You Can Move Your Team to Another City. But Good Luck with the Stadium.

So, the Oakland A’s are moving out of Oakland to Las Vegas.  The team’s owner also owns a half-interest in the in the Oakland Coliseum.  This is not good for the City of Oakland since he could block the future redevelopment of one of Oakland’s most valuable parcels.

Meanwhile, Oakland officials, who want to see new housing and commercial development on the Coliseum property, in January entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with African American Sports and Entertainment Group to eventually sell it the city’s half-interest in the site.

AASEG envisions a sports complex, restaurants, nightlife, retail shops, hotels and market-rate and affordable housing there.  The group is backed by Loop Capital, a Chicago-based and Black-owned investment firm that manages securities funds worth billions of dollars.

But AASEG’s 18-month deal with the city requires the group to “diligently pursue” an agreement with the A’s for a cooperative development plan.  It’s a fool’s errand doomed to failure.  The city’s past three years of negotiations with the owner showed that bargaining with the A’s is like trying to hit a home run as the team keeps moving the fences farther away.

Fortunately, city officials have an option.  They could – and should – wrest control of the property from the A’s owner through eminent domain to use it for a public purpose.  The move would clear the way for economic revitalization of the 112-acre site, bringing needed housing and commercial development and a refurbished sports complex to one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

Condemning a team has been unsuccessfully tried before. In 1980, Oakland, Calif. filed an eminent domain action to take the Oakland Raiders, in order to prevent them from moving to Los Angeles.  Two years later, that case reached the California Supreme Court.  While it did not rule in favor of the city and sent the case back to a lower court, the California Supreme Court did hold that “providing access to recreation to its residents in the form of spectator sports is an appropriate function of city government.”

Instead of determining if the seizure was even appropriate, the majority opinion ruled, “the courts have no authority to choose those items of property which they deem appropriate for condemnation.”  They must defer to the legislature to decide what property can be taken.  That includes “any property necessary to carry out any of [a city’s] powers or functions.”

When Baltimore Colts fans woke up on March 29, 1984, they were in for a rude awakening: The Baltimore Colts were no longer in Baltimore.  The night before, Bob Irsay, the team owner, ordered the Colts to pack up and slip out under the cover of darkness.  Irsay was faced with a bizarre tactic by the city: They were planning to authorize eminent domain, a government power typically used to build infrastructure and schools, to force the Colts to stay in Baltimore.  His move would both make him one of the most controversial owners in the history of the NFL and highlight a little-known ability of the government.

Just hours after the team had left, Maryland’s governor signed the eminent domain bill on March 29.  The next day, with this new power, the city began condemnation proceedings against the Colts.

A year-and-a-half after the midnight move, a federal judge dismissed the case in December 1985, ruling that Baltimore “lacks the power to condemn the Colts’ franchise… the Court concludes that the Colts were ‘gone’ on March 30, 1984.”  Crossing state lines let the team escape Baltimore’s power of eminent domain.  Tellingly, the team did not challenge the condemnation as an inappropriate “public use.”

Getting back to the Oakland Coliseum, this is real property absolutely subject to the sovereign’s inherent power of eminent domain.  The City of Oakland certainly can condemn the stadium for public use.

Posted in Eminent Domain, Sports Teams, Stadiums
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