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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Grampy to baseball: Wonderful, thank you, now get lost

Yesterday's visit to Portland by the top brass of the Florida Marlins baseball team rekindled hopes among the city's baseball fanatics that some day a major league team will find its home in the Rose City. Team officials met with the governor and the mayor, and drove around looking at potential sites for a stadium. It's clear that Portland is on a short list of some sort with the team.

But although there were a lot of feel-good sentiments expressed, at the end of the day (literally) the mayor didn't just throw cold water on baseball's prospects here -- it was more like dropping an iceberg onto them. Here's what transpired, according to the O:

[D]uring a meeting with Mayor Tom Potter, the subject of public financing for a baseball stadium -- something Potter strongly opposes -- never came up. Potter reiterated after the meeting that "publicly financed baseball would not be coming to Portland on my watch."
* * * * *

Asked whether most Portlanders couldn't care less about a baseball team, Potter said: "That's my very strong sense."

Potter did not dismiss the idea of economic development that a stadium project might bring, although he said he had no specifics to go by in this case.

Today some of baseball's local backers responded. And although they're smiling through clenched teeth, they're obviously pretty steamed. In a press release (which I am reading second-hand from a trusted source), Drew Mihalic of the Oregon Sports Authority offered these thoughts:

I want to thank Mayor Potter for taking the time to meet, and I want to make clear that I have a great deal of personal and professional respect for him. In fact, as someone with children in Portland Public Schools, and as the leader of an organization that has twice saved PIL spring sports seasons, I share his position that education is an absolute priority for the City of Portland.

Yesterday served as a culmination of many years of hard work and dedication for a countless number of Oregonians who have spent considerable time, passion and energy on the quest to position Portland as a home for Major League Baseball. We were disappointed not to have the opportunity, prior to the Marlins visit, to present to the Mayor the reasons behind our passion for this quest. Hence, we were unable to provide him with a full explanation of how baseball in Portland can happen in a way that makes sense for our City.

While yesterday's visit was a total success in almost all aspects, the one unfortunate result is a headline distributed across the country that reads: "Mayor: Most Portlanders don't care about getting a team." While the Mayor spoke positively in general about the visit, when a reporter asked if he felt Portlanders couldn't care less about baseball, he stated that it is his "very strong sense." Again, we are disappointed not to have had the opportunity to present him with substantial evidence that convincingly demonstrates Portland's profound interest in Major League Baseball....

While the evidence clearly points to a significant level of support for baseball in Portland, we recognize that the Mayor is fully entitled to his opinion. However, if the people of Portland do not share that opinion, we hope they will communicate to the Mayor that they do in fact care about this remarkable opportunity -- in a polite and positive manner. We encourage people to do so at oregonstadiumcampaign.com.

We know that we must do a better job of communicating to the Mayor that the City can play an appropriate, yet critical role in the financing of a ballpark -- one that meets his stated concerns regarding the protection of Portland taxpayers. I truly, and strongly believe that if the Marlins situation develops as we envision, and the Mayor provides us with the opportunity to sit down and work through these issues in earnest, the end result can be an incredible accomplishment for him, for the City of Portland and for the entire state of Oregon. We sincerely hope that we are afforded that chance.

It doesn't take too much translation to grasp that there's a rift here that's going to be hard to heal. Not encouraging for baseball fans. Not at all.

Comments (33)

I could care less about MLB in PDX. That said, TommyBoy's performance with the Marlin visitors is a true embarrassment for our region. He's a pathetic boor....shoulda been left off the program. Let him wade around the Tryon weed patch....but puh-leeze!....keep him away from honest efforts to bring new life and economic development to Portland. He comes off as totally clueless...inept....repeat: an embarrassment. Lock him in his visioning cell and throw away the key.


MLB is just another scam to line the pockets of private investors with tax money. Additionally, once a huge investment has been made, the team is highly likely to extort other benefits at public cost.

With our civic infrastructure corroding at an unseemly rate, the last thing we need to do with any public money is support any athletic endeavor.

