It took a while, but yesterday the Portland city council approved a $31 million plan to renovate PGE Park to be soccer-only, clearing the way for the Portland Timbers to start play there as an MLS club in 2011. Most of the money will be provided by taxpayers, though partly via a convoluted “prepaid rent” scheme that makes it hard to understand exactly who’s paying for what.
Meanwhile, the Portland Beavers minor-league baseball team — owned, like the Timbers, by Merritt Paulson, son of former Bush treasury secretary Henry — will be without a home after the 2010 season. Paulson had previously threatened that this would be a deal-breaker for any renovation plan, but who really takes sports team owner threats seriously, anyway?
Merritt “My Dad Gave Away Your Dad’s Tax Money” Paulson still doesn’t have a new home for his Portland Beavers minor-league baseball team, but that isn’t stopping him from moving ahead with plans to renovate PGE Park as soccer-only. Paulson’s Timbers soccer franchise released new renderings this week of how the renovated stadium will look, after a $31 million makeover being paid for by, well, The Oregonian didn’t mention it this time, but psst, mostly the taxpayers.
The most interesting bit here may be that they plan to begin construction in January, pause for the baseball season, then finish up next winter. Which certainly leads one to believe that at least some of the renovations could take place while still accommodating baseball. Also, apparently Paulson was definitely lying when he told the Beaverton city council that “if I don’t get a baseball deal done, I’m not going to finalize the deal with Portland” — unless he really thinks he’s going to finalize a deal with the other Vancouver before the construction crews are set to arrive next month.
This just in: Portland Beavers owner Merritt “Son of TARPman” Paulson has pulled out of his proposed deal with Beaverton for a minor-league baseball stadium. His explanation: There isn’t enough time to get a stadium built there by 2011.
As explanations go, this is pretty unexplanatory: That would have been a tight timetable to get a Beaverton stadium done in any case, and it’s not like any other cities are further ahead with their stadium plans. More likely: All the Beaverton city council members hating on the plan, combined with behind-the-scenes talks with other cities, caused Paulson to figure he’d be better off putting his money on another horse, whatever that may be.
Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard told the Portland Business Journal that the news doesn’t threaten Portland’s agreement to renovate PGE Park to be soccer-only for Paulson’s Timbers. Which is exactly the opposite of what Paulson said two weeks ago, but then this is a guy whose lines in the sand change every other week.
Don Bauder of the San Diego Reader is one of the best writers on stadium issues in the nation, and this week he takes on the Portland Beavers stadium proposal in Beaverton, Oregon. (The Beavers are a San Diego Padres farm club.) He notes that in addition to the $35 million in stadium construction that Beaverton taxpayers would be on the hook for, the city would have to provide parking spaces for fans:
[Councilmember Betty Bode] figures that 1500 spaces would cost around $37.5 million. In claiming the tax bite will be small, proponents are using “phony figures,” says Bode.
Rob Drake, who was Beaverton mayor for four terms (1993-2008), says that even if the number of spaces is cut to 750, parking would still come to $20 million.
Drake also wonders what would happen to Beaverton if nearby Portland got a major-league team before the stadium was paid off. Sports economist Roger Noll, meanwhile, rips apart our old friend Economic Research Associates’ economic impact report, and says of the Beaverton project: “It’s a terrible return — obviously not worth it.”
The Portland Beavers and the city of Beaverton announced a tentative stadium agreement this week, and Beavers owner decided to mark the occasion the old-fashioned way — with a threat. “If I don’t get a baseball deal done, I’m not going to finalize the deal with Portland,” Paulson told the Beaverton city council Tuesday night. “So MLS will not come to Portland unless I do a deal for a new baseball park.” Which is a change from what he said four months ago, but new times demand new threats.
As for the mystery of how a Beaverton ballpark, that seems to have been resolved. According to The Oregonian:
In Beaverton, Paulson would pay $9 million upfront and make annual rent and ticket-tax payments for 25 years, beginning at more than $870,000. The city would sell revenue bonds to cover $50 million, to be repaid through higher property and utility taxes.
Taxpayers would be on the hook for about 60 percent of total project costs.
That’s a bit oblique, but what it seems to be saying is that: For a $59 million stadium, Paulson would kick in $9 million in cash and pay off about $15 million in bonds; the other $35 million would come out of taxpayers’ pockets.
