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Saturday, April 3, 2004

Take me out to the bankruptcy

The Portland minor league baseball team has been taken over by its league as part of a last-minute reshuffling in preparation for its 2004 season at PGE Park. As taxpayers of Portland know only too well, city government sank tens of millions into renovating the stadium, borrowing the money and signing an operating contract with the team's owners that was supposed to pay off the bonds.

But it hasn't. The renovation was much too expensive (luxury boxes for minor league ball?), and public interest in the team is nowhere near what it will take to service the debt. (The rest of the same bond issue threw many more tens of millions at doubling the size of the largely empty Convention Center.)

Mayor Katz, who along with Commissioner Erik Sten and Katz's then-economic development aide Sam Adams engineered the renovation financing (in secret negotiations with the baseball operators), had this to say yesterday about the latest development:

I am obviously very pleased that the Pacific Coast League, TIAA-CREF [the bondholders] and Portland Family Entertainment [previous owners of the team] have all reached agreements in principle to transfer ownership of the Portland Beavers AAA baseball team and the Portland Timbers soccer team to the PCL for the 2004 season.

Much hard work has gone into these negotiations, but there is still more work to do.

This is one of the pet code phrases that the mayor utters when she votes for something. "There is still more work to do." The problem is, most of the time no one can figure out what she means. And if it's a threat of some sort to the party who's negotiating with her, that party inevitably calls her bluff, and she folds.

Over the next several days, the City and the PCL will be finalizing the terms of an operating agreement for the use PGE Park by the two teams.
"Finalizing"? As in, good for at least the next six months?

It is essential that this agreement be reached next week in order for the City Council to have time to approve such an agreement prior to the Beavers' scheduled opening day game on April 16.

The City looks forward to that agreement being finalized and signed by the parties involved. After that, the City will begin work with the PCL on a longer-term arrangement for the use of PGE Park by the Beavers and Timbers.

So much for "finality."

All minor league baseball fans in Portland should be very encouraged by the PCL's commitment to maintain AAA baseball in Portland.
Yes, all 672 of them are ecstatic.
This speaks very well of our community's support for professional baseball and soccer.
Earth to Vera! Earth to Vera!

Comments (16)

Well I am certainly torn- I can't say that Vera's regime did a very good job with this whole debacle, but hell selfishly I couldn't imagine a summer without my Timbers.

Ole Ole ole.....oh heck. City in the hole again.

Beavers attendance averaged almost 6,100 per game, right at the league average. The PCL is the largest, best attended minor league in the country and is seeing strong attendance overall. They sell an awful lot of beer on Thursdays, and if you sit in the nonalcohol section it is practically free to go and take your kids (2 bucks a head if I recall right).

I've been to two other AAA parks; Richmond and Louisville. Both are flagship teams for the Braves and Cards respectively. Both had "luxury boxes." If there had been none put in, PFE would be even deeper in the hole to the city, trust me.

And league ownership is frankly a next-best-case scenario. The league will make the payments, at least, and run the team, until such time as private ownership can be found.

The team is as well supported by Portlanders as most in a solidly financed minor league. If you're going to accept that sports of SOME kind are a good thing for a city, it doesn't get much more cost efficient than AAA baseball, in terms of talent, number of events, and event cost. When you and your kid can walk in the door and see good pro baseball for 5 bucks total, that's benign family entertainment available to pretty much everyone. I want more of that in Portland, not less.

When you and your kid can walk in the door and see good pro baseball for 5 bucks total, that's benign family entertainment available to pretty much everyone.

In a city that can't afford adequate police training, a decent mental health system, or arts in the schools, I'm not sure that's where I want to go. Plus, what about people who don't like baseball? Where do they go for tax-subsidized cheap entertainment?

The Chinese Gardens, Hoyt Arboretum, skate parks (if they'd get on the stick and use the parks levy to build them), the Portland Timbers if you like soccer, OMSI, CM2...there's a spectrum of stuff, and pro baseball is as valid as any of it. Like I said, if 400,000 people went through the turnstiles in 2003, that's reflective of a bit more popularity than your tongue in cheek estimate of 672.

I certainly agree that the contract has been mismanaged, and the contractor performed poorly. Some of the bailout will come from the City to be sure, but TIAA-CREF will bankroll some of it too, I expect. But let's not confuse bad management with bad policy.

There is much to be paid for, absolutely. Some areas are definitely underfunded. But there's no reason the arrangement to use PGE shouldn't be an overall cost-neutral enterprise. It should pay for itself, and the fact that it's not, is not the fault of insufficient interest.

Why can't I have both a decent sports venue/teams and arts in schools, for example?

Sure, the current execution of PGE Park leaves something to be desired - but the original impetus and structuring of the deal may have made sense, if implemented by people who actually knew what they were doing. In other words, it might not have cost us as much (or anything) if done right. (see below for whether or not I think it's been done right...)

There's a lot to be said for the incremental value you get from having sports teams in town when you're trying to recruit companies to do business in Oregon, or potential employees to move here. Do they also want arts in schools, for example? Yes - but I'd argue that they want both.

