Friday, April 24, 2009

Just When You Got Used to the Plan, We Go Back to the Drawing Board

Just when you thought the plan made sense, the whole thing implodes on itself and it's back to the drawing board. The news hit from City Hall late Wednesday night that the scheduled vote on the current plan for MLS and triple AAA baseball. The original idea was building a baseball park in Lents Park with PGE Park being dedicated to soccer for about $85 million, but since that point, the plan morphed into building the baseball park at the Rose Quarter along with an entertainment district that the Trail Blazers wanted while destroying the Memorial Coliseum and refurbishing PGE Park for amounts anyway between $100 and $250 million.

The problem with the plan stemmed with the money amounts, a supposed compressed time frame, and a sudden interest from citizens and architects wanting to save Memorial Coliseum. As I mentioned in my last post, I have a history with the Memorial Coliseum, but see the need to either refurbish the arena or replace it with a new ballpark. The building is a neglected gem, and needs to be honored as part of Portland's history, but honestly, at what point do we decide that keeping history isn't worth the cost anymore? For some of the sports fans here, the time has come and gone, but apparently, there are many who disagree and made their voices heard. This caused City Hall to look at a possible delay in the vote until later this summer, and also go back to the beginning and reconsider Lents for the baseball park.

Even Merritt Paulson, the owner of both the Portland Timbers and Beavers, saw the writing on the wall and decided that he would support a delay, because of the time and money involved. He didn't want the city to feel that the decision was rushed despite the fact that it's been over 10 years of planning to find a new purpose of the Memorial Coliseum, and this is about the 8th or 9th idea about the future of the building. And yet, somehow, the building survives and it still has events booked there, despite the crumbling insides. While the building outside is very distinctive and it looks very nice from the exterior, the inside is falling apart and needs help.

As far as the idea is concerned, I never had an issue with Lents being the baseball park location, because the land was available, the neighborhood was looking for things to draw people in and didn't object to the idea, and it was a fairly centralized location on the east side that you could get to by freeway or by MAX coming up very soon with the Green line. It's an idea that makes sense, and while the Rose Quarter offered a chance to update the Coliseum and update the moribund atmosphere around the Rose Garden, the simple fact was the added moving parts added to the price tag and drew increased scrutiny from the NIMBYs in the area.

And let's face it, there's plenty of them about, the ones that couldn't see a reason to spend any money on anything considered superfluous when there are potholes in the road, schools closing down, unemployment on the rise, and businesses struggling with the bottom line. Why spend money on sports when there are these other things that seem more important? Well, honestly, it comes down to contributing to the way of life in an area, and for a lot of people, sports is put in the same frame as arts, culture, and other lifestyle things. Mind you, there's things about sports that average fans find annoying, such as the money being made or the aloofness of some stars in sports, but the sense of pride that engulfs a city during the season when there is success is simply amazing. Blazer Mania rules the town, and it's important to remember those things when sports comes to town. But for many, it's a simple bottom line and sports isn't even on the radar of important needs.

Many NIMBYs just don't bother getting involved, but many of them are organized and part of the neighborhoods, and so they will rally the troops for or against an idea, depending. NIMBYs also take the facts supporting their arguments and then hammer the news sites with their message. And when you are dealing with a political culture that is fragmented in beliefs and approach to the point that some avoid being involved at any costs, and you can see why some voices appear stronger in the whole dialogue. Nothing like some single issue politics to spice things up.

What many of them don't understand is the long term benefits of what MLS will bring to town, what a new baseball stadium will bring, and what the vision is behind this plan. It's the ultimate public - private mix of investment, and will bring so much to town, and all we need is for people to understand the dream. Even John Strong put in some thoughts about the deal in his show Thursday night, along with interviews with Merritt and Tony McManus from the Timbers. I understand a few things about the process very well after the past few weeks:
  • Some people will hate this deal simply because of Merritt Paulson's name. They won't bother to understand the facts, they simply will hate it to hate it.
  • Some people will hate it because they don't like sports and don't see the point.
  • Both of the above groups will pull out every cliched argument against the plan, from not thinking of the children to why pay for soccer when we have potholes that aren't fixed to if this is such a good idea why doesn't the owner pay for it.
  • People could and will attempt to refute the statements above, when then turns on a fascinating phenomenon where people must get the last word, which is a favorite technique of Fox News. It doesn't matter if you are right, but simply get in the last word by taking one piece of information and distort it just enough to cause a minor sensation, and then make that the last word. Our country hates public discourse, which is sad, because many good ideas come from thoughtful, intelligent debate. The problem is that our country doesn't have the time, energy or patience to debate, so it becomes who can yell the loudest or who said something that agrees with me, and I declare them the winner.
  • The Trail Blazers may be winner on the court, but their front office is still up to their old tricks. They don't want the Coliseum to be around anymore, but want the city or someone else to be the bad guy in tearing it down so they can put in their idea.
The plan will fall into place, and we'll have MLS here, because the votes are there for now and the interest is still strong. And we'll keep you updated as much as I can, but now I'm off to bed because I have a long drive to Canada tomorrow. The Timbers open their season in Vancouver against the WhiteCaps, and we are going to win. I'll have a report sometime next week!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Rules of An Institution

