Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Natives Are Still Restless

Recent posts and articles about MLS and the Triple AAA Stadium:

Peter Apanel comes up with another idea to help soccer here, by building a soccer specific stadium for the Timbers instead of redoing PGE Park. His base premise is using Montreal as the bench point, stating that the team spent $13 million dollars to build Saputo Stadium, so why couldn't something like that be done here. Mind you, he never mentions a specific site for this stadium, he fails to mention that the Impact received a generous donation of land from the government of Quebec to build the stadium, and that the current owner has been asking for at least $25 to $30 million more to invest in upgrading various parks of the park. I'll get that Lents may not be the best place for the ballpark, but following this idea doesn't pan out in terms of saving money. The comments on this article are truly hysterical, but I'll talk about that in a bit.

The Portland Mercury has posted a blog entry about an economic study done for the new Lents ballpark, showing that the ballpark would create 453 jobs but the net result would be lost jobs in the end. The hastily prepared study was done in one day, and the results held for almost two weeks before being reported, and most ballpark opponents have been having a field day with the results, but there are major flaws in the premise of the study. It only accounts for ballpark construction jobs, it doesn't take into account the jobs for the team, the possibility of other jobs put in the area because of the park, or the other economic streams that Lents suddenly gets by having a ballpark there. But hey, the opponents need to hang their hat on something, and this gives the situation some traction. Now, their archrivals in the alternative newspaper world, Willamette Week, run a bit more balanced take on things, not immediately calling the idea bad but providing some food for thought that maybe this isn't such a terrible idea.

But perhaps the most crazy take on things was done when Commissioner Randy Leonard appeared on the Bald Faced Truth on Tuesday and spoke with the guys about the park. The few calls that made the air were against soccer, which led John Strong and Dwight Jaynes to rip on the soccer haters because of the process here. Leonard is hopeful a resolution is coming, it's all dependant on what Commissioner Dan Saltzman is deciding to do, and right now, he's not talking to anyone about his thoughts. But suffice to say, the process is really about where it was a few months ago, full of posts and conjecture and nothing really resolved. But what this whole thing has gotten me thinking about is some observations about how things work for the city that works:

Observation 1 - We love our process, no matter how clunky it is or how many hurdles it has. We love our neighborhoods, we love our town, and we love to talk about ways to get things done. And when decisions need to be made, there's more talking and more discussion and more thoughts, and then we talk more. It's the Portland process, labeled to be progressive and inclusive, and I don't want to squash anyone's right to be part of the process and provide their voice. The problem is simply that the process needs to have an end resolution at some point, and too often, decisions made lead to more discussion and a vicious cycle of talking. What our city lacks right now is someone to actually make a decision, good or bad, and have the guts to stand up and say I'm doing this and here's why. Instead, the circular logic goes on and on, and we sit in this version of status quo.

Observation 2 - While we crave change, we secretly despise it and are resistant. If you look at Portland as a whole, on the surface it's a lot about new ideas, trying to think outside the normal, or as it's put here, "Keep Portland Weird" We want to be thought of as a cutting edge city, thinking above and beyond other areas, but yet, the way our city is set up, it's really easy to keep within your own comfort zone, thus resisting the changes that could really kick start an area. People in NW Portland rarely venture to the eastside, because they have everything they want in their neighborhood, so why do I care about what happens in Lents? Well, the fact is the city is one big collective, and what affects one of us, affects us all. And staying within our institutions and not thinking on a larger scale sometimes puts us in a small town way of thinking.

Observation 3 - The NFL, MLB and NHL aren't coming anytime soon. Get over it. Seriously, I'm tired of sports fans shitting on the soccer idea because it's not one of the major sports, and they proclaim why can't we finally think bigger. Do you even seriously think the NFL would come here, knowing the process that MLS has been put through trying to be secured here. Other cities are clamoring to get professional sports to come to town, and Portland is tripping all over itself trying to figure out where to put a minor league baseball park. So by all means, sports that will demand an investment 7 to 10 times as much as the proposed price tag for just a stadium and need huge corporate support will come here simply because we have passionate football fans? It's not going to happen, and the sad truth is that if this deal implodes, no other league will want to come here knowing how difficult a process it is to try and survive here unless you are the Trail Blazers. Just ask Angela Batinovich, the owner of the Portland Lumberjax, the most recent team that failed here.

Observation 4 - We run the risk of losing both our teams if we choose to do nothing. If we choose to keep the current Timbers and current Beavers in PGE Park and say we are happy with the status quo, we are taking a huge chance that the park will be empty in 2010. That's when the Beavers lease is up, and there are cities already watching this process to see what happens. If Portland can't make a go of it, there is at least 3 other cities that have been rumoured to make a play to move the Beavers there. It's already happened twice when the Beavers left town, so you can't say it would never happen. And honestly, if I was an owner and saw the process here and then saw a city falling over itself to bring baseball and it could be a smooth process, where am I going to choose. The Timbers, meanwhile, would be the only west coast USL Division 1 team on the west coast with Vancouver moving up, so you have a soccer team on an island. So you immediately increase travel costs, scheduling becomes more difficult, and if another city that was closer to where the USL is came calling, what would stop the Timbers from going there? I would hate that happening, but seriously, doing nothing means this is a very true possibility.

