Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stadium Update and Timbers Thoughts

Reading Links:

The City is close to a deal to put the new Triple AAA Baseball Park in Lents Park.

The original article announcing the change in venue from Memorial Coliseum to Lents Park

Anna Griffin from the Oregonian asks should we care about the Beavers at all?

William Glasgow talks about MLS again and gets schooled in the comments

The Trail Blazers' plan to refurbish the Memorial Coliseum isn't without its own set of risks.

And apparently, the cost of upgrading the Memorial Coliseum is about as much or more than actually building a baseball park there.

So it would appear that things in the MLS to PDX and the Portland Beavers world have gotten a bit clearer, but things have really changed a lot since my last posting about it. To recap the high points, the Memorial Coliseum is safe from demolition for now as the baseball park is now being considered for Lents Park. The particulars couldn’t be worked out, as the Trail Blazers decided to support their Live Area concept of restaurants and shops around the Rose Garden, although it’s now been determined that the cost of saving the MC will be significantly more than the cost of putting the ball park there.

So why are we at this point? Well, apparently, the Trail Blazers and a small chorus of architectural professionals have convinced the city that the MC should be saved, because of its structure and significance to the area. Yet, in the 15 years since the Rose Garden was built, the Trail Blazers have effectively done nothing in the area around their arena, and the MC has fallen further into disrepair. It still serves a purpose as the home to the Winter Hawks hockey team and other assorted events, but the arena is slowly dying in front of our eyes. I place a lot of the blame squarely on the city and the Trail Blazers, as it was their responsibility to keep the arena updated. The Trail Blazers owed it to the city as part of their operating agreement to help keep the MC updated, yet it hasn’t made a dent in the overall condition. The city should have been more proactive in keeping the Trail Blazers at their word, but instead, they just let things sit where they currently are.

The city council had the right idea in bring the ballpark to the MC, where it would be centrally located, easily accessible to transit, and put near the center of the city. It would revitalize the area, giving baseball the attention it deserves while giving PGE Park new life as a soccer and football facility. But instead, the NIMBYs and naysayers clouded the facts of the deal, stating that this was a bad deal for the city and the MC deserves a better fate. And so now, we are looking at putting the ballpark in SE Portland.

While it’s not the center of the city, Lents Park wants the ballpark there and I think it will do quite well in the area, giving the neighborhood an anchor that it has been lacking for a while. It should attract development, it will bring people to watch games in an area that is deserving attention, and allow baseball to flourish. I’m based this simply on the enthusiasm for bringing baseball there, along with the attention that most teams get in a new stadium. Portland is a good baseball town, and we will support this team, despite the challenges. It doesn’t help when the Mariners have a hold on the area because of their aggressive marketing and television presence, as well as the fact that Triple AAA baseball, by nature, is hard to market at points because players come and go all the time. Unlike other sports, it’s hard to build the face of the franchise when the faces change all the time. But give the Beavers credit, they are getting more attention now than they have in a while. And unlike other versions of the Beavers, it's nice to put them in an area that really wants them there.

But the fact that this park should be in the Memorial Coliseum instead is a travesty, and the blame can be pointed in many different directions. The Trail Blazers don’t want direct competition on their doorstep unless they have control of the revenue streams, and I can see why they opposed the baseball deal. It’s too bad that they couldn’t see the benefit of revitalizing the area by bringing a baseball team that wouldn’t directly compete on most scheduling nights, and attract more people to the area for events. We aren’t a Live Concept kind of town, especially since we already have neighborhoods that have the same amenities that are being offered by this. But the Trail Blazers have had such a monopoly on the attention of sports fans here, they want to protect their position at all costs, never mind that having another top-level professional team would improve the overall sports profile of our area, and draw attention away from the team at key points. When the Trail Blazers were having all sorts of off the court issues, I bet they would have likely having some other sports around to distract attention. It's about establishing a sports profile for your town, and the Trail Blazers at this point prefer to have the spotlight all to themselves, whether it's best for the city or not.