I remember the days of growing up in Boise, Idaho, a sleepy hamlet in the southern part of the Treasury Valley. It was a big city, or at least what I thought was a big city for the time, because we had just topped 100,000 people when I was in the 7th grade. Mind you, this was from a town that at that point had no mall, no professional sports teams, and was trying to find an identity outside of being the capital of a state that most people didn't know a whole lot about. I remember spending a bit of time at the A and W Root Beer restaurant on the corner of Fairview and Curtis, because the food was pretty good, they still had the carhops that would deliver the food to your car, and the floats gave you the bestest sugar buzz until I discovered Pixie Stixs. The place was always busy, because while the food wasn't anything special, it was the place to hang out and be seen, or at least get your snack buzz on. I remember a lot of good times, eating in the car with my family, and I wished the times would never end. As I've traveled back there from time to time, I see the old corner that now has a mini mart or something, and it makes me sad to see an institution of my youth tossed aside like that, but I also realize that times have changed.

It's something that we in Portland are facing with the eminent closure of GI Joe's, a popular sporting goods chain in the area, and the potential loss of the Memorial Coliseum for a proposed baseball park. I've lived in Portland long enough to have eaten at Rose's in Beaverton and Quality Pie when they were still open, I've had sundaes at Farrell's, and saw shows at the old Pine Street Theatre before it faded into the sunset, I used to eat burgers at the Red Coach, skated in Pioneer Square the winter they put a rink in downtown, and saw Ramblin' Rod during many Twilight Parades. I may not have grown up here, but I understand Portland institutions quite a bit, and realize that GI Joe's and the Memorial Coliseum are two of our most long standing ones.

I remember a trip that my family and I made to Long Beach, Washington when I was 13, and we rented an RV and drove from Idaho to the coast. I remember being told that Portland was a huge place, so be quiet while we drove through it. It's funny to look back at the same roads we drove on that time, and realize that while Portland is a really big city, it's also pretty well signed and it's really difficult to get lost in most parts of it. During our stay in Portland, we spent quite a bit of time out in Beaverton at the mall, and that was my first encounter with GI Joe's. I'd never seen anything like it, a mish mash of sporting goods, camping, hunting, surplus gear, electronics, automotive stuff, and other things in one place. And it was packed with people, buying various things. I'd seen sporting goods stores in Idaho, but nothing like this, and I realized that this place seemed pretty special and different. I saw clerks taking care of people, answering questions, a ton of Trail Blazers gear, not realizing that I was in a Portland institution.

When I moved here in 1989 after college, one of the first places I stopped at was the GI Joe's in Beaverton to get some supplies and check on concert tickets. It was still bustling, and it didn't seem like much had changed. Over the years, I bought various things there, but I also began to notice in the late 90's that the store was changing. I saw less and less of people interacting with clerks in the rows, asking about hiking trails or the fishing gear to use, and the stock in the place was different, with more high end equipment and less of the things I remember, like surplus stuff, boats and such. The few times I did check there for automotive things, they never seemed to have anything in stock, and it often seemed like a ghost town in shopping there. I even felt a bit of sadness when GI Joe's just became Joe's because the new owners felt that the name would be more welcoming.

What they failed to realize is that the first rule of institutions is change might be necessary, but don't stray too much from what brings people here in the first place. Joe's put a lot more effort into higher end sporting goods, clothing, camping equipment, and spent less time and energy on the things that brought in clientele in the first place. I heard less and less people talk about going to Joe's unless there was a sale, or something that they knew would be in stock there. By reaching out and trying to capture another market, Joe's abandoned part of the loyal customers that visited often, and people stopped visiting. I also encountered employees that knew less about the things they were selling that I did, which meant getting any type of advice from them was useless. If you want to buy outdoor things, you want to speak to people that know their stuff. While I'm sad to see the institution go away, I'm surprised it had lasted as long as it did with the new changes. I realize retail is a fickle business, but the one thing about Portland is they are loyal to places, and if you keep giving them what they want, they will go there always.

