A birdie tells us that Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff does have his eyes on a location he'd like to explore for a new ballpark -- and no, it's not the waterfront -- it's the privately owned site of the Coliseum Flea Market at 66th and High streets.Coincidentally, I drove right by the Swap Meet yesterday to check out the site. The old screens and projection building are still there, though the Drive-In itself is no longer operational. The Swap Meet is open daily. I've linked a satellite photo if you're interested.
Wolff is expected to go public with his ballpark plan during an appearance before the Oakland-Alameda Joint Powers Authority on Friday.
- It's 1 mile from the Coliseum BART station, and everything between it and BART is industrial. That's a pretty long distance. Would Wolff ask for another BART station to be built there? There's a $50 million price tag associated with a new station (Figure obtained from estimates for the Irvington station, part of the Warm Springs Extension). The best option may be to extend the Airport BART People Mover an extra two miles to the ballpark site.
- It's flanked by a huge warehouse that I don't think is getting used right now, an 5-acre overflow parking lot, and a PG&E plant/substation. An EBMUD maintenance yard and storage facility are across the freeway.
- The Swap Meet lot is owned by Syufy (Century Theatres to the rest of us).
- Coliseum Way would need regrading because of the now non-functional railroad tracks that repeatedly criss-cross it (and rip a car's suspension to pieces, btw).
- The area is zoned M-40/Heavy Industrial and would need to change to accommodate housing, retail, etc.
- A slough runs through the area, between the Drive-In and 880.
Is this a good idea? The distance from BART is a concern, and I don't see Oakland and Alameda County diverting some of the downtown/JLS transportation project money just to build a BART station only a mile away from an existing station. A shuttle could help, but not having BART immediately nearby is a significant issue. If you took BART to and from last night's game as I did, you know what I'm talking about.
Beyond that BART issue, it seems to fit Wolff's requirements. It's highly visible from the Nimitz (880), so he should be able to attract big-name retailers. The area would be a blank slate, so it could be developed however the developers saw fit, though for at least few years, it would be on an island compared to its surroundings. There are only a handful of property owners in the area, so Wolff could deal with them directly.
I've already started to see the comparisons to China Basin. It's unrealistic to expect development in East Oakland to flourish the way China Basin did. China Basin was a case of extremely good timing. SF politicos had been working on development plans for China Basin for decades, including two separate ballpark proposals (4th & Townsend was the first). Pac Bell Park broke ground just after the dot-com boom hit, and since the area was one of the last parts of the city not touched by new development, it became hot overnight, especially with the influx of young professionals. Soon lofts started showing up on Potero Hill, UCSF announced their new China Basin campus, and the South Beach neighborhood fully took shape. The confluence of high-stakes speculation and enormous economic growth is not looming in the same manner for East Oakland. If Wolff and his partners choose to invest in East Oakland, more power to them.