- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

The last eight months have not been the best of times for Portland, Ore., and its bid to land the Montreal Expos.

The Rose City, the Washington area’s longest-standing competitor in this ever-extending competition, surged last summer to what was seen as a strong early lead. Oregon legislators approved $150million in funding toward a ballpark, a sum not even half of what was needed but more than anyone else had in fully ratified legislation.

But that effort was followed by essentially nothing. No new funding sources were formally announced. Not much optimistic talk from Mayor Vera Katz. No high-profile meetings with Major League Baseball’s relocation committee. In their place was continued pessimism for baseball from existing Oregon sports entities like the management group of Paul Allen, Portland Trail Blazers owner.

In the meantime, District Mayor Anthony Williams said he would meet MLB’s demand for a stadium fully financed with public sector dollars. Las Vegas, even with its many flaws as a spectator sports town, began to draw serious interest from baseball. And MLB’s relocation committee conducted an informal tour of every new market bidding for the Expos.

Portland even failed in March to be mentioned by MLB executives when they listed the Expos’ pursuers, an oversight that caused momentary panics in Oregon.

Now, as the relocation committee meets this week in New York and baseball heads toward a potential midsummer decision on the failing club, Portland is trying to get up off the mat. A revised stadium funding package, worth an estimated $340million, was sent to baseball last week and is designed to put Portland back in the race. The sum nearly matches the $350million cost projected for a downtown ballpark.

The core of the funding, as was the case last summer, is income taxes on both home and away ballplayers. The money would be withheld from the general fund and used to retire construction bonds for the stadium. Joining that revenue stream, however, are taxes on ballpark-related sales like tickets, merchandise, concessions and charter seat license revenues.

“I think we’ve made substantial progress since last summer,” said David Logsdon, Portland city facilities manager.

Portland baseball boosters, long positioning themselves as the answer to the Peter Angelos questions that continue to dog Washington, refuse to characterize the long period of relative silence as a sign of trouble.

“Northern Virginia has spent 11 years and $11million on their effort,” said David Kahn, director of the Oregon Stadium Campaign. “I would hardly characterize our situation as a holdup. Getting funding for this is always a challenge, certainly in our economic landscape. But we’ve continued to work and are trying to tap into baseball-related revenues and close our gap.”

That gap, however, is still not closed. Most glaring in the new proposal is a projected $75million that would be collected from businesses near the stadium standing to benefit from the presence of baseball. It’s a solid, vital chunk of money, and unresolved is the basic means to gather those funds. Portland’s hospitality sector quickly refused to support any potential increase of car rental or hotel taxes, for more than a decade a tried-and-true stadium funding source.

“The pooling together of these revenue sources has certainly strengthened our overall situation with the bonds,” Logsdon said. “But the stadium district piece of this does need more attention, both in terms of the mechanics and what the situation is going to be with the hospitality industry.”

In fairness, it should be noted that supposedly front-running Washington has nothing stadium-related enacted into law. Rather, city officials first want some sort of sign that the Expos are indeed coming and say financing could be formally produced in as little as 45 days thereafter. The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority can collect ballplayer income taxes and stadium-related sales taxes for use on a stadium, but still requires approval from Richmond on any bond repayment plan.

But one could easily argue that cities like Portland are held to a higher standard with their ballpark financing, fair or not, since they cannot prevail against Washington on any major population or demographic measure.

Recent comments attributed to Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago White Sox owner and head of baseball’s relocation committee, point to the District assuming lead status for the Expos, ahead of fellow finalists Las Vegas and Monterrey, Mexico. Kahn and other Oregon baseball advocates predictably challenge that view. They also refuse to put themselves in the driver’s seat.

“There are six jurisdictions still in play,” said Kahn, with Norfolk, Va., being the other. “There is also still the chance they don’t do anything with the team. So that’s seven options, and that makes us all 7-to-1 shots. If you’re a 7-to-1, you’re a long shot.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide