Oakland may have the most yards to cover to save its NFL franchise
Faced with possibly losing their NFL teams to the Los Angeles area, civic leaders in St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland are racing to come up with a winning approach to preserve their franchises.
In St. Louis, plans for a new stadium along the Mississippi River have come together quickly, as politicians and business leaders seek to persuade Rams owner Stan Kroenke to rethink a potential move to Inglewood.
In San Diego, the mayor at first lashed out at the Chargers, then gave an advisory committee a much shorter deadline for recommending a plan to replace outdated Qualcomm Stadium — one that would pass muster with taxpayers reluctant to commit public funds.
Here in Oakland — where all three major pro teams have talked about fleeing, development pressures spilling over from San Francisco are altering the city’s landscape, and a new mayor recently took office — the puzzle presents intriguing options but might be the most difficult to solve.
For now, hope rests with a sweeping plan being pieced together by — ironically — San Diego County hedge fund advisor Floyd Kephart for a massive “Coliseum City” district, with retail, residential, commercial and industrial components along with a bayside park. It could include one or two new stadiums, or no new ones at all.
It would rise on the same 120-acre, publicly owned parcel now occupied by O.co Coliseum, where the Raiders and A’s play, and Oracle Arena, home of the NBA’s Warriors, who plan to move to San Francisco.
Though there is some skepticism about Kephart’s ability to pull together a deal, the city has laid the groundwork for rezoning the area and even completed an environmental impact report, so developers independent of Kephart could easily step into a fast-tracked deal if his fails.
“I’m representing Raider Nation to make sure everyone is on board to get this passed,” Chris Jones, decked out in Raiders regalia, told planning commissioners Wednesday. “We’ve got to get past the fears and not get stuck.… Let’s hear some good news about Oakland, California, around the world.”
“Oakland Raiders!” chanted dozens of fans in the audience — including the super-fan Gorilla Rilla, his voice muffled by his simian suit. Then came the bellowing response: “Stay in Oakland!”
Boosters say Oakland is on the cusp of a development boom, given the region’s fast-growing wealth and recent influx of residents and companies from across the bay.
A deal to build the stadium the Raiders want, however, involves not just one bureaucracy but three: the city and Alameda County, which co-own the land, and a joint powers authority that operates the venues.
The formula must also factor in the Oakland A’s, which wants a new stadium of its own. In co-owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff, the A’s have greater wealth and development credentials than the Raiders and have signaled that they may want to steer their own development ship.
The planning commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the city’s specific plan for site and surrounding area, and some are optimistic that Kephart will deliver the goods. “We vetted Mr. Kephart, so we know he’s real,” Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid said in an interview. “We know he has the capacity to do what he’s indicated he can do to help us structure a deal.”
But neither the county nor the Raiders or A’s have committed to a project, and Kephart has not publicly disclosed development or financial partners. He has also remained silent on the plan’s estimated cost.
Kephart is chairman of the board of The Renaissance Companies, which advises hedge funds, investors and private equity. He also serves as chairman of Metis Financial Network, a private financial and real estate advisory firm.
The complex is in the heart of East Oakland, a low-income, high-crime area that has largely been bypassed as development has accelerated in the city’s Jack London Square and booming Uptown neighborhoods.
But it has enviable features: ample land, access to freeways and rail and transit service. Some believe a development anchored by one or two new stadiums could trigger the kind of growth that created a vibrant neighborhood near AT&T Park in San Francisco’s China Basin.
The area is “ripe for the greatest change in the city’s history,” said Andy Dolich, a Bay Area sports consultant who has served as an executive for the A’s and San Francisco 49ers and helped get an NBA arena built in Memphis.
Though Dolich has doubts about Kephart’s plans for Coliseum City, he says that as owners of the site the city and county are well-positioned.
“I would hope that people of unified positive strategic thinking can find a middle ground to keep both teams to play in new facilities,” he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for Oakland.”
The city’s effort to lure multi-use development to the site predates Kephart. A previous investment group that included a Dubai financier failed to pull it off, costing the city precious time. Former Mayor Jean Quan had launched negotiations without the county at the table, which also ensured delays. The teams grew restive.
The A’s have sought to leave for San Jose but have been blocked by the courts. The Warriors, most concede, are as good as gone.
So when the Raiders expressed interest last month in returning to Southern California, few here were surprised, even if the proposal to share a stadium in Carson with the division rival Chargers was unexpected.
Mayor Libby Schaaf — an Oakland-born-and-raised sports fan — was understanding, saying it was only natural the team would search for a plan B. She and several county officials have said that Raiders owner Mark Davis has assured them that Oakland remains his first choice.
A Raiders spokesman referred a reporter to a podcast interview that owner Mark Davis recorded Thursday with San Jose Mercury News sports columnist Tim Kawakami.
Davis said that on the eve of the Carson announcement, he and general manager Marc Badain had let Alameda County and Oakland officials know that “if we can get something done here, that’s where we want to be.”
Davis declined to specify a timetable, saying, “It’s not something that’s going to be rushed.”
Schaaf hopes to fast-track negotiations. The city has twice extended a 90-day exclusive negotiating agreement with Kephart and all of Oakland’s teams. Just after taking office in January, she invited the county to sign on to the agreement. County supervisors recently assigned staff to study the prospect.
NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman suggested the city and county would be better off sidestepping Kephart.
Rather than negotiate with Kephart, Grubman said in an interview Friday, he made the case the last time he was in Oakland “that they should engage directly with the team.… I didn’t understand why it was in their best interest, or in anybody’s best interest, to instead engage with someone else.”
But Schaaf said the exclusive negotiating agreement does give them the ability to negotiate directly with the teams. And nothing, she added, will happen unless the city and county begin working together.
Whether Kephart’s plan comes together or not, Schaaf said she is “extremely optimistic” about the city’s vision for a sports-driven development.
“People are so excited about investing in our city right now, and the proximity to BART is an incredible value for any developer,” Schaaf said.
At a recent meeting of Save Oakland Sports at a San Leandro sports bar, fans largely agreed that they don’t need a stadium with high-tech bells and whistles — or, as group co-founder Jim Zelinski put it, “an app that gets a trained monkey to bring you a cheeseburger.”
But they want their teams to stay.
“It’s much more than a financial investment, it’s an investment in the spirit of the people of the area,” said Rob Rivera, president of the Black Hole Fan Club. “We’re behind schedule, man.”
Times staff writer Sam Farmer in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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