The Memorial Coliseum, however, is part of the second rule of institutions, and that rule is that sometimes you have to realize when it's time for an institution to fade away. Loyalty will get you so far, but it's important to keep up with the times without altering your core. The MC was the site of my very first Trail Blazers game in 1989 versus Denver, and I went to 3 Winterhawks games that year, and found the MC to be small, intimate, and cozy. The place rocked when the crowd was into the game, and it was awesome to see the banners of the past glory of the teams. Since then, I've attended various games there, a few concerts, and even spent two summers rollerblading on the concourse, so I feel I know the building rather well, and it seems like that in the past 20 years, they've not done much to the MC at all.

The interior roof and acoustic tiles look water damaged, the seats in some sections feel worn out or appear broken, the concourses are hard to move around in with a full house, and some of the nooks and crannies show off old plumbing and bathrooms that need some serious TLC. It became more apparent that the building was getting old when the Rose Garden opened in 1995, and had the serious bells and whistles of modern arenas, with great sight lines, big scoreboards, and concessions everywhere. It was no comparison in the experience, and after a while, I stopped going to the MC because it just wasn't a fun place to watch games. They've recently updated the scoreboard within the past year, but the arena seems old and tired. Especially if you find the veterans memorial, which is needed some love. Granted, the memorial hasn't been updated since the 60's, so while the veterans have remembrance there, it's only the old war Veterans that get recognition.

One of the ideas for getting a baseball park for the Portland Beavers so that PGE Park can be fitted for soccer is to tear down the MC and build a park there, with an improved memorial and other things. It's been 15 years since the Rose Garden was built, and even after it was finished, there were talks to change the MC into retail space, a community center, a park, a refurbished arena, yet to this day, none of that has been ever completed, and the arena is now falling into further disrepair. But since the idea has been floated to tear it down, people in the are have been clamoring to try and save the old relic, saying it's a historic place and should be preserved.

I am angry at the city for not doing more to keep the building up over the years, because it could be in very good shape with some regular maintenance and upkeep, but instead, the RG got a lot of the attention and the MC became the forgotten arena. It still serves many events, and I would hate to see it go away because it's actually an interesting looking building. But I have to ask myself: am I wanting to keep it because of the memories only, or is there a purpose that this building still fulfills? And honestly, the Rose Garden is a much better arena in so many ways, and can fill most of those purposes rather well. Knowing that the city is paying $500,000 each year to keep this building running at a very minimal level, it makes me realize that as a city, we could be investing those funds into something that helps the city more, which is bringing baseball to the Rose Quarter, and filling more dates and events in a season when basketball and hockey aren't around.

Seriously, the Rose Quarter is a ghost town when the Blazers aren't playing or there is a major concert about. The area was touted as an entertainment mecca when it was first built, but it's failed to live up to those dreams simply because there is little to do outside of go to the RG when you are there. Putting baseball in with other shops and arenas would make the area a destination point, which is what you want to build to attract people to come, and not just sports fans. As much as I like the MC, I don't want its continued existence to be the reason why the Beavers are still playing in PGE Park in 5 years, and MLS decides to go elsewhere because we can't get our stadium needs figured out.

I've posted links below to various articles about the topic: - An opinion piece about PGE. - Discussion about URDs and a plan that will help stadium financing. - Calls to keep the MC as is. - Accelerated time frame squashes debate? - The MLS soccer coverage home on the Oregonian. They've done some decent pieces in there, but the slant of most of the articles lately have been taking bits of information and distorting them a bit to give the anti-soccer crowd something to use against proponents of the plan. I get that a lot of media now doesn't spend time showing both sides of a story, they print what will antagonize or irritate readers into buying papers and continuing to read, so why not put stories out about a plan to build a stadium that will bankrupt the city, which is full of potholes, teachers that are getting laid off, and social issues piling up all over. Honestly, I realize the city has challenges going on, and I don't want to make light of anything they are facing, but seriously, the benefits here outweigh the risks, and doing this could likely help the struggling tax base and job front.

But what both stories have shown me is that people are passionate about institutions, and they are a tough thing to let go of, even if it's the right thing to do. They invoke memories, feelings, and make people feel comfortable, and that's a good thing to have those thoughts because it means you've invested something in being there and spending time and money at a certain place. But sometimes we need to remember that new things aren't necessarily bad, and you can form new memories quite easily. It's just tough to say goodbye to something that means that much, but sometimes that's the only choice.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Playing a Little Catchup

It's been a bit, so I'm providing a condensed recap of my last few events, and a few thoughts about topics about town:

