The group trying to bring Major League Baseball to Oregon says it has secured the rights to develop land owned by the Port of Portland.
The Portland Diamond Project announced Thursday that it has signed a letter of intent with the Port to develop Terminal 2. That’s a 53-acre marine cargo terminal in Northwest Portland along the Willamette River and just north of the Pearl District.
It’s not clear how the Diamond Project would pay to redevelop the land or build a Major League-ready ballpark; the press release issued by the group Thursday included no talk of money, and the two sides signed a nondisclosure agreement when they began negotiating earlier this year. Port officials say they're negotiating leasing the property, not selling it outright. The letter of intent, which is not a public record, allows the Port and the Diamond Project to do more work to determine whether baseball makes sense for Terminal 2 and negotiate a deal.
Still, securing an agreement in principle for a specific piece of property is another step toward making a serious pitch for either an expansion franchise or one seeking to relocate.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has expressed an interest in expanding to 32 teams. And the Oakland A's and Tampa Bay Rays are both working to get new stadium deals.
Signing a letter of intent means baseball organizers can get more serious about figuring out financing and which public entities might serve as partners in any attempt to woo Major League Baseball. It's the next step in negotiations between the Port and the baseball group, but any final deal would need to be approved by the Port's governing commission.
Diamond Project president Craig Cheek said in a written announcement that his group remains open to other properties.
"For the past year, we've been highly focused on securing the best possible property for development of a ballpark and have deeply analyzed multiple sites," Cheek said in the statement. "Although additional options continue to present themselves, we are excited to announce that Terminal 2 is our preferred location and want to thank the Port of Portland for being such a great partner in this vision."
Architect's renderings of a proposed stadium include a retractable roof and views of the Fremont Bridge from seats behind home plate.
Diamond Project organizers offered $80 million earlier this year for the headquarters of Portland Public Schools before ultimately pulling out.
And there are skeptics who say Portland just isn't made for the MLB just yet.
Even so, this is the most serious conversation about MLB in the city in at least 20 years. Gov. Kate Brown, who won re-election in November, has said the state has limited dollars at this point but looks forward to seeing what the private sector could cough up.
Terminal 2 has seen reduced use in recent years as companies have shifted away from what's known as "break bulk" cargo, essentially larger items that must be loaded onto ships individually rather than in intermodal containers.
"We're excited about the idea of baseball at Terminal 2 and a unique development on the river, close to downtown Portland," Port executive director Curtis Robinhold said in a written statement. "This creates a new opportunity at Termianl 2, which is no longer well positioned to compete in the region for what it has traditionally been used for — moving oversized international cargo."
Redeveloping Terminal 2 presents significant opportunity; baseball organizers envision building both a stadium and a multi-use district that could help extend the urban vitality of the Pearl District further into Northwest Portland, helping to generate jobs, tax revenue and housing units.
But this particular piece of property also presents challenges. Baseball organizers will need the approve of city leaders to rezone the land, ensure there are no floodplain and environmental problems to solve and provide adequate public services such as water and sewer for a ballpark with as many as 34,000 seats. They'll need to work with the city and TriMet to improve transit options to a ballpark.
And they'll need to work with the city and the Oregon Department of Transportation to ensure that Highway 30 can handle both baseball traffic and freight trucking that relies on the road as a main artery through Northwest Portland.
Diamond Project officials still aren't talking about who will pay for the stadium, or how much it will cost. But they say the money will be there.
Listen to OPB news director Anna Griffin discuss what this move means for the future of Portland baseball with "All Things Considered" host Kate Davidson in the audio player below.