athletics

What to Know: The Oakland A's Las Vegas Ballpark Plans

The team plans to leave Oakland for Sin City are the latest chapter in a 20-year quest for a new ballpark

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The Oakland A's are the last major professional sports team left in Oakland.

And though their bid to leave town and move to Las Vegas has dominated Bay Area sports headlines since late April, the A's have been looking for a new ballpark for much longer than that: more than 20 years, to be exact.

Failed Ballpark Plans: A Timeline

The search started in earnest sometime around 2001, when the A's began to explore leaving the aging Coliseum for a new ballpark near Oakland's Uptown neighborhood. Former California Governor Jerry Brown was mayor at the time, and he rejected the plan, because he wanted to see a new housing development built on the land the A's were eyeing.

It was the first of at least eight different ballpark plans to fail over the next two decades.

In 2005, the A's looked at land across the street from the Coliseum at a site on 66th Avenue — but the owners of the land decided not to sell. Then, a year later, the team announced plans to build Cisco Field in Fremont, on land owned by the computer networking giant. 

When that fell through amid public resistance, the A's started looking at land near Jack London Square, and then in 2012, announced they had their eyes on San Jose, near SAP Center.

That led to a legal fight with the Giants, who claimed exclusive territorial rights to San Jose — rights the A's originally agreed to let them have in the 1990s, as part of a plan to dissuade the Giants from moving to Florida.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Giants, so the A's signed a ten-year lease extension back at the Coliseum, thinking maybe they could build a new ballpark in one of the sprawling parking lots next to the hulking concrete stadium they shared with the Raiders.

Years later, Raiders owner Mark Davis blamed the A's lease extension as part of the reason his NFL team gave up negotiations with Oakland and moved to Las Vegas.

He said the Raiders were ready to talk business with the city on plans for a new football stadium where the Coliseum currently sits, but as long as the A's were using the Coliseum, the Raiders were stuck — and in 2017, the Raiders announced their move to Las Vegas.

That same year, the Warriors broke ground on the Chase Center as part of their move to San Francisco, leaving the A's as the last team standing in Oakland's once-bustling Coliseum sports complex.

Meanwhile, the A's kept trying more sites in Oakland: First, what was known as the Peralta site near Lake Merritt, on land owned by the Peralta Community Colleges. The community college district ultimately voted not to sell the property, leaving the A's with one final option: a former shipping facility on Oakland's waterfront called Howard Terminal.

The plan for a waterfront ballpark, housing and entertainment complex was actually moving along — but then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and progress slowed to a crawl. There were missed deadlines, lawsuits and finger-pointing, and at some point during that time, the A's quietly began their talks to move to Las Vegas.

A Ballpark With a Strip View

The pandemic did a couple of things to the Howard Terminal negotiations: first, with all the delays, Major League Baseball got impatient, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred gave the A's the go-ahead to start looking elsewhere. And second, a piece of land near the Vegas Strip that was previously slated for a future casino suddenly went up for sale.

The land had all the trappings of an ideal Las Vegas ballpark location: just a 15-minute walk from the Strip, right next to the hockey arena where the Golden Knights play, and just a stone's throw from the Raiders' new football stadium. And so the A's signed what they described as a binding agreement to purchase that land, and announced plans to build a $1.5 billion ballpark there with a retractable roof and room for 30,000 to 35,000 fans.

But then, not even a month later, the A's announced a different land agreement: this time, it was a smaller piece of property directly on the Strip, at the site of the Tropicana hotel. The owners would demolish the 66-year-old hotel, build a ballpark that opens out onto the strip, and then build a new hotel next to the ballpark, roughly the same size as the old one.

In announcing their new focus on the Tropicana site, the A's said they had backed out of the first land agreement — meaning it wasn't as binding as they originally made it out to be.

Hundreds of Millions in Tax Dollars

But if the A's are going to move, buying the land is just the first step. The next step is getting approval from state and county lawmakers in Nevada, which involves getting them to fork over $395 million in public money — something Oakland flat-out refused to do.

In Vegas, though, getting tax money to build sports and entertainment venues is much more plausible, if recent history is any indicator. The state and county already gave $750 million to the Raiders to build Allegiant stadium. The Raiders had to guarantee they'd stay in southern Nevada for 30 years, until the stadium is paid off by means of an extra hotel tax of just under one percent in the area surrounding the stadium.

The A's could ask for a similar deal, and have indicated they'll pursue making the ballpark and its on-site stores and restaurants into a special tax district — adding an extra tax onto purchases made there, and using that tax to gradually pay off the ballpark's construction.

If the A's can't get public money, they've already explored a backup plan: a piece of land that's one mile, or a 30-minute walk, from the Strip, on the grounds of the Rio hotel. The hotel's owners had offered the land to the A's for just one dollar — no public funding required. Upon announcing the Tropicana site, the A's said they were laser-focused on a ballpark with Strip views, and were not actively pursuing backup options.

If the A's can get a deal inked for a piece of land, and secure the funding to build on it, they'll still need a vote: at least 22 of the other 29 Major League team owners would have to approve of the team's relocation. It would make the A's only the second Major League team to relocate across state lines in more than 50 years. (The other team was the Montreal Expos, which crossed the U.S. border with Canada to become the Washington Nationals in 2005.)

Where to Play in the Meantime

So, what if the A's get the land, get the funding, and get the go-ahead from other MLB owners? Then they'd start construction. They've indicated they want to break ground on a new ballpark in 2024, but it wouldn't be ready to open until 2027. The A's would need to figure out where they'll play ball until then.

One obvious choice is to stay put: The A's could extend their lease at the Coliseum, which expires in 2024, to play an additional three seasons until a new ballpark is ready.

Another option is to play at the minor league ballpark in Las Vegas, currently home to the A's AAA affiliate, the Las Vegas Aviators. That ballpark only has 10,000 seats, but average attendance at A's games was only around 9,700 in April and May. (The A's have the dubious honor of having not only the lowest payroll and the worst record, but also the lowest attendance of any MLB team.)

Wherever they choose to play for the next three seasons, the deadline for the A's to set this all in motion is January 2024. That's when Manfred said the A's need to have a signed agreement for a new ballpark, or they'll lose the revenue sharing they're getting from other teams.

The commissioner says he doesn't care where that new ballpark is. So, technically speaking, the door is still open for the A's to strike a deal in Oakland.

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