Nay-sayers Oppose Sports Stadiums
by Glenn Dickey
Jun 14, 2005

WHEN MY STORY on a proposed new site for a new park for the Aís ran in The Chronicle on Saturday, it brought out all the nay-sayers, which didnít surprise me. Iíve been writing about stadium issues for more than 20 years now, and Iíve come to expect that.

It is somewhat disheartening, though, to be reminded that so many people automatically oppose new ideas. It reminds me of a conversation I had with then San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos in 1989, when Agnos was pushing for a new Giants park in the same area that the current one was finally built. Agnos noted that earlier in San Francisco history, there had been visionaries who brought about Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, a glorious City Hall, etc., but in modern San Francisco, the energy was primarily negative.

Much of the opposition to that 1989 effort came because the city would have contributed $30 million to the park. Yet, the subsidy for the arts in San Francisco at that time was somewhere around $43 million a year, and nobody balked at that. For the record, I think the arts should be subsidized, too; I enjoy the symphony, theatre and ballet. But, letís be realistic: The number of people who enjoy those (and the opera) is nowhere near the number who go to see professional baseball, football and basketball.

That effort to build a park might have succeeded but for the earthquake. The mayor and others who were working on the park campaign turned to the earthquake relief. The ballot measure failed because absentee voters, many of whom apparently believed that ball park money would have taken away from the money for earthquake relief (they were, in fact, entirely separate) voted overwhelmingly against it.

That failed effort, plus two others in the San Jose area and one half-hearted effort when Dianne Feinstein was mayor, convinced Peter Magowan that his ownership group would have to put up a privately-financed park. They did, and those opposed to parks like to say that as an example of what can, and should be, done.

In fact, though, this was the first privately-financed stadium since Dodger Stadium was completed in 1962, and Magowan noted that San Francisco and New York are the only cities in the country with the corporate support to build a privately-financed stadium. Larry Baer, who got the corporate backing to build the park, took it a step further when we talked a couple of years ago about the park. Baer called it ďthe perfect storm,Ē with a booming economy that not only got the corporate backing for the park but enabled the Giants to sell ďCharter seat licensesĒ to the dot-com bunch. Those conditions no longer exist, and Baer told me the Giants could not build that park today.

AGNOS LAMENT about a lack of visionaries in San Francisco compared to an earlier time has an echo in Oakland.

In 1960, when the AFL put a franchise in Oakland, there was no good place for the Raiders to play. They even played games at Candlestick before settling into Frank Youell Field, a junior college playing field with slightly more than 20,000 seats. There were constant rumors that the Raiders would be moved, with Portland, Oregon being the prime candidate.

Robert Nahas, then heading up the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, created a non-profit corporation to sell revenue bonds to build a stadium. On the board with him were William Knowland, a former U. S. Senator who published The Oakland Tribune, Edgar Kaiser, owner of the construction company bearing his name, and George Loorz, owner of the giant Stolte Construction Company. To avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, Kaiser and Loorz agreed not to bid on any part of the project. The revenue bonds were sold in Chicago, and the Coliseum was completed in 1966. The arena and an exhibition hall were added in 1969. The Aís joined the Raiders in the Coliseum in 1968, and the Warriors came over from San Francisco when the arena was completed.

There have been some serious bumps in the road since, with the departure and then return of the Raiders, and that story is much too complicated to be told here.

But, would anyone like to argue that Oakland would be better off without the Raiders, Aís and Warriors? Good years or bad, they have brought enjoyment to millions of people, and they also provide a strong identification for Oakland residents Ė even if the Warriors still have that silly Golden State designation.

Unfortunately, thatís not a point that Oakland mayor Jerry Brown has ever understood. When he had a city manager, Robert Bobb, who did understand, he pressured Bobb to leave.

MANY OF US who live in Oakland had hoped that a park could be built in the area around the Fox Theatre and Sears store that would bring people downtown and stimulate the economy, but Brown has blocked that.

Another good site was proposed by Larry Jackson, a private citizen who first got Bobb interested in a new park, on land that is part of the Laney College campus. That, too, is close to downtown and both BART and freeways, and the park could also have been used by Laney teams. But the Peralta Board of Trustees said no.

When Lew Wolff bought into the Aís, he decided to try to build a new park in the area of the current Coliseum, but heís dropped that plan because of opposition from the Raiders and Warriors. Now, Ignacio De La Fuente, president of the City Council, has proposed another site, on city-owned land just south of the Lake Merritt Channel, on the Estuary.

I donít know if that site will work, or if thereís a better one out there. What I do know is that the Aís will not stay indefinitely without a new park. It would please the nay-sayers if they left, but it would not be good for Oakland.

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