Oregon

Soccer's Attraction, Limited Funds Face Portland Council

OPB | March 11, 2009 1:47 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:12 a.m. | Portland, OR

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By Rob Manning

Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Randy Leonard, will find out Wednesday whether they’re in position to score a soccer franchise. The City Council is voting on plans to lure a big-league soccer team. The local sports team owner is on the hook for much of the cost - but not all of it, as Rob Manning reports.


Of the 128 million dollars involved - nearly 90 million of it would provide new homes for Portland’s summertime pro sports teams: the Portland Timbers’ soccer team would more that one-third of it, to renovate PGE Park, as the team heads into the Major League. But the bigger beneficiary would be the Portland Beavers baseball team, which would more than 50 million for a new park in the Rose Quarter.

Twelve and a half million comes out of owner Merritt Paulson’s pocket. He’s also putting up 40 million for the major league soccer franchise. And Paulson is backing 42 million in loans.

City commissioner Randy Leonard says the Paulson family has come through.

Randy Leonard: “I’ll say maybe even because of the economic conditions, the deal is as good as it is. The Paulson family, I think, for Mayor Adams and I, have assured us of a stream of revenue that I’m not sure otherwise, they might have done, in a better economic time.”

Late Tuesday, Leonard's only other “yes” vote was Portland Mayor, Sam Adams. Leonard says his colleagues have tough questions, but he has good answers.

Randy Leonard: “If there was ever a set of conditions that any of our colleagues could ever hope existed to be able to vote for Major League Soccer and a new stadium, they’ll find those conditions in this deal. This is the best deal.”

Of the other three commissioners, only Amanda Fritz tipped her hand, saying she was “unlikely” to go along. She opposes using urban renewal money.

Urban renewal is complicated, but it basically keeps property tax money out of city and county coffers, and uses it to revitalize a certain part of the city. 33 million dollars from two renewal areas - including a large area that hasn’t been formed yet - would help fund the stadiums.

Former Oregon Sports Authority director, Will Glasgow also opposes paying off construction bonds with urban renewal money. He says the stadiums might not really help the areas.

Will Glasgow: “First of all, the city is theoretically at risk on those bonds. And secondly, to the extent that increases in property taxes are being used to pay those bonds - those are directly taking resources away from other potential public needs.”

Leonard and Adams argue the stadiums would benefit the city, and hold services harmless.

But critics, like Glasgow, chafe at the root cause of all the spending: that the city is only shelling out for a new baseball stadium because Major League Soccer is forcing the Beavers out of PGE Park. Glasgow argues that MLS won't be a big enough benefit to justify all the expense.

But Mayor Sam Adams argues there are long-term benefits for Portland's status.

Sam Adams: “To become the most sustainable city in the world, Portland must build its international profile, and the language that the world speaks most, is the language of futbol.”

Adams will find out if his fellow commissioners are speaking the same language later this morning.

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