayor Schaaf who needed the right numbers, and the Oakland A’s who have the option of moving to another city, and ballpark opponents who wanted nothing done so did not care about the “right numbers”, we have never gotten competent work on the matter of tax increment revenue at Howard Terminal, outside of the work I’ve done. That’s a fact.
The Mayor also did not turn to a task force of Oaklanders and neither did any Oakland City Councilmember. Since most referred to Howard Terminal as “Libby’s Project” they collectively seemed to want to keep their distance from it, until it was clear this year that Major League Baseball had real designs on leaving Oakland.
For its part The Oakland Athletics have maintained the “parallel path” approach to be able to avoid being effectively sued for lack of good faith dealing. In truth, the A’s fear of establishing a clear-cut-end date for Howard Terminal, and the image of constantly moving the goal posts may land them in court, anyway. It’s not an intelligent way.
The best way is to pick Howard Terminal, and then make it work. But for the A’s, doing that means continuing to be associated with a City of Oakland that has the constant appearance of making all of this up as it goes along. And that’s happening at a time when the A’s are revenue challenged with respect to The Pandemic, and Oakland’s turtle-pace of movement’s giving it, and Major League Baseball, little hope that a ballpark will come of this.
The Game Will Change When The Las Vegas Ballpark Drawings Hit The Internet
If you think the expected news of the A’s putting down an offer on land is a big deal, just wait until the drawings for The Las Vegas A’s Ballpark hit the Internet. That will be a sad moment for Oakland A’s fans, and point to an alternative reality all of us hoped to avoid. I have said in all of these discussions, that Oakland has to prove it has the will and initiative to complete big projects. So far, Oakland’s posting a failing score here, and that should alarm us all.
Once again, Las Vegas will send the image that its a “can do” City, and Oakland will send the image that it’s a can’t do City. What should concern my friend Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is that’s going to be attached to her political legacy. There will be no words that can save her from that image. And since she’s insistent on being the face in Raiders and now A’s stadium matters, there’s no one else to blame but herself.
As one who wanted Libby to be Mayor of Oakland, and as far back as 2009 when I told her on May 14th at her parents home, how she has handled this is a constant source of sadness for me. Her administration started off with much promised, driven by “Friends of Libby”, but then that image gave way to a sad reality that Libby left many of her true friends on the beach at a time of political war.
People who went to Skyline High School with her, wanted to help her, and needed work at the same time, called her office and never got a call back. I received calls from two people about this just a month after the 2014 Election. Eventually, the “Friends of Libby” as a proud group of Oaklanders faded away. She can bring us back, even if it’s the 11th hour, but the question is, will she? For my part, I’m not optimistic. But I’m ready. I know some others are so turned off, they’re inconsolable.
What does all of that have to do with Howard Terminal? Everything. Because it takes a village to get a ballpark.