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!!

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