Downtown LA shows Oakland the way


LOS ANGELES — Bay Area sports fans may have another reason to hate on that city down south, now that LA will be home to a shiny new football stadium, the most environmentally-friendly in NFL history.

Before jealously envying Los Angeles, though, consider that a similarly transformative stadium still has a chance of sprouting to life in Oakland as well.

A new ballpark for the A’s — either at its current Coliseum site or in downtown Oakland, like recently-approved Farmers Field in downtown LA — would stimulate surrounding neighborhoods and economies with tens of thousands of jobs while coming with few setbacks, officials north and south say.

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Los Angeles hasn’t had a football team since the Raiders left for Oakland in 1994.

But with Farmers Field unanimously approved by the Los Angeles City Council last month, Angelinos can expect a state-of-the-art stadium downtown by 2016.

The 72,000-seater with a retractable roof will replace a convention center next to the Staples Center and L.A. Live entertainment center.

All LA has to do now is find an NFL team.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told SFBay that — even with the new stadium coming online — NFL teams are silent on any plans to move:

“No team has reached an agreement to move to a stadium in Los Angeles nor has any team applied to the league for re-location to Los Angeles (or anywhere else).”

Oakland, though, has an existing baseball team to anchor a new stadium. The A’s won’t be moving to San Jose after all — according to Mayor Jean Quan – but plans for a new facility aren’t as grounded.

One option is Coliseum City, a complex including a new ballpark for the A’s, a new stadium for the Raiders, and a new arena, along with a convention center, hotels and retail.

Another option for the ballpark is downtown Oakland, particularly Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland close to Jack London Square.

Quan told SFBay:

“They’re both an option.”

While associating Oakland and LA may seem unthinkable, there are comparable upsides and downsides of their respective new stadiums. The biggest plus, undoubtedly, would be economic revitalization.

Carol Schatz, president and CEO of both the Downtown Center Business Improvement District and Central City Association, told SFBay that in LA, Farmers Field will have:

“… a transformative impact on the surrounding neighborhoods which Staples Center and L.A. Live each also accomplished.”

Prior to what Schatz calls “our renaissance” in 1999 with the opening of Staples Center, that section of downtown LA was:

“… blighted and after 5 [p.m.], a ghost town.”

The core of downtown LA remains to the north, but Farmers Field will encourage more restaurant and hotel development around L.A. Live, she anticipates.

Meanwhile in Oakland, Quan told SFBay that the area around Jack London Square:

“… went down with the economic downturn.”

Office buildings were empty for a while, and the hot restaurant and bar scene also to the north in uptown also drew away the spotlight.

Quan said that today, downtown Oakland is:

“…on its way to recovery but a baseball stadium would expand it rather than get it to where it was.”

Housing-wise, the units near the Farmers Field site in LA and Jack London Square are among the highest-priced in both cities. Schatz said opportunities exist to build more housing around the stadium, whereas Quan said downtown Oakland:

“… already has a lot of mainly upper income condos but also a good mix of senior housing.”

Farmers Field critics are mainly anti-poverty activists who want the developer, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), to contribute $60 million for affordable housing.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes the site, said the stadium’s major positive is the promise of bringing 30,000 construction and permanent jobs.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor has had an ongoing relationship with AEG assuring that workers are either unionized or receive a living wage working at the Staples Center and L.A. Live projects.

Unemployment in South LA, though, is still higher than other areas of the city – between 12 and 15 percent a couple months ago, Perry said:

“It will be a dramatic shift in our local economy. This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put as many people back to work with one project and it will generate collateral businesses like restaurants and hotels and bars and more service-oriented jobs.”

In Oakland, the lowest income neighborhood is the area around the existing A’s stadium. If Coliseum City is the chosen plan, 30,000 jobs would be created between the Coliseum and airport, Quan said.

Down south, Farmers Field also involves a community benefits program designed to maximize the project’s benefits to the area, surely a model for whichever stadium Oakland decides to pursue for the A’s.

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Leaving Staples Center after a Los Angeles Sparks playoff game earlier this month, Selene Martinez — a 13-year South LA resident and witness to the transformation her neighborhood underwent with the Staples Center and L.A. Live — cheered up a bit after her team’s elimination after hearing that Farmers Field would soon open just feet away:

“I think it’ll be great. You’ve got Staples, the Nokia Center, and now this. Before those were built, you would see a lot of graffiti, bums sleeping on the street, not a lot of lighting.”

Fittingly, Martinez’ Sparks jersey read ‘Farmers’ — not ‘Sparks’ — recognizing the insurance company as the team’s lead sponsor.

LA is long overdue for a football team, added the 32-year-old Angelino, a Raiders fan since she got tickets at age 10:

“It’s good if they bring the Raiders back to L.A. where they belong. It’s what I’ve been waiting for.”

Quan, though, assured SFBay that the Raiders moving out of Oakland is just LA fans’ wishful thinking:

“The Raiders are one team that clearly wants to stay, so we’ve been in negotiations with them.”

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