A's planning new stadium with sea level rise in mind

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


OAKLAND — The infield is made of asphalt right now. So are the dugouts, the outfield and the stands. Someday this might be home to a baseball stadium, but today the Howard Terminal is little more than a parking lot for 16-wheelers, populated by far more sea gulls than baseball fans.

Dave Kaval, the Oakland Athletics’ team president, walks from the gigantic cranes on the water’s edge to what soon might be the site of home plate. It smells like diesel fuel, not peanuts or Cracker Jack.

He no longer sees this 55-acre plot of land as a desolate storage space along the San Francisco Bay. He can’t afford to focus on what he sees here today or dwell on what the ballpark might look like when it opens its doors. He has to figure out how a stadium might still be serviceable decades down the road.

“We’re hopeful we’re going to build a ballpark that’s like a Fenway or Wrigley,” he said, “that will last 100 years.”

To do that, the A’s are having to confront a growing list of challenges, many that might not fully present themselves for years to come. The team is determined to build on the water, which on the surface might seem ill-advised. After all, the water surrounding the proposed construction site is expected to rise in the coming decades. That means Kaval faces a cascading series of problems that many teams and leagues operating in coastal cities are just starting to confront:

How do you maintain operations in areas vulnerable to climate change? How do you sustain facilities and retain fans? How do you make it all economically viable when threats like sea level rise are inevitable?

Economists warn that climate change will have a major financial impact around the globe, and one working paper published last month stated that the United States could lose up to 10.5% of its GDP by 2100 if emissions of greenhouse gases are not significantly cut. The economic impact similarly will be felt across the sports universe, one that could measure in the billions of dollars.

There’s been no formal study done, but Allen Hershkowitz, an environment scientist who helped found Sport and Sustainability International, notes that teams and leagues will have to account for the physical impact on the venues but also losses from the disruption of business. Some locations will be prone to flooding, some to drought, and still others to extreme heat, he says, and many will have to make serious adjustments in the years to come.

It’s a global issue, of course, and cities from Shanghai to Mumbai are bracing for rising sea levels. While the sports world might represent only a fraction of the industry and culture endangered by climate change, the games people love to play and watch are also among the most visible, not to mention vulnerable — touching cities and venues that have hosted some of the world’s biggest sporting events.

Many of this country’s favorite sports are contested near water. If sea levels were to someday rise five or six feet — regarded by many in the scientific community as an extreme projection that might be more likely next century — consider just some of the areas and sports facilities in the United States that would likely experience flooding: TD Garden in Boston, Citi Field in New York, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, Petco Park in San Diego, Del Mar Racetrack in Southern California, Oracle Park in San Francisco, plus numerous college facilities, high school fields and golf courses that dot the nation’s coastline — not to mention much of South Florida.

The Athletics’ ambitious stadium proposal highlights many of the problems posed by rising sea levels and some of the creative solutions teams and leagues might consider to address them. Targeting a site that the city of Oakland says sits six feet above sea level, Kaval said the team had no choice but to acknowledge the potential impacts of climate change.

“For us, it was just the reality of the situation,” he said. “Living in the Bay Area on the water — the only areas with open land where you can build — this just became a key criteria and something we had to deal with head-on.”

It won’t be easy. Even without climate change considerations, building a stadium is a tricky maze of regulations, politics and legal challenges — one that got more complicated for the A’s this month when MLB commissioner Rob Manfred waded into the process and warned local government officials that relocating the team isn’t out of the picture.

But if the A’s get the go-ahead to begin construction next year on their 34,000-seat dream stadium, a privately financed ballpark that will likely cost north of $500 million, the team will have to dig down and build up. They’ll have to confront the site’s industrial past to plan for an uncertain future, the unpredictable realities of climate change dictating much of the project.

“It’s obviously expensive,” Kaval said during a recent tour. “But these are investments that need to be made or these areas will not be usable both in the medium-term and the long-term.”

