All of a sudden, everyone is fired up. Portland is in the running for the Montreal Expos. One of just two candidates for that baseball franchise.
First, I need to tell you that nothing much has changed in the last couple of years. Portland has been in this position now for a while, but the skeptical citizenry and naive politicians refused to believe it.
Now, the challenge is to get them to care about it. And to learn how it can be done.
And, of course, what needs to be dealt with right away is the old 'If we can't even pay for our schools, we certainly can't pay for a major league ballpark' argument. As if the two ideas are mutually exclusive. In fact, it's possible to get this project done without any new taxes or penalties on the taxpayers of this state. In fact, that's the plan.
'Not one dollar of this project should come from property tax increases or other increases that could harm ordinary citizens,' said David Kahn, who is heading up the coalition of groups trying to bring major league baseball to Portland. 'And no money should be diverted from where it's going now. That means roads, education, health care Ñ anything. We don't want that to happen.'
Kahn is experienced and creative. He was the driving force behind basketball's best arena, Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, where the Indiana Pacers play. Kahn, a native Portlander, was general manager of the Pacers until recently and is still an adviser for that organization. He has returned to the Portland area and is the savvy, polished, experienced leader that these groups have needed for years.
'We built that arena (in Indianapolis) without increasing anyone's property taxes,' Kahn said. 'The fact is, there is no reason these things should be paid for by anyone who doesn't want to pay for them. There are creative methods of financing we can use to get this accomplished that maximize the benefits to everyone in this city and this state Ñ both economically and culturally.'
And this most business-
unfriendly city government will need to be convinced of the economic impact of the 81 home games that major league baseball would bring to Portland. I don't trust all those pie-in-the-sky figures about how many millions certain attractions bring to the city, but one would have to be an idiot to believe that there aren't big financial advantages.
Quite simply, building a major league ballpark is an investment in Portland's future. It's a statement that this is a big-league city. Finally.
'Portland is, without a doubt, the most underserved professional sports market in America, with only one professional sports team for our population size,' Kahn said. 'This market can handle a second team, provided it doesn't compete directly with the Trail Blazers.
'Having professional sports year-round in Portland should enhance our lifestyle, our culture, our vibrancy and will act as a vehicle for us to further connect with each other as a community and to spur development, economically.'
Of all the big-league sports, baseball is the best one to have in your city. There are enough games so the economics of a stadium pencil out. The price of a ticket is still the most reasonable in big-time sports. You can still afford to take the kids to a game.
Of course, most people know this. What they have refused to accept, it seems, is that Portland really does have a chance to get a big-league team. But Major League Baseball has made that official now. And the chance is not just the Expos. Sure, Montreal is going to be the first team to relocate Ñ baseball can't wait to get out of there. But there's little question that other franchises are available for the taking.
Tampa Bay isn't working. Horrid stadium and shaky management. The Florida Marlins have been in peril for several seasons now, and it's hard to imagine that they're going to stay in the Miami area, where no one seems to care about them.
Baseball is ringing our doorbell now. I can't wait to see which politicians and business leaders answer the bell.
'It's early still,' Kahn said. 'Even though we've been invited to meet with baseball's relocation committee to talk about our potential as a market, it's still very premature to talk about stadium financing plans in excruciating detail. All we're doing at this point is asking for everybody to learn with us about the issues involved, the options available to us and why we think this could be of tremendous benefit to the city and state. I simply ask everybody, elected officials or baseball fans, to not take a hard-and-fast opinion without first knowing all the facts. Keep an open mind. It's early.'
But it's our time. It's time for Portland to be a big-league city.