Keep an eye on MLB CampaignPortland’s campaign to bring a Major League Baseball
team to the city could have an effect on PGE Park and the Timbers. What started as a personal crusade
by Craig Byrd and Lynn Lashbrook has turned into a full-scale political battle in Portland and Salem both in front of and behind the scenes.
The Oregon Baseball Campaign hired top Salem lobbyists including former house speaker Larry Campbell’s Victory Group, Dave Barrows, Alan Tressider and Marshall Coba. They set in motion a bill that would set aside $150 million in state lottery money to build a new stadium and found two lawmakers, Sen. Ryan Deckart, D-Beaverton and Rep. Bill Witt, R-Cedar Mill who agreed to carry the bill.. If that happens then the city’s investment in PGE Park and it’s future may be in question.
The battle over MLB goes back to the competition for control of the Civic Stadium. The Civic Stadium Group’s plan (supported by Bring Major League Baseball to Portland group) was to bring MLB sooner rather than later and had a plan to increase the seating to 42,000 (46,000 soccer) in 2 stages. PFE’s plan, the eventual winner, was for Triple A baseball, MLB a more distant prospect, less seating and concerts and other events.
Back in 1999 the view was that Portland should have had a MLB team and not another Minor league team. MLB supporters opposed Marshall Glickman’s plan and were convinced that MLB should come to a renovated PGE Park. Portland was in the running to be a potential relocation for the Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins or the Montreal Expos.
It was then that the Portland Baseball Group began it’s campaign. Back in October, Glickman and his partner, Mark Gardiner, PFE's chief financial officer, let Barrows know that they didn't approve of his plans and tried to derail the lobbying effort
before it got started. The stakes for Glickman and Gardiner are high. The key to PFE's financial success lies in the 36 corporate suites it is adding to PGE Park. Convincing corporate customers to pay up to $52,000 a year for five years' worth of minor-league baseball, soccer and PSU/high-school football is a hard sell made tougher by every mention of major-league baseball. Then just before Christmas Marshall Glickman met with the leaders of the MLB campaign to pursued them to withdraw their campaign.
The city also has a vested interest in PGE Park’s success. The City of Portland is contracted to invest $35 million in PGE Park but if MLB comes to Portland and a stadium is built in the suburbs then PFE profits, which would pay back the city, would fall and the city would be left with the debt payments.
PGE now seems to have changed tack, with lobbyists for PGE meeting with Deckart and Witt to ask them to amend the proposal to specify the new stadium be built in Portland. It appears that if MLB comes to Portland PFE want to be in control. Deckart and Witt say that Portland will be the “negotiating agent” if one-third of the money comes from private sources and the team payroll is in Oregon providing income taxes to pay back the state money. Mayor Vera Katz was meeting this week with city officials and city attorney Steve Janik to discuss the bill.
Earl Santee of HOK Sports Facilities has made an estimate of $300 million for a 42.000 seat open-air stadium ready for 2005. Local government would have to find $50 million. Santee has advised against a suburban stadium because of the need for good mass transit links and opportunities for activities before and after the game and concluded that 7 sites could work:
PGE Park, Rose Qt, next to Union Station, Portland Public Schools admin. HQ at 501 N Dixon, Main Post Office site at NW Hoyt, Central Eastside Ind. District, I-405 freeway cap at W Burnside.
Mark Gardiner, chief financial officer at PFE, said that it was unlikely to work at PGE since it can’t expand beyond 20,000 seats and also neighborhood groups would oppose expansion. PFE also isn’t interested in bringing MLB to Portland until the financial situation improves.
Meanwhile PFE has hired it’s own set of lobbyists led by Tom Gallagher whose clients include BP and Schnitzer Industries. In a series of amendments to the lottery bill the possibility of reimbursing the city of Portland for “the cost to demolish the PGE Park property and prepare the site for redevelopment” has been added if the new stadium causes the old one to fail financially.
According to Rep. Ben Westlund R-Bend co-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, if the bill gets past Ways and Means it will pass. His view is if the $150 million is seen as a grant rather than a loan to be repaid to the state, the bill will fail.