It’s even more officially official now: The Oakland A’s owners have bought out Alameda County’s 50% stake in the Oakland Coliseum site for $85 million, signing the deal yesterday, 18 months after a tentative deal was first announced, and 10 months after it was supposedly finalized. (The wheels of real estate grind exceedingly slow.) If team owner John Fisher is successful in acquiring the other half share of ownership from the city of Oakland — negotiations for that piece remain underway — then he’ll have control of the entire 155-acre site to do with as he pleases, whether it’s for residential development or a new stadium or a giant Ferris wheel or what have you.
What you want to know, I’m sure, is whether this is a good deal for the public or a massive giveaway, and I am here to tell you: Man, these are hard questions! There are definitely benefits to unloading the Coliseum land, which includes the stadium, the Oracle Arena, and surrounding parking lots — Fisher would be on the hook for $5 million a year in operating costs if they maintain the current setup, plus would have pay property taxes on the site, which the county doesn’t. But since any buyer would be in the same boat, really the question remains whether this is a fair price for the land.
And as we’ve seen again and again, setting a fair-market value for land is way more art than science, especially if you don’t put it up for public bidding and instead just hand it to the guy who happens to be standing next to you. A study of land sales in Oakland from 2005-2010 puts the average price at $1.4 million an acre, which would mean Fisher would be getting about a $50 million discount; on the other hand, home values have been soaring in Oakland in recent years, so maybe a decade-old study isn’t the best way to determine current values? It’s almost like sports team owners/real estate developers like to get land instead of cash because it’s so hard to tell whether this represents a public subsidy!
In fact, the A’s land deal is even more convoluted than that, since the Coliseum site purchase is still coupled with a plan to build a new stadium at Howard Terminal about four miles away, which would require maybe $200 million for “transportation and other infrastructure” that would be paid for with city tax kickbacks. It’s really the kind of thing where you’d want to negotiate everything at once, including what Fisher would be allowed (or required) to do with each parcel and how much public infrastructure money would be provided — but the county is strapped for cash right now and has been wanting to get out of the stadium business for a while, so it’s tapping out. This leaves it up to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to ensure she negotiates the best deal possible for the public, and she’s been very quiet of late. Hopefully before any city deal is finalized, we’ll have some better appraisals of both the Coliseum land value and the infrastructure costs; though if past history is any guide, that’s not too likely unless the mayor demands it. Schaaf used to draw a hard enough line to be considered part of the Gang of Four of city mayors who wouldn’t kowtow to team owner demands — this will be a good test of whether she’s going to end up a Tait or a Nenshi.