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Friday, June 5, 2009

Leave the Beavers -- move the Timbers?

So many Portlanders are concerned about the plan to blow $85 million to tear up PGE Park yet again and pave over half or more of Lents Park -- all to enable upgrading the Portland Timbers soccer team to a "major league" (by U.S. standards) level. At least one resident has been suggesting for a few weeks now that it would cheaper to build a new soccer-specific stadium for the Timbers somewhere -- say, at the Expo Center -- and leave the Beavers minor league baseball team in PGE Park, which is still about $28 million in hock from a recent renovation.

The resident, Peter Apanel, recently wrote the Portland City Council as follows:

This is a follow-up to the email I sent last week to everyone on the city council, in which I shared information that has recently surfaced about Saputo Stadium in Montreal, a brand new soccer-specific stadium that was completed one year ago, at a cost of less than $13 million in U.S. dollars.

As you all know, the city has been told by Merritt Paulson that the cost to build a soccer-specific stadium averages $120 million, which has been the reason given for not pursuing that option. So, the news about Saputo Stadium clearly gives the city options that haven't been considered up until now.

And, more important, this information about Saputo Stadium clearly trumps any argument for continuing to pursue the current plan to renovate PGE Park and build a new minor league baseball stadium.

Here, again, are the basic details.

Saputo Stadium (in French: Stade Saputo) is a soccer-specific stadium that is the home of the Montreal Impact soccer team, which plays in the same USL division as the Portland Timbers. Saputo Stadium opened in May, 2008. Its capacity is 13,000, with individual seats, not benches. It has 16 corporate boxes, and a giant screen TV. And the playing surface is natural grass.

Major League Soccer has already approved Saputo Stadium for future use as an MLS venue, and plans are being drawn up to expand its capacity to 21,000, if Montreal is granted an MLS franchise.

And, again, the cost to build Saputo Stadium was less than $13 million in U.S. dollars. All of this was privately financed, so there was a natural incentive to keep costs low.

With construction costs in Montreal working out to $1,000 per seat, it's reasonable to assume that a comparable, 20,000-seat stadium could be built here in Portland for around $20 million.

So, why not simply build a carbon copy of Saputo Stadium, instead of spending an estimated $85 million to renovate PGE Park and build a new minor league baseball stadium?

Compared to the current plan, this new plan would cost the city at least $65 million less, while resulting in a soccer-specific stadium that would be superior to a renovated PGE Park. And when you factor in the money that Merritt Paulson has already pledged toward the current plan, the city's costs could be lowered even further.

The only decision that would be left to make is deciding where to locate the soccer stadium -- Lents, the Expo Center, or somewhere else. Has anyone considered Cascade Station? With a rectangular footprint, finding a suitable site would be easier for a soccer stadium, as opposed to a baseball stadium. So, I wonder if a soccer stadium could be squeezed into the Rose Quarter without having to tear down Memorial Coliseum?

Whatever site is chosen, it would be a win-win situation for everyone, compared to the current plan.

And it's not too late to make all of this happen. Saputo Stadium was built in just 13 months, so there's plenty of time to be ready for opening day in March 2011.

I've attached a one-page PDF with illustrations of Saputo Stadium. The official website for Saputo Stadium is www.impactmontreal.com/tickets/stade.aspx.

Thank you.

This reportedly prompted Merritt Paulson to respond as follows:

Fyi - Saputo Stadium well more than 13M (most estimate $60M) and they are currently raising $25M in 100% public money to expand it to MLS standards
Sent using BlackBerry
To which City Commissioner Amanda Fritz reportedly wrote:
Dear Mr. Paulson,

My staff has been unable to find documentation on the internet that indicates that Saputo Stadium cost more than $15 million to build, entirely funded with private funds. Perhaps you are thinking of the Toronto stadium which cost more than $60 million to build? If you have information that counters the public information that is available, I would appreciate seeing it.

One year ago the expansion was expected to cost $12 million. Now Saputo is seeking $25 million in public funds to upgrade the stadium. Please explain the doubling of the cost in one year, if you know the causes.

