Athletics owner Lew Wolff, 75, founder of Wolff Urban Development LLC, said in an interview yesterday in Los Angeles that he’s waiting for permission from MLB to move the franchise 40 miles south to the proposed 32,000-seat Cisco Field.
Under a 1990 agreement, the Giants have territorial rights to Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose. Wolff said Giants President Larry Baer is against Oakland’s move because it will hurt his team, something that the A’s owner said leaves him “aghast.”
“It’s so ridiculous to me,” Wolff said. “This is really a shovel-ready project that is being stopped by a disagreement with the Giants.”
Baer said in a phone interview that “we’re not going to get into a back-and-forth public debate with Lew on this topic.” Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told baseball writers in 2009 that “territorial rights are always sacred.”
San Jose-based Cisco Systems, Inc., the largest provider of networking equipment, agreed to a naming-rights deal for the proposed ballpark. Cisco Field, which Wolff said would cost about $400 million to $450 million to build, would be located on a 14-acre site in downtown San Jose near the HP Pavilion that hosts the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League.
Failed in Fremont
Wolff, who became managing partner of the A’s on April 1, 2005, as part of an ownership group led by John Fisher, whose parents founded Gap Inc., tried to move the team to a 200-acre site in Fremont -- about 22 miles south of Oakland -- starting in 2006. That plan was shelved because of local opposition.
He then asked MLB for permission to move to San Jose. Selig, a fraternity brother of Wolff at the University of Wisconsin in the 1950s, appointed a three-member group in March 2009 to study the issue. Wolff said he doesn’t know if that group has completed its study.
“They’ve had time enough to explore anything,” Wolff said. “We’re getting close to the point Bud is going to make a decision.”
Wolff, whose real-estate firm develops and manages commercial and hotel properties including the Carlyle hotel in New York, said he has ruled out Oakland as a future home for the A’s and that “if we stay in the Bay Area, there really is only one site and that’s in San Jose.”
The city of Oakland is preparing an environmental impact report on a site near downtown that it proposes to become the new home of the A’s. City Administrator Dan Lindheim said if San Jose is not approved by MLB, Oakland wants to be ready.
‘Lew Is Wrong’
“We’re committed to doing whatever we can to keep the A’s here,” Lindheim said in a Feb. 24 phone interview. “We think Lew is wrong that there are no alternatives in Oakland.”
Wolff said he doesn’t know what he’d do if MLB rejects the team’s move to San Jose, saying “we don’t have a Plan B.”
The A’s now share the Oakland Coliseum, which opened in 1966, with the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League. It is about 16 miles from the Giants’ AT&T Park in San Francisco. The Athletics were next-to-last in attendance in 2010 with 1.4 million fans, selling a league-worst 40 percent of seats. The A’s were last in attendance in 2009.
The A’s rank 29th of the 30 major league teams with an estimated value of $295 million, Forbes said last April, an 8 percent drop from the previous year.
A move to San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley, would be the third relocation for an A’s franchise that was created in 1901 in Philadelphia, went to Kansas City in 1955 and to Oakland in 1968.
The Athletics’ long-term lease at the Coliseum expired after last season and the team has three one-year lease options through the 2013 season. Wolff said he would like three more one-year options after that, because it’s unclear when MLB will decide on the A’s future.
“This development is not going to be quite as much fun for me as I thought because of the passage of time,” he said.
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