Observation 5 - The teams can't share the stadium, no matter how much you think they can. MLS wants their teams to control scheduling and revenue streams, and with PGE Park as it is now, the Timbers are second fiddle to baseball. Baseball also requires a specific footprint that doesn't mesh with soccer, so that's why you have the empty area behind the Timbers benches. PGE Park is a great multi purpose stadium, but not quite good enough for baseball itself or for soccer itself. It makes sense to pick one sport and go with it. And soccer could easily stay by adding seats along 18th Avenue, and we could even host football there easily. Seattle already has that arrangement with their MLS and NFL teams, but that is only because the park was built with both sports in mind and the guy that owns the stadium happens to be an owner of both teams. Ladies and gentlemen, Paul Allen.

Observation 6 - The Trail Blazers destroyed the Memorial Coliseum deal because they don't want competition. I can't confirm this completely, but I was in the room when J Isaac talked about the ballpark destroying income potential for the Trail Blazers, and that it would hurt the team in the long run. This despite the fact that up until then, most insiders felt the team was OK with triple AAA baseball coming in. The Rose Garden is dead most nights unless there is a show there or a Trail Blazers game, and the ballpark going for the Memorial Coliseum made sense because the MC has been under utilized and it's not been kept up. The Trail Blazers don't own the MC but run it and are in charge of the upkeep, but they've done about as little as they can just to keep it from falling down. And they want the land for their properties for bars, shops, and the like, and as long as the MC still stands and it's owned by the city, that will never happen. If the MC is still standing in 5 years, I'll be shocked, but for those that saved the building, it's coming down whether it's for a ballpark or the Trail Blazers ideas. And no, the MARC isn't the idea they are thinking of because there's not enough dollar signs behind it. The Trail Blazers want to keep their monopoly on the sports market, and so far, they're doing a really good job of it.

Observation 7 - The ballpark won't destroy Lents Park. It's not a jewel, but it is a good sized park in an area that has really not changed much over the years. And you have the footprint of an old baseball park that could be used for the new baseball park, and suddenly you have an anchor to the area that will draw people from outside the area to come and watch games. In the past 10 years, urban renewal monies for Lents have gone unused as they try to come up with ways to draw people to the area, and now there's an idea that could do that and suddenly it's a huge risk. I get that it's a huge investment for the area, but here's the point. What good is affordable housing and jobs if your residents have nothing to do when they aren't working? People expect a certain level of services from their town to give them things to do, and many people put sports on the same level as arts, movies, concerts, parks, and the like. I get that some of the park land will be used, but they are looking at replacement sites, and the traffic in the area is not nearly as bad as other areas of the town. It's all about planning, and then finding a plan and sticking with it. While I would have preferred the MC for the ballpark, Lents is a good fallback because it will give the Beavers a stadium that they can fill that isn't a cave, and it will give an anchor destination to an area that has been looking for.

Observation 8 - There is a market for soccer here. Just listen to stories of pubs around town showing the UEFA Cup championship earlier this week, or World Cup matches when that is going on in Pioneer Square. Yes, the Timbers are part of that, but follow the passion of the University of Portland and their fans, the Timbers, and the various clubs and national teams around town, and there are fans everywhere. Portland sports fans are unique in that they follow some of the more fringe sports, like track and field, cycling and soccer. I hate calling soccer fringe, as that is only the case here in the States, but having other sports fans refer to soccer as "boring" or "not cool" misses the point that it is a beautiful game to watch. It's not for everyone, but if you can appreciate the skill, passion, and strategy of what's going on, it's an amazingly fun game to watch. It can be very simple and so complex all at the same time, and if you bring MLS here, the fans will come.

Observation 9 - Public discourse isn't civil at all in a state that prides itself on being civil. Whether you can blame Fox News or the Internet, but simply put, there's a lot of haters on the whole MLS and Triple AAA idea simply because of who is proposing it. If it was Phil Knight, I don't expect we'd be dealing with nearly the backlash that we have here because of Merritt Paulson being involve. And people aren't very civil in their arguments either, latching onto any small nugget of information that can be distorted and then using it to post everywhere. And if you happen to wander into an article or discussion about the topic, it's usually the naysayers spouting anti-sports, anti-tax, why doesn't the rich guy pay for it himself versus the passionate sports fan who can't figure out why people are so against it. We don't have public discourse in this country anymore, it's who can come up with the cleverist line to prove a point.

Observation 10 - Cities and teams will work together to build stadiums. Cities want to own stadiums to help their tax base, earn some potential revenues and keep some control over teams leaving in the middle of the night. Some teams prefer to own their own park, but at the same time, if you have another group that is willing to own it and maintain it, why not? But as any tenant will do, teams demand things from the stadium owner, and it's usually a long discourse into getting sides to agree. But as Dwight Jaynes pointed out earlier this week, Memorial Coliseum was the last facility built here without public money, and that was over 40 years ago. You may not like the trend, but it's happening all over, and it's not going away.

I'm a sports guy, so this is simply my take and I'm entitled to it. And I've shared my thoughts on blogs around town, and the crowds are diametrically on the opposite ends of things. You have the naysayers talking about wasting tax money, the prosayers saying that events will come here. The arguments all really fall into one question in my mind - Are you satisfied with the city the way it is now or do you think it's time to invest in an idea that has the potential to help the city long term? It's that simple really, and you can phrase the arguments anyway you want, but it comes down to keeping things as they are, thus avoiding risk, or taking a chance on an idea that could bring revenues at a time where jobs are being lost and people are struggling to make ends meet. My answer is simply, passionately, unwaveringly, that it's time to think long term and invest in the future with MLS and the Beavers/Lents.

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