OAKLAND — An Oakland-based development group wants to buy the city’s share of the Coliseum site with the aim of landing a professional women’s basketball team to play in the same Arena where the Warriors won three championship titles over the past decade.
Ray Bobbitt, founder of the African American Sports and Entertainment Group, said Monday the group is negotiating with the Women’s National Basketball Association to put a team in Oakland that would be “African American women-led.”
The effort to land the team is headed up by Shonda Scott, one of Bobbitt’s partners and a business owner and Oakland native who played basketball at Holy Names High School.
As the group prepares its formal request with the WNBA, the idea has garnered some support from community and city leaders.
“We know that the City of Oakland and the East Bay region is one of the greatest sports fan bases in the world and will be eager to support a WNBA team,” LaNiece Jones, executive director of the Oakland-Berkeley chapter of Black Women Organized for Political Action, wrote in a letter to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority board.
“No professional sports league was more essential to the social justice movement in 2020 than the WNBA,” she added. “This team and its ownership group will be an inspiration to the girls and young women in our community.”
The Coliseum Authority board at its meeting on Friday will discuss submitting a lease and license agreement for the group’s formal proposal to bring a WNBA team to Oakland.
Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan pointed to a recent Sports Illustrated cover story about growing interest in the WNBA and said “Oakland, with a strong and dedicated fan base, and a ready-to-use great basketball arena that’s easy to get to, is a perfect place for a new WNBA team.”
A women’s basketball team would be one element of a plan that Bobbitt and his partners have been envisioning for the Coliseum, where they also want to build housing, office space, retail, a life sciences campus and a stadium for an NFL team, Bobbitt said.
“East Oakland really needs the development,” Bobbitt said, citing crime and displacement that affect Black residents in the neighborhood.
He and others in the group, including former Oakland city manager Robert Bobb, see it as a chance to create a Black business district in the city and inject jobs and economic development into East Oakland.
In submitting their $92.5 million bid to buy the city’s share of the Coliseum, Bobbitt and Bobb are partnering with African American-owned investment firm Loop Capital, Oakland developer Alan Dones and sports agent Bill Duffy, Bobbitt said.
It is one of several groups that have expressed interest in buying the city’s share of the Oakland Coliseum in recent years. Alameda County agreed to sell its share in 2019 to the Oakland A’s for $85 million, so any group that buys the city’s half will have to work with the A’s, who play at the Coliseum now but want to move the team to a yet-to-be-approved waterfront ballpark at the port’s Howard Terminal and develop housing, retail, office space and parks at the Coliseum.
The A’s have offered to buy the city’s share of the Coliseum for the same $85 million. Other bids bids include one from former A’s pitcher Dave Stewart, who reportedly offered $115 million for the half.
Bobbitt’s group offered the city $92.5 million.
Other potential buyers, according to city staff, include Tripp Development and the Renaissance Companies, which is owned by Floyd Kephart, who once had a negotiating agreement to explore rebuilding the arena and the stadium at the Coliseum site.
The City Council on July 20 is scheduled to consider a non-binding term sheet for the A’s Howard Terminal proposal. The A’s want a promise from the city in order to keep negotiating over the Howard Terminal plans.
On the same day, the council will likely consider approving a term sheet with Bobbitt’s African American Sports and Entertainment Group for the Coliseum site, but it’s unclear whether other groups that have expressed interest in the past in buying the city’s portion of the site will also be part of the discussion that day.
After Kaplan proposed scheduling a vote on the agreement with the group, city staff suggested the council entertain a vote about continuing negotiations with all the interested parties. Kaplan agreed to work further on it with city staff and attorneys, but it will appear in some form on the July 20 agenda.
Bobbitt said his group is eager to get the pieces into place. Raised in East Oakland, Bobbitt sees the opportunity to develop the Coliseum site as one that will help stabilize the area by providing good jobs and economic opportunities.
The city has not released its own analysis of the proposal or any others, but Bobbitt estimates his group’s plan could create about 40,000 jobs.
That’s important, he said, as the city reels from a spike in violence in the last year and grapples with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We can’t really wait much longer,” he said.
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