Paulson reportedly replied:

Commissioner Fritz:

The initial build out of Saputo Stadium was not documented publicly and was not part of a public process. The family has, indeed reported a $15M project cost. People I have spoken with indicate that the $15M was one portion of the cost and that significant savings were also realized on the project due to existing infrastructure. I am not questioning the integrity of the family and the $15M likely makes sense in context, but no new technology was implemented in their construction process. One good source in the soccer world has indicated to me personally that the project cost over $60M in total, but that is not verifiable.

It is important to note that MLS has NOT approved Saputo Stadium for MLS play and the Saputo family is currently seeking public money to expand the facility. As to why the increase, you would need to ask them.

What is public and documented is the cost of every MLS approved soccer-specific stadium built to date. By far the least expensive is Toronto, which I believe (just by memory) was around $65M. It is ultra no frills, was built several years ago and is already being considered for some additional build out work. Every other MLS soccer-specific venue has cost ~ $100M in today’s dollars.

Apanel then wrote:

Here is some interesting information for members of the city council to note.

The Montreal Impact soccer team is a non-profit organization. Its three main partners are the Saputo food corporation, the Government of Quebec, and Hydro-Quebec (a government-owned public utility). And Saputo Stadium is set up as a non-profit organization that is operated by Montreal Impact.

So, it seems logical to assume that there are public records and government sources which can confirm the actual cost to build Saputo Stadium.

Although the idea of a no-frills, soccer-only stadium somewhere out toward the Columbia River or the airport is a good one, an even better concept leaps out of this exchange -- a nonprofit team!

For the $75 million or more that the state and city are being asked to put up, they could condemn the Timbers and their "major league" franchise, buy some relatively cheap portable bleachers for soccer at PGE, and have money left over to cut the price of popcorn in the stands. We could be the Green Bay of "major league" soccer! Lents Park is saved, the Timbers fans get their player quality upgrade, and the taxpayers get off cheap and wind up owning the team to boot. The Paulsons get their money back from soccer, and figure out whether they really want baseball, or anything else in Portland for that matter. High fives all around (or whatever they do in soccer).

Comments (26)

"Who gets the risks? The risks are given to the consumer, the unsuspecting consumer and the poor work force. And who gets the benefits? The benefits are only for the corporations, for the money makers."

--Cesar Chavez

Without understanding the legal limitations due to being a superfund site, the space between the Ross Island and Markham bridges seems also a great location for a soccer only stadium. It would seem that the stadium could inject some life into S. Waterfront and there could be interesting design potential with the proposed bridge to OMSI.

Apparently Paulson is insinuating that Montreal doesn't have a Bureau of Buildings with a Permit Center like Portland.

The cost of a project is needed for the issuance of a building permit-which Montreal requires. Why can't the Saputo Stadium costs be easily disclosed?

Hey Paulson, how about this:

It seems that a "no frills" soccer stadium can be built for $15M to $25M (with seats, toilets, vendor sites, etc.). Gets the job done and the team has a place to play. If you haven't noticed, the entire country if cutting back on discretionary and frivolous spending. Even the Kentucky Derby ain't what it used to be.

Why don't YOU pony up however much more you want to add all the frills that only you and the high brows will enjoy anyway (luxury boxes, preferred parking, seat warmers, champagne coolers, etc.)? You can pay as you go for all the extra amenities and I assume you'd only make the investment if YOU could recoup the costs in ticket sales. Why do you expect the public to make that investment, when we will never see any of the extra profit from those extras?

"A corporation is an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility."

--Ambrose Bierce

Before I get flamed, I should add the soccer site in S. Waterfront was just a comment on possible locations and not a comment on the Montreal costs versus local estimates.

One good source in the soccer world has indicated to me personally that the project cost over $60M in total, but that is not verifiable.

Merritt is acting like a spoiled teenager, aghast at his parents' suggestion that if he wants a car so badly he's welcome to their old Camry.

