Mayor Adams and Commissioner Leonard have been working on a proposal to bring Major League Soccer to Portland, by remodeling PGE Park again and building a new, smaller stadium for the Beavers AAA baseball team. That second stadium would be either where Memorial Coliseum stands, or in Lents Park. Both the Portland Timbers and the Beavers are owned by Merritt Paulson, who has been working with my colleagues and a citizens' Task Force to reach a tentative deal. Find all the Task Force information here.
The Task Force report recommends pursuing the two stadium deal, with conditions. It could be argued the conditions are not yet met in the proposals published so far. The Task Force does not recommend for the site of the second stadium, which is disappointing to me. It is a key decision that should be factored in to the overall approval or denial of the project. The Report also does not assess whether the proposed uses of resources and space will stimulate economic development, and if so, whether the proposed uses generate more economic development than other potential uses of the resources and space.
The preferred location of the soccer stadium is PGE Park, according to Mayor Adams. The City still owes $28.3 million from the last renovation there.
The proponents require creation of a new Urban Renewal District to borrow more money for the soccer improvements. I am very troubled that the proper process for discussing creation of a new urban renewal district has not been followed to date. The Portland Development Commission and the Planning Commission are supposed to hold public hearings to take testimony, before an urban renewal area is approved. There would be almost no point in holding public hearings on that issue, if the Council decides new borrowing is needed at Wednesday's hearing on soccer. Further, urban renewal districts divert money from the General Fund, schools, and County services. The Task Force conditions call for no impact on the General Fund or basic services, but the proposed mechanism to fund PGE Park improvements doesn't meet that standard. Urban renewal takes rising property tax revenue away from other funds.
I've received over 800 messages on this topic. I have read every one, and replied to as many as time allowed this weekend (that darned "spring forward" thing stole an hour, chiz chiz). Public opinion is running 2 to 1 against public funding for the stadium. I don't make decisions based on the numbers of the 350,000+ registered Portland voters who ask me to vote for or against, but I do read and consider the input. Thank you all for writing and calling my office.
Many of the messages in support are from people outside of Portland, from as far away as Britain, and a U.S. military captain in Europe. While some of the outsiders are not Portland taxpayers, their support gives credence to the assertion the stadium improvements will increase tourism. But then opponents have sent me links to research suggesting minimal improvement in visitors and local spending in relation to game days. For instance, a study in Baltimore showed that although one third of attendees at Orioles games come from outside the city, the net benefit to the local economy is only $3 million/year. Another study showed no significant change in local sales tax revenue during the baseball players' strike/lockout.
Here are some other interesting facts:
* The City is still paying off debt from improvements in the Rose Quarter. $23 million is owed, with the debt expected to retire in 2017.
* The City is still paying off debt from improvements to PGE Park. $28.3 million is owed, with the debt projected to be paid off in 2023. Note, some supporters have asserted that Merritt Paulson is currently paying down the PGE Park debt, but the Task Force report says on page 24 that the City and County are paying it. Mr. Paulson just pays the rent and ticket taxes as per the lease agreement.
* In the Rose Garden deal, the City put up $44 million, the Blazers and their owner, $230 millon. The City funded only 16% in that project.
* The current annual lease for PGE Park is $825,000. The lease for the new baseball stadium would be $666,000/year. The lease on PGE Park with soccer improvements is set at $1 million/year.
* The City currently pays $150,000 per year to Shortstop LLC (also owned by Merritt Paulson) to pass through to staff, to supplement the low wages paid to stadium workers.
* The median wage of the 200 full time workers (post construction) the project says will be created will be $32,000/year. The latest deal does not set wages or expectations for wages.
* The median wage of Major League Soccer players is $61,000. At least $5 million in bonds is supposed to be paid off with diverted state income taxes on players' salaries.
* Once operating, the City receives revenue from sports facilities from ticket sales tax (7% per ticket, up from the current 6%), and parking revenues (the City owns the parking garages at the Rose Quarter, and of course the meters near PGE Park).
To read a post on my old blog two years ago, establishing my soccer cred and raising an issue almost completely irrelevant to the current proposal, see Bend it like Beckham.
For my partial list of concerns on this project last week, see Fritz calls foul.
Since I published those questions last week, more deals were made - and I have identified more challenges, which I will raise at the hearing Wednesday 3/11/09.
I am holding true to my ongoing pledge that I do not make up my mind on issues before hearing the final proposals and all the public testimony.
It should be a very interesting hearing. Watch it live on Portland Community Media, cable Channel 30, if you can't come down to City Hall.