$1.2 million rent dispute erupts between A’s and Oakland Coliseum landlords

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$1.2 million rent dispute erupts between A’s and Oakland Coliseum landlords
Oakland A's players warm up before the Oakland Athletics played the Tampa Bay Rays at the Oakland Coliseum in the Wild Card playoff game in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, October 2, 2019.

The Oakland A’s baseball team and its landlord, the Coliseum Authority, are at odds over the team deferring its $1.2 million stadium rent payment that was due April 1 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a March 31 letter, A’s general counsel D’Lonra Ellis cited the stadium authority being “unable to make the Coliseum available for our use” in light of shelter-in-place orders and restrictions on large gatherings enacted by Alameda County and the state.

The A’s had also learned the Coliseum complex was being evaluated as a potential “surge site” for treating COVID-19 patients, the letter stated, and would defer the payment “until we have a better understanding of when the Coliseum will be available for our use.”

Coliseum Authority interim executive director Henry Gardner, though, said Tuesday the agency had “every expectation” the payment would be made on time and the sides are in talks.

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“The A’s never said they didn’t have the money, they’ve never represented that,” Gardner said. “The A’s position is what’s stated in that letter, and we have been having discussions about that because it’s a lease agreement — we need it, we expect it.”

Gardner said the lease agreement includes penalties and interest for late payment which could be negotiated but that “no payment is not going to work.”

“We’re not trying to be punitive about it,” Gardner said. “We’re just trying to close the gaps that we’re going to have to deal with.”

At a news briefing in late March, Gov. Gavin Newsom mentioned the Coliseum as one of several sports facilities in the state that could serve as “potential surge sites” to treat virus patients in a large-scale outbreak.

Gardner said health officials toured both the former Oracle Arena and the Coliseum. The arena met requirements for a possible site, Gardner said, but officials “indicated after further analysis 10 days later that the stadium was no longer considered.”

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In the March 31 letter, Ellis wrote the A’s had “recently learned” of the stadium being evaluated and would “support its use for that purpose if needed.” Ellis wrote of the deferral: “We trust that you understand and agree with our position in the interest of public health and safety.”

Coliseum Authority member Ignacio De La Fuente, however, dismissed the A’s stance Tuesday.

“They are using the excuse that the Coliseum was being looked at by the governor as a possible coronavirus patient site … but there was never anything official,” said De La Fuente, the former Oakland city councilman. “Now, they are saying that the Coliseum was not available. It’s bull.”

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De La Fuente said the A’s are “full of it” and “don’t want to pay $1.2 million.” He said: “We are going to demand payment.”

On Monday, Newsom announced major league sports could resume in California by early June if the state’s health metrics do not worsen. Events without fans and with “modifications” could “begin to move forward,” Newsom said.

Major League Baseball has been on a hiatus since mid-March, though owners and players have had discussions about the possibility of a shortened season starting in early July. The A’s are among teams that have said they will pay full-time employees through the end of May amid the shutdown.

Susan Slusser, Phil Matier and Matt Kawahara are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] Twitter: @susanslusser, @philmatier, @matthewkawahara