Kaplan to A’s: Are you ‘double-timing’ us with Portland?

A Portland group is proposing a waterfront ballpark on the Willamette River. Like proponents of Howard Terminal in Oakland, Portland's effort also has pretty stadium drawings.

It’s clear members of the ILWU Local 10 union are against a proposed waterfront ballpark for the Oakland Athletics at Howard Terminal. The privately-financed ballpark comes with the cost of fewer jobs at the Port of Oakland, the union asserts, along with gentrification that will follow construction of new market-rate housing at the proposed ballpark district.

Some Longshoremen have also periodically attempted to raise doubts over the Athletics’ desire to stay in Oakland and whether they are secretly making overtures to Portland behind the backs of city and county elected officials

Howard Terminal 2
Rendering of the proposed ballpark at Howard Terminal from behind home plate.

Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan raised the issue of Portland at Wednesday’s special meeting that resulted in the council offering support for two pieces of state legislation that will help streamline the regulatory process for building at Howard Terminal.

“If they’re double-timing us that would be a concern,” Kaplan told city staff. Oakland does not currently have an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with the team, city staff said, although one exists between the Port of Oakland and the A’s for the Howard Terminal site.

A’s team president Dave Kaval assured the council the ball club is not working behind the scenes to undermine the process for a new ballpark in Oakland. “We’re 100 percent focused on building our ballpark here and focused only here with this group in Oakland.”

The statements made by union members contain no evidence of cooperation between Athletics management and interests in Portland. While the Athletics have been accused of lacking commitment for staying in Oakland in the past, following a reorganization of the team’s ownership group, the team has gone to great lengths to prove its desire to build a ballpark in Oakland. A well-established “Rooted in Oakland” public relations campaign now includes billboards across the city that feature a rendering of the proposed ballpark.

The Tampa Bay Rays have also been linked to Portland. Both the Athletics and Rays are often linked to places interested in becoming Major League cities due to the unsatisfactory condition of stadiums in Oakland and St. Petersburg, Fla. Portland is also one of many cities eyeing an expansion team, although Major League Baseball has not shown interest in adding any teams in the near future.

While there is no evidence the Athletics are also eyeing Portland or any other city, or that the ballpark proposal at the Port of Portland has any legs, some of the team’s actions in recent months have raised eyebrows among city officials, which Kaplan alluded to Wednesday afternoon.

Kaplan said city officials were blindsided by the team’s purchase of the county’s portion of the Coliseum site earlier this year. Oakland officials only learned of the deal through back-channel sources, she added. “Let’s make sure we’re moving in a unified manner,” Kaplan told Kaval.

The push for a waterfront ballpark in Portland is somewhat similar to Oakland. An unused terminal at the Port of Portland is being eyed by a group interested in building a 35,000-seat ballpark. Last month, the group, named the Portland Diamond Project, received a six-month extension from the Port of Portland to study the plan.

There is also questions as to whether the Portland Diamond Project has the financial wherewithal for the proposed project. The group failed to make the first of what was expected to be $375,000 quarterly payments to the Port of Portland. Instead, the group chose to extend the contract’s due diligence period for six months at a cost $37,500 per month.

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