I think Tom did the right thing.


I am a sports fan and a rabid baseball nut, but I am not convinced MLB will bring me a more valuable sports experience than I get watching the Beavers given the extra ticket cost and concession sales. The question I ask is how long will it take for the Marlins to be a good team and is it worth the extra price to "catch" marque players visiting the home team.

That being said, I find Potter's representation of the city very poor and frankly, very elitiest. I get the impression that the Mayor is against MLB because it is too pedestrian for his crowd.

I also have the impression he has not thought through the issue on the level I expect from a mayor of a major city. Regardless of his personal opinion on the value of MLB, the mayor has an obligation to the city to keep an open mind and show some class when a major sports franchaise walks into town to discuss relocating.

On the point that a baseball stadium would be a drain on public resources, I disagree in the sense that the public utility of having a pro stadium would be sufficiently more than virtually every other public project in this city: more of a utility and cheaper than the rim shot, more functional than tax-free condos, have less of an impact on property tax roles than the bloated pension funds, et cetera. It isn't as though the stadium will only be used for MLB.

I've been a baseball fan for 45 years and would love to see a team in Portland. But that said, the city and state have no business financing a stadium.
Most independent studies (ones not financed by teams or by major league baseball) show that financial benefit of a city building a ballpark is negligible.
In San Francisco, voters turned down a number of stadium proposals before the owner actually paid for the stadium himself, showing that it can, indeed, be done.
If the Oregon Stadium Campaign is so fired up about bringing baseball to the area, why doesn't it dig up a prospective owner and some private funding for a stadium?

Spectator sports? Who needs 'em? Solid majorities say they don't care about any current local team, much less the Seattle pro clubs, high-school sports or possible new major sports attractions.

From the recent WW Week Portland survey.

Grampy knows how to count votes. Until the OSA et al can put up (the numbers), they should shut up. No one likes to hear a bunch of whining rich guys. It would seem that Alito should be occupying the PBG President's time these days, not the mayor. But then again, it's all about priorities, isn't it?

Presuming of course that an equal cross-section of the population in Portland reads the WW, not to mention has the inclination to respond to a survey.

Well, while we all might wish that Portland was a little less like the WW's prime demographic, the point is: they read, and they're the ones who vote.

The argument of the stadium backers is "but we've got tv ratings data!" Oooh, big whoop. In a project of this magnitude, in a town like Portland, you've got to have the stones to win an up or down referendum or get a majority of the mayor and commissioners. Attempting to prevail or generate momentum by anything less majoritarian is just wasting everyone's time, and dare I say: bush league.

And can we quit pretending that this is anything but a sandbox for the Big Kids? Specifically, those Big Kids with land interests near the eventual stadium site, PDC ties, or other connections? The position of the vast majority of people who would claim only a psychic benefit from baseball here controls whether or not the Big Kids get to play, not whether Portland becomes "major league". The latter depends on far more than just a baseball team, notably, economic substance beyond watching overpaid millionaires (both on and off the field, if you know what I mean).

If the Mayor's cold water wasn't enough, yesterday's weather surely would have sufficed. That aside, I really can't fault the mayor for opposition in principle to public financing of MLB. We don't need another public money pit, really, do we? And that being the case, what on earth is wrong with hizzoner's forthrightly saying so?

We don't need another public money pit, really, do we?

Like the Public Market?

One might think it crazy, but how I would respond to the Mayor's cold shoulder would be to publically admit that a referendum and/or support of a majority of the mayor or commissioners is going to be required to legitimize this thing, in the eyes of the community AND any MLB team.

Then, if I thought I was close to having enough support and could really sell it to get the last 5-10% or so to get to 50% plus 1, I would announce in the next week or so that Baseball-in-Portland was going balls to the wall and putting an initiative on the November 2006 ballot. Bring it on. I wouldn't be surprised to see a majority of leaders and interests eventually get behind it. Portlanders do want a bigger vision, seem confused on what the Mayor's is, and could perhaps be roped in by such a gutsy move.

