When it comes to telling stories that are too good to be true, you can't beat the crew pushing Portland's impending stadiums scam. For those not familiar with this one, let's recap to set the scene. It's a Sunday doubleheader of government waste. We're going to spend $100 million or so of public money to build not one but two new stadiums for minor league sports: a brand new stadium for minor league baseball (a chronically underperforming institution that we already have), and a radical reconfiguration of PGE Park for a slightly higher version than we currently have of U.S. professional soccer, which calls itself "major league" but by any realistic international standard is a cut above bush.
This while we all teeter on the edge of a depression, mind you.
The first whopper that the proponents of the stadiums deal tried to sell the city's taxpayers, last summer, was that the bonds that paid for the most recent re-do of the old Civic Stadium (in 2001) were almost paid off. That was a well documented lie, for which neither an explanation nor an apology has ever been offered.
Now that at least one member of the somewhat demoralized City Council has signaled that he is coming to his senses about the ludicrously bad timing of this boondoggle, another tall tale is apparently needed to save the day. And in the Trib yesterday, we got it, all right, with Commissioner Randy "Pele" Leonard doing the damage:
Leonard assures that city or state tax monies wouldn’t be used for the stadium construction projects, despite what opponents have continued to suggest.
O.k., let's see, Pinocchio. Little Lord Paulson and his unnamed partners are offering no private money for the construction -- none. So that means all the construction funds will be public funds. Maybe I am missing something, but aren't most public funds ultimately tax revenues? Certainly there isn't going to be enough rent from these facilities to pay down high eight figures of debt at the interest rates they're charging these days
. The debt service would be many millions of dollars a year -- not to mention the $27 million we're still in the hole for for the last go-'round at Civic Stadium.
If there aren't going to be any city or state "tax monies" involved, then besides rent, that leaves handouts from the feds, the county, or Metro. We haven't heard a peep from any of them about volunteering to pay the $85 million (the liars' budget estimate) for these two pork projects, have we? And if they're not going to be paying, then who is?
I guess if the city borrows all the money from Paulson's uncles at Merrill Linchpin and pays it back later, that's not "city tax monies" in Randyspeak. Perhaps the good fireman would like to clarify his remarks by presenting some serious financial projections, or otherwise leave the future fibs to Paulson and his hired p.r. guy, Don "the Don" Mazziotti.
Meanwhile, it's pretty clear what the game plan is here. The city will slap together some sort of half-baked "commitment" in the next few weeks -- enough to get the bush league soccer commissioner in New York to turn off the car wash machine for a half hour and declare with great fanfare sometime this spring that yes! Yes! You lucky devils in Portland, Are-a-gone, you! You! Are going to get! A "major league" soccer franchise! Just like in Harrison, New Jersey! There'll be some big rally or other in downtown Portland -- maybe the Pink Martini guy will sing a song, the mayor will French kiss the team mascot -- and from that point on The Franchise will be held up as some priceless asset that we just can't afford to let go of.
Shortly thereafter, some architect desperate for work will produce a few drawings of the new stadiums, both of which will be pronounced super duper triple-LEED sustainable, with bioswales, windmills, and a methane recycling system for the chili dog stand. At which point Portland Monthly will interrupt its repetitive listings of the top 100 plastic surgeons in Portland long enough to endorse the deal, and Randy Gragg of Spaced magazine will gush about the zinc-clad beauty of the design, with a sneer toward the people who will pay for it. The Oregonian will continue its Pulitzer-worthy coverage with headlines like "Portlanders say they want new stadiums, but also worry about food riots."
By this time, the city will have run out on the QT and blown a bunch of money on consultants, planners, finance weasels, etc. (Already the city has hired a consultant, supposedly to check Paulson's projections. Gee, I hope it isn't the group that Vera and Sam the Tram hired to go over the numbers on the last, disastrous PGE Park deal.) Pretty soon, Fireman Randy will stand up and announce, "We've spent millions on this -- it's too late to turn back now!" It'll be the same straight-faced spoof as in his notorious Adrian Chen video, except that no one will laugh at the end.
They'll draft up some kind of contract in which it looks like a Paulson shell company is on the hook for part of the debt; there'll be a ticket tax and a hot dog wrapper surcharge; the state will give up the income taxes on the soccer players' salaries, yada yada yada. But the city will wind up guaranteeing tens of millions, just as it did on the private theater company's debt for the Armory deal. And in the end, the taxpayers will wind up footing the bill when the soccer league, The Franchise, or both, inevitably fold up the tent and go under. This is what is known as a "public-private partnership."
Amanda Fritz will then preach to us that, speaking as a psychiatric nurse with decades of experience, she thinks we need to forgive Paulson. Hoffman Construction or some other denizens of the Arlington Club will have banked a nice multi-million-dollar profit on the project, which will keep the downtown business set from raising too much of a stink about it. Somewhere in there, there ought to be a commission for the Portland Family of Funds (Don Mazziotti, board member). All told, another small step for City Hall, another giant leap toward Chapter 9. Go by streetcar!