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.This reportedly prompted Merritt Paulson to respond as follows:
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.
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 standardsTo which City Commissioner Amanda Fritz reportedly wrote:
Sent using BlackBerry
Dear Mr. Paulson,Paulson reportedly replied:
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.
Apanel then wrote:
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.
Here is some interesting information for members of the city council to note.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!
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.
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).