A citizens’ group calling itself Let Our Voters Vote has launched a petition drive to force a public referendum on the stadium project. Mayor Denny Doyle has already countered by arguing that the monthly cost of a stadium would be less than half the price of a movie ticket; it’s got to be only a matter of time before somebody translates that into pennies.
The nonprofit Oregon Sports Authority has officially launched a campaign to build the Portland Beavers a new stadium in Beaverton — a decision that surely has nothing to do with Beavers owner Merritt Paulson’s presence on the OSA board of directors. Only one problem: No one knows how it would be paid for. Oh, and Paulson says the proposed site might be big enough. And local landowners are threatening “war” if the city tries to take their property for use for a stadium. So, okay, three problems.
Minor-league baseball is normally outside the scope of this site, but I just can’t pass up a Beaverton Beavers story. Especially since it’s really part of the Portland Timbers story. And the mayor of Beaverton is named Denny Doyle — though sadly, not that one.
So anyway: Mayor Doyle now says he hopes to have an MOU for a new Triple-A stadium by the end of August, and a financing plan in September. He doesn’t know how much it would cost or who would pay for it, though he does helpfully note, “We would go out and put together a package that both sides would contribute.”
Doyle also ruled out using property taxes or urban renewal money to pay for a stadium, which, in the words of Oregonian reporter Brad Schmidt, “would leave city-issued bonds.” Of course, bonds don’t actually pay for anything — they’re just a means of financing, meaning this makes as much sense as saying Beaverton plans to pay for a stadium “by putting it on its credit card.” But presumably Schmidt was just repeating what Doyle told him, and that’s journalism, right?
The Portland Beavers are considering moving to Beaverton.
Do you really need to know more than that? If so, you’ll have to wait a bit in any case: The Oregonian notes that the suburban city has “no list of locations, no project team, no financing plan — or even the discussion about whether to invest public money.” Just the potential of an awesome name.
Running down your own stadium in the cause of getting a new one has a long, inglorious history, but Portland Beavers and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson still deserves some sort of award for telling Willamette Week that PGE Park is a “crap stadium,” just in time for his team to host the AAA All-Star Game there last night. That’s the All-Star Game, WWeek notes, that Paulson announced he’d landed two years ago with the statement that “we are thrilled at the opportunity to showcase Portland and our wonderful ballpark.” But that’s when he was more interested in selling tickets than stadium financing packages.
Those protestors in Lents have to be thinking, “That was easy”: Portland Beavers owner Merritt Paulson withdrew his plan for a minor-league baseball stadium today, saying he wanted to instead focus on finalizing plans for a soccer stadium for his expansion Timbers team. As for the Beavers, he said he’s committed to keeping them “in Portland or the Portland area.”
It may or may not have been intentional, but Paulson has now pulled off a series of switches even slicker than his dad managed last fall. Let’s recap:
- Two years after buying the Beavers and minor-league Timbers franchises, Paulson wangles an invitation to move up to Major League Soccer in 2011, provided he has a soccer-only stadium.
- Paulson presents Portland with a no-lose proposition: He’ll build a new stadium for the Beavers, and renovate their current home park to be soccer-only. And all he’ll need is $30 million or so in tax money.
- Everyone freaks out about where to put the baseball stadium. Paulson freaks out about the freaking out.
- Mayor Sam Adams says, “We don’t need to worry about baseball to get soccer done.”
- Paulson: “What is this ‘baseball’ of which you speak?”
While nobody knows what the soccer stadium deal will look like now — it was only presented previously as a package deal — Paulson is potentially sitting pretty, as the city has already identified a whole pile of different public revenue streams, any of which could cover the soccer costs if the baseball stadium is scrapped. Meanwhile, Paulson now gets to play “Who Wants To Build Me a Baseball Stadium?” with the Portland suburbs — both Hillsboro and Vancouver, Washington have been mentioned as possibilities — and at worst, he’s traded in two minor-league teams for one big-league one and a AAA baseball franchise that he can move or sell or whatever, which is a good swap however you want to count it. “Hey, how about you build me a new soccer stadium and make my baseball team a free agent?” isn’t a deal he likely could have gotten if he’d proposed it back in March, but what’s important is how you get there, or something.