If my internal polls (the real ones, not the ones where I asked "would you go to a game?") indicated that baseball truly had nowhere near that support, I would shut up and go home until '08 or 2010, when Portland will have grown a bit more.

That's three - I'm out.

Remember the Delta Dome - long live the Delta Dome!! (of course Portlanders want baseball...they just don't want to pay for it - 45 years running)

We don't need another public money pit, really, do we?

Like the Public Market?

C'mon, Jack. You know there's no place around here where we can find fancy cheese, Oregon wines, and local produce. Government has to step in here to provide this. (Sigh.)

Of course the last "Public Market" helped destroy the already existing food markets downtown. We sure hate to learn from history, don't we?

As much as I disagree with Potter on this issue. I really do think he reflects the mindset of Portland. He also ran his campaign stating "No Public Financing for MLB." So I'm not surprised this has happened.

That said, MLB doesn't have a lot of other great options. They are holding on to DC by a thread. Vegas has way more issues than anyone wants to admit. And San Antonio really hasn't put any type of plan together.

I tend to think the days of publicly funded stadiums are over. If an owner wants to put a team in Portland, he is going to have to shell out a lot of his own cash.

Give the financial uncertainties of this market -- at least as portrayed by the nattering nabobs of negativism on the issue -- I doubt that any ownership group will take any major risk on the real estate aspect. And the Paul Allen situation isn't helping, either.

How many stadiums/arenas does downtown Portland need anyway? Or would the one off Burnside get remodeled yet again?

The old one would continue to be used by the high schools and PSU for a few years, but the condo guys would eventually get their hands on that lot one way or the other.

Please help me understand the public financing part of the stadium plan. As I understand it the "public financing" will come from revenues which come with baseball such as the income tax on players salaries, ticket tax, "enhanced" parking fees and the like. Is the objection to fronting this money? Then let's get the team owner to commit to staying as long as it takes to get the stadium paid off.

Before the condo guys get Civic Stadium they're going to have to get it from The MAC which has first right of refusal if Civic shuts down sports.

Gramps, I voted for you ONLY because of your stand on MLB and I wish you'd reign in any/all of the other Money Pits. That's what you're there for.

Ah ... I mean "rein in".

Don't forget, we already had a full private funding option offered. True there was a significant catch, but seriously, do you doubt that there will be an off-reservation casino in Oregon soon anyway?

I'm as big a baseball fan as any, but for God's sake Portland, don't get caught up in this nonsense. Public stadiums NEVER pay for themselves and never come in on budget. Given that the past few stadiums built around the country cost over $500 million, I gotta guess that a new major league stadium in Portland would be nosing against the $1 billion mark when all is said and done. The famous tram project is just rounding error compared to the cost of a new stadium.

Personally having lived in both Portland and South Florida I can't imagine that Portland is actually a better baseball market. I would be shocked if this wasn't just all a big feint to get more money out of Dade or Broward counties for a new stadium in Florida.

I would be first in line to buy season tix if Portland got a baseball team...but taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for my love of baseball...just like I shouldn't have to pay for other tax payers love of the automobile and driving alone.

There's been a legitimate poll on Baseball?

Has there been any legitimate polls, or public votes, on the Tram, on the Convention Center Hotel, the new Light Rail lines, the Transit Mall, the Burnside Couplet, or the Tryon Creek farm?
Perhaps Mayor Potter will recommend more polling or voting?
He may even want to ask the PDC to produce those State law required yearly Urban Renewal impact reports they don't currently provide.

Anyone curious?

"'We don't need another public money pit, really, do we?'
Like the Public Market?"

Hey, if the city takes over PGE, the "tax" collections from ratepayers could pay for the stadium AND the cheese stall. Not to mention the tr . . . . never mind.

If the Marlins were looking pay their way and invest in Portland like any other corporation, then they would have no real reason to meet the mayor in the first place. And certainly wouldn't need to rely on him to characterize the public sentiment in Portland.

