Casino the key to Lloyd District?

Convention center area, potential stadium sites pique tribe's interest

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, peppered with questions about where it would put a Portland casino, is looking at the city's proposed venues for a new major league baseball stadium.

Mayor Vera Katz said tribal representatives collected information on the seven proposed locales during a meeting Thursday morning. The representatives have submitted no specific site proposals for a casino.

However, much of the early buzz around the plan is focusing on the area near the Oregon Convention Center at 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., also close to a proposed stadium site just northeast of the Broadway Bridge. The so-called Blanchard site, which now holds the Portland Public Schools administration building, is a favorite of Katz and City Planning Director Gil Kelley.

'It was a preliminary discussion, and the only discussion relating to sites was that they asked for our potential stadium sites,' Katz said of Thursday's meeting. 'The site decision is theirs, though. They're the ones making the offer.'

Speculation over a possible Portland casino locale began last week immediately after the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde revealed its unique proposal: funding for a Portland baseball stadium in exchange for the right to build a casino.

Justin Martin, the tribe's director of intergovernmental affairs, said he has not considered any specific sites. Tribal officials discussed various issues Thursday with officials from Metro, the city of Portland and Multnomah County.

'The phone's been ringing off the hook: A lot of developers are calling,' Martin said. 'We're just now starting to look to see who we can bring to the table.'

Officials from Metro, the greater Portland area's planning body, said before Thursday's meeting that they didn't plan to make an official pitch on the convention center-area site at that time. The pitch, however, may be coming soon.

'We would be interested in any development that would help our newly expanded convention center or help us get a headquarters hotel,' said Metro spokesman Marc Zolton.

A Lloyd District casino could spark the development in Portland's Rose Quarter that city officials envisioned when the Rose Garden arena opened in 1995. Not only could such a facility help attract large-scale meetings to the newly expanded convention center, it also could spur a developer to build a large 'headquarters' hotel nearby.

Zolton said Metro wants details of how the tribe would distribute money from its 'gaming compact,' an agreement by which the casino operator distributes a percentage of its profits to area groups.

Closer looks

Len Bergstein, who is representing the Warm Springs tribe as it attempts to win approval for a casino in the Cascade Locks area, said a list of 'normal suspects' sites has emerged in the last week for a Portland facility.

'These are places that people have looked at before. There's one just off Interstate 5 near the Portland Expo Center,' he said. 'There's some room there, a commitment to building around there, and there's light rail.

'Also, I'd think Memorial Coliseum is under discussion, as well as one site on the list for a baseball stadium: the post office station in the Pearl,' at Northwest Broadway and Hoyt Street.

Multnomah County Chairwoman Diane Linn said she's seeking 'revenue generation' data from the would-be casino. At issue is whether the tribe would pay taxes for operating a casino on land it did not own. Tribes in Oregon are exempt from paying taxes on casinos that sit on their own lands.

'That doesn't mean I oppose this or support it,' Linn said. 'I just want to hear what they're talking about.'

Katz said she and city officials remain open to the possibility of the stadium funds-casino swap.

'It's an interesting idea that could stimulate the economy and possibly provide money for education,' she said.

Cheryle Kennedy, the Grand Ronde Tribal Council's chairwoman, said the meeting with the city went well. 'We have no definite answers yet, but we've agreed to discuss this further,' she said.

Strings attached

The Grand Ronde proposal comes with several caveats:

• Gov. Ted Kulongoski would need to approve putting a so-called Indian casino on nontribal land.

• Local governmental bodies would likely seek a compact delivering a higher percentage of gambling profits to area groups.

• Major League Baseball, which has frowned on betting in the past, would likely have a huge say over whether it would sanction a team that plays in a gambling-funded stadium.

Martin said the tribe has not set any parameters on how much it would pay or how it would supply the money for a ball park. A stadium without a roof would cost an estimated $350 million.

Still, many believe such an arrangement makes sense in an economy staggered of late by company closures and high unemployment rates.

'We think this would take the burden off of taxpayers in Oregon,' Martin said.

The proposal comes as a Portland delegation attempts to lure a Major League Baseball team. The delegation will meet with league officials March 20 in Phoenix and present, among other things, stadium funding ideas.

Major League Baseball, which owns the Montreal Expos, could move the team in time for the 2004 season. If the team moved to Portland, it would play temporarily in PGE Park; the park would need an estimated $20 million worth of improvements before a major league team would play there.

A Portland-based casino would almost certainly generate more revenue than Spirit Mountain Casino, also operated by the Grand Ronde. Spirit Mountain, the state's most-visited tourist attraction, collects about $75 million in yearly revenues.

Of that, 6 percent goes toward Spirit Mountain's gaming agreement, which finances the Spirit Mountain Community Fund. Since its creation in 1997, the fund has distributed $14 million since it was created in 1997 in the areas of education, health, public safety, problem gaming, arts and culture, environment and historic preservation.

Bob Whelan, a gaming economist with the Portland-based ECO Northwest consulting firm, said he hasn't calculated how much a Portland casino would make. Such a facility, though, may not change the net revenues for Oregon gaming on the whole, he noted.

'Remember that it would take business away from other casinos,' he said. 'Also, video poker sales would go down and dog and horse track revenues, would be affected.'

Contact Andy Giegerich at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..