Monday, June 15, 2009

Stadium Updates - Apparently There's Another New (Old) Idea

So in vacationing in Bend and feverishly getting back to town in time for the TAFC match on Sunday night, I missed out on reading an editorial or two on the whole Lents stadium issue. One of the Oregonian editors, David Sarasohn, floats an idea that had been discussed earlier in the whole MLS - Triple AAA stadium issue, why can't the Timbers and Beavers share a park? Another colleague at the O, Arts critic Barry Johnson echoes the sentiment in his time, and at least considering the idea of a shared stadium.

The points against it were covered in the comments, but I'll try and summarize them. One, the MLS commissioner Don Garber has indicated that MLS wants to have their teams in stadiums where the MLS team controls the revenue and scheduling dates. For those MLS clubs that share stadiums currently with other sports, it's a temporary situation (Kansas City, where they are building a new stadium), or the team owner happens to be the owner of the stadium and the footprint makes sense (New York, Seattle, New England) for soccer and another sport. DC United did share a stadium with baseball for a while, but their old stadium, JFK Stadium, could be converted between the sports relatively easily. All other MLS teams have a stadium that they control scheduling and revenues, and you even have one stadium that has two tenants, Home Depot Center in Los Angeles (the Galaxy and Chivas USA). I don't think MLS is adverse to a team sharing a stadium temporarily, but at least permanently, they've been against it.

Baseball and soccer have different field needs, as baseball requires a more quarter circle, pie shaped design with cutouts or dirt around the bases, home plate and the pitchers mound. Soccer and football both share a rectangular field design, so it makes sense you could have teams share fields with that. Because PGE Park has a short left field area, it's not ideal for baseball, and trucking in temporary bleachers for a home stand could be significantly expensive, not to mention the time it takes to convert a stadium from baseball to soccer. Right now, home plate is left exposed for Timbers matches because it is too costly to cover it and it takes right now up to 24 hours to convert from sport to sport there. Add in bleacher movement, which would hurt the turf, and if you had international competitions you'd need grass, and the cost and time goes up a lot.

I get that PGE Park has been the home of Womens World Cup and held many fine baseball games there, but with the Womens World Cup, they didn't have baseball on the schedule to conflict, sod was laid down and could stay down for a while, and the park thrived. Soccer and baseball do well there now, but the problems are mounting. The Timbers are one of two West Coast teams in USL division 1, and if Vancouver leaves and MLS falls through, the Timbers would be the only USL D1 team on the West Coast with their closets rivals in Minneapolis or Austin, TX. The Beavers are fine in the PCL, but with their lease coming up in 2010, rumors exist of cities wanting to entertain the thought of moving the team there. Tucson lost their triple AAA team to Reno this past year, and it's not uncommon to see minor league teams move a lot. The current Beavers team is the fifth baseball team to play there in its history.

Getting separate stadiums would give another facility that could be used to host other events, such as international soccer events, baseball tournaments, and other gatherings. Right now, PGE Park is booked most of the time, but having a similar facility in the area could give other groups a reason to come to Portland for their event.

This whole issue in my mind is simply people in Portland wanting to do it their own way within the process we hold dear. We have a truly unique city with lots of charm and fun things to do, and it draws people from all over to move here. We're quirky, we love brew pubs, we have lots of different events and interests here, a sometimes thriving arts area, lots of clubs around, and plenty of public institutions and fun neighborhoods. We have a great place here and it attracts all sorts of transplants to move here, even if long time residents complain about the influx of new residents. When you do things right, it draws attention, so people come here because they want to, but as with any growth questions, you have to ask tough questions about controlling development and managing the future so the city isn't completely fucked. Seattle may be a fun and quirky place, but you have to drive everywhere to get anywhere, and the traffic restricts a lot of movement, and so we want to avoid such problems.

And so now, faced with a choice of wanting to make serious investments and suggestions for the future, we want to slow down the process because it might harm the charm of our area. I think it's wanting to rely on the charm of the past and the quirkiness of our area to make people realize what we have here, but whatever you do, spend the money on the visit and then leave please. If we want anything good to happen here, it's either that the idea was so obvious it was a no brainer decision or we rely on the effort and money of others to do it. We want an NBA class arena, just let Paul Allen build it because he will, never mind that he declared bankruptcy and put the team on the market as well.

The stadium plan has gone around and around, and right now, I'm wanting someone to step up and say this is the plan, and while we'll hear thoughts about the idea, this is our top project and we're going to make it happen. All the preponderance of talking is doing is pulling up ideas that have no merit or were originally shot down but people still cling to the thought it might work now. I expect leadership from the people in charge here, and so I'm imploring them to just step up and make the call. Do you want to be a top class city with the potential of bringing events to town or do you want to hope and rely on our charm to draw people to come here by itself. MLS isn't just a Portland issue, it's an Oregon issue, as evidenced by people in Bend shouting pro Timbers stuff at us all weekend, and people asking about the team living 3 hours away. Pro soccer has the chance to be big here, and we need people with power to realize it and make the long term plan happen, despite the noise from others who want to bring the past to the table because it makes sense in their mind. Let's stop the talking, and let's make this idea a reality.

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