Coastal cities across the country face a variety of threats, but no area is as vulnerable as South Florida, which is expected to see more storms, rising sea levels, increased flooding and storm surges. While that puts communities around Florida in serious jeopardy, it’s also a major threat to a bustling sports economy.

The Florida Sports Foundation estimated in 2017 the economic footprint of the sports industry in the state tops $57.4 billion and accounts for 580,000 jobs. Florida is home to 10 top-level professional sports teams, two international tennis tournaments, and two NASCAR tracks. It hosts 15 baseball teams for spring training and is home to 26 minor league teams. Plus, there are 60 colleges and universities that field at least one sports program and some of the top high school athletic teams in the country.

Nearly all of it could be in jeopardy.

“It’s just a wonderful place to live,” said Harold Wanless, chair of the University of Miami’s department of geological sciences, “but we’ll be moving on some time this century. ... We’re going to enjoy this place as long as we can. But it’s not a long-term option.”

While most scientists agree that sea levels are rising, many climatologists — with a better understanding of how quickly ice sheets are melting in Greenland and Antarctica — now think earlier projections might have been too conservative.

“I always feel like I’m the doctor who’s giving bad news to a patient,” said Marco Tedesco, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “But we are starting to understand the reasons and the processes more, and there is a much larger consensus that many of the previous estimates were underestimated.”

While Florida is considered a ground zero of sorts for dangers posed by rising waters, across the country, Oakland A’s officials are plenty familiar with flooding issues. They’ve played at RingCentral Coliseum since 1966, where team officials say the playing field is located 22 feet below sea level and workers routinely have to pump water out of the dugouts.

The stadium has seen better days, and when the Raiders couldn’t land a new stadium deal, they decided to relocate to Las Vegas. The Golden State Warriors are also moving, across the bay to San Francisco this fall, which leaves the A’s as the last pro team in Oakland.

The baseball franchise had been exploring new stadium options for most of the past two decades, but when John J. Fisher bought the franchise in 2016, the team affirmed its plans to remain in Oakland. It was a decision that limited its stadium options and meant the team would almost certainly have to contend with the effects of climate change.

“Any of the sites that we’re choosing from had sea level-rise challenges that we’d have to confront,” said Kaval, who’s in his third year as team president.

They settled on a former shipping terminal located adjacent to Jack London Square along an estuary, 55 acres of waterfront property in a neighborhood the team hopes it can help transform, with the ballpark serving as a cornerstone for new housing and businesses.

Howard Terminal had the benefit of sitting already six feet above sea level, but the A’s knew they needed to plan for something bigger. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, a state planning and regulatory agency, requires developers to consider climate change for any new construction along the water. Its “Bay Plan” notes that the California Climate Action Team projects as much as 17 inches of sea rise by 2050 and perhaps as much as six feet by the end of the century.

If sea level rise is complicated by evolving variables, solving the myriad problems can be just as vexing.

“There is a lot of unknowns around the data, unknowns around the challenges, unknowns around the risks,” said Richard Kennedy, a landscape architect with James Corner Field Operations.

The A’s chose to plan for the most extreme models and publicly unveiled its designs for the Howard Terminal site last November. They plan to raise the foundation at Howard Terminal four feet in some areas, building the new ballpark atop a citadel and positioning the new stadium 10 or so feet above sea level. The stadium would be located at least 100 feet from the water, which gives designers a malleable band of land with which to work. The A’s envision a waterfront park that will likely adapt over time. As waters rise, that land can be molded to include berms, terraces, steps, even sea walls that can divert or block water and protect the surrounding area.

Please read our commenting policy
  • No profanity, abuse, racism, hate speech or personal attacks on others.
  • No spam or off-topic posts. Keep the conversation to the theme of the article.
  • No disinformation about current events. Claims of "Fake News" will be delayed for moderation
  • No name calling. "Orange Menace", "Libtards", etc. are not respectful.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine