The Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to approve an agreement with an investment group led by Hall of Fame football player Ronnie Lott to negotiate a multi-million deal for a new 55,000-seat stadium that would keep the Raiders in Oakland and prevent the franchise’s proposed move to Las Vegas.
The Council voted 7-0 with one abstention late Tuesday night to grant the Lott group an exclusive negotiating agreement to develop the stadium site and 30 acres of surrounding land, in a deal that addresses community concerns while also pledging about $200 million of public money in infrastructural upgrades.
“When you think about it, I’m optimistic because you’ve got great people working with you,” said a weary Lott, who spoke before the City Council, after sitting quietly for about three hours.
The previous day, Lott held talks with officials from the National Football League, the Raiders and Oakland City and Alameda County officials to discuss the $1.3 billion plan to redevelop the site of the current Oakland Coliseum. Lott, who played for the Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers, dismissed claims that the revised bid by his Oakland Pro Football group was not a viable plan.
“More importantly, I think we got one of the things I think about, this deal is not the same deal,” Lott added. “I want people to understand that whoever thought that this was the same deal, this is not the same deal. And more importantly, our partner, who is the NFL, which I’ve been a part of all my life, for anybody to think that this deal is the same, they don’t know me. And they don’t know our partnership, they don’t know the relationship with the people. For us, we’re very excited.”
Lott said he was heartened by his discussions with the various parties this week, although Raiders owner Mark Davis said he’s still committed to moving the team to Las Vegas and a proposed $1.9 billion stadium.
“The talks have been fantastic and we continue to move forward,” said Lott. “And we look forward to continuing to work with them.”
The Raiders have not held any direct talks with the Oakland city government in several months. And franchise owner Mark Davis recently said he will not entertain any discussions with the city as long as a deal for a stadium in Las Vegas remains viable.
Earlier, before a half-filled Oakland City Council chambers, Lott spoke passionately his longtime personal commitment to improve the city and the lives of people of Oakland. He also addressed concerns that a new stadium deal could impose additional hardships on a community facing the lack of affordable housing, homelessness and struggling services.
“We should all be concerned,” Lott said. “Every day, I wake up, I’m concerned for a lot of reasons. The game of life, that’s what we play for. I hear your concerns. We’re here to see if we can rectify them. All of us in this room, we have a chance. We have a chance to lift somebody up.”
Undiscussed was a possible equity share in the Raiders franchise by the Lott group, which has been the subject of speculation for months.
Flanking Lott throughout the proceedings were Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen, a former roommate of Lott’s at USC and a teammate on the Raiders, as well as Rodney Peete, a former USC and Raiders quarterback, who is also part of the investment group.
“Ronnie wants to do it for more reasons than just business, but he likes to give back as well,” said Allen, who flew to California from his St. Louis area home. “So, that’s always a part of his plan. When you think about some of the concerns people have, Ronnie’s always addressed them. But he certainly didn’t want to bring the cart before the house, so, there’s a lot of things to get done before we get to that point. So, he’s mindful of those things. He certainly wants to help the community out, as well as keep the team here. So, there are a lot of things that need to take place that we’re excited about and we’re gonna work on it.”
Allen, who played exclusively for the Raiders when they moved to Los Angeles, said he remembered his rookie year with the team, when they practiced in Oakland during the week, when they felt like “a team without a country.”
Peete, who played two seasons in Oakland, says his involvement with community left a lasting impact on him that goes beyond the quest for a new stadium.
“I came at a time in my career, where that was important for me to be involved in the community,” added Peete. “And when you are able to have a platform, and have a voice that impacts people, in the right way, that’s powerful. It’s powerful, the Raiders have a voice and a platform. We have a platform. We’re trying to use it in the right way that’s gonna affect a lot of people in a positive way.”
More than a dozen Oakland residents spoke before the city council, all but two in support of the proposed new stadium deal. While some wore Raiders jerseys and professed their love for the Silver & Black, others stressed fears that the city could absorb unforeseen costs if there is an economic downturn in the future.
Altogether, the city and county would contribute about $350 million in assets, including $150 million in land. The Lott group is pledging $400 million, with the rest coming from the Raiders and the NFL.
“The city doesn’t have $350 million to spend on the Raiders,” Dan Siegel, a well-known civil rights lawyer told the council. “They’re free to come back on their own dime.”
An amended section of the agreement deals with specific community concerns about the environment, economic develop for the project, which may include mixed-use features, such as commercial development, like shops, offices, a hotel and housing.
Under the approved agreement, the $200 million in pledged infrastructural improvements would not come from the county or city general funds, but through taxes on events held at the proposed new stadium.
Councilman Larry Reid, who has held extensive talks with the Lott group, said the deal is “not only about building a stadium, but revitalizing a community.” He took Lott and Fortress Group officials on a tour of his 7th District, where the Coliseum has stood for 50 years.
“We want to see good things happen on good terms,” said City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who voted for the agreement.
City Councilman Abel Guillen, the lone abstention, said he did so because “there are too many holes in this to support the ENA.” He expressed concerns about debt servicing, not only for a future stadium, but nearly $170 million still owed on the Coliseum and Oracle Arena.
Guillen and other council members said they have received many calls and emails from constituents about the new stadium proposal, most of them in opposition.
“There is deep concern about this deal,” said Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington, who voted for it. “We don’t want to get squeezed [financially] and don’t get what we need. I’m voting to support the deal because public dollars will be spent outside to the stadium.”
Several Raiders fans lasted through the five-hour City Council session. Many of them said they felt better about Oakland’s chances of hanging on to their beloved Raiders.
“There’s no way we can compete with Las Vegas with $750 million in public funds, “ said Chris Dobbins, the president of Save Oakland Sports, a local citizens group that has led a grassroots campaign to hold on to the Raiders. “But we do have the land, we do have the best infrastructure for this kind of site, and we have an NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, behind the group. So, I feel much more optimistic.”
The next step in the Raiders stadium saga will come next month in league meetings, where franchise owner Mark Davis is expected to formally apply for relocation to Las Vegas. The proposed stadium in Vegas is buoyed by $750 million in proposed public spending through a hotel tax – by far the largest proposed public spending ever for a sports venue.
Also, there is also uncertainty over the role of billionaire gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson, who had previously committed to spending $650 million for the new stadium. But negotiations between Adelson and owners Raider Mark Davis have hit an apparent snag.
The NFL position opposing gambling on its games is also seen as a barrier to relocating the Raiders to Las Vegas.
Twenty-four of the league’s 32 owners would have to approve a move, with specific language regarding the lack of a viable proposal in the team’s home city. NFL officials had expressed skepticism about the Lott group’s initial proposal. It remains unclear how much the revised plan will be received by the league.