Arbitrator rules Warriors can’t skip out on $40 million in remaining Oakland arena debt

Some unexpected good news for the city of Oakland and Alameda County: Four years after the Golden State Warriors owners announced they planned to move to San Francisco and stick taxpayers with the remaining debt on the Oracle Arena, an arbitrator has ruled that nuh-uh, the team has to pay up. By the time the Warriors move across the bay to San Francisco next season, the remaining debt is expected to be around $40 million — or, as NBC Sports puts it, “the equivalent of one year’s worth of Kevin Durant’s next contract” — which the team owners will now be on the hook for.

The dispute, if you’re interested, was over this language in the Warriors’ 1996 lease:

“if the licensee terminates this … agreement for any reason prior to June 30, 2027, and there is a principal balance remaining on the project debt … then licensee shall pay an amount equal to the excess of scheduled debt service.”

Sounds pretty cut and dried, no? Except that the lease expired in 2016, even though it was later extended through 2019, so the Warriors owners argued that it no longer applied even if the lease clause said “2027,” and — know what, they lost, so we don’t have to think about this anymore. Note to future cities negotiating future stadium and arena deals: Copy Oakland’s language about termination, because whoever wrote that did a good job.

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