The Oakland Athletics on Tuesday said they will start exploring the possibility of relocating with the blessing of Major League Baseball, a move that could put pressure on local government officials to greenlight a new stadium project that has spent years in limbo.
The A's, who have played in Oakland since 1968, have prioritized building a waterfront stadium in downtown Oakland at the Howard Terminal site. But after years of failed stadium plans -- and weeks after the organization requested that the city council vote on the $12 billion mixed-use development before its late-July summer recess -- the long-anticipated specter of the A's looking into relocation became a reality on Tuesday.
"The future success of the A's depends on a new ballpark," A's owner John Fisher said in a statement. "Oakland is a great baseball town, and we will continue to pursue our waterfront ballpark project. We will also follow MLB's direction to explore other markets."
The A's are the lone remaining major professional sports team in Oakland after the NBA's Golden State Warriors moved across the bay to San Francisco and the NFL's Raiders left for Las Vegas. Their pursuit of a new stadium to replace the now-55-year-old RingCentral Coliseum has included multiple sites in Oakland, dalliances with Fremont and San Jose, and two decades without a groundbreaking.
The Howard Terminal project -- in which the A's have proposed privately funding a $1 billion stadium and spending more on a development that would include 3,000 units of affordable housing, office and retail space, and a hotel -- is the latest effort and has been seen as the likeliest to succeed.
"We're hopeful that our really exciting plan for a waterfront ballpark that's privately financed will be taken up by the city council,'' A's president Dave Kaval told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "I think it's something that is kind of a once-a-generational opportunity to reimagine the waterfront. We're going to continue to pursue that and we're still hopeful that that could get approved, but we have to be realistic about where we are with the timelines.''
The goal had been to open in 2023, but now, even if approved by Oakland's City Council this summer, it would not be ready until 2027.
"We share MLB's sense of urgency and their continued preference for Oakland. Today's statement makes clear that the only viable path to keeping the A's rooted in Oakland is a ballpark on the waterfront," Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement Tuesday.
"We have made great strides with the Governor's certification and release of the EIR. Now, with the recent start of financial discussions with the A's, we call on our entire community -- regional and local partners included -- to rally together and support a new, financially viable, fiscally responsible, world class waterfront neighborhood that enhances our city and region, and keeps the A's in Oakland where they belong.''
The Athletics' proposal in late April was said to include $450 million in community benefits, $955 million in general fund revenues and an $855 million commitment from the city for infrastructure improvements. Afterward, a spokesman in the mayor's office said in a statement that the outline from the A's "appears to request public investment at the high end of projects of this type nationwide."
The Athletics' lease at RingCentral Coliseum runs through 2024. Rebuilding at the coliseum site, seen by some as a possibility, "is not a viable option for the future vision of baseball," the league said in a statement.
"MLB is concerned with the rate of progress on the A's new ballpark effort with local officials and other stakeholders in Oakland," the statement said. "The A's have worked very hard to advance a new ballpark in downtown Oakland for the last four years, investing significant resources while facing multiple roadblocks. We know they remain deeply committed to succeeding in Oakland, and with two other sports franchises recently leaving the community, their commitment to Oakland is now more important than ever.
"The Oakland Coliseum site is not a viable option for the future vision of baseball. We have instructed the Athletics to begin to explore other markets while they continue to pursue a waterfront ballpark in Oakland. The Athletics need a new ballpark to remain competitive, so it is now in our best interest to also consider other markets."
While MLB has been loath to expand, multiple cities have publicly expressed interest in a franchise. The likeliest possibility if the A's do pursue relocation would be Las Vegas, which has found success with the Raiders and the NHL's Golden Knights, but commissioner Rob Manfred has in the past also cited Portland, Oregon; Vancouver, British Columbia; Nashville, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Montreal as potential expansion sites for franchises.
"We continue to play in Oakland until something changes," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters before Tuesday's game in Boston. "It is unfortunate that a couple teams have left. Certainly we don't want that to happen, and I don't think anything that's been said today would suggest it's going to, I think it's just giving MLB and the organization a few more options to maybe look elsewhere.''
The Athletics have moved twice since the franchise was founded in Philadelphia, arriving in Kansas City for the 1955 season and in Oakland for the 1968 season.
Just two MLB teams have moved in the past half-century: The expansion Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers for the 1972 season, and the Montreal Expos transformed into the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season.
There was a flurry of switches in the 1950s and '60s: The St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles (1954), the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles for 1958, the New York Giants moved to San Francisco for 1958, the original Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins (1961) and the Seattle Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers (1970).
The Braves also moved twice, switching from Boston to Milwaukee for the 1953 season and to Atlanta for 1966.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.