Anniversary Trip - The trip was truly amazing, and I'm glad that girl and I were able to get out of town and see the sights on the Oregon Coast. I love vacation time, but being able to spend quality time together without interruption was just great. We did have a nice house rental, we had nice amenities with a TV and killer view, and there was no Internet available, so we couldn't even work or check email if we even wanted to, so it was a matter of really relaxing and just doing whatever. Which it was we needed, because our schedule is pretty packed otherwise, with sporting events, social obligations, me playing soccer again, plus the things around the house to deal with. But it was nice to get out of town, enjoy a sunny weekend on the coast as it was 75 and sunny Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and we took advantage. We wandered into Rockaway Beach for a day taking in the sights, we went to Lincoln City to shop a bit and visit the casino and while we were there, we found anniversary pie to eat, and we drank a lot of really good wine. Ok, six bottles worth, but it wasn't all at the same time. There was a lot of cooking as well, as I got to barbecue on a charcoal grill, while girl made a very good sirloin dinner on our last night there. I am so happy to have her in my life, and it was great to be able to celebrate it. I really didn't want to come back, but at the same time, income is needed to pay for trips. If you want to see pictures, click on this link and you'll see our fun time.

Portland Timbers - We are just 12 days away from the start of the 2009 season, and I can safely say that it's going to take a while to get to know this bunch, as the roster is almost a complete turnover from last year. In some respects, that isn't a bad thing as the Timbers were the last place team from 2008 after being in second place the previous year with essentially a similar roster in place. While last year's team had some decent defense at times, we lacked stability in the keeper spot, as we played 4 different players there, and our offense up front wasn't very creative unless Bryan Jordan was back with us on loan from the Galaxy. We don't have the luxury of relying on him this year, as he's finally stuck on the team there. But at least from what I've seen in two exhibition games here in town during the first part of the season, we already have a different mentality.

The offense is willing to take more chances, with Antou Jallow and Manjou Keita providing some speed up top, and new additions Johan Claesson and Alex Nimo providing some speed and energy in the middle. And our keeper situation is solidified with having Steve Cronin and Brian Visser with us all year, and not on loan. It was tough to get any sort of solid attack and defense when you didn't know who was playing in the pipes. And I like Stephen Keel and Takuro Nishimura in defense, as they showed a lot of smarts and energy in the two games I saw. At least from what I've seen, we have a lot more energy on the pitch, and we tried a few things with passes and plays that we wouldn't have even tried last year, and while some of them didn't work, it was nice to see them trying something new besides trying to get the ball in the box and then trying to draw a penalty. It will also be good to watch the new Under 23 team that is starting this year, which will give us a chance to develop some younger talent, with the intent of moving them up to the first team or possibly the MLS team in 2011. We've not done much with player development, so it's nice to see the team finally looking at creating a foundation with guys that have a shot of doing something special. I'll be up in Vancouver, BC for our opener, and I can't wait for the 2009 season to get going.

Portland Trail Blazers - The playoff drought is over, and we are finally living up to some of the potential that everyone has been expecting. We could finish anywhere from 3rd seed to 5th seed, but for us to advance far, we need to secure the home court advantage in as many matchups as we can. Simply put, we have a dominant advantage playing games in the Rose Garden, and we can't count on that being there for any road games, especially in places like Houston, Dallas and Denver, places that we tend not to play very well at. I'm actually glad that Utah isn't a possible opponent, because of all of the places that we struggle with, Utah is like a Bermuda Triangle of offense for us, as we just don't play well there. I think it might be different in the playoffs, but I don't want to chance it. It's just nice not having to plan a lottery draft party this year to celebrate another top pick in the draft to add to our collection of young talent. It's great to have a collection of players that have skills, but it's better when those guys start to put it together and show their talent and start winning.

This team isn't just Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge either, as each member of the team brings a specific skill that fits the overall puzzle. Nicolas Batum plays great defense and shoots from the outside well, Steve Blake runs the offense with precision, Joel Pryzbilla and Greg Oden provide blocked shots, toughness and rebounds, Travis Outlaw provides the offense off the bench, Rudy Fernandez provides more offense and long range shooting, while Sergio Rodriguez understands his role in running the team, making others better while on the floor. Even guys that don't play much like Channing Frye understand their role, and do what they can when they get their minutes. It's a great collection of talent, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do in the playoffs.

And as far as opening round matchups, I think we would do very well in a matchup with New Orleans or San Antonio, as we play great defense versus the Bugs, and San Antonio is reeling with major injuries around their roster. Houston just drives us nuts, and I'm hoping that if we have to face them, it's later than sooner. Even the Lakers don't provide as much of a challenge, because they just can't win up in Portland regardless of what they do, even if their top guys are on target.

