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February 07, 2005
Wolff could make S.J. pitch
MOVING TEAM NO SURE THING FOR PROSPECTIVE A'S OWNER
By Barry Witt
Boosters of efforts to bring the A's to San Jose believe Wolff would help the city's chances of getting the team, but Wolff would face the same resistance to such a move as the current owners do from the Giants, who say they will never give up their territorial rights to Santa Clara County.
Wolff said last week that he would know by March whether he would buy the A's. He has had an option to buy into the team since 2003, when he was brought in by owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann to attempt to strike a deal for a new stadium. If he buys the A's, Wolff will have a team whose stadium lease in Oakland has an inexpensive buyout clause. The A's are also coveted by a number of cities.
``It's possible he could take the team somewhere else,'' acknowledged Dave Cortese, a San Jose city councilman and a leader of the effort to bring baseball to the city.
Like Schott, Wolff has longstanding business ties to the South Bay. But unlike the current A's owner -- who lives in Los Altos Hills and whose entire career as a home builder has been spent in the Bay Area -- Wolff is a developer with hotel interests stretching from the Caribbean to Australia.
``Lew Wolff does know the geography down here, just like Steve Schott,'' said Mike Fox Jr., chairman of Baseball San Jose, a group promoting the city's interest in getting a team. ``I think Lew knows the politics of the city better than Steve. He's more of a deal-maker. He wants to make a deal happen.''
Wolff has been developing properties in San Jose since the late 1960s, when he began working with the city's redevelopment agency to build office projects along Almaden Boulevard. He is a partner in downtown's Fairmont and Hilton hotels, both of which were built with redevelopment agency subsidies, and he announced plans in 1999 to build a Courtyard by Marriott on West Santa Clara Street. That plan remains on hold.
Giants talks died
Wolff's advocacy of major league sports for San Jose stretches at least back to 1985, when he and his San Jose business partner, J. Philip DiNapoli, led an effort to bring the Giants to the city. With the encouragement of then-Mayor Tom McEnery and Tony Ridder, then publisher of the Mercury News and now chief executive of Knight Ridder, the newspaper's parent company, Wolff and DiNapoli proposed building a stadium for the National League club. Those talks died after Dianne Feinstein, then the mayor of San Francisco, threatened to sue San Jose for interfering with the Giants' lease at Candlestick Park.
Wolff later bought interests in the St. Louis Blues and the Warriors, and in 1994 he attempted to take control of the NBA team and move it to San Jose Arena. That effort failed when Chris Cohan, also a part-owner of the Warriors, sued his partners to gain control of the team.
Wolff was not involved with the A's formally until 2003. But in 1998, as Schott talked about the need to escape the Coliseum, Wolff told the San Francisco Chronicle that the A's should focus on San Jose.
``It's the difference between a big-league city and a non-big-league city,'' he said. ``I wouldn't spend five minutes on any other city besides San Jose.''
Keeping A's put
Since joining the A's, Wolff has said his focus has been on trying to build in Oakland. Last summer, he told Oakland officials the best location would be in the Coliseum's north parking lot and said the A's would be willing to put $100 million toward what was expected to be a $400 million project. Talks since have progressed slowly, with Oakland and Alameda County officials showing little interest in spending more public money on sports teams while paying $20 million a year in debt service associated with the Raiders' relocation in 1995.
San Jose, meanwhile, moved last month toward preserving what many baseball boosters consider the best potential stadium site, the former Del Monte cannery on Auzerais Avenue. Three city officials -- Joe Guerra, a top aide to Gonzales; redevelopment boss Harry Mavrogenes; and Paul Krutko, the city's economic development director -- held their first formal talks with housing developer KB Homes on Monday to discuss the site. KB holds an option to buy the cannery property and has applied to build a 385-home development there.
Posted by Coalition Webbies at February 7, 2005 10:57 PM