I blame the city for not realizing or supporting the deal more than they should have. I get that you want to have a public process here, and it’s important to see all sides of things, but at the same point, the facts need to be made and presented. In looking at the costs of the Live Concept, the cost of it doesn’t compare to the cost of putting baseball there, yet that distinction was hardly made. I understand that some of our political figures have issues right now, but you have to stay with your convictions unless you are proved wrong, and none of the criticisms leveled by the opponents carried enough weight to cause this kind of reversal. Every point could be refuted, yet we still have plan B coming around because the voices kept saying this won't work. I have news for those that say keeping the MC is a good idea, it's coming down whether you like it or not. It's a matter of whether you want a developer to help with the costs and put forth a good idea for the space or the alternative of having it destroyed for some cookie cutter bars and restaurants.

I blame the sports fans who are pining for MLB and NFL or just hate soccer in general. I respect the desire to have those leagues come to town, but if you are struggling to commit $88 million in funds for MLS, how can you justify spending 10 to 12 times as much to bring MLB or NFL here. Recent stadiums for both leagues are costing around $700 million, and that doesn’t include the needs for corporate support or the need for ticket sales. We watch games quite a bit, but does that translate into success when it’s live? MLS is a great jumping point to establish Portland as a real sports town, and will cause MLB, NFL or other sports that want to come to town to look at us differently when it’s a success. And soccer is growing in popularity here and abroad, where it’s already a hugely popular sport and America in on the cusp of ingraining it into regular sports. But instead of realizing that other sports help bring attention to a profile and supporting them will make a market more attractive, it’s easier to belittle or hate on it. Mind you, I have a beef with some soccer fans that couldn’t care less about baseball and it’s future, because as long as the teams share a stadium, their futures are intertwined and will be until they both get taken care of. And our future with baseball is much better than if they leave, as it will give further credence to the non-sports fans of another team that got away for whatever reason.

I blame the media for not asking the right questions until now, and providing a thorough and well written analysis of the deal in detail. Instead, the facts came out very piece meal, and it distorted the picture at points. Mind you, the sound bites are catchy and easily digestible, but they don't provide an honest investigation unless necessary. I give the Oregonian some credit for trying to keep up, but they've done as much damage by printing stories from people that don't completely understand the facts of the situation, using tired and faulty arguments to make their point.

But finally, I blame the NIMBYs who use pithy quotes and misinformation to cause undecided people to make faulty decisions. I get that you might not like soccer or sports in general, but this plan won’t hurt the city or their providing services to those in need. While it’s important to take care of potholes and kids, it’s also important to give citizens things to do when they aren’t working, and sports does that. And cities want to own stadiums, not only to share in revenues but also to have some control over teams in case they want to leave for greener pastures. What makes sense is teams and cities working together to find a deal that works for everyone. And while this plan was on the table before, it’s now dead and so Portland moves forward with plan B.

I’m not worried about the long-term fortunes of either team, because I think for a fallback plan, this will work just fine. What I worry mostly about is the attitude that keeps Portland in a perpetual state of wanting to keep the status quo. We want to keep the town weird, but at the same point for many residents, it’s important to keep things as close to the way they are as possible, using the process to help. Let’s talk to whomever will listen, and try to use whatever tactics we can to make whatever point we can to gain traction against the plan. So many good ideas have come through town and left, yet all I seem to hear about at points is what is wrong with what has been done.

For a supposedly progressive city, we seem to lack in confidence to make tough choices, especially when the “I told you so” people pop up all the time. I get the Tram was a huge cost overrun, I get that we are in tough economic times right now, but at the same time, tough times demand tough choices and conviction, and right now, our city is struggling in that area. I feel that Sam Adams is still our best choice for Mayor, because he has shown the ability to make tough choices, even if he’s made a mistake or two in his life. And I think if he survives the recall, we’ll see more leadership in that area. Otherwise, I worry about the next few years in our city with the mass asylum running the show.

The Timbers played Cleveland last Saturday and drew nil to nil. For the non-soccer group, that is zero to zero. My plan really is to only do match reports on matches that I actually see in person, either on TV or on the computer, and I had a match of my own to play Saturday night. The Timbers are in action Thursday night versus Rochester, with a late 8 PM start due to the game being on Fox Soccer Channel. Hope to see you all there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for expressing such legitimate concerns about the process and outcome of this debate on our city's sports future.