Last night, I was so excited to be at the Oakland Roots USL home debut versus the Sacramento Republic. My wife, daughter and I had plans to meetup with my brother and his family and my sister and her family. It was the first time we had seen my sister, her husband and their son in almost two years.
It all went south pretty quickly as we walked up to the gate at Laney College stadium. People were coming out of the way in and confusion abounded. Eventually, a man from the Roots came around and announced that the Sacramento team refused to play on the field and the game had been cancelled. This turned out to be untrue by the team’s own statement, so that was real bad form… blaming your opponent for cancelling a game that was cancelled because the field had dead sod and was an injury risk.
But the real event happened when my brother texted us from the parking lot and said “Meet us at Plank…”
I have spent a fair amount of time in Jack London Square for a dude who lives in Pleasanton. It has a pleasant, laid back atmosphere. There is a collection of great restaurants, a marina full of various boats and some retail that I haven’t really spent a lot of time shopping in.
As some folks would have you believe, Jack London Square is dead. From my own observations, I would not agree with those people. Others will say it is popping off and living it’s best life. Similarly, I would not agree with those people. Last night was a perfect example of what could be in Jack London Square and how it benefits the local businesses that are already there and, thus, the City of Oakland.
As many of us have seen at the Oakland A’s Fanfests that have taken place in Jack London Square, the district can get much livelier. Plank was hopping on a Saturday Night, which is probably not that hard to imagine. But this was different from the many perfectly enjoyable Saturday evenings I have spent in Jack London Square.
First, a sporting event in downtown Oakland was the source of many of the patrons. This is obviously not a scientific observation but from the time we arrived after a short drive from the Peralta Community College District parking lot to the Amtrak garage, walked across the bridge over the railroad tracks and up the wide walk away adjacent to the estuary until the 3 hours later when we left there was a steady stream of folks wearing the same Oakland Roots and A’s gear we were wearing.
The staff in Plank was hustling, even asking me where all the people came from because they didn’t recognize the Roots gear. The Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks were capturing all of our imagination in one of the best, grinding back and forth Game 7s I have seen in a while. The bowling balls were rolling on the inside and the beverages were a flowing in the beer garden. Money was being spent, taxes were being collected and nobody was complaining about it.
If this is what JLS looks like on a Saturday with some portion of the folks coming from a 5,500 seat football stadium hosting a minor league soccer game across 880, imagine what it would look like with 35,000 people coming from a Major League Baseball stadium just past the Ferry Terminal, or about one tenth of a mile away. And… Imagine that being on a weeknight, when JLS is traditionally much less busy.
The key difference between the Coliseum Complex and Howard Terminal is Jack London Square. While some advocate for a “Ballpark Village” development built from scratch at the Coliseum site, I would argue for our own Petco Park and Gaslamp District analog. The “built from scratch” ballpark adjacent developments I have been too, St. Louis and Philadelphia come to mind, were not nearly as impressive as the existing districts that have provided a launchpad for a rocket ship of a stadium and ancillary development like Petco Park and the Gaslamp in San Diego.
Similarly, the downtown adjacent ballparks that created a pull for additional development in the gap created by the stadium itself have been far more impressive than the foodcourt in a parking lot vibe that exists in Philadelphia. I am thinking of Nationals Park, Coors Field and Oracle Park in particular.
All three of these sit in parts of town that were analogous to where Howard Terminal sits in Oakland in one way or another. All of them have spurred residential and commercial development in the area that sat between them and the existing downtown of their respective cities, transforming sections of the city into vibrant neighborhoods.
Jack London Square and Howard Terminal have the best of all of these, even if it is unique from each in other ways. It has the existing, utilized but not maxed out, commercial district to help speed up the tax in flows to the City. It has the open space and existing convertible empty buildings that can quickly become something that meets the various demands that will arise early in the stadium driven influx, and that will come over the next 15 years as the area becomes a cultural magnet.
These conditions do not exist at the Coliseum Complex. I am not saying they couldn’t someday, I am saying that the time horizon to those conditions existing is much, much longer.
These conditions make it pretty clear that the real path forward is not posturing about the NFL coming back to town (this isn’t happening), or any other attempt to create some kind of leverage to force the A’s to build a ballpark where they don’t want to. The only reason the A’s are still in Oakland is because MLB wouldn’t allow them to move to San Jose. MLB has removed that barrier to exit and hollow threats about bringing the NFL back to town or pitching a ballpark at the Coliseum by someone not affiliated with the team do not create leverage against that, they create an impetus for the team to leave just like playing chicken with the Raiders led to them playing in Las Vegas.
None of that really matters though, it is obvious what a better idea a ballpark adjacent to JLS is for the City of Oakland. It was on display at the A’s Fanfests from 2017 through 2020. It was on display Saturday night. This is a generational type of opportunity and it is time for all parties involved to recognize that.