No, if they were looking at Portland as a potential market to invest their own money then they'd be doing their own market studies and talking with real estate interests not political interests.

But if course if the Marlins were simply interested in investing their own money rather than living off the public trough, they'd never in a million years be considering abandoning South Florida for Portland. The only reason they are even considering leaving is because Miami refuses to bribe them with enough public dollars to stay.

South Florida is the 6th largest metro area in the US at 5.07 million people if you include Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Portland comes in at #25 with 1.927 million.

Any baseball team that can't figure out how to make money in that market, especially with the obvious ties to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the rest of Latin America, has no business even calling itself a business.

No folks, don't be fooled. The Marlins have no real interest in actually moving to Portland. They just want you as leverage to pry more money out of Miami.

Look it. Obviously, the Marlins are just leveraging Portland to get more money from Miami. But so what.

The deal is, what if Miami balks and doesn't give the Marlins money. Then what. Wouldn't you want Portland to be in a position to accept the team?

Portland isn't competing against Miami. If Miami wants the team, they'll get it. Portland is competing with Vegas and San Antonio, and I think we can beat them.


You made my point for me.

But the fact of the matter is that Portland can't WIN this so-called competition.

If the competition is on the merits of the city as a Baseball and media market then South Florida wins hands down. It's not even close.

If the competition is which city can throw the most money at the millionare owners of a baseball team. Then of course the biggest loser in that competition will be the taxpayers of whatever city "wins". And for that matter, Vegas is probably much more likely to throw silly amounts of money at baseball anyway. That's how Vegas does things.

Personally I think San Antonio is much more interested in attracting the Saints. They already have a stadium (Alamo Dome) that can handle a NFL team until the city eventually gets around to building a palace to the Saints. And Texas is really more football country than baseball.

That said, any deal sweet enough to convince the Marlins to move to Portland is simply a deal that you aren't going to want.

Has anyone tried to actually go to a major league baseball game recently? I was in San Diego over the summer--where I grew up--and went to a game at the new Pet-Co park. Our "decent" seats cost something like $38 per ticket, and then we had to either pay $10 for parking or arrive at the light-rail station 2 hours early to make the trip. Hotdogs: $6. Beer: $8. True, nobody was holding a gun to my head, but when you go to a ballgame, you like to kick back with some food and drink. And this was just me and my wife--I'd hate to think of what it would be like with several kids. Time to take out a second mortgage, I guess. We've got too many genuine needs in Portland before we allocate money, time, and land to a playground for a bunch of millionaires.

A baseball team? What we need is decent passenger train service to Seattle. With that, we could give up MLB and our "international" airport too.

Thank you Frank for bringing up the "Yamhill Public Market" a truly forlorn urban development project. The Powers that be can't seem to learn from their mistakes.

p.S. I'm with Tom on this one!

I agree with Mayor Potter. NO public money for baseball.

Well, maybe public money for baseball. But only if the stadium has a strict season ticket holder policy-- only the following people will be eligible to attend games:

-any resident or property owner of any of the PDC's subsidized building projects.

-any OHSU employee, but only if their tram is extended to the new baseball stadium.

-any PDC employee with at least $1000 per month in steak and booze receipts, proof of PDC reimbursement required.

- any Portland City Council candidate who takes public money for their political campaign. (Exception will be made for any incumbent who proves to their Pa that even though they killed the momma bird, they took good care of the baby birds and let them go)

-all residents of Dignity Village and Tyron Creek farm.

The following persons will be ineligible for season tickets for Portland's baseball team:

-all PGE employees

-any Willamette Week writer who received a Pulitzer for killing the goose that laid the golden public trough egg.

-all voters who might vote against the proposed 1% city income tax (we know who you are and where you live).

-Everyone who owns a car.

-Everyone who doesn't own a car, but lusts in their heart for a Hummer)

-anyone who lives east of I-205. (after all, you can't give a season ticket to people who don't exist...)

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