"But I don't waaaaaaaant a used car! I want a NEW fancy car!"

"High fives all around (or whatever they do in soccer)."

Not "high fives", puncicate.


Mr. Arapnel makes some good points, and it's promising to see Ms. Fritz express an interest in accurate and verifiable numbers.

Related to the seating capacity of any facility, however, is the demand for those seats. Has any market research been done to see just what sort of demand for these sorts of sporting events really exists? There's no reason to guess when research can be done, but if I had to guess I would say that the sports entertainment market in Portland is probably in equilibrium, or close. You can make construction comparisons between Portland and Montreal or anywhere else, but I'm not sure that the assumption that all cities are culturally equivalent is so safe. Each consumes different recreations at different levels. The appetite for hockey in Montreal, for example, will always be greater than it is in Miami even if it is a smaller market. And honestly, beyond people talking about their kids' soccer matches I don't find myself in a lot of conversations about soccer, let alone professional soccer, let alone specific teams like the Montreal Impact (an unforgivably horrible name, by the way). Maybe Portland isn't that much of a sports town or is but only for some kinds of sports. But without the research it's difficult to know.

Dave J. that is one of the funniest and most accurate comments I have heard so far about this whole deal!

MLS supporters like to point to Seattle Sounders season ticket sales and attendance numbers as a predictor of what will happen in Portland. But no one, as far as I know, has compared median incomes of the Seattle and Portland metropolitan areas. The Seattle area has a higher median income than Portland does. So, there is less disposable income in Portland to spend on professional sports. How much less? Good question.

Referring to the Montreal owners, Merritt writes, "I am not questioning the integrity of the family...." Yeah, I could see how that would be a problem.

But he already wrote, "The family has, indeed reported a $15M project cost. People I have spoken with indicate that the $15M was one portion of the cost..."

But that's not challenging the integrity of the family. No way!

Wait, I know! Just add that the head of the Montreal family likes to chop wood - that should clear everything up.

But here's the money line, literally: "One good source in the soccer world has indicated to me personally that the project cost over $60M in total, but that is not verifiable."

Paulson must know that he's saying the numbers up there are phony and that treads too close to the idea of the numbers down here being phony, so he throws in a Washington, DC dollop of BS that would make Daddy proud: "the $15M likely makes sense in context."

And what context is that? That they're running their scam up there while you're running your scam down here? Are our numbers 4 times less than reported too?

Paulson is in a bind talking about Montreal. He's already committed the ultimate elite sin: A faux pas.

Listen up, Merritt: The various families don't question each other's integrity or numbers. That's not how the elite play the game. Saying the 15 million was actually 60 million? That's not cool at all. (By the way, wasn't 60 million one of the phony numbers along the way with the tram? Ahh, the memories.)

So Merritt, I'd have skipped trying to explain the Montreal numbers - it's not a good area for you.

But since you've opened this line of questioning:

The entire country would like to ask about your family's integrity. After all, your Dad dispersed 350 billion TARP dollars and the public has no accounting on where they went - despite him caving in on our right to know. Why was that? Was any aspect of TARP a taxpayer rip-off that rewarded the very people who caused the financial meltdown? Too broad for you?

Okay, Merritt, is any of this money you're borrowing from your Goldman Sachs connections in any way connected to your Dad and the bailout?

This can't all be your allowance, can it?

Paulson: "One good source in the soccer world has indicated to me personally that the project cost over $60M in total, but that is not verifiable."

If that doesn't scare Portland City Council away from Paulson's schemes, every grifter in the universe will be descending here.

Snap out if it!

To point out a few things before I'm sure I get flamed. Stade Saputo is located on the site of the track and field stadium for the 1976 Montreal games. Parts of the stadium were in existence when Stade Saputo went up. The land was also given away to Saputo for free.

Regardless of how you feel about Merritt Paulson pointing towards Stade Saputo is a pretty awful example. Pointing towards Toronto would be a much more accurate representation of a "cheap" soccer stadium. It cost $62 million to build($72 if you count land costs) in Canadian dollars. Right now that is around $80 million US dollars and at the time of the build out the Canadian dollar was worth even more than the US dollar.