And as much as I'd like to lay the 'no arts in schools' rap squarely on the city's doorstep, I just can't do it. From what I understand (as a relative newcomer to the state after seven years), the damage was done at the state level, or by PPS school administration - and not the city of Portland.

Having said that - PGE Park's current implementation sucks (and I say that as someone who was a 1/2 season ticket holder for the Timbers two years ago & has also attended Beavers games.)

Messing up scheduled payments so badly that Tri-Met ride packages got yanked? Trying to spin the fact that it wasn't that much of an incentive to fans to take mass transit & they wouldn't mind parking near PGE Park instead? Pricing Timbers tickets (including general admission seats) higher than Beavers tickets?

The new regime has a lot to do to get fans back, in my opinion. Here's hoping they can pull it off...

This got me thinking in a slightly tangential direction, so I took my thoughts back over to my own blog.

Here's the result, if you're interested: What do we expect from our cities?

amen, Besty--nice job.

An open-air baseball stadium in the City of Rain? That's genius. Really, it is. Many comedians find it difficult to create material this ridiculous. To the park's charm, add the hard-to-drive to, almost impossible-to-find-parking aspect - and you have a stadium that isn't ready for prime-time. Adding luxury viewing areas isn't going to change the fact that this outdoor arena is difficult to get to and park at. It's location can't support the great numbers of eager fans it needs to survive as a high-budget enterprise.

Betsy - I read your comments at your place and as for the PPS problems - you hit the nail on the head. The USA is at the top of education spending worldwide, but is towards the lower-end of the ranking for money-that-reaches-the-teachers (no link). Where is the money going? Administration. Cut the administration and the schools have more money.

It barely rains here during baseball season, Scott.

And who cares if it's hard to drive to? Smart people use public trans to get there.

When I lived in PDX it rained often enough during baseball season for cancelled games to be an issue.

Public transportation? Perhaps hardcore fans will. Folks who are curious won't - lack of parking is a barrier to a large segment of potential fans.

And during the off-season - what events can the open-air stadium host for the very few (aka 'smart') folks willing to take public transportation?

Don't get me wrong, the Stadium is nice and has a place in PDX.

But funding it up the wazzoo isn't a good idea right now. Considering that the Rose Quarter can't pay the bills properly (even while funded by Mr. Allen) gives the truly smart people in PDX a reason to decline throwing good money after bad under the name of Civic Stadium.

It's a beautiful park, it really is. Every time I look at it, I'm glad it's there even though it could have become many other, cheaper, better used facilities.

The Skatepark under the Burnside Bridge is beautiful, too, if you're into that sport. It cost nothing, in fact didn't even have the City's blessings or permits, but has put Portland on the map more than PGE park ever will.

What does that tell you?

I can't buy the parking argument as a barrier--they still drew 400K fans to home dates, right at league average in 2003.

Scott - I totally disagree about Tri-Met transportation as an incentive for the 'curious' fan.

It's part of what got me in the door the first time, after I received 'free' tickets - I wouldn't have gone otherwise, as I'd been scared off by the stories of parking problems. And it's a big part of what kept me going back that first year - yes, even with small children in tow.

Given the crowds on MAX and the hordes of people exiting at PGE Park, I know I wasn't alone - and they were not all die-hard fans, by a long shot.

To draw a "league average" attendance in a metro area with a population of 1 million-plus isn't very impressive when the rest of the league is in places like Moose Hat and Butte.

Moose Hat and Butte? Portland is in one of the largest PCL markets, but over half the league is in metro areas with 1+ million people.

Tacoma (Seattle--Tacoma--Bremerton, WA CMSA) 3,554,760
Portland (Portland--Salem, OR--WA CMSA) 2,265,223
Sacramento (Sacramento--Yolo, CA CMSA) 1,796,857
Las Vegas (Las Vegas, NV--AZ MSA) 1,563,282
New Orleans (New Orleans, LA MSA) 1,337,726
Salt Lake City (Salt Lake City--Ogden, UT MSA) 1,333,914
Nashville (Nashville, TN MSA) 1,231,311
Memphis (Memphis, TN--AR--MS MSA) 1,135,614
Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, OK MSA) 1,083,346
Fresno (Fresno, CA MSA) 922,516
Tucson (Tucson, AZ MSA) 843,746
Omaha (Omaha, NE--IA MSA) 716,998
Albuquerque (Albuquerque, NM MSA) 712,738
Colorado Springs (Colorado Springs, CO MSA) 516,929
Iowa (Des Moines, IA MSA) 456,022

Edmonton is in Canada- no U.S. Census data there.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Take me out to the bankruptcy:

» What do we expect from our cities? from My Whim Is Law
A recent comment thread on Jack Bog's rant about PGE Park & our city's failing priorities - Take Me Out To The Bankruptcy - has me thinking. Jack said (in a response to a comment from Torrid Joe): When you... [Read More]


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