Thursday, February 26, 2009

One Step Closer

Merritt Paulson: "We get the facility worked out, we're getting a team. You heard it here first".

And with those words, things to get MLS to Portland just became a lot closer, and less of a pipe dream. But really, to get where we are now, we need to review some events from the last few days.

Tuesday, February 24th - Today really had two major events happening that affected the MLS to Portland bid, a presentation in Salem to the state legislature to win support for the team and for asking for modifications to House Bill 2531. This was a bill passed back in 2003, when Portland was trying to lure the then Montreal Expos to come here by setting up bonds for the eventual building of an MLB stadium, with the revenues being paid back from team revenues and taxes on players salaries. The bill passed rather easily, but now with MLB coming here a long time away, Paulson would like to amend this bill to include possible help for refurbishing PGE Park by changing the bill to include MLS as a viable option. The language would need to be altered a bit, but essentially the bill would work the same. Granted, MLS salaries aren't nearly in the millions of dollars you find in MLB, but between that and team revenues, this could provide a small chunk of money to help. A few members of the Timbers Army also went along to provide support for the presentation, to give a fan's perspective. While the Senate President is behind the bill, I expect that they'll be some discussion and it will pass barely. A lot of the discussion around this is based on talk you hear in Portland, basically why do this now when things are struggling, but as with the city bond proposal, this is simply bonds issued by the state paid back by a dedicated fund that doesn't affect state services.

That theme also played out later that night at Portland City Council, where the Stadium Task force continued their meeting, and then had a public forum for comments. Paulson was there, along with other Timbers officials, as well as a rather large contingent of Timbers Army. The meeting itself was from 4 to 5:30, and then public comments started at 6 pm for 90 minutes. 26 people spoke to the positive of bringing MLS here, only 5 wanted to talk on the negative side. But apparently, the positives spoke and spoke well. The Timbers Army had once again mobilized its forces to appear there, and many of them spoke about the team's benefits to the area, benefits to youth soccer, how popular soccer is here, the stadium deal and its benefits, the influence soccer has in the area, and many other personal stories about the Timbers. My friend Obi captured many of the stories, and it is truly some amazing stuff. I couldn't attend the festivities because it was bowling finals for my team, and I was where I was needed, even though my spirits was with my fellow TA downtown. And most of the comments were what was expected. Granted, I understand the concerns of veterans who don't want to see Memorial Coliseum razed, but I believe a very nice memorial can be made if that is the chosen site for the baseball stadium.

But while I couldn't be at the hearing, I was able to contribute some help to the cause on the Oregon Live site, after Paulson had posted a guest opinion supporting the MLS bid. It was a well written piece that said many of the things about the bid that we all knew, and the commentors wasted no time in trying to tear it apart with the same arguments. I tried to defend the positions by simply putting things back on them, stating this wouldn't affect general services, this is a win for the city by bringing jobs here, and it would bring another major league sport here which is a win for us, but some people continued to dig their heels in. And honestly, you can't expect everyone to turn on a dime with this. While I appreciate their eagerness to protect the city and they are at least asking questions, the fact that many of them didn't participate in the public comments was distressing. I know that week nights are tough for some people, so my hope is that they emailed at least. I don't necessarily care that they don't like the idea, but I want the comments to be heard, just the same because that's the process. The fact that most of the arguments could be easily refuted, though, told me that there wasn't a lot of research done.

And one of the most major arguments against the proposal came courtesy a while back from Jules Boykoff, a writer who had done pieces about the failure of stadiums to influence urban areas. Surprisingly enough, Mr. Boykoff did a piece on the same day, but this time, providing some support to the MLS idea. The fact that he came around was surprising, but even he admitted there were some potential benefits here, as long as the terms of the deal didn't hurt the city. And when Merritt Paulson guaranteed the bonds as part of his comments on Tuesday (well, actually his family did), that took one big hurdle out of the equation. Basically, they are guaranteeing repayment of the bonds, regardless of team performance. This means the city isn't on the hook, although the actual terms need to be figured out. But the fact that Paulson is willing to put his name on the line is a big deal.

Thursday, February 26th - The Oregonian Editorial Board provides support to the MLS deal, provided the terms meet up to the right standards and questions can be answered. I get the fact that the newspaper is cautious in their support, but the fact that they can understand this idea has validity means something. And the fact that the board is normally conservative with support and they are still behind this is a great thing, because I don't find them normally convinced of most ideas unless the risk is so minimal, it's painfully obvious to do what they recommend.

What we didn't expect was another editorial by Adam Sanchez, who asked the simple question of why should we bail out Merritt Paulson? I suppose if you had no idea about MLS or PGE Park, this might be a valid question, but in checking on the background of the author, he's a very politically active person in the socialist circles, he's been arrested in a peace march, and is a graduate of Lewis and Clark, and wants to write the next great book about Portland and its socialist leanings. I learned all this by watching the Soccer City USA board light up with comments after his column was published, and there was plenty to find out about his background and activities. Mr. Sanchez raised a few questions that really could again be easily refuted, as basically Paulson can't buy PGE Park and refurbish it himself because the city doesn't want to sell it and even if they did, the MAC Club has first refusal rights. Even if we wanted to use stadium revenues to fund schools, the city rules state that the earnings of PGE Park go into a stadium fund for use there. Even if Paulson could pay for everything, the city would get nothing out of the deal, so why not involve them in a partnership.

The rallying cries for refuting this article came from all over, and later in the day on 95.5 The Game, the TA's own Finnegan appeared on Strong at Night to go over many of the thoughts about how MLS is good in his own way. Some of the callers into the show didn't share the enthusiasm of Finn, including one person who thought that soccer was gay so why spend money supporting a gay sport for gays. I'm personally ashamed that an intelligent person would make such a crass remark, but then again, I don't think this person is that smart if they think this. It's not that I think everyone should like soccer, but there's no need to despair it so. Merritt also appeared later and had some very key announcements:

  • 95.5 The Game will now be broadcasting the Portland Timbers away games for this season, using John Strong and Andy McNamara as on air talent. It's been two season since we had radio coverage at all, and so being able to listen to games from the road is a great move.
  • Taka Suzuki will be back.
  • We have more talent coming in. David Hayes was signed today, and there is an experienced goal keeper and midfielder with MLS experience coming. Speculation thinks the keeper is Steve Cronin, but Merritt wouldn't say.
And then, during his comments, Merritt said the phrase that started this. For those of us that have been trying to get MLS here and show the soccer world what Portland is about, this was a truly amazing development, and one that I'm excited for. But, there's more work to be done to make this happen.

There is a rally on Saturday in downtown, and the information is posted below. I invite you to drop by and lend support, whether you are a soccer fan or someone that just loves the city and wants to see it do well. Or, if you simply want to learn more about MLS to Portland, you can drop by and talk to people. The dream is as close as it's ever been, but there's still more to be done. I'll have my perspective from the rally and pictures later this weekend.

WHAT: A fan march and rally to show our community support to bring an MLS team to Portland!
WHEN:Saturday, Feb. 28
  • 1:30 p.m.: Meet at the Salmon Street Fountain
  • 2:00 p.m.: March to City Hall
  • 2:30 p.m.: Rally in front of City Hall (4th Ave. Entrance)
WHERE:Salmon Street Fountain: The Salmon Street Springs Fountain is located at Salmon Street and Front Ave. in Waterfront Park, near the Portland Visitor's Center.City Hall: 1221 SW 4th Avenue

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