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Hillsboro ready to play Class A baseball next year; Milwaukie still could be on deck for 2014

It appears Hillsboro will have minor league baseball next season - and Milwaukie could be next in line.

The Hillsboro City Council is expected to approve next Tuesday a term sheet that will bring the Northwest League Yakima, Wash., Bears to Washington County.

The move would be contingent upon Hillsboro constructing a 4,500-seat stadium at the cost of $13.4 million to $15.2 million on a site already owned by the city next to Hillsboro Stadium alongside Highway 26.

The six city councilors will vote on the issue Tuesday, with Mayor Jerry Willey holding the tie-breaker.

'I support (the baseball project), and hopefully enough of us do that it will pass,' Council President Aron Carleson said Friday. 'I don't think we'd have gotten this far with the council if it looked like we weren't going to move in that direction.'

The Bears' ownership group must make reparations with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, who own territorial rights to the area. But that should be a formality.

Last year, Yakima ownership - unhappy with the condition of Yakima County Stadium, where the Bears play - expressed interest in moving to Vancouver, Wash., but the city was unable to come up with financing to build a stadium.

The city of Hillsboro and Bears ownership would sign a 20-year lease agreement. The Bears' lease with Yakima County expires in 2015, but there is a buyout option should the club move.

Hillsboro owns the property, and the utilities are in place for the proposed stadium site at Gordon Faber Recreation Complex. A NWL team - which plays 38 home games in a short-A season - would be the primary tenant of the multi-purpose public facility.

'We're pretty excited to have two artificial-turf fields right next to each other, an avenue for us to host a number of events,' Carleson said. 'We'll have great opportunities for local, national and international softball and baseball events, and it will be a great concert venue. It will be available for 320 days a year besides when being used' by the Bears.

Feasibility studies show Hillsboro could reap $7 million to $8 million in annual rental impact, Carleson says.

Resources to cover cost of the stadium project - which will be handled by Hoffman Construction Company of Portland - will come primarily from the issuance of bonded debt.

Milwaukie, meanwhile, is satisfied to wait a year to join the NWL, which has eight teams for the upcoming season that begins on June 15: Eugene; Salem-Keizer; Yakima; Vancouver, British Columbia; Everett, Wash.; Tri-City, Wash.; Spokane and Boise.

If Milwaukie is to be granted a franchise, it will have to come with relocation of a current team.

Expansion, NWL president Bob Richmond said, 'is not possible under baseball rules at the minor league level unless there is (major league) expansion.

'Our (minor-league) counterpart is the New York-Penn League,' Richmond says. 'We could perhaps work out a deal for adding a couple of teams down the road, but we've had zero discussions along those lines.'

Milwaukie officials are aware of Yakima's term sheet proposal with Hillsboro, and that the Bears are the only NWL team likely to move after this season.

'That's fine,' said Kenny Asher, director of community development and public works for the city of Milwaukie. 'It won't deter us from our efforts to get a team for 2014.'

Milwaukie must purchase land in addition to building a proposed 5,000-seat stadium, a project that is expected to total $25 million, with the ownership group of the team contributing in a public-private partnership.

The proposed eight-acre site is in Milwaukie's north industrial area alongside McLoughlin Boulevard, property currently housing an Oregon Department of Transportation maintenance yard.

'My marching orders are to deliver a commitment from a minor league team and to make progress with the impacted property owners, including ODOT, and the surrounding businesses that line the site we have in mind,' Asher said.

The Milwaukie City Council voted to put funds into a continuing feasibility study, with hopes that citizens will consider the project through a future city ballot measure.

'We've learned a lot about the economic benefits that would be enjoyed by Clackamas County, the city of Milwaukie and even the city of Portland,' Asher said. 'It's going to be controversial to the end. But based on numbers, at least so far, a lot more people have spoken up in favor than against.'

If Hillsboro and Milwaukie are granted NWL franchises, it would mean teams located 25 miles apart.

'That's a concern,' Richmond said. 'We'll do a great deal of study as to how many teams we can absorb there.

'But the whole Portland market is attractive for various reasons. There are a lot of people around there, and it fits our geography.'

The proximity is no deterrent for representatives of Milwaukie and Hillsboro.

'We think it would be great,' Asher said. 'It would make for a cross-town rivalry that would be good for the league and the region.'

'We're far enough apart, it would make for great competition,' Carleson said. 'Those would be some of the most highly attended games in the league.'

Jack Cain, long-time owner of the former Single-A Portland Rockies, agrees.

'I could see Hillsboro being the westside team and Milwaukie the eastside team,' Cain said. 'It would be kind of neat.'