Oakland mayor: Maybe John Fisher’s Las Vegas plan isn’t viable for A’s

Oakland mayor Sheng Thao says Las Vegas and Nevada officials are learning what she has known for some time: That it’s difficult to get Oakland A’s owner John Fisher to the finish line on a new ballpark.

“We’re seeing that he has the same issues going to Las Vegas,” Thao told The Athletic on Thursday. “There was a thought that this plan he had in the beginning was viable. And now we’re seeing that actually, maybe the plan isn’t viable. The question becomes, are the plans not viable or is it that the ownership’s not viable?”

As concern over the A’s relocation to Las Vegas mounts, Thao said her city remains eager for the team to stay in Oakland – and that she is talking with prospective ownership groups willing to accept the city’s proposal for a new ballpark at Howard Terminal or possibly one at the same location as the team’s current home, the Oakland Coliseum.

The A’s reached agreement last May to build to build a $1.5 billion ballpark on the Tropicana hotel site on the Las Vegas strip. Major League Baseball owners approved the move by a unanimous vote in November. But numerous obstacles remain.

The team is struggling to find an interim home between 2025 and ‘27. A legal challenge threatens the public funding of the new ballpark in Las Vegas. The logistics of fitting a domed facility onto the nine-acre Tropicana site are in question, as is the timetable for completing construction by the park’s scheduled opening in ‘28.

Even with the A’s facing all of those issues, Oakland remains a major longshot to retain the team. Major-league officials repeatedly have questioned the feasibility of the city’s ballpark proposals. Thao said she has not spoken to Fisher since he informed her of the team’s intention to move to Las Vegas in April, nor to commissioner Rob Manfred since meeting with him at the All-Star Game in July. At the meeting, Thao and her team detailed their city’s efforts to get a park built on the waterfront site at Howard Terminal.

Thao’s position remains unchanged: She wants the A’s to stay in Oakland, whether they are under Fisher or a new owner. She declined to identify potential buyers, but said multiple groups are interested in purchasing the club and keeping it in the city. And she mentioned a new park on the Coliseum site as well as one at Howard Terminal as possibilities.

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A drone shot of Howard Terminal from 2019. (Jane Tyska/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

Fisher, however, has given no indication he wants to sell the club.

“You can’t buy something that is not for sale,” Thao said. “We are hopeful MLB will understand that having John Fisher sell the team or having John Fisher come back to the table with us to have a real discussion with us about whether it’s Howard Terminal or the Coliseum, is the best route for everyone.”

Thao noted the Coliseum already has a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stop. She said both sites meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act and are “shovel-ready.” The city’s intention is simply to provide a world-class facility for a willing ownership group.

“We have options here in the city of Oakland, viable options,” Thao said.

The differing view held by the A’s and MLB makes the reopening of negotiations between the team and city highly unlikely. But the A’s path to relocate to Las Vegas continues to be anything but smooth.

On Wednesday, Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman was quoted in a podcast interview with Front Office Sports as saying she believes the A’s plans at the Tropicana site “don’t make sense” because of traffic concerns, adding the team should stay in Oakland.

Goodman, who is not technically the mayor of the area where the A’s plan to relocate, later issued a statement saying she was “excited” about the team coming to Las Vegas. But she also repeated her belief that in a “perfect world” A’s ownership “would like to have a new ballpark on the water in Oakland.”

A new lawsuit also looms. The Nevada legislature and governor have approved $380 million in funding for the Las Vegas ballpark, but a teachers’ union-backed political action committee sued the state and Gov. Joe Lombardo on Monday, attacking the legality of the bill that created the public money.

The A’s, meanwhile, still have not decided where they will play from 2025 to ‘27, between their final season in Oakland and their planned debut in Las Vegas. Commissioner Rob Manfred said after the owners’ meetings Thursday that the team needs to decide on an interim site in “the next few months.” He added that he would be “disappointed” if the A’s did not move into their park in Vegas by its scheduled 2028 opening.

The A’s stand to lose an estimated $70 million a year in local television revenue if they leave the Bay Area before the end of their contract with NBC Sports California, which runs through 2033. They could perhaps recoup some of that money in a revised TV package involving Las Vegas and Sacramento or Salt Lake City, both of which are candidates to be the team’s interim home. But the NBC Sports California contract is a powerful incentive for the team to remain in the Bay Area, either at the Coliseum or the San Francisco Giants’ home, Oracle Park.

Thao said she has had no conversations with A’s officials about the team remaining in Oakland, and reiterated such a move would come at a price.

“We would need some assurances here in the city of Oakland,” Thao said. “We can’t continue to just be given the crumbs or what have you. We deserve more than that.

“If they stay and want to play in Oakland in the interim, I’ve always talked about how the name should remain here in Oakland and that we should be teed up to have an expansion team. Those are my requests. But of course, conversations need to be had. My door is always open.”

Is Thao growing more optimistic?

“This is not my first rodeo with regard to working with this ownership. I think we kind of knew there would be the possibility of an inability to actually complete a project (in Las Vegas),” Thao said. “I’ve always stated until the shovel hits the ground, we’re going to continue to fight.”

(Top photo of Oakland mayor Sheng Thao: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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