MLS to PDX update - The plan for the baseball stadium is starting to take a bit more shape, and it looks like the Rose Quarter is the final destination. While some might not like the idea, I think it's great to consolidate these stadiums in a destination area with other shops and restaurants that will attract people to the area. It's not just firming up the actual numbers for the financing, and that magic number is $15 million dollars. There's lots of other news floating about with different figures, but essentially, with the removal of the urban renewal district around PGE Park, this amount needs to be secured before the deal can be finalized. The next few weeks, the city council will be firming up their commitment to the plan, and then coming up with final renderings of the stadium and more firm financial numbers.

This plan makes sense for the city, as we get two great stadiums that will help solidify our position as a major sports player, and we'll get the attention of the soccer world in 2011 going up to MLS. I do love a lot of the "Internet whack a moles" who quote a lot of their fears or issues with this plan, which falls into the "we need to think of the potholes or kids" or "why not when we're in crisis" thing. And there's just as much deception with some specific members of the media, like Beth Slovik from Willamette Week and Matt Davis from the Mercury, who think that good reporting is done with minimal facts and maximum conjecture. I don't mind people being against the plan as long as their reasons are valid or at least well thought out, because I realize that not everyone is going to be a fan of this. But at least be factual in your presentation, which is seeming to be hit and miss with some media.

Ok, that's it for now, talk to you all this weekend!!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's Been A Year Already

I'm officially 3 days away from my first anniversary, and I've spent a bit of time the last few weeks thinking back to what I was doing last year when I wasn't obsessed with dealing with some of my own interpersonal crap. The problem with baggage sometimes is that in trying to move it about, it becomes cumbersome and lord help you unpacking it. You might be able to find a place for it, but most of the time, the baggage is just unnecessary clutter, even if you aren't 100 percent aware of it. Well, I can say that now, but part of my struggle has been trying to find that happy place. And for me, it was relating to many of the events from last year's wedding.

I know girl and I didn't want to have a extremely religious ceremony, nor did we want to have it in a church. We both knew that we were marrying the person that completes us best, and there were no commitment issues, but at the same point, we wanted to share our love and good fortune with many people that had been along for the ride. My family, albeit small, was represented rather well with my dad, aunt and uncle, while Girl's family, as big as it is, was there as well. We also had dozens of my friends from all over that dropped in, from my bank days to days in Spokane and Boise, and plenty of our Timbers Army counterparts there. There were some notable no-shows, but at the same time, I understand that some things come up and what mattered was that people were there to support us, either in person or in spirit.

But the days leading up to the ceremony were crazy, with all of the last minute details, phone calls, planning sessions, picking up people, running errands, and just putting together all of the stuff needed to pull this off. We had a great bunch of friends step up and provide us a lot of help, with putting decorations together, taking pictures, cleaning up, and generally being great people. But hey, my friends are amazing, so I wouldn't have expected anything less.

And as far as being married, it's been the most amazing roller coaster ride. I've never been so happy at times, it makes my face hurt. I've never been so challenged to the point that I wanted to break down. I've never cried so much about things, or have loved someone as much as I do girl. The amount of work it takes to get two people to suddenly become a single working unit while maintaining a level of independence is quite simply daunting, and I am amazed at the people that can stay married for 30, 40, even 50 years and still love each other as much now as they did back on their wedding day. I love girl as much now as I did then, as we've gone through the challenges, triumphs, and pure mayhem that comes from being married. I've never been pushed so much in doing anything in my life, but then again, I've never wanted anything so much in my life, either.

So for us, we are heading out for a quiet weekend on the Oregon Coast, and we'll be back next week, and things will return to normal, or as close to normal as it can get for a married couple, living with their mother in law and 7 crazy cats. To those that have provided kind words, support, a shoulder to cry on, a beer to drink down or anything in support of our first year, I say thank you for being there when we needed it. It's been a crazy ride, but one that I believe has more fun, more twists and turns, and more happiness on the way.

POST SCRIPTS - You can't be serious. Apparently the town up north wants to corner the market on sports colors that make the eyes hurt and the sensibilities quiver. Couldn't happen to a better place, really.

The Trail Blazers have a magic number of 2 to qualify for this year's playoffs, ending their streak of 6 years without post season play. And I was beginning to like going to draft parties and talk about the possibilities. Seriously, it's about time for this team, and while we may not win a title this year, we have the foundation for something truly wonderful. And we are going to look good doing it, even if the uniforms are slightly changing. They've grown on me a bit, although at first glance, I have to say they weren't my favorite.

Save the Made in Oregon sign. As much as I like the Ducks, they don't need to mess with a Portland landmark, simply because they are renting the building that the sign is on. Icons are meant to be preserved.