Flame away...

This whole thing is very similar to the health-care debate. The rich and their political suck-ups want to dictate the terms with zero input from the public.

The lies about single-payer not being an option when the rest of the developed world has had it for years, is just like Paulson trying to tell us that only his plan is viable.

My advice- take your ill-gotten gains and move to the Cayman Islands. That's probably where you have a bunch of your scuttled dough anyway.

The land was also given away to Saputo for free.

I think that's kind of what we're proposing for Lents, no? It's not like we're going to sell the land to Paulson, are we? We're just saying we're going to build there.

@ A Hopeful:
Agreed, and I would add only that there are many more factors that influence consumer behavior, that median income is just one indicator. In fact, I think if people really want soccer they will find a way to pay for it. But I'm not persuaded that they do. Or, if they do, do they want it that much more than following the Seattle Sounders (also a horrible name) or how much less than following the Blazers? Again, it's easier to compare and contrast construction costs and income levels, but a more fundamental question may be Is the market tipped in such a way that the consumer demand for seats in Portland is so much greater than their supply? Listening to Paulson one would think soccer is to Portland what football is to Nebraska. But I don't see it at all. If the city is really considering investing in this scheme, no matter where a stadium is imagined, it seems that a bit of boring old market research—in Portland—would be in order.

Quick Question: Who is in charge of operating the stadium and leasing/sub-leasing it for concerts and other events? The City or Shortstop LLC?

Just wondering if Paulson is really after a revitalized PGE - which would then be more suitable for large scale concerts and the like.

I don't watch much soccer outside the World Cup, so I don't know when soccer season is, but would a summer concert series at a revamped PGE bring in big bucks for whoever has those rights?

anyone know?


Why doesn't Paulson partner with the U of Portland, instead, on UP's existing site?

I agree with Garrett. Anyone thinking that a stadium could be had for $20 mill is going to have sticker shock when we get the actual tab.

I do agree that reconfiquring PGE Park for soccer, then moving Baseball elsewhere is just dumb.

Lets keep it simple. Lets pick a site for soccer, estimate the costs, and provide estimated (direct) revenues so the taxpayer can have full disclosure on ROI. All of this fuzzy math about how Portland will experience long-term intangible benefits has never panned out in the past for stadiums, whether we're talking Rose Garden, the MC, or PGE Park. These things never work out to be the public benefit they're initially purported to be. That's our history.

If I were the City Council, I'd approach this like any business would. Here's what we're asking the taxpayers to invest, and here's the return on that investment. Simple.

But nobody has been able to illustrate that. Not even Paulson.

"Regardless of how you feel about Merritt Paulson pointing towards Stade Saputo is a pretty awful example."

Pretty much any way that we can save money is a pretty awful example to the Timbers Army. Remember, it has to be Don Garber's way or nothing.

Options. Viable options. Heaven forbid! Let's rush into this so we can get a big mouthful of Randy and Sam's sh-t sandwich.

Regarding the amenities, if the City geniuses are involved, we'll end up with seat coolers and champagne warmers. But we should build on Ecohuman's quotation above from St Cesar - Save 39th ave as it is, name the new soccer-only joint "Chavez Stadium" & cast the Chavez quote about risk/benefit allocation in cement above each portal into the place.

"Move the Timbers?".....maybe to Vancouver? Any of those bridge cameras caught Merritt making the crossing? Keep a close eye....just sayin'

PS - Garrett, according to the website, the Stade Saputo was built on land conveyed by "Bail Emphyteotique," an "Emphyteutic lease" for 40 years - it is unclear what if anything was paid for the lease, a type that seems to require the lessee to improve the site, which then reverts, with improvement, to the lessor after the term expires (here, after 40 years.) But Dave J is right - our Lords & Masters will just give Paulson the land.

A new stadium isn't going to be any cheaper than a tram.

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