THE BEST news for A's owner Lew Wolff lately was not Oakland's acquisition of slugger Matt Holliday but the mayoral election results in Fremont, Calif. Bob Wasserman's reelection pushes Wolff closer to his dream of constructing a $1.8 billion "ballpark village" and relocating the club to Fremont, about 23 miles south of Oakland—a move that, despite the economic crisis, Wolff expects to make in time for the 2012 season.
The development—a 32,000-seat stadium, 540,000 square feet of retail space and 3,150 units of housing—was a key issue in the three-way mayoral race. Wasserman was the lone candidate to support it amid some residents' concerns over parking and traffic. Construction could begin as early as next summer, and Wasserman believes the project should create nearly 1,800 jobs.
The A's had the AL's second-worst attendance in 2008 (behind the Royals), drawing 1.67 million fans (20,558 per game). That was a drop of 13.4% from '07 and their fifth straight year of decline. A move to a smaller, more cost-effective stadium—the A's play in cavernous Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, with its 63,000 permanent seats for Raiders games—is no surprise. This is: Wolff, a Los Angeles--based real estate developer, says he will finance the project without a penny of government money. He plans to spend up to $500 million building the baseball stadium (Cisco has agreed to a $120 million, 30-year naming-rights deal), and while the economy has led Wolff to indefinitely delay the housing and retail units, he says the ultimate vision hasn't changed. "The housing market, of course, is gone for a while," he says. "Residential [construction] will lag behind."
Private construction is rare in baseball. Only two of the last 27 new parks were financed without public funds: San Francisco's AT&T Park, which opened in 2000, and Dodger Stadium, which opened in 1962. (By comparison the Yankees got some $1.3 billion in tax-free bonds to build their new park.) In the meantime the A's hope that adding the All-Star Holliday, along with the team's recently announced 5% rollback in ticket prices, will help keep Oakland crowds from dwindling further.