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Oakland approves Coliseum deal in largest public land transfer to Black investors in city history

The Oakland Coliseum could one day be the site of a women's basketball team, as well as a hub for retail businesses and new homes.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — A deal to redevelop the Oakland Coliseum is now the center of the largest public land transfer to Black investors in the San Francisco Bay Area city’s 171-year history. 

Oakland city leaders officially signed a new agreement Thursday with the African American Sports and Entertainment Group to negotiate a 50% interest in the Coliseum complex, long the home of local sports teams like the Oakland A’s. 

For years, the A’s managers have blamed the Coliseum’s conditions for their desire to build a new ballpark in West Oakland, a goal which East Oakland leaders have criticized. But to the Oakland-based, Black-founded African American Sports and Entertainment Group, the Coliseum Complex represents a major economic opportunity for East Oakland. 

The stadium sits on about 132 acres in the heart of East Oakland by the Oakland Airport and a Bay Area Rapid Transit station. Leaders said Thursday they want to use the site as a vehicle for “economic equity and social justice” — by bringing a Women's National Basketball Association team to the city to support a sport led by Black women.

The Oakland Coliseum has been the home of sports teams like the Oakland A's for years. (Natalie Hanson / Courthouse News)

In 2021, the Oakland Coliseum Authority and the Oakland City Council unanimously voted for a term sheet to bring the WNBA to Oakland. City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan has written to Oakland Post about the loss of jobs and affordable housing which eroded the Black community in East Oakland, saying community-oriented revitalization of the Coliseum site can address these issues. Last September, Kaplan introduced a resolution to the City Council to consider paving the way for a WNBA team which was unanimously approved. 

Kaplan joined Mayor Sheng Thao and several business owners and community and faith leaders outside the Coliseum on Thursday. No representatives of the A’s, who still own a share of the land, attended. 

“Awarding the development agreement of this vital site to an Oakland-based African American-led business entity will go far in addressing glaring racial disparities within the city of Oakland’s contracting practices,” African American Sports and Entertainment Group founder Ray Bobbitt said. “This project will foster economic parity, entrepreneurial and local small business opportunities.”

Thao said it takes "good-paying jobs" to reduce crime and keep “Black and brown families” in Oakland, and this plan will help to create 20,000-30,000 union jobs in building the new Coliseum Complex. She said the city wants the site to offer more retail, hospitality and entertainment opportunities as well as affordable housing.

“It’s about waiting for the right organization to come, to ensure they invest in the city of Oakland and the people who live in this space in deep East Oakland,” she said.

“These are new, good-paying jobs so that our families, our Oakland brothers and sisters can not only live here but play here, and raise a family here and not have to worry about displacement.”

Kaplan said the City Council has also approved an onsite public services center to create another location outside downtown Oakland for people to seek public aid. 

“I am thrilled that we have the opportunity to bring jobs, housing at all income levels, sports, entertainment and more to this vital Oakland site, in a way that strengthens equity and vibrancy for the community at this transit-accessible location,” Kaplan said. 

Councilmember Carroll Fife told the crowd it wasn't an easy victory, quoting the African proverb ”Patience is the mother of a beautiful child.” She commended local Black residents for showing up and speaking up at community meetings at all hours to say they support the organization and plan.

“So many times, we have been pushed aside, but the voices of East Oakland, Black and brown — this is a project for them,” Fife said. 

Councilmember Treva Reid said it made sense to start off Black History Month announcing a partnership with the African American Sports and Entertainment Group “deeply rooted in soil built up by our Black community," making it suited to oversee a project uplifting local residents and entrepreneurs and prevent gentrification. She said the city has historically contracted with less than 2% Black and women-owned businesses.

“Feel the rage of this moment, and what it represents for the Black community,” Reid said. “I'm grateful to be a Black woman leader at this time, making sure I stand in the gap delivering for those who have been kept out, shut out.”

Under the signed negotiation statement, the African American Sports and Entertainment Group has two years to negotiate an official proposal with the City Council for how to design the use of the land, with feedback from neighbors and stakeholders.

Bobbitt said their first move is to design a cooperation agreement with the A’s as they do not currently have an understanding of the team’s plans for the site. He said the Association extended their timeline to bring an expansion proposal to his group and to the city, and meanwhile a petition to show local support is active.

The Bay Area has the fourth-highest number of fans among U.S. markets without a WNBA team. More than a half million adults in the Bay Area market play basketball and the Bay Area ranks in the top 30 markets in household delivery for the regular season.

East Oakland-born Dr. Alexis Gray-Lawson — athletic director at Oakland Technical High School and a member of the 2016 Bay Area Hall of Fame — said, “I’m hoping we can really bring a WNBA team here for many reasons, so we can be represented, because our young girls need that. They need to be